THE IMPACTS ON ABORIGINAL PEOPLE AFTER THE FIRST FLEET ARRIVED
European settlement had a severe and devastating impact on Indigenous people. Their dispossession of the land, exposure to new diseases and involvement in violent conflict, resulted in the death of a vast number of the Aboriginal peoples. The small percentage of Aboriginal people who did not die during these early decades of the colony, were not unaffected. The impact of the white settlers changed their lives, and the lives of future generations, forever.
It is believed that at least 750 000 Aboriginal people were living in Australia at the time of Captain Cook's arrival. These people were divided into around 600 different tribes and had hundreds of different languages. Archaeological evidence suggests that the ancestors of the modern Indigenous people of Australia migrated to the continent more than 50 000 years ago. Isolated from external influences, the Aboriginal peoples developed their own way of life, in accordance with their religious and spiritual beliefs of the Dreamtime.
Despite knowing of the existence of these peoples, the British considered the Australian continent to be a terra nullius under English law. Terra nullius is a Latin term meaning 'land belonging to no one.' Eight years later, the British went ahead with their plans to establish a penal colony in New South Wales. On 26 January 1788, the First Fleet, led by Captain Arthur Phillip, arrived in Sydney Cove.
The dispossession of Aboriginal peoples from their land resulted in a drastic decline in their population. While many Aboriginal people were killed in violent clashes over the rights to settle on the land, a vast number also died from malnourishment. Since they were unable to access clean water or an adequate and nutritious supply of food, this made them more susceptible to fatal diseases.