Elkin, A. P., Ph.D


Professor of Anthropology, University of Sydney, since 1934; M.A. (Sydney); Ph.D. (London); Chairman, Committee on Anthropology, Australian National Research Council; President, Association for the Protection of Native Races, since 1943; editor, Oceania; editor, Social Horizons; President, Royal Society of New South Wales, 1940; John Murtagh MacCrossan Lecturer, University of Queensland, 1944; author of Studies in Australian Totemism (Sydney, 1933), Studies in Australian Linguistics (Sydney, 1938), The Australian Aborigines: How to Understand Them (ad ed., Sydney, 1945), Aboriginal Men of High Degree (Sydney, 1946), etc.; contributor to learned journals.

 Excerpt from Ch. XXV, "Native Peoples"


Native Peoples


"Australia's responsibility for native peoples dates from the first British settlement at Port Jackson in 1788. At that time began the dispossession and depopulation of the aboriginesóa process that still continues as settlement is pushed into the uttermost and least hospitable parts of the continent. An aboriginal population of about 350,000 in 1788 has dwindled to a little more than 50,000 full-bloods. There are also nearly 30,000 persons of mixed European and native descent.

Australia is not proud of this sad story; but where lies the guilt and what were the causes? The explanation is complex, for an intricate set of human relationships is involved, including government officials, missionaries, settlers (pastoralists, miners, pearlers, and others), and the aborigines.

Until full self-government was established in the Australian colonies, beginning with New South Wales and Victoria in the 1850's, the British Government, through the Colonial Office in England and the Governor or Lieutenant-Governor in the Australian colony, was responsible for the policy regarding the aborigines and the contact of the settlers with them. The policy was always benign and just, and at times contemplated civilising the natives as well as using them ... 

When Arthur Phillip was appointed the first Governor of New South Wales he was instructed "to endeavour by every possible means to open an intercourse with the natives, and to conciliate their affections, enjoining all our subjects to live in amity and kindness with them." He was to punish British subjects who wantonly destroyed them or unnecessarily interfered with "the exercise of their several occupations." And, finally, he was to advise how intercourse with natives might be turned to the advantage of the colony. A later Governor of the same state, General Ralph Darling (1825-1831), was enjoined not only to see that the natives were "protected in the full enjoyment of their possessions, [and] preserved from violence and injustice," but also to take measures for "their conversion to the Christian faith and their advancement in civilisation."

The Home Office, located twelve thousand miles away, could not envisage the problem. The representatives of the British Government, willing as they were to carry out the official policy, were doomed to failure because of the self-contradictory nature of that policy. To protect nomadic, food-gathering tribes "in the full enjoyment of their possessions" was impossible, once they had been dispossessed of their land. The very act of dispossession involved serious, if not total, interference with their livelihood. Ignoring the rights of the natives as landholders, the government appropriated their land, which it regarded as Crown property. Nor was any land returned to them on new terms. White settlers took possession of all that was worth while in each district.

The aborigine quickly realised what had occurred. To hunt and gather native foods over his tribal country became trespass; to hunt the white invader's animals or gather some of his crops was stealing and, indeed, was regarded almost as the predatory raid of an enemy. The alternative was to become a landless employee, a type of life which had no meaning for the aborigine. His land had been more than a place of living and a source of food; it was the symbol of his spiritual life.

The aborigine might have fitted into the white man's scheme if he had been assured of an adequate food supply, if his totemic shrines had been respected, and if his ceremonial gatherings had still been possible. But once agriculture and the pastoral industry were established, the settlers needed all the available good land and water, irrespective of its sacred or sentimental associations; and they needed native labour for seasonal or emergency work, without regard to ceremonial occasions and duties. Thus the sequence of ritual observances, with the social and economic values which had given significance and emotional tone to native life, was replaced by dependence on the white "invader" and by subservience to his timetable ..."

[Source: Elkin, A. P., Ph.D., Native Peoples: in Australia (ed. Hartley Grattan, C.) University of California Press (1947) Pages 359-373]

Professor A.P. Elkin

[Source: http://nla.gov.au/nla.cs-pa-http%253A%252F%252Flibapp.sl.nsw.gov.au]


Elkin and Assimilation

"Despite this physical and ideological guarding of the boundaries of white Australia, a major threat to the desired racial purity was posed by the gradual increase in the Aboriginal population within the national space. The expected demise of the Aboriginal people simply did not occur, and by the 1930s and 40s it became apparent that the Aboriginal population threatened to proliferate into the future.

Concerns about the presence of a black population in white Australia can be seen in the 1930s and 40s writings of the anthropologist/sociologist A P Elkin. During this period, Elkin produced material ranging from books, papers and articles on anthropology through to smaller sociological booklets, papers and pamphlets dealing with the idea of Australian nationalism. His anthropological writing represented the Aboriginal people as inferior while his sociological work argued for their incorporation into white Australia. While this contradiction in Elkinís work was, in the main, divided through a clear distinction between his anthropological and sociological texts, there are many instances where the boundary between the discourses are blurred. By focusing on such ambivalences in his work ... despite his rhetoric of equality, both his sociological and anthropological work reveals Elkinís inability to come to terms with the black presence in a white Australia. I explore the manifestation of this dilemma in Elkinís work through a consideration of his adaptation of ideas developed in psychoanalytical and anthropological discourses active in the 1930s and 40s. I conclude that, like Sigmund Freud in Civilisation and Its Discontents,4 Elkin was concerned with the threat posed to civilisation by signs of the presence of the primitive in western society. To combat this threat, Elkin sought national unity through the strengthening of white Australian culture and the eventual assimilation of the Aboriginal people."

[Source: "Dreamtime", Who's Time?: A.P. Elkin and the construction of Aboriginal time in the 1930s and 1940s Glen Ross http://www.api-network.com/cgi-bin/page?archives/jas55_ross#1]