Skip to main content

Australian Aboriginal Migration

Australian Aborigine migration has a long history. In addition to traditional migratory patterns, various Aborigine groups and individuals migrated as a result of contact with Europeans. Early post-contact governments in Australia created reserves to which many Aborigines were "encouraged" to relocate. Other migrations, particularly as contact increased, were the result of Aborigines being attracted for various reasons to white settlements. Cattle stations offered opportunities to sample new goods, if not new and better ways of life. Missions had similar attractions and, frequently, more drastic results, as did the small towns and cities later established on the continent.

Although their importance in the European development of the Australian outback is frequently overlooked, Aborigine knowledge and labor were vital to the newly arrived whites. Aborigines were often recruited for labor either by missionaries or by homesteaders. Withdrawal from European contact was possible only for those Aborigines living in areas in which whites either had little need for their labor or desire for their land.

In this century. Aborigine labor remained important to many of Australia's industries, but an uneven relationship developed as Black employees became dependent on goods introduced by white employers. Although some Aborigines adapted successfully to such contact, a frequent consequence has been extensive cultural change. The destruction of Aborigine society occurred in many areas as a result of economic subservience to the dominant society whose policies and attitudes excluded Aborigines from the privileges and opportunities enjoyed by whites.

Today, the lack of economic opportunities leads to further Aborigine migrations to the larger towns and cities. Such migration increased dramatically during and after World War II, as Aborigines became aware of potential urban economic opportunities and resigned themselves to the fact that such opportunities would never appear in rural areas. These migrations created significant Aborigine populations in all of the continent's major cities. The more recent urban migrations, however, differ in one important way from the earlier ones and those still taking place in isolated rural areas: these migrations are the result of extensive cultural change and loss of traditional ways and not the cause of them.

Urban migration has been more common from some areas due to local factors. The absence of any real ties to their traditional culture, including language, readily inspire Aborigines to migrate. For many Aborigines on reserves, rapidly expanding populations, accompanied by little increase in housing or jobs, have necessitated movement to the city during the past thirty years.

Since the 1950s. Aborigines from various rural areas have migrated in increasing numbers to Adelaide, the capital of South Australia. The migrants specific reasons for going to Adelaide are varied, but those most commonly mentioned are employment possibilities for adults and educational possibilities for children. Similar motives exist for young single adults, who are also drawn to the leisure activities in Adelaide.

However, Adelaide's anticipated educational and employment opportunities frequently do not live up to expectations. It is unusual for an Aborigine to come to Adelaide and find work immediately unless sponsored by an employment program. While most immigrants from the north are fairly certain to have jobs before they arrive in the city because arrangements have been made through a Commonwealth official, Aborigines from nearby may come to Adelaide to seek a job, but they usually have little assistance in doing so.

Aborigines who fail to find employment in the city often return to the reserve or other rural areas where jobs with railways or on sheep and cattle stations may be available. Unskilled young men have the most difficulty finding employment. Some young Aborigines are subsequently leaving the city to seek employment, although many return on weekends for social events.

There is obviously a wide variation in the amount of time Aborigines have lived in Adelaide. The vast majority, however, have come within the past two decades. It is often difficult to determine when Adelaide became the "permanent" home for an Aborigine. The ease of movement between the city and the nearby reserves - in both there are numerous relatives and friends with whom one can stay - keeps people from establishing roots in either. Frequent movement is most common among older teenagers and young adults who remain mobile in order to fully exploit the few social and economic opportunities available to them throughout the southern part of the state.

In the past, many Aborigines were directly or indirectly forced to migrate. They were either relocated on government reserves or were recruited by white employers. As Europeans established themselves throughout Australia, more and more Aborigines were attracted to their society and the apparent economic and social advantages it offered.

Today, because of extensive contact with Europeans, many Aborigines are no longer familiar with their traditional culture and language. Faced with poverty in the rural areas and overcrowding on the reserves, many now migrate to Australia's cities, hoping to benefit from the economic, educational and social opportunities that exist there. Aborigines are no longer forced to relocate; rather they now see urban migration as the answer to their social and economic aspirations.

Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

Our website houses close to five decades of content and publishing. Any content older than 10 years is archival and Cultural Survival does not necessarily agree with the content and word choice today.