The Unsettled curators thank Neenah R. Gray for her assistance with this section’s web pages.

Curators’ acknowledgement

“We pay our respects and dedicate the Unsettled exhibition to the people and other Beings who keep the law of this land; to the Elders and Traditional Owners of all the knowledges, places, and stories in this exhibition; and to the Ancestors and Old People for their resilience and guidance.

We advise that there are some confronting topics addressed in this exhibition, including massacres and genocide. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be advised that there may be images of people who have passed away.”

Laura McBride and Dr Mariko Smith, 2021.

Surviving genocide

The term “genocide” has been seen as controversial when used to describe the treatment of First Nations peoples as part of the colonisation of Australia, but what happened fits the definition.[1] Massacres, dispossession, dispersals, sterilisation of Aboriginal women, forced child removals and assimilation policies - all acts of genocide, have been committed against First Nations peoples.[2]

These acts were justified by asserting that Aboriginal peoples were a dying race, their cultures and practices backward and primitive, and that it would be better to kill them off or breed them out of existence.[3]

It is important to remember that the experience of these different forms of genocide is in living memory and the effects are still felt in First Nations communities. Read more here.

The Definition of Genocide

What constitutes genocide is often broader in popular understanding than the denotation under international law. This United Nations article contains a narrow definition of the crime of genocide, which includes two main elements.

United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1951:

Article II

A mental element: an “intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group…”; and

A physical element: which includes the following five acts, enumerated exhaustively:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Listen to First Nations’ experiences about this history


  1. Tatz, C. (2011). Genocide in Australia: By accident or design? Monash University; Maddison, S. (2011). Beyond white guilt: The real challenge for black-white relations in Australia. Allen & Unwin; Moses, D. (2000). An antipodean genocide? The origins of the genocidal moment in the colonization of Australia. Journal of Genocide Research, 2:1, 89-106
  2. Jones, A. (2017). Genocides of Indigenous Peoples. In Genocide: A comprehensive introduction (pp. 809-869). New York, NY, Routledge; O’Shane, P. (1995). The psychological impact of white settlement on Aboriginal people. Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal, 19(3), 24-29.
  3. McGregor, R. (1997). Imagined destinies: Aboriginal Australians and the doomed race theory, 1880-1939, Melbourne University Press; Tatz, C. (2016). Australia: The ‘good’ genocide perpetrator? Health and History, 18(2), 85-98.