A year that marked the genesis of European settlers in Australia’s Botany Bay was 1788. The Europeans inhabited the Australian territory because of a number of factors. First, history recounts the British as effective colonizers, hence they had an urge of expanding their colonies and that time, they wanted to venture into the Australian Diaspora. They wanted to take charge of the Southern Hemisphere. They needed a strategic military base where they could position their army and an appropriate positioning of their criminals. Consequently, the Australian Aboriginal population was adversely affected by the European settlement in the continent. The impact according to Carter[1] was characterized by attacks, terror, prejudice, wars and killings. However, some historians such as Windschuttle[2] view the claims of the Australian population suffering as hyperboles in the context of the European settlement, leaving an opening for debate on the issue. Nevertheless, the European colonial expansion was because of various aspects with the subjugation and dispossession of the Aboriginal Australians being the major factors but also including the Columbian Exchange as a factor of the same.

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The aim of the paper is to explore the major factors that enhanced colonial extension in Australia. Along with the extension, there was the introduction of new foods and domesticated animals in an attempt of civilization. However, this posed a risk to the Aboriginal Australians although the European settlers devised ways of controlling the predicament. Diseases also followed suit and spread across the continent. The paper seeks to scrutinize the source of the diseases, particularly smallpox and to examine the oppression of the Australian population through warfare, resistance and the deliberate move of the Europeans in rationing contaminated food for the Australians. However, it will not explore human slaughter of the Aboriginal Australian population in detail since this factor only serves as a sideline to the paper’s objectives. Therefore, the Columbian Exchange is the paper’s central focus.


The Columbian Exchange in Australia refers to the barter of plants or food, culture, domesticated animals, human beings and diseases in the Southern Hemisphere under the control of the Europeans. The European explorers benefited largely from the exchange. Prior to its introduction in Australia, the Columbian Exchange was already taking place in the Old and New World for up to about 300 years. However, the Europeans were less attracted to Australia’s non-domesticated food and the sundry and striking flora and fauna of their target continent. They adopted the Macadamia Nut, which was originally Australian, because of its lucrative nature. The Australian vegetation lacked domesticated animals since it comprised of the non-domesticates Dingo. For this reason, the Europeans deemed it as an invaluable export but only explored it for a scenery purpose. Colonial expansion in Australia had its solid ground with the introduction of European foodstuff and animals that in the European perspective could serve as beneficial exports. The introduced wheat[3] was cultivated on Australian land after the European settlers cleared it and the introduced sheep and cattle3 grazed on the flora and fauna such as blue bush, saltbush and the grassland vegetation[4].

Diseases crept on the Australian Aboriginal population with the settlement of Europeans along the coastlines and less arid inland areas after clearing land for agricultural purposes. The introduction of diseases took its toll on the Australian Aboriginal population since it was difficult to remedy them without having had experience of them in the first place. They were unaware of prudent methods, which could mitigate such diseases[5]. On the contrary, smallpox was not because of European settlement since it was already in the continent before the Invasion[6]. It was earlier initiated in the northwestern coastlines by contact with Macassan trepang fishermen. The outbreak in the 1780s, in Sydney, could be fatal in just one to two days[7]. The Australian population was greatly infected by smallpox following the subsequent outbreaks of the disease[8]. Around the mid 17th century, the seasonal visits of the trepang fishermen[9] along the Australian shorelines in a bid for trade led to the spreading of the epidemic[10].

Other than smallpox, which tormented the Australian aboriginal population, there were diseases that tagged along with the European settlers in Australia. As the population had proximity with the settlers during the Columbian exchange, they were infected by the diseases introduced by the Europeans. These diseases had the most adverse effects among the Australian population, and they ranged from the common cold, influenza, measles, syphilis, gonorrhea and tuberculosis. The impact of syphilis and gonorrhea, typically known as venereal diseases, was largely[11] experienced by the females of the Australian population since they were categorized as sex slaves by the European men. Gonorrhea made the women barren while syphilis was fatal if they had no medical attention[12]. The Australian population was therefore cut down by the rising cases of infertility among women and the inevitable deaths caused by other serious diseases. Towards the end of the 18th century[13], reduced Australian population began to be documented, and it went on to the beginning of the 20th century. In those times, influenza was the major catalyst in the reduction of the population[14]. Trade routes proved to be an earlier entry of diseases as well characterized by the continued spread, along the trade routes from Victoria into South Australia, prior to the European settlement in 1836[15]. “We were in a weakened state by the time the whites actually arrived here. We already knew what they did to people (in the Eastern states) – we had our own communication networks…. The germs arrived before the whites themselves. Only the strongest survived. Old people died before passing on information and young ones received what they could before they were at the right ages and stages in the initiation process.”[16]

The Aboriginal Australians had their own culture, which was dismissed by the European settlers since they supposed that the population was a ‘dying race’[17] due its reduction by diseases. As a colony of Europe, Australia was affected by the identity of the colonizing powers[18].They based their assertion on the evolution ideas on ‘survival for the fittest’ theory. In response to this, the Europeans set out to embark structural mechanisms of government and missionaries among the Australian population with the aim of controlling the population through intimidation and wars. They were also to ration European food to the population, which had excruciating consequences among the Australians[19]. The introduction of these rationed European foodstuffs such as flour, sugar and tea among the Australians affected their diet depressingly and left them more prone to diseases[20]. They were denied their indigenous food, which was their culture, and were confined in reserves with no license to cultivate their own farms. The Europeans had taken over pastoral expansions in the land of the native Australians.

The confinement of Aboriginal Australians in the reserves obliged them to depend on the rationed European foodstuffs and water[21]. The Europeans wanted to practice seniority by keeping them in the reserves so they could be in charge of the lands they had already invaded. Pastoralists also had command over the Aboriginal Australian men[22] working as stockmen in the pastoral stations. They also rationed food and water for them. “Indigenous people, once rationed, were expected not to attack settlers or their livestock. In a sense (which might not be shared), rations ‘purchased’ acquiescence to a new, imposed ‘social order”.[23]

The novel societal structure in the Australian territory was an indication that the Aboriginal Australians were subordinate to all the Europeans. “…were drawn into a kind of authorized police vigilante role.”[24] Australian indigenous foodstuffs were abolished following the introduction of European food and animals and the lands re-established to suit the Europeans[25]. Since the Europeans disregarded the Australian native culture, the population had to adopt the culture at the expense of its own and the subsequent generation had to learn something different, comprised of European lifestyle. The European invasion changed the mentality of the Australians.

On the other hand, the Europeans faced some kind of resistance from the Aboriginal population, which was evident with the hunting of European livestock for food when they realize the disappearance of their traditional emus and kangaroo[26]. The Europeans were against their livestock being hunted by the Australians so they retaliated through warfare and rationing with the Australians attempting attacks to prevent invasion. However, the Europeans gradually superseded them. They opted for alternative methods to tame the resistant population when they realized that rationing alone was not helpful. The population was experienced death with the rationed food was poisoned in a bid to kill the Australians[27]. Flour rations were poisoned through the addition of arsenic[28] and the use of infected textiles in the sacks of flour to continue the spread of diseases. The Europeans wanted to terminate the competition they had from the resistant Australians[29].


Concisely, the Columbian Exchange played a major role in the colonial expansion in the Australian lands. The introduction of European diseases and foodstuffs was detrimental in the lives of the Aboriginal Australians since it caused health hazards and death of a large number of the population. The exchange is only one of the factors that saw the successful invasion of the Europeans in Australia. The intentional killings to gain control continued to reduce the Australian population. Watkins notes that the reduction of the population was not only due to diseases but also due to the brutal killings by the Europeans[30], “the savagery of the settlers and their calculated slaughter of the indigenous population.” [31]The idea of deliberate genocide still prompts debates among historians. However, the invasion of the Europeans affected the physical state and mentality of the Aboriginal Australian population adversely


Campbell, Judy., 2002, Invisible invaders: smallpox and other diseases in Aboriginal Australia, 1780-1880, Melbourne University Press, Carlton South.

Carter, David., 2006, Dispossession, dreams and diversity issues in Australian studies, Pearson Education Australia, NSW.

Education Department of South Australia, 1989, The Kaurna People: Aboriginal people of the Adelaide Plains: And Aboriginal studies course for secondary students in years 8-10, Education Department of South Australia, South Australia.

Edwards, W.H., 2005, An Introduction to Aboriginal Studies: 2nd (revised) Edition, Cengage Learning Australia, South Melbourne.

Hall, Richard., 1998, Black armband days, Random House Australia Pty Ltd, NSW.

Paterson, Alistair.G., 2008, The Lost Legions: culture contact in colonial Australia, AltaMira Press, U.S.A.

Rowse, Tim., 1998, White flour, white power: from rations to citizenship in central Australia, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Symons, Michael., 2007, One continuous picnic: A gastronomic history of Australia, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne.

Tatz, Colin., 2003, With intent to destroy: reflections on genocide, Verso, New York.

Acemoglu, Daron., 2008, Introduction to Modern Economic Growth, Princeton University Press, Princeton.

Crawford, Joanne and Tantiprasut., 2003, Australian Aboriginal Culture, R.I.C Publications, R.I.C.

[1] Carter, David., 2006, Dispossession, dreams and diversity issues in Australian studies, Pearson Education Australia, NSW.

2 Edwards, W.H., An Introduction to Aboriginal Studies: 2nd (revised) Edition, Cengage Learning Australia, South Melbourne, 2005:121.