(Investigator 128, 2009 September)


For centuries European intellectuals promoted the concept of "noble savage" and Humanists used it to counter the Christian doctrine of original sin.

The "noble savage" was an idealized concept of uncivilized humans as innately good until exposed to corrupting influences of civilization.

John Dryden (1631-1700) wrote in 1670:
I am as free as Nature first made man…
When wild in woods the noble savage ran.
French political philosopher Rousseau (1712-1778) popularized the idea:
Nothing can be more gentle than he in his primitive state, when placed by nature at an equal distance from the stupidity of brutes and the pernicious good sense of civilized man.
"Noble savage" defined natives as morally superior to Europeans, thereby illegitimatizing their exploitation. Attributes of noble savages included harmony with nature; generosity; innocence; faithfulness; strength; resourcefulness; courage. The noble savage became part of popular literature:
•    The character Friday in Robinson Crusoe (1719);
•    James Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans (1826);
•    Edgar Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838);
•    Winnetou in novels by Karl May.


Australia's first White settlers considered Aborigines noble savages. Captain Tench who came with the First Fleet disagreed:
A thousand times…have I wished, that those European philosophers, whose closet speculations exalt a state of nature above a state of civilization, could survey the phantom, which their heated imaginations have raised: possibly they might then learn, that a state of nature is, of all others, least adapted to promote the happiness of a being, capable of sublime research, and unending ratiocination: that a savage roaming for prey amidst his native deserts, is a creature deformed by all those passions, which afflict and degrade our nature, unsoftened by the influence of religion, philosophy, and legal restriction: and that the more men unite their talents, the more closely the bands of society are drawn; and civilization advanced, inasmuch is human felicity augmented, and man fitted for his unalienable station in the universe. (Willey 1979)
Many Whites employed Aborigines, took some on overseas trips, and adopted Aboriginal children. However, conflicting systems of justice, conflict over land, and other problems eroded their noble savage image.


Mitchell (1973) observed that South Australian Aborigines "form a component of the prison population out of all proportion to their numbers in the community". Aborigines numbered 0.75% of the population, but comprised 25% of males in prisons in 1969 and 43% of females!

Such figures should have raised the questions:
1.    How are the children faring?
2.    What's happening in remote communities?


The report Little Children are Sacred (June, 2007) described rampant alcohol-fuelled sexual abuse of Aboriginal children in remote communities:
•    Girls repeatedly raped and silenced with death threats;
•    Pornography, marijuana and alcohol widely circulated;
•    Girls trading sex for food, money and petrol (for sniffing);
•    Homosexual gang-rape of boys;
•    A "veil of silence" enforced by threats and fear;
•    Much of this ignored by police and courts. (Rothwell 2007)
Whites were involved too — truck-drivers and miners trading booze for sex with children (often through parents as mediators).

Also house-wrecking and medical neglect:
The homes are mindlessly wrecked, windows smashed, walls kicked in, mostly through vandalism as a result of drunken brawls. (Koch 2007, December 29-30)

Cockroaches and dead flies are being syringed out of the ears of Aboriginal children… (Barrass 2007)


Factors that contributed to violence in remote communities becoming normal include:
1.    Traditional cultural violence;
2.    The noble savage concept;
3.    Official policies of cultural maintenance;
4.    Welfare;
5.    Guilt over the "stolen generation".
In Bad Dreaming (2007) Louis Nowra tells of "boy-wife" arrangements in the 19th century: "Pederasty is a recognized custom among the Arunta and has a name, kwalanga… Commonly a man, who is fully initiated but not yet married, takes a boy 10 or 12 years old, who lives with him for several years…"

Nowra writes also of girls kidnapped by their prospective husband and his friends and all the men having sex with her "as consummation of the marriage."

Edward John Eyre in the 1840s wrote:
Women are often sadly ill treated by their husbands or friends, in addition to the dreadful life of drudgery, and privation, and hardship they always have to undergo; they are frequently beaten about the head with waddles, in the most dreadful manner, or speared in the limbs for the most trivial offences. (Pearson 2009)
Hunter-gatherer life was stressful and short, cannibalism and infanticide common, women disempowered, and boys were sexual partners of men. Human deaths were blamed on malicious sorcery, leading to recurring cycles of revenge and payback.

The child-abuse of recent decades, however, was absent. Hence other factors exacerbated traditional violence.


The "noble savage" image continued in the 20th century in serious discussion and also in fiction such as Tarzan, Brave Eagle (TV series 1955-56), The Gods Must Be Crazy, etc.

Even now pre-contact Aboriginal life sometimes gets romanticized:
…an enchanted world, in the technical sense of the sociologist Max Weber. They discovered an intricate social order in which, through the kinship structure, every human being had a precise and acknowledged place. They discovered a world that was filled with economic purpose; leavened by playfulness, joy and humour, soaked in magic, sorcery, mystery and ritual; pregnant at every moment with deep and unquestioned meaning. (Robert Manne, The Monthly, June 2007)

Noble-savage imagery expressed itself as official respect for indigenous culture, and in policies to preserve traditions — such as Australia's "homeland policy".


In 1967 the Government introduced the policy of autonomous Aboriginal homelands where Aboriginal identity remained uncorrupted by wider society. They could hunt and follow their traditions and rituals while retaining access to the resources of White Australia. The policy aped Marxism by emphasizing communal ownership and rejecting the free market economy.

Rothwell (2006) explains: "In the past generation, the broad aim of governments and administrators has been to create and strengthen indigenous communities and provide them with basic services: medical, educational and residential.The underlying view was that traditional culture could best survive in these little societies."

Herbert Coombs, governor of the Commonwealth and Reserve banks promoted the plan, which was: "anti modernist taking as its model the pre-1788 hunter-gatherer society in which Rousseau's noble savage lived uncontaminated by an invading culture." (The Weekend Australian May 26-27, 2007, p. 18)

The Labor government of 1972 introduced unemployment benefits and welfare to Aboriginal communities to ensure no Australians lived in poverty: "But what happened…is that welfare began to entrench a money-for-nothing mentality in a country once noted for inspiring self-reliance… They even had a name for it: sit-down money." (Ecenbarger 1996)

Unproductive communities were subsidized and had rights without obligations. The consequences were dependence, boredom, drunkenness, gambling, child abuse, health problems, school absenteeism, and violence. Remote communities received funds but "big men" handed out jobs and "ghost positions" in return for favors. Work and enterprise became disconnected from wealth, which came from corruption.

Women and children were doubly disadvantaged because "traditional law" denied them rights most Australians have, yet was allowed as a defense in courts where it protected aggressors. One man convicted of "unlawful sex" was sentenced to only 24 hours because he "was exercising his traditional rights and the girl knew what was expected of her." (Wilson 2007)


Until the 1960s many Aboriginal children, mostly of mixed parentage with absconded fathers, were taken and raised in White society. Most were teenagers put into apprenticeships. A minority were infants, whose mothers couldn't adequately care for them.

Labeling these "stolen generation" and calling it "racism" contributed to non-intervention in remote communities.

But White girls with illegitimate babies often gave them for adoption too. Without single-parent payments adoption was the child's best hope, and freed mothers to finish their schooling.

It's mainly "stolen" Aborigines who received educations and became teachers, nurses, and lawyers as capable as their White counterparts.

Nevertheless, public pressure mounted for a Government "apology" which the Rudd Government delivered in 2008.


The wider society ignored remote-community crime or whitewashed it as Aboriginal "culture". Ferrari (2007) reports: "Publishers in the 1980s and 1990s sanitized Aboriginal history by censoring accounts of violence, including sexual abuse and infanticide…so as not to upset Aboriginal sensibilities."

In 2003 a health worker handed Prime Minister John Howard a 10-page summary of abuse near Weipa, and was pressured to quit her job.

Koch writes: "Perhaps the greatest farce of all is the cry that culture is being maintained." (2007, December 29-30)

Koch quotes an aboriginal nurse: "Every abuser should be charged… It is just bullshit to say anything like this is cultural. The truth is that women in communities are too frightened to talk about it… I have treated scores of young girls with STDs… I am frustrated that nothing is being done to get the people responsible for the criminal activity to answer for their deeds. They get away with it the first time, so they repeat their conduct."   


Following the release of Little Children are Sacred the government issued its National Emergency Response legislation, targeting 73 communities.

Families that refused to send their children to school would have the cash part of their welfare reduced and replaced with vouchers. The wage system in remote communities was replaced with "work for the dole" as in mainstream society.

In line with intervention the federal Government voted against the UN's 2007 Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples because the Declaration legitimized customary practices "not acceptable in the modern world" and gave indigenous people "veto rights over legitimate decisions of a democratically elected government." (Nason & Franklin 2007)

Many academics opposed intervention. Health Minister Tony Abbott opposed compulsory health checks and Professor George Rubin wanted "consultation" and for doctors to refuse to examine children. (The Weekend Australian, 30 June/July 1, 2007)

The Government's "sorry" to the "stolen generation" came after intervention started. Aboriginal activists called the intervention a "modern-day stolen generation" and lobbied to get rescued kids returned to their dysfunctional communities. Bolt (2008) writes: "By saying sorry to 50,000 'stolen' children who didn't exist, Rudd has made it harder to 'steal' thousands of children who very much do exist and desperately need help."

Today, over 9000 Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care which:
a.    "far outstrips the number that were taken in the 1920s and 1930s…" (The Weekend Australian, August 22-23, 2009, p. 1)
b.    Amounts to "…between six and ten times as many Aboriginal children in state care today than at the height of the Stolen Generation era." (Overinton 2009)
Recently Aboriginal leaders converged on Darwin to urge the Government to end the intervention: "Concerns include…the "paternalistic and racist" income management system, in which 50 per cent of welfare payments are set aside so they cannot be spent on alcohol, drugs or gambling." (The Advertiser, June 20, 2009, p. 26)

Instead of ending intervention: "Aboriginal leaders' involvement in child sex abuse—and their role in covering it up—will become the focus of the Australian Crime Commission over the next year." (The Australian, June 22, 2009, p. 3)


Lawrence H. Keeley in War Before Civilization (1996) shows that prehistoric war was common and ruthless. Paleolithic sites reveal mass burials of people with evidence of violent death, injury by weapons, and widespread cannibalism. American ecologist Bobbi S. Low analyzed 186 societies and concluded they did not consciously practice conservation. Australian Aborigines and American Indians hunted many big-game animals to extinction!

The noble savage at peace and in harmony with nature was a myth.


The "noble savage" hypothesis contradicted Christian belief in "original sin" which considers all humans morally inadequate: 
…all, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin… There is no one who is righteous, not even one… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3)
People unrestrained by justice or punishment don't become noble but continue their evil patterns: "Because sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the human heart is fully set to do evil." (Ecclesiastes 8:11)

We see this when liars continue lying, thieves continue thieving, drug traffickers continue trafficking, etc.

One who justifies the wicked [e.g. condoning rape as "culture"] and one who condemns the righteous [e.g. opposing the rescue of abused children] are both alike an abomination to the Lord. (Proverbs 17:15)
Beliefs and practices don't deserve preservation merely because they're ancient or cultural. People who condone abuse under the illusions of "noble savage" or as cultural are an "abomination".  Captain Tench, and the nurse who said "They get away with it the first time, so they repeat their conduct", reflected biblical wisdom.

The above issues join hundreds of others, detailed in Investigator during 20 years, in which the Bible has proved reliable and humans wrong.


Barrass, T. The Weekend Australian, July 21-22, 2007, p. 11.
Bolt, A. The Weekend Australian, March 1-2, 2008, p. 31.
Ecenbarger, W. Reader's Digest, December 1996, pp 19-24.
Ellingson, T. 2001 The Myth of the Noble Savage, University of California.
Ferrari, J. The Weekend Australian, July 7-8, 2007, p. 10.
Koch, T. The Australian, December, 14, 2007, p. 1, 4.
Koch, T. The Weekend Australian, December 29-30, 2007, p. 21.
Mitchell, R. et al 1973 First Report, Sentencing and Corrections.
Nason, D. & Franklin, M. The Weekend Australian, September 15-16, 2007, p. 1.
Nowra, L. 2007 Bad Dreaming, Pluto Press.
Overington, C. The Australian, February 20, 2009, p. 3.
Pearson, C. The Weekend Australian, June 13-14, 2009, p. 26.
Rintoul, S. The Weekend Australian, December 15-16, 2007, p. 5.
Rothwell, N. The Weekend Australian, April 15-16, 2006, p. 19; June 16-17, 2007, pp 1, 4.
Willey, K. 1979 When The Sky Fell Down, Collins.

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