Imaging a different future for Indigenous Australia 

Dr Maggie Walter will present, The then and now of social Darwinism for Indigenous Australians, at the upcoming Charles Darwin Symposium.

The bicentenary of Charles Darwin’s birth, 2009, could also mark the end of social Darwinism in Australia.

But, according to a leading sociologist, an alternative story of country and race required a new mindset in which the evolutionary gaze was reversed from the Indigenous to the non-Indigenous.

A Senior Lecturer in Sociology at the University of Tasmania, Dr Maggie Walter, said she believed that such a shift would require a re-imagining of non-Indigenous self-concept and belongingness.

Dr Walter said her presentation at the upcoming Charles Darwin Symposium would develop this idea by contrasting certain eras of Darwinian influence: the 1830s and 1840s, and the 1990s and 2000s with a different vision for 2010 onwards.

“In February 1836, when Darwin visited what was known to the Europeans as Van Diemen’s Land, he had no or little contact with Aboriginal people,” Dr Walter said.

“By then the last traditional people were imprisoned and dying at Wybalenna on Flinders Island in the Bass Strait.

“If we fast forward to 2009 and imagine Darwin revisiting, again his Aboriginal contact would likely be sparse.”

Dr Walter said that with the exception of dot paintings and anthropological curiosity, “the Indigenous” was absent from the nation’s view of itself and Indigenous people remained locked in what she referred to as the domain of Aboriginality.

“Darwin’s work rationalised the Tasmanian destruction post-event via the concepts of evolutionary inevitabilities and Social Darwinism and Darwin himself contributed by requesting Tasmanian skulls,” she said.

But the question still remains of how could the post-2010 era be different?

“The shift in thinking I propose reverses the discourses of evolutionary inevitabilities with the pivotal re-imagining of the account of non-Indigenous evolvement of interaction and relating to country, perceptions of Australia’s identity and conceptions of fit within the land and its heritage,” Dr Walter said.

“Indigenous understandings and peoples are inevitably central to these imaginings.”

Dr Walter will present her paper, “The then and now of Social Darwinism for Indigenous Australia: Imagining a different future”, as a part of Charles Darwin Symposium, Charles Darwin: Shaping our Science, Society and Future.

The Symposium is a joint activity of Charles Darwin University and the Northern Territory Government.

The three-day symposium will run from 22-24 September at the Darwin Convention Centre. The symposium is free, but prior online registration is required for catering. To register and for more information visit W: