TERRITORY: HUMAN GEOGRAPHY. THE POPULATION
Australia has not given fossil remains of Hominids presapiens to date ; rare are also the bone finds prior to the third millennium BC. C., despite the multiplication of the discoveries of prehistoric sites with remarkable lithic industry equipment, the oldest of which dates back to ca. 36,000 years ago (Lake Mungo, in the Northern Territory). From the comparative study of the lithic finds and fossil skulls, the hypothesis has been advanced that the Australian aborigines derive, by regional metamorphism, from the Homo sapiens sapiens of Insulindia (morphological analogies with the finds of Wadjack, Java, Niah, Borneo): according to some scholars there were migratory flows of nomadic people dedicated to hunting, fishing and gathering, which took place in three phases, also by sea, from towards the north-west coast and from New Guinea to the Arnhem Land (Arnhem Land) and the York Peninsula. Others believe that it was a single migration through New Guinea to the northern regions of Australia, which occurred during the final phase of the Würm glaciation (about 40,000 years ago). In any case, the climatic-environmental transformations and the topography of the continent favored neither stable settlements nor the development of agricultural techniques; likewise, the morphological characteristics of the Australian human type have undergone slight changes, as evidenced by the finds from Talgai, Queensland (dating back to 15,000 years ago), and Keilor, in Victoria (9000 years ago), compared with those of current Aborigines and Tasmanians (now extinct). The spread of these people in Australia was slow and fragmented and it seems that only around the 10th millennium from the present era were the southern regions and Tasmania reached. The discovery of numerous inhabited sites right up to the heart of the continent (in prehistoric times still rich in vegetation and animals), in which there is a notable lithic industry with minimal local variations, the identical organization of socio-cultural and religious structures (see Australians) suggest that the numerous “hordes” derive from a single lineage or, at least, that the cultural and life model of a single dominant group has established itself. Particularly important in this regard were the investigations of the recently discovered sites in the Northern Territory (Malagangerr), in the South-East (Menindee and Keilor) and in Queensland (Keniff). The fragmentation of the groups and the small number of inhabitants (the aborigines never exceeded 600,000 units) in relation to the habitable environments favored the static nature of the nomadic way of life, of hunter-gatherers: at the end of the century. XVIII the indigenous populations still had vast fertile territories at their disposal, although they were concentrated in the eastern (especially in the South-East) and northern regions of the continent, and in a few other areas. L’ impact with the white colonizers was destructive, not only for the massacres perpetrated but above all for the deep and rapid transformations resulting from the introduction of agriculture and livestock and then of mining. At the beginning of the century. XX the aborigines (including mestizos) were reduced to about 50,000 units, but, starting from the fifties, there was a demographic recovery, thanks above all to the state measures in their favor. Only in 1967 a referendum granted citizenship rights; over the next decade, indigenous groups solicited governments in order to obtain recognition of the rights to the territories in which they were based. In 1977 a large reserve was established in the Northern Territory where the survivors of 300 of the 500 groups registered at beginning of this century; other reserves have been created since 1985 in New South Wales (mainly inhabited by mestizos) and more recently about twenty reserves are in operation in Queensland (Cape York Peninsula), in Arnhem Land and in some other states.. At the 1989 census there were about 80,000 aborigines (less than half of them pure) “autonomous”, that is, excluding mestizos who have integrated into the way of life of whites and who mostly reside on the fringes of the great Australian cities. The slow but continuous demographic recovery of the aboriginal component has allowed this people to reach the threshold of 400,000 units at the beginning of the 21st century: at the 2006 census the indigenous people were approx. 455,000. These are small communities located mainly in the western and northern sectors of the island, even in areas considered completely inhospitable such as the central desert. That of Aboriginal Australians is a young population with a life expectancy of 15-20 years lower than that of European origin and marked by a lower level of education, more affected by phenomena of alcoholism, drugs and delinquency. International organizations complain, however, of discriminatory attitudes on the part of the Australian authorities, so much so that in 2000 the UN, on the occasion of the opening of the Olympic Games in Sydney, expressed concern about this situation. In particular, the aboriginal communities ask for formal recognition and adequate compensation for the so-called “stolen generation”, that is to say a policy, which lasted until the end of the 1960s, through which thousands of indigenous children had been taken from their families. Only in 2008 did the Rudd government formally apologize to the aboriginal communities, a long overdue gesture. The indigenous claims also concern land tenure, since some of the territories traditionally inhabited by these communities continue to be exploited by the mining industries. Discovered by the Portuguese, “rediscovered” by the Dutch, as a country located in Oceania according to transporthint, Australia was populated by the British: initially, however, they were convicts, that is, life prisoners locked up in penal colonies. The first of these colonies was founded in Sydney in 1788; other places of punishment were then created in Port Moreton (Queensland), in Albany, Perth, Melbourne etc. But already at the beginning of the century. XX the first free settlers began to flow in,ranches or seasonal stations for breeding. It was therefore, initially, of breeders (squatters), not farmers; the latter came later, especially with the spread of sugar cane cultivation. Only the coastal areas were occupied, while the interior remained unexplored for a long time; in particular there were settlements around the ports, from which the products of pastoralism and agriculture left for Great Britain.