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Wellesley College

Publication Date

Fall 2019

Program Name

Australia: Sustainability and Environmental Action


Australia’s history of colonization of Aboriginal communities continues to affect not only the indigenous population of Australia, but also non-Aboriginal Australians. This study focuses on how Australia’s complex history of colonization and its lasting effects influence the ability of Non-Aboriginal Australians to connect to place. One potential effect of colonization is “settler-guilt” or the complex feelings of guilt, remorse, and shame felt by “settlers” at their privilege derived from the racist, violent, and genocidal treatment of indigenous people and communities due to the colonization of indigenous lands and the legacy of colonization. This study asks whether settler-guilt exists in Australia, and if it does, how it might impact connection to place and the environment. The ultimate goal of this study is to better understand the ways in which colonization affects non-Aboriginal sense of place in order to create a post-colonial environmental and nature connection movement.

I collected 69 online survey responses via distribution in environmental and sense of place Facebook groups as well as conducted 13 in-depth interviews from participants who had already completed the survey. No participants were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent as this study focused on the effects of colonization on Non-Aboriginal Australians. Additionally, as invasion occurred differently in different locations of Australia this study compares how effects of colonization differ across three locations as surveys were collected in Northern Rivers, New South Wales, Hobart, Tasmania, and Melbourne, Victoria.

A strong majority of participants reported feeling complex emotions such as guilt, shame, anger, and grief (emotions which we categorize as “settler-guilt”) when thinking about colonization. Additionally, a majority of participants agreed that, although they felt a strong connection to place, they felt that colonization affected, and in some cases presented a barrier to, their connection to place. Participants noted that in order to decolonize the environmental and nature connection movements they hoped to learn more about local indigenous communities and form personal connections with Aboriginal people. Additionally, participants placed a strong emphasis on hoping to create space for Aboriginal leadership within the environmental and nature connection movements. Although there does appear to be a connection between differing colonial effects and location in Australia, more data is needed to fully understand why differences occur. Overall, this data suggests that settler-guilt among non-Aboriginal Australians is not only present but also influences the connection to place of non-Aboriginal Australians. Looking forward, the environmental movement needs to integrate more Aboriginal leadership and create spaces and support for non-Aboriginal Australians to question their own role in the settler-colonial framework.


Australian Studies | Civic and Community Engagement | Environmental Studies | Indigenous Studies | International and Intercultural Communication | Place and Environment | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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