Contact and Colonisation: The Early Years

When developing units of work on this particular topic, the following learnings need to be considered:

  • Estimates of the Indigenous population in Victoria before 1834 vary quite considerably, but is believed to be approximately 100,000 people. By 1860 the number of Indigenous people living in Victoria had fallen to less than 2,000.
  • The dramatic decline in numbers and the destruction of clan groups was caused by disease and killings during the early years of European acts of invasion. Colonial expansion denied the use of Indigenous languages, land use and culture transmission. Epidemics of imported diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza carried by sailors and convicts devastated many Indigenous populations.
  • Dispossession and dispersal from traditional lands forced Indigenous people to the fringes of European settlements, and they were without a viable means of economic support.
  • Indigenous people were forced to be dependent on European economic systems and structures. These systems and structures took no account of Koorie people's physical, social and spiritual needs. This led to further deprivation and conflict.
  • No treaties were made and no charter of rights was established to ensure the survival of the life and social organisation of Indigenous people. John Batman's questionable treaty was one exception, though even this was later invalidated by European authorities.
  • Access to sacred sites, and rights to certain associated ceremonies, were denied to Indigenous people, and spiritual bonds and expressions were undermined.
  • By introducing stock, converting forests to farmland and destroying native flora and fauna, Europeans caused the destruction of Indigenous people's traditional ways of life.
  • Conflict and violence were long and protracted. Indigenous people did not cede their land passively or easily.
  • In spite of heroic resistance by Indigenous groups, their numbers were drastically reduced. European weaponry and the physical and psychological effects of the culture clash made resistance difficult.