Protection and segregation 1890s to the 1950s

Protection and segregation (1890s to the 1950s)

Indigenous survivors of frontier conflict were moved onto reserves or missions. From the end of the nineteenth century, various State and Territory laws were put in place to control relations between Aboriginal people and other Australians. Under these laws, protectors, protection boards and native affairs departments segregated and controlled a large part of the Aboriginal population. It has been estimated that the Aboriginal population during the 1920s had fallen to only about 60,000 from perhaps 300,000 or even one million people in 1788
Face the facts page 45

In June 1883 the Aborigines Protection Board was established. The Board, consisting of five men, controlled the lives of the 9000 or so 'full-blood' and 'part- Aboriginal' people who lived in New
South Wales. More reserves or stations were set up - by 1900 there were 133 of them. Maloga and Warangesda were taken over by the Board, and the people of Maloga subsequently moved to Cummeragunja. Missionaries were allowed to live on the reserves.

In 1909 the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Act was passed. This was to be the main legislation
governing the lives of Aboriginal people for the next 60 or so years, although it was amended many times according to changing government policies. The Act provided for all reserves and stations and
all buildings to be vested in the Board. The Board had the power to move Aboriginal people out of towns; to set up managers, local committees and local guardians (police) for the reserves; to control reserves; to prevent liquor being sold to Aboriginals; and to stop whites from associating with Aboriginals or entering the reserves.

Amendments to the Act in 1915 and 1918 allowed the Board to remove children from their parents for training, and to force 'half-castes' to leave the reserves. Young girls were sent to Cootamundra Girls
Home to train as domestic servants, and the boys to Singleton to train for service on farms. Kinchela Boys Home at Kempsey was established in 1924. The children in these institutions received almost no education and their labour was exploited. The effects on Aboriginal family life were devastating.

From the 1920s the policy became one of enforced assimilation for 'part- Aboriginals' as the Board tried to reduce the number of people on the reserves. In the 1930s people were shifted from one reserve to another, so that some reserves could be closed and the land leased to neighbouring white farmers, as happened at Tibooburra, Angledool and Carowa Tank.

The Aboriginal Welfare Board replaced the Aborigines Protection Board in 1940, but continued, under a 'new policy of assimilation', to close reserves and encourage people to move to town. In 1967
a Joint Committee of the two houses of State Parliament strongly endorsed these policies. The Committee also recommended that in due course all Aboriginal reserves should disappear. Such decisions totally demoralised the people still living on the reserves, who had come to regard them as
homelands. (The subsequent official neglect of these properties largely accounts for the poor conditions suffered by many Aboriginal people now living on former reserves.)

During the 1920s Aboriginal people began to lobby for the abolition of the Aborigines Protection Board in favour of a body with an all-Aboriginal membership. Several organisations were formed and were active
throughout the 1920s, '30s and '40s: the Australian Aborigines Progress Association, the Australian Aborigines League and the Aborigines Progressive Association. These organisations also fought for national citizenship for Aboriginals and full equality with other citizens, Some people also wanted a representative in the Commonwealth Parliament, Those involved in these activities in the 1930s came from all parts of New South Wales and Victoria. Among them were William Cooper (Cummeragunja), Bill Ferguson (Dubbo), Margaret Tucker and Douglas Nicholls (Melbourne), Jack and Selina Patten and Tom Foster (La Perouse), Pearl Gibbs (Brewarrina), Jack Kinchela (Coonabarabran) and Helen Grosvenor

In 1937, with the l50th anniversary of British settlement looming, Bill Ferguson, inspired by William Cooper, called the founding meeting of the Aborigines Progressive Association and set about
organising a conference in Sydney for 26 January 1938, It was called' A Day of Mourning and Protest', About 1000 Aboriginal men and women attended, Before the meeting a pamphlet' Aborigines claim citizen rights!' was written by Patten and Ferguson. This meeting was the culmination of ten years' action by New South Wales Aboriginals against the policies of the Aborigines Protection Board.

Australia Hall Sydney 26 Jan 1938

The following week, on 31 January 1938, a deputation of about 20 people presented the Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, with a proposed national policy for Aboriginals. They wanted Commonwealth control of all Aboriginal matters, with a separate Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs; an administration advised by a Board of six, at least three of whom were to be Aboriginals nominated by the Aborigines Progressive Association; and full citizen status for all Aboriginals and civil equality with white Australians, including equality in education, labour laws, workers compensation, pensions, land ownership and wages. Lyons replied that, under the Constitution, Commonwealth control was not possible.

These protests prompted the State Government to set up the New South Wales Parliamentary Select Committee of 1937 and the Public Service Board investigation of 1938 to look at mis-management and conditions on the reserves. Unfortunately, very little resulted from these investigations.

Aboriginal action continued. In February 1939 people at Cummeragunja went on strike; they left the reserve and camped on the other side of the Murray River in Victoria. Protest meetings were held in the Domain in Sydney. The movement for citizen rights continued into the 1960s. During the 'Freedom Rides' of 1965 students and Aboriginals protested against discrimination in certain New South Wales towns.

Source: Aboriginal Australia Aboriginal People of NSW



Key dates and events

1888 - The term ‘White Australia’ was first used when published in William Lane’s Boomerang paper in Brisbane.

1890 - War is declared by Jandamarra (also known as pigeon) on the white people in the Kimberly, preventing settlement of the region for another six years.

1901 - The Commonwealth of Australia became a self-governing member of the British Empire.
Amongst the new Acts passed was the Pacific Islander Act, allowing the deportation of all Islanders, and the Immigration Restriction Act, which introduced a dictation test for all immigrants.

1903 - This was further enforced with the Naturalisation Act, which excluded people who were non-Europeans from being naturalised.

1905 - The WA Protector of Aborigines became the guardian of all Aboriginal and ‘half caste’ children under the age of 16. As one travelling Inspector put it:
I would not hesitate for one moment to separate any half caste from its Aboriginal mother, no matter how frantic her grief is at the time. They soon forget their offspring.

1908 - The invalid pension was introduced for all Australians, the maternity allowance in 1912. Both pensions were unavailable to Aboriginal people.

1915 - The Aborigines Protection Board was empowered to remove and apprentice children without a court hearing. Moneys earned by Aboriginal peoples was held by the protector, and was not seen again. This power was enforced until 1940.

1925 - Saw the formation of the Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association NSW. It held that children should stay with their families, and that the families be held sacred and free from interference.

1927 - Aboriginals were banned from Central Perth until 1948.

1928 - The Conniston Massacre (NT) occurred, 31 Aboriginals were killed because one white dingo trapper was killed.

Source: Australian Museum

More Dates

More dates:
Australian Human Rights Commission
The history of the separation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families



It is known from the work of archaeologists that human occupation of Australia dates back at least 60000 years. These readings give a brief history of READING: 1. Aboriginal people in NSW

  • Reading 1D Under the Act

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission 1997
(c) Commonwealth of Australia 1997 ISBN 0 664 10152 0

READING: 2 The Legacy of History: National Report Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

  • Reading 2D : Police
  • Reading 2E : Aboriginal People and the Law

READING 3: Jack McPhee & Edward Eyre

The ramifications of the choice about seeking exemption status are well described by Jack McPhee, who speaks of the period in Western Australia between 1939 and 1941.

  • Reading 3A : Jack McPhee

READING 5: Bringing them Home - History

  • Reading 5A NSW practices 1788 - 1936
  • Reading 5D Jennifer's story
  • Reading 5E Children's experiences

Bringing them Home
Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
April 1997

Upper Hunter Case Study

READING 102: Upper Hunter History of Aboriginal and European contact: Part A

READING 102F : St Clair (Mount Olive), Caroona and the Aborigines Inland Mission

READING 103: Upper Hunter History of Aboriginal and European contact: Part B

READING 103A : Railway tents, 14 pound hammers and assimilation


Video Clip G: First Australians Ep6 1929 Doug Nicholls (1 min 46 sec)

S. Secret Country Extract 1: 1938 (2 min 34 sec)

V. Secret Country Extract 4: Petition the King (1 min 22 sec)