Land, Deception and Power: A story of race relation’s in 19th century Australasia

What is a treaty? It is defined as a legal agreement between two or more states in reference to commerce, alliance and peace. Well in the 19th century in Australia and New Zealand, the words deception, greed, betrayal and racism are a more rounded definition. The idea of a treaty in this context was seen as a means to justify colonization. It just lacked the proper acknowledgement of the indigenous people. A fact that resulted in over 160 years of discrimination before the issue of indigenous rights was finally sorted.


To fully uncover the extent of the race relations in this era, a comparison between the two colonies needs to be made. Both colonies had their own indigenous population and circumstance to comprehend.


The idea of indigenous land rights during this period, varied quite dramatically between the colonies. This is crucial in understanding what happened. This all began in 1835, June 6 to be exact. It occurred at a locality in Victoria, (now suburban Melbourne) called Merri Creek. What occurred was Batman’s Treaty between a local indigenous tribe and John Batman, a grazier/businessman. The meaning of the treaty was to give Batman rights to use the area.  This in itself seems like a great promotion of relations between colonials and the indigenous people. However the treaty was never recognised by the British crown, and a good start to indigenous rights was lost to time.


Five years later the New Zealand colony had reached the same point as had happened in Australia. Issues arising from the conflict that the indigenous Maori people and the British settlers had engaged in for decades had come to a head. This is where the process towards a treaty began. By February 6 1840, an agreement was reached. At the Waitangi Treaty Grounds in Northland the Treaty of Waitangi was signed into law. Though this was a process of some deliberation as many Maori chiefs sensed deception from the settlers and refused to sign. This was resolved when powerful chief Tamati Waaka Nênê signed on the line. This signalled a new era in New Zealand, for which colonisation could be fulfilled. There is a great recreation of the events surrounding the treaty here: Waitangi – What Really Happened.


The sense of deception was eventually realised. As it was discovered that there was not one but two separate treaties. The Maori version, which specified that the British had permission to use the land, however they still owned title to the land and the English version, which gave the settlers full title to the land.


So why is there a comparison between two completely different colonies? If you really think about it, are the moments surrounding the treaties so different? Though what happened around the treaty was different, including the outcome the indigenous experience in the colonies was so similar.


Despite the Maori having a similar society to the settlers. Despite the lack of an organised Aboriginal society. Despite the recognition that the Maori got as owners of the land, which the Aborigines did not, both indigenous societies suffered the same discrimination. Both were colonized in a brutal and disrespectful fashion. The only difference was that the Maori has a thin veil of rights whereas the Aborigines had no rights. This gave the settlers a look of bad ethics and has left a bad taste in the mouth, which has lasted though the following decades.


At the time these treaty moments seemed to reflect the ulterior motives of the British. However these events have become pages in history. We have reached a stage where indigenous rights have been acknowledged, and it is now we can understand what good has come from them. Historians Bain Attwood, who is an expert on Batman and Claudia Orange on Waitangi, reveal the benefits. Now these benefits are not that clear from the outset. Though if you look a bit further into it, it reveals that despite the original outcome, it was a start. The treaties point out that in the minds of some, indigenous people deserved rights and citizenship. The lack of rights that these indigenous people suffered was endemic throughout British Imperialism. Thankfully this process of colonizing through vast extermination has ceased to exist in this part of the world.


We have moved into an age, where indigenous people have equal rights with everyone else. In New Zealand the process began with the Treaty of Waitangi Act of 1975. In Australia this began with the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of 1976. We need to be thankful of the forward thinking of John Batman and also the idea of the Treaty of Waitangi. As the idea for equality was indeed in thought during the 19th century, even if it took the next 100 or so years to be achieved. This is an excellent account of the lessons of the past being learnt and not repeated.






2 comments on “Land, Deception and Power: A story of race relation’s in 19th century Australasia

  1. Ron Chambers 40849783 says:

    Hi Hamish,

    I enjoyed your post. It’s quite amazing how European colonisers had no conception of societies that were not Christian, and who had entirely different ideas about property, rights, freedom, democracy and so on. You manage to convey very nicely how preposterous it was to expect these indigenous societies to deal with the colonisers on some sort of terms of equality and fairness. All the fluff was, as you say, just so much deception, greed, betrayal and racism. And I really liked the subtitle to the clip – “Waitangi – What Really Happened (Pretty Much)” – at least some history documentary makers don’t take themselves as seriously as some others do.

    Ron Chambers

  2. markkelen says:

    The racial hierarchy that many Western Civilizations have applied to the world has been disgusting, and arguably still continued in contemporary times to a certain extent. Many modern ‘humanitarian interventions’ can almost be paralleled to past colonisation cases. If it was not for modern sovereignty rights, I’m sure similar things would be going on today.

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