What is post about colonialism in Australia?


I have been dwelling on this for a while… and come the conclusion that the descriptor ‘Post-Colonial’ is really actually wholly inappropriate in the Australian case. Consider, for example, the following:


Post- ; prefix, ‘after in time or order post-date, from Latin, ‘after, behind’.

Colonial; adjective, ‘relating to or characteristic of a colony or of colonialism’.

Colony; 1. noun, ‘a country or area under the control of another country and occupied by settlers from that country’; 2. ‘A group of people of one nationality or race living in a foreign place’.

Colonialism; noun, ‘the practice of acquiring control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically’.


Unlike British or French colonies that were ostensibly ‘decolonised’ and won their independence through the physical and political withdrawal of respective colonial powers, – it is no big secret that we’re still here! And by ‘we’ I mean Colonisers – because that is empirically what we may have been observed to have done. Not only have we not moved a budge but it sure isn’t the Indigenous Traditional Owners who sit atop the hill here in Parliament House etc.

In fact it could be argued that the Howard government (continued under Rudd et. al.) pushed the colonial frontier further than it had ever reached, making sorties into Indigenous freehold land. They orchestrated policies that effectively removed the right of Indigenous groups to exclude others from their land (a central tenet of private property and a basic human right), removed basic services otherwise considered a right of all Australian citizens, they forcibly entered Indigenous property (in a military capacity in many cases), and then pushed further usurping freehold title to land through compulsory  acquisition. They also introduced a raft of other policies in this vein aimed ONLY at the Indigenous population.

It is worth noting with reference to ‘acquiring control over another country … and exploiting it economically’, which is a central characteristic of colonialism, that the Howard (and now Rudd) government tinkered with the application process for mining companies who wish to explore for minerals on freehold Indigenous land. This has further eroded the right of Indigenous people to exclude others from their freehold land and the resources therein.

Add to all this the suspension of the racial discrimination act, quarantining individuals’ income, forced medical examination of minors, removing the use (i.e banning) of Indigenous languages in education institutions even of particularly for those who do not speak english, removing the right of Indigenous people to freely purchase or consume alcohol and pornography, and regulating when, where and what commodities or goods they can purchase from the market. And so on and so on.

The legal ambiguity of claiming sovereignty on the false premise of terra nullius has never been resolved. Moreover many Indigenous groups have never recognised the loss of, let alone ceded sovereignty over their land.

What is post about colonialism in Australia? Helen Gilbert and Joanne Tompkins argue that the term postcolonialism is frequently misunderstood as a temporal concept, meaning the time after colonialism has ceased, or the time following the politically determined Independence Day on which a country breaks away from its governance by another state.

More than a response to the chronological construction of post-independence and the discursive experience of imperialism, postcolonial theory is an engagement with and contestation of colonialism’s discourses, power structures, and social hierarchies.

Fine. But my discomfort is not with the narrow application or definition of postcolonialism in this sense. My point is that colonialism has not ceased, there has never been a politically determined Independence Day and the country has never broken away from its governance by the British state.

Frances and Howard Morphy describe the country as a ‘colonial settler state’ and I think this is a more accurate description. It refuses any settled and/or legitimate  relationship between Indigenous people and the State.


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Filed under Current social issues, Indigenous Rights

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