Depopulation, disappearance and resurgence: the population history of the Aboriginal people of Victoria

Len Smith, Australian National University
Janet McCalman, University of Melbourne
Ian Anderson, University of Melbourne

The native population of Victoria was fully enumerated in the censuses from the 1850s, while colonial dispossession was still proceeding, In the 1860s the colonial authorities established a number of reservations to protect the native people from the excesses of the settlers, and on the reserves the death rate fell and the birth rate rose. Many of the babies were of mixed race, and after only a few years a policy of forced assimilation was adopted, requiring people of mixed descent to leave the reserves and ‘merge with the general population of the colony’. For the next hundred years official policy was dedicated to the eventual disappearance of the Aboriginal race through assimilation and intermarriage. Children were routinely removed from their mothers and raised in institutions or adopted by white families. Most people of Aboriginal descent became statistically invisible, and the census numbers reached very low levels in the 1930s. But since the 1970s these invisible Aborigines have re-identified in large numbers, resulting in extraordinary growth rates in the census population.

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Presented in Poster Session 1

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