For a labourer worthy of his hire : Aboriginal economic responses to colonisation in the Shoalhaven and Illawarra, 1770-1900

  • Michael Bennett

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    This thesis presents a narrative of Aboriginal economic responses in the 19th century to the colonisation of the Shoalhaven and Illawarra regions of New South Wales. It explores the competing claims of articulation theory and dependency theory about the intersection of colonial and indigenous economies. Dependency theory claims that settlers destroy the indigenous mode of production to permit the expansion of their own economic system. They exploit indigenous labour which then becomes dependent on capitalist sources of subsistence. Articulation theory, as modified by Layton (2001) to recognise the bi-directional nature of contact, posits that the rate of capitalist penetration into indigenous economies is variable and that the non-capitalist mode of production may be preserved to create a self-supporting source of labour. The contrasting theories are assessed in this thesis by determining the contribution different strategies made to Aboriginal subsistence. Historical evidence is used to assess each strategy. The main source of information is from Alexander Berry's Shoalhaven estate, where Aboriginal people lived from settlement in 1822 until they were moved to a reserve in the early 1900s. The analysis suggests that contrary to previous research, Aboriginal people gained the majority of their subsistence from fishing, hunting and gathering until 1860. Strategies that depended on the colonial economy such as farm work, trading, living with settlers and stealing made only minor contributions to Aboriginal subsistence. After 1860,European land use intensified and Aboriginal people were further alienated from the land. The contribution of hunting and gathering contracted as a result. Dependency on government assistance increased, particularly after the foundation of the Aborigines Protection Board in 1882. Fishing remained an important source of food and cash. Maritime resources were not commercially exploited to a significant extent until the closing years of the 19th century when Aboriginal people were provided with boats and nets to assist their efforts. The historical evidence demonstrates that articulation theory offers a more realistic approach than does dependency theory when analysing the intersection of colonial and indigenous economies. This is because articulation theory can predict variable outcomes. The variable outcome suggested by the Shoalhaven and Illawarra data are that hunting, gathering and fishing economies have the resilience to withstand the colonial encounter if sufficient resources are made available.
    Date of Award2003
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorBrian Egloff (Supervisor) & Neil Andrews (Supervisor)

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