This seminar includes a brief overview of the economic pre-history of Australia and the experiences of first contact between Aboriginal society and the outside world. While such contact did involve some positive aspects, including cultural and economic exchange, the spread of disease and frontier conflict and the contestation of the possession of land had catastrophic consequences for the initial inhabitants of the continent in the early colonial period. Following the lead of Noel Butlin (1983; 1993) I summarise the costs of first contact and colonisation by simulations of large scale depopulation and by providing a brief discussion of the relative productivity of Aboriginal and colonial economies to 1850. An estimate of the Macassar trade in trepang is also provided to illustrate the importance of what was arguably Australia’s first export industry.
Dr Boyd Hunter is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research.