Violent epidemics : disease, conflict and Aboriginal population collapse as a result of European contact in the Riverland of South Australia




Dowling, Peter J.

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Many researchers have recognized the value of investigating the history of race contact in Australia, but too few have sought to explain in detail why the Aboriginal population declined so much and so rapidly when colonization advanced across the continent. The central aim of this thesis is to identify and assess the impact of the major causes of Aboriginal population collapse in the Riverland (Murray River) region of South Australia. It is estimated that prior to 1800 the population density of the Riverland was between 0.3 and 0.5 km^ per person with a total population for the region of around 3000. In 1881 the South Australian State Census enumerated just 14 Aboriginal people for the Riverland region. The population collapse has been viewed in two stages. The first has been termed pathological contact and is considered to be the major cause of the collapse. Introduced venereal syphilis, gonorrhoea and smallpox spread ahead of the major European frontiers of South Australia causing extreme mortality among the Riverland Aborigines. The second stage began after European settlement of South Australia. Violent clashes were quick to erupt on the overland cattle route which linked the settlement of Adelaide with the Eastern settlements. The combined effect resulted in an increase in the mortality rate, a decrease in the fertility rate and social and economic disruption. The population was unable to recover.






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