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History of Djirrbal and Ngadjonji Peoples


General Aboriginal History.

Our people have been in Australia for between 40,000 and 60,000 years. Europeans have been here for only 200 years.
It is believed that our first ancestors came here during one of the ice ages which occurred between forty and sixty thousand years ago. At that time in earths history most of the water was stored in the north and south poles which caused sea levels to drop to between 200 and 300 meters and for land bridges to form between continents. Thus Australia was at that time joined to South East Asia giving humans the opportunity to move south into new lands. After the ice age of that period sea water returned to its present levels and Australia was again isolated from the larger continent.
Mystery continues to surround the origins of our people from a scientific view. The latest DNA information together with other methods appears to become even more confusing. At first it was thought that there was a split from the southern Asian gene about 30 000 years ago. However, although latest information is able to trace the genetic line across Melanesia and Micronesia it runs out on ours.
Our people have two beliefs about where we come from. Some believe our first ancestors come from the north in a boat while others believe they were made from the very soil we stand on. We have always been here.


Djirrbal / Ngadjonji Origins

Both the Djirrbal and Ngadjonji tribes are two of six tribes that make up the Djirrbalngan language area of what is now known as the Atherton Tablelands, Innisfail and Tully, North Queensland, Australia.  (fig. 2). Our people were traditionally Rainforest dwellers.
At first, European settlers thought that we were of a different genetic group than the rest of the Australian aboriginal population. Much like the Tasmanian aboriginal people. We were described as 'Small stature, crisp curly hair and a tendency toward yellowish-brown skin colour. Latest scientific view, however, categorize us as belonging to the larger aboriginal population with the unique physical differences owing to genetic processes which took place in small groups isolated over a long period. (Fig 3)

Some Recent History

The English first settled Australia in the Sydney area in 1788. The Atherton Tablelands, Far North Queensland 87 years later around 1875. English occupation of our traditional areas diminished the population and culture considerably. It took less than a hundred years to reduce around 2,000 of our people to only a few 'full blood' who still speak the language and know the traditional culture.
 Similar situations occurred in other regions of Australia. However, none was more so brutal than that which occurred in Queensland and especially in Djirrbal and Ngadjonji territory. One of the older survivors of our tribe told the story that, “They (the English) did a lot of bad, bad things, they used to shoot black people for nothing. Just shoot them like a dog. It only came better since World War II. Before the war they didn't think we were any better than a dingo or a kangaroo'.
One incident occurred at a place they now call Butchers Creek in our area. Some white men came into a camp one day, while the aboriginal men were away hunting, and began raping the women. When the aboriginal men came back and caught them in the act they managed to fight them off, however, the white men came back with guns and shot and killed almost the entire tribe, including the men women and children, except for one pregnant woman and a child who hid in a tree.
Another brutal English establishment for the purpose of subduing aboriginal people was the notorious Queensland Native Mounted Police Force. It was formed by the New South Wales (NSW) government in 1848 and later retained by the Queensland Government. Groups consisted of about six aboriginal troopers led by a white officer. Aboriginal troopers were mainly recruited from other tribes in NSW while there was never any shortage of whites in the country wanting to join the band. This group was responsible for killing large numbers of Queensland aboriginal men, women and children.
Following is the policy and belief of the early English settlers, “The country does not belong to the black man; it is Gods country. If he put the black man first upon the land. It must also be allowed that it is through His providence that the white man has come to dispossess that black man of that country which the latter has failed to apply to the purposes of its designed utility.......... In occupying the country, it is necessary to subjugate the blacks.............they must be shot down, and only when this is done promptly, and effectually, can they be trusted”.
It is believed that Queensland had the highest aboriginal population in Australia before English occupation; however, it was reduced considerably because of the State sanctioned and other killings which occurred. The reason for the more vicious assault here was that Queensland had some of the best agricultural land in the country and the invaders / settlers were hell bent on acquiring it one way or another even if it meant wiping out the indigenous population forever from the face of the earth.. At present, the Northern Territory has the highest aboriginal population in Australia with Queensland having the second highest.
It is believed that the aboriginal population of Australia was between 500 000 and 900 000 before English invasion. After English contact that number decreased to 90 000 at around the turn of the 19th and 20th century. Since then the total aboriginal population of Australia has grown to around four hundred thousand (400 000). This compares with twenty three million (23,000,000) other Australians. Which means that aboriginal people make up less than two percent (2%) of the total population of Australia.
The Australian government has developed a number of Policies in relation to aboriginal people over the past 100 years, some of them official and others non – official. One of the first non - official policies was that of annihilation. Here it was believed that aborigines would eventually die out and be replaced by the more advanced English culture. After the war an official 'Aboriginal Protection Policy' was introduced. This Policy involved the forced removal of aboriginal people from traditional lands and placing them on Reserves and Mission Stations. There, it was believed aborigines could die out in peace.
The government 'Assimilation Policy' began in the 1950s and continued until the early 1970s. Under this Policy aboriginal people were expected to become a part of mainstream society. It was believed that for aborigines to survive in the world they must become English, speak English, act English and do English things.
The most recent government policy is that of 'Self Determination' for aborigines. Here, it is assumed that we aborigines determine our own futures and be involved in the entire future decision making about ourselves. Although this has been a far better situation for us to exist in than previously there are still many negative underlying issues which exist in aboriginal society today.
Racism, although much of it hidden beneath the surface in the mainstream community, remains to this day in some quarters. From the very top echelons to the lowest grassroots of society some white Australians possess many of the beliefs their forefathers and mothers had; that Australia would be better off without aboriginees. Of course not all white Australians are racist. However, among those who have racist tendencies, aborigines are the least liked on the list (list includes Asians, Greeks, Italians, Africans, Muslims, etc).

Djirrbal and Ngadjonji Today

Today, about 400 Djirrbal and Ngadjonji people reside in English built dwellings in towns that occupy traditional lands. Native Title has been granted by the Australian High Court, however, most of the land (99%) is relegated as ‘shared’ ie. Aboriginal people are required to share the land with white people. Native Title granted by the Australian government is really only an admission that aboriginal people actually did occupy the land before English settlement.
Many other Djirrbal and Ngadjonji people today are scattered across the rest of Australia. Some were previously forcibly removed from traditional lands and placed on Reserves and Missions from Cape York to Southern Queensland. Others have left voluntarily and taken up residency in other parts of the country. Many of our people have tried, and are trying, to fit into the new system. A small few have succeeded; however, a great majority has not. Two hundred years is not enough time to change from a 40 000 year hunting and gathering culture into an industrialized one.
Djirrbal/Ngadjonji Tribes
Rainforest Area. North Queensland. Australia


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