Family Violence. An Australian Aboriginal Perspective.

Violence has become entrenched into our societies. Many individuals hold non-violence as a personal value and strive to end it. Despite laws that protect against assault, domestic and family violence (including incest, rape and sexual assault) continues to be a shameful mark on our progressive and contemporary ways of life. Reasons to explain domestic violence have long been pondered over and everyday community members question why women would stay in such dreadful situations. History and culture may go a long way to explain entrenched violence but too often, we each react from our own view of the world, rather than locating our views in a wider analysis of society.

Violence in Aboriginal Australia constantly makes global headlines. These headlines paint a picture of a violent race of people who are all deviant, aggressive and hateful toward everyone. This view is far from the truth.

Many white societies are individualistic in nature – the individual strives to better things for themselves, do not readily share with others, and mostly place little value in understanding their pasts. The dominant family member owns the domestic sphere. Violence within that sphere is called Domestic Violence.

Indigenous cultures are often the exact opposite. They are collective in nature, locate the individual as a part of the more important sphere, and share resources readily with their extended family networks. The wider and extended family group (kin and clan connected) is seen as the dominant collection of respect. Violence within that sphere is called Family Violence because it is not one family member against another, but whole families against other families.

With the assistance of a team of Australian Aboriginal people, we wrote a story to help others understand the reasons behind Australian Aboriginal inter-generational fighting. I hope it provides you some fodder for thought and another view on why some women cannot exit family violent situations.

When white people first came and settled in Australia they herded Aboriginal people together. In doing this, they broke many cultural taboos. Family Violence is not part of our history. We would not have survived for over 50,000 years if this were so. Different clans knew the rules about encroaching on other’s territory. They used trees, creeks, things from nature that told them where their boundaries where. People respected this and did not cross those boundaries. When these clans were herded together and placed under the one roof, cultural respects were destroyed. Suddenly there was opposition and fighting amongst all our people, not just the warriors. Whereas clans would attempt to stay away from each other it became impossible when white people kept shoving them together.

This original warring between clans has continued to today. Our young people often have no idea why they continue to hate and fight with other families. They have not been taught the history of family violence and colonization. Today they just know that they cannot and will not interact with particular families. If one family member has a fight with family members it is not kept between them. The entire family supports the fight and none of them really knows why they are fighting. They think it is just the way it has to be.

Then the Missionaries decided that they would help our people by educating them. Some families lived in missions (the children were separated from parents) and some families belonged to the pastoralists and farmers – “free workers”. The children on missions were forced to go to school every day while the “free” children got little education. This divide created further fighting between our people and provided a very real barrier. There was a lot of jealousy with both groups yearning some of what the other had. There was little trust of each other and this created further fighting.

Today you have the mission kids that went to school everyday but the free mob often can’t read. There is a stigma attached to having been taken away from your parents and having been raised on a mission. There are still bad interactions between black and white and black and black because of this. We’re told to integrate but integrate to what? The mission-raised people are ostracized by the white community and ignored or assaulted by the descendents of those “free” workers. If we want to integrate to a community without family violence, all our mob need to understand the reasons behind the family violence. It’s not just us who have to be educated in this. We need to educate Judges, funding bodies of Indigenous family violence programs, and white workers.

We need to treat people as human beings. We all have reasons for doing the things that we do and Indigenous people are no different. To treat us as human beings means to understand the development of Family Violence and to allow us the time and money to address it. We first need to educate everybody on how our backgrounds have made us like we are. When we have this understanding of ourselves, we won’t be so lost, we will understand what has happened and we can find out who we are. There is an alternative way to be and the past informs us that we did, and still can, live life without Family Violence.

Related articles:

How Children Learn the Cycle of Violence.

The Cycle of Violence: Part 1, The Explosion.

The Cycle of Violence: part 7, Stand Over.

MEN TORch the Chance of Boys Becoming Non-Violent Men.

FREE Posters to Help the Transition from Boy Child to Real Man.