Indigenous and Other Australians since 1901

Indigenous and Other Australians since 1901

by Tim Rowse

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As Australia became a nation in 1901, no one anticipated that ‘Aboriginal affairs' would become an on-going national preoccupation. Not ‘dying out' as predicted, Aboriginal numbers recovered and – along with Torres Strait Islanders – they became an articulate presence, aggrieved at colonial authority's interventions into family life and continuing dispossession. Indigenous and Other Australians since 1901 narrates their recovery – not only in numbers but in cultural confidence and critical self-awareness. Pointing to Indigenous leaders, it also reassesses the contribution of government and mission ‘protection' policies and the revised definitions of ‘Aboriginal'. Timothy Rowse explains why Australia has conceded a large Indigenous Land and Sea Estate since the 1960s, and argues that the crisis in ‘self-determination' since 2000 has been fuelled by Indigenous critique of the selves that they have become. As Indigenous people put themselves at the centre of arguments about their future, this book could not be more timely.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781742244075
Publisher: UNSW Press
Publication date: 01/10/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 464
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Tim Rowse has been writing on Australian Indigenous affairs since the early 1980s and is one Australia's most significant scholars of Indigenous Studies. He worked for many years at the Menzies School for Health Research in Alice Springs.

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Missions and the state in North Australia

Missions as colonial authority: 1870s to 1952

In the early 20th-century colonial occupation of remote Australia – the northern coasts from Broome to Cairns and the arid interiors of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, South Australia and Queensland – the state was but one of many authorities, and not necessarily the most consequential. There were public employees such as police and the staff that looked after the telegraph lines through the Northern Territory and Cape York and saw to occasional postal deliveries. The Commonwealth takeover of the Northern Territory (from a grateful South Australia) in 1911 made remote Australia a responsibility of the new national government, but the value of all buildings (public and private) in the Territory in 1907 was just under £45 000, and in Darwin, the Territory's administrative centre, there were only 374 Europeans in 1911. In their impact on Indigenous lives, state officials were secondary to the private agents drawn to the northern coast and the central deserts by the possibility of either making money or ameliorating the damage of others' money-making: the pioneer pastoral lessees, the lugger captains, the fossickers for minerals, the market gardeners and the missionaries.

Three reports – Archibald Meston's 1896 Report on the Aboriginals of Queensland, W.E. Roth's 1904 Royal Commission report to the Western Australian government and Baldwin Spencer's 1912–13 survey of the northern parts of the Northern Territory – had each made clear how damaging entrepreneurial authority could be. By making claims on the labour time, the sexuality, the mobility and the food gathering of natives, entrepreneurs substantially changed the routines of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders who were attracted to goods that they issued: clothes, tobacco and sugar and sometimes opium and alcohol, and carbohydrates such as flour and rice (obviating much hard work), iron tools (durable, obviating production time). The tendency of these exchanges was to entrench the ascendancy of the aliens and to reconfigure daily life among Aborigines and Islanders. As credible accounts of their physical and moral vulnerability accumulated, regulatory, protective authority became imperative. However, early in the 20th century, the state lacked the capacity to determine, unassisted, the quality of social life in remote Australia.

One churchman recorded his observation of state incapacity. In 1908, just before the Benedictine Fulgentius Torres travelled to the Kimberley to identify a new mission site at Drysdale River, he explained his aims to Western Australia's Protector of Aborigines (Mr Hale). The Protector said he hoped to establish 'big reserves for the natives'. Torres thought Hale's intentions 'very appropriate', but as he noted in his diary, the Western Australian government lacked the personnel and the money. The Roman Catholic and other Christian churches were determined to offer Aborigines an alternative authority to that wielded by pastoralists and lugger captains. By 1938, the churches had proved more able than the Western Australian government to mobilise an apparatus of 'protection' in the state's remote reserves: Beagle Bay, Lombadina, Drysdale River, Kunmunya, Forrest River in the Kimberley; Mount Margaret and Warburton Range in the desert interior. In the north, the government had only four native hospitals (Port Hedland, Broome, Derby and Wyndham), three 'native stations' (Moola Bulla, Munja and Violet Valley), one feeding (or 'relief ') depot (La Grange). In the south of the state, the government ran feeding depots at Eyre and Karonie, the Moore River Settlement and the East Perth Native Girls' Home. The state had been legislatively active, but north of the Tropic of Capricorn it was secondary to the missions.

In Queensland, up to World War II, the mix of state and mission effort varied from region to region. The London Missionary Society had arrived in the Torres Strait in 1871, but from 1904 the government built a strong presence, placing the Islanders under the same legislation that had controlled Aborigines since 1897; the chief protector claimed by 1914 to have taken a comprehensive census across the Strait's nineteen centres of population and to be schooling about 40 per cent of the Islander children. The London Missionary Society handed mission work over to the Anglicans in 1915. On Cape York, colonial authority was effected at the local level by missions, encouraged by the Queensland government. In the grazing and agricultural regions south of the Tropic of Capricorn, the government established two institutions: Barambah (later known as Cherbourg) in 1905 and Woorabinda in 1926 (replacing Taroom settlement, established 1910), while a third settlement (Hull River, established in 1914) was relocated to Palm Island in 1918. By 1939 the government could report twenty-five reserves under supervision; of theseventeen in regular use, fourteen were missions and three were government settlements. Most of Queensland's 'protectors' were either police or mission staff.

In South Australia, the state reconsidered its responsibility towards Aborigines through a Royal Commission in 1913 that focused on the condition of Aboriginal people in the state's arable southern regions. The commissioners recommended that the government assume responsibility for two missions – Point Pearce and Point McLeay – that served agricultural regions with the longest exposure to colonial influence; they foreshadowed but never delivered a supplementary report on 'the outback blacks, and the best means to be adopted to prevent the extinction of the aboriginal race'. While the commission was sitting, the Lutherans were closing Killalpaninna, one of their two remote missions dedicated to 'protecting' those Aborigines farthest from agricultural settlement (the other was Koonibba on the relatively remote Eyre Peninsula). Having recently signed responsibility for the Northern Territory over to the Commonwealth, South Australia seemed to forget that a north-west sparsely populated by nomads remained. The University of Adelaide's E.C. Stirling mentioned them in a 1914 survey article that argued for government to focus on the 'settled districts' where there was 'a relatively small number of full-blooded aboriginals and a relatively large number of half-castes and other grades of intercrossing between the white and the native race, or between the latter and the Asiatic aliens, such as Afghans and Chinese'. Walter Howchin's The Geography of South Australia (revised edition, 1917), from which a generation of South Australians learned to imagine their state, ignored Aborigines not in contact with Point Pearce, Point McLeay or Koonibba. The state declared the North-West Reserve in 1921 – an area of 56 721 square kilometres beyond colonial occupation. However, the only notice that Annual Reports of the Aborigines Department took of these remote people in the 1920s and 1930s was a few brief notes, by Port Augusta's senior police officer, on Aboriginal peoples' conditions across the northern half of the state. The Annual Reports for 1924 and 1933 mentioned that there were Aborigines in the North-West Reserve, and in 1937 these people (Anangu) became the responsibility of Presbyterians, who commenced Ernabella mission on the eastern edge of the reserve.

The pattern of institutional development in these three states was that the churches invested money and personnel in the more remote regions among Aborigines least affected by alien contact, in the hope of averting their extinction; meanwhile, each state developed institutions where people had been exposed to colonial occupation since before 1850, where 'full-bloods' were few or absent (unless they were removed there) and where the aim was to train 'detribalised' and 'half-caste' people for manual occupations. The fourth jurisdiction with 'northern' responsibilities, the Commonwealth in the Northern Territory, conformed to this pattern. Indeed, between committing to govern the Northern Territory in 1911 and committing to defend the Territory from Japan's invasion in 1939, the Australian government advanced little in its direct authority over Northern Territory Aborigines. With the important exception of the Administration's management of residential institutions for 'half-caste' children and youth in Darwin (Kahlin Compound) and Alice Springs (the Bungalow), the government conceded effective colonial authority over Aborigines to the missions and to the pastoral industry. By 1935, there were nine missions in the Northern Territory, most of them along the north coast.

The dangerous economies of remote Australia

The Christian missions of remote Australia were assemblages of routines and material goods that amounted to an 'intervention complex'. This phrase has been coined by historians of Cape York to refer to alien activities on Aboriginal land: by physical changes to the environment and by the attraction and coercion of people, these interventions changed how Aboriginal people used their country and how they related to each other and to the aliens themselves. Chris Anderson, for example, presents the history of Cape York's Kuku-Yalanji as a series of adaptations to the pressures and opportunities of, first, a tin-mining field and then to its sequel, a mission. The missionaries' 'intervention complex' established its own pattern of reward, demand and proscription that was intended to displace what the missionaries saw as the predatory and corrupting presence of preceding aliens. Thus Athol Chase narrates the transition from one complex to another on east Cape York.

First there was the complex of coastal/marine extractive industries which featured individual entrepreneurs operating in a largely undirected and uncontrolled frontier. The nature of the resources exploited meant that there was no pressure to remove Aborigines from their home territories. Rather the existence of small local populations along the coastline suited the purposes of these entrepreneurs in terms of exploitation. The second intervention complex, starting in 1924, was the Anglican mission [Lockhart River], and while this was part of a larger formal church structure, the process of articulation with the local Aboriginal population was via the series of individual superintendents, each with their own approaches which, though highly idiosyncratic, nevertheless acted as agents for the state as much as for the church.

To consider missions as an 'intervention complex' is to highlight that missionaries saw 'industrial' work as central to their moral project. After visiting the northern missions of the Church Missionary Society Reverend R.C.M. Long wrote in 1938: 'Missionary work is of four kinds: evangelistic, educational, medical and industrial.' He added: 'Cultivation of the heart and training of the hand go together.' At their most developed, remote missions were towns in which a number of occupations and services were located. At Beagle Bay mission, for example, there were the following materials and associated trades: stock work, fences, windmills, blacksmith, carpentry, tailoring, boot-making, saddler, tannery, butchers, bakers, cooks, kitchen gardens. One Beagle Bay missionary, George Walter, wrote in 1928: 'work inculcates discipline and practice of Christian virtues, as well as providing material means for the upkeep of the Mission'. Some missionaries saw agricultural work as especially significant. In an unpublished account of his work in Arnhem Land (evidently written in the late 1930s), Theodore Webb suggested that if the missionaries could get Yolngu to commit to agriculture, it would change their cosmology. '[T]he discovery that the food supply is to be assured and improved by the processes of agriculture, rather than by the observance of the traditional magical ritual of the Increase Ceremony, must mean a very far-reaching revolution of thought and belief.' In north Queensland, Mapoon, Aurukun, Doomadgee and Mitchell River missions had acquired cattle herds by the 1910s – for food, for income and as a form of supervised employment.

Missionaries who saw changing production and consumption as vital to Aborigines' preservation and reform were not stepping into a moral vacuum. Hunting and gathering had been a 'moral economy': the giving and receiving of the products of one's labour signified relatedness. We might therefore say that missionaries sought to replace the moral economy of hunter–gatherer society with the moral economy of a Christian agricultural community. However, that is an incomplete account of what missionaries intended and did. Remote missionaries understood themselves as intervening not only in the traditional Aboriginal way of life but also in the new and perverse colonising economies: the maritime harvesting industries (pearl-shells, trochus shells and bêche-demer/trepang) on the coasts of the Kimberley, Arnhem Land and Cape York; the buffalo hide industry on Melville Island and Western Arnhem Land; the beef-raising, peanut-growing and gold-seeking activities of the Daly River region; and sheep, cattle and dingo-scalping industries of Central Australia. The missionaries observed Aborigines' and Islanders' moral and physical degradation, resulting from their participation – not always voluntary – in these late 19th- and early 20th-century economic enclaves. They intervened in moral life by creating new sites for the production and consumption of goods mostly imported from the mainstream economy. The employers that they rivalled and even eclipsed sometimes responded with criticism of missions as too indulgent to be schools of good labour. May quotes one north Queensland beef boss ruing that

formerly we took the wild niggers as babies and then trained them as stockmen. At 14 they were competent workmen and had a job on a station for life if they wanted it. Today [the 1940s], through the interference of the Missions, we are not permitted to sign on a nigger before 14.

On sea as on land, the churches' evangelical and economic enclaves challenged the remote entrepreneur. Along the coast of North Australia, from Broome to Cairns, the harvesting of pearl-shell (and sometimes pearls), trochus shell and trepang bêche-de-mer had stimulated a demand for Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders whose 'swimming-diving' in shallow water would bring rewards. A lugger would carry fifteen to twenty workers to a productive area of sea, and then disperse them in dinghies. The fish were cleaned overnight, apart from the trepang, which had to be taken to shore in batches every few days, and smoked. As the beds in shallower waters were exhausted, swimming-diving gave way to diving with breathing apparatus from around 1880. This industry, whose prosperity varied as world prices fluctuated from year to year, remained open to the entry of small operators who could lease boats and borrow to pay running costs until their catch returned an income. The industry's labour source shifted, in the period 1880–1900, from locals (Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders) to imported workers from South-East Asia, the Pacific islands and Japan. This breach in the White Australia policy was tolerated for the sake of an industry that could not attract white labour with its low rates of pay and harsh working conditions and that had found Indigenous and non-white labour less tractable and reliable (in numbers available) than the imported. The working day was long, conditions on board were crude and uncomfortable, and there was high risk of injury and illness; divers aged quickly. In 1920, the writer R. Logan Jack doubted that participating Cape York Aborigines had 'freedom of contract' because of 'the lack of a common language'.

It was therefore inevitable that the natives, tempted on board by presents and promises, were at times inadequately informed of the nature of their duties or the duration of their term of service. Again, in some instances, women were induced on board the luggers, having been 'sold' by the old men of the tribes for such cheap considerations as appeal to the cupidity of savages. It was not long before complaint, friction, violence, sudden death and reprisal began to be heard of.

Cape York had been occupied in the period 1870–90 by the extension of a telegraph line, by the formation of pastoral leases along this line and by the Palmer River gold rush. Sandalwood, pearling and trepang industries had commenced along the coast, and hundreds of luggers used Aboriginal labour. The Torres Strait Islanders had come under alien influence even earlier. Trepang fishing is known to have occurred there as early as 1846; and the first pearl-shell station commenced on Warrier Island in 1868. The Torres Strait also saw the first corrective response by a Christian organisation. The London Missionary Society (LMS), having converted many residents of Pacific islands, moved into the Torres Strait in 1871. Evidently one reason for the people of the Strait to convert to Christianity was that under LMS authority islanders found protection from cruel and acquisitive lugger crews. Although it was not LMS policy to develop commercial operations, from 1897 the Reverend F.W. Walker encouraged islanders' self-employment; 'Papuan Industries', founded by two missionaries in 1904, lent them money to buy boats, marketed their marine produce and sold them selected 'western' goods at fair prices. Queensland had annexed the islands of the Torres Strait in 1879. The government resident on Thursday Island from 1886 to 1904, John Douglas, was aware of the protective efficacy of the LMS in the Strait. His regulatory strategy was to visit the fleets while they were at work, on his government boat, accompanied by police, and to encourage Christian missionaries by granting land on the Cape York coast and then gazetting some missions (such as Mapoon) as reformatories under the Industrial and Reformatory Schools Act 1865. After 1897, the Queensland government would give some missionaries the authority of 'protector'.


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Table of Contents

List of maps and figures,
Introduction: Deakin surveys the continent,
1 Missions and the state in North Australia,
2 Knowing and ruling Northern Aborigines,
3 Governments, churches, parents, spouses and children, 1897–1940,
4 Did 'protection' protect?,
5 Global awareness and the recession of race,
6 World Wars and the Cold War,
7 Towards racial equality,
8 From the referendum to 'self-determination',
9 The Indigenous Estate in Land and Sea,
10 Asserting 'Southern' Aboriginality,
11 The Indigenous middle class,
12 Family, community and the crisis of self-determination,
Epilogue: Within a single field of life,

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