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6

Changing rights and freedoms

Inquiry
questions

6.1 How have the rights and
freedoms of Aboriginal
peoples and other groups
in Australia changed
during the post-war
period?

In this topic you will learn about:






Aboriginal people
— change over time; changing government policies towards
Aboriginal people including: protection, assimilation, integration
and self-determination
— group: the experience of the stolen generation
— events and issues: the role of Aboriginal peoples in the struggle for
freedoms and rights including: the 1967 referendum; land rights
and Native Title
Migrants
— the changing patterns of migration 1945–2000
— the experience of a migrant group: a migrant group; and enemy
aliens in WWI
— the role of one of the following: the Snowy Mountains Scheme,
1970s boat people and multiculturalism
Women
— change over time: the achievements of the women’s movement in
the post-WWII period
— the experience of one of the following: women during the Great
Depression, women’s liberationists in the post-WWII period
— the role of one of the following in the changing rights and
freedoms of Australian women: woman’s suffrage, women in
parliament and equal pay for women

In this topic you will learn to:





230

account for continuity and/or change over time in the relevant study
examine the experiences of the chosen groups using a range of sources
outline the important developments in a key event/issue relating to
the chosen study
explain the significance of the event/issue for the changing rights and
freedoms of the chosen study

Chronology
1944 Liberal Party is formed in December.
1945 First atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, in August.
End of World War II.
First Sydney-to-Hobart yacht race.
1946 Trans-Australia Airways establishes services connecting all capital
cities.
Scheme to encourage European migration to Australia.
1947 Boom in migration and the birth rate.
Australian Broadcasting Commission begins broadcasting an
independent news service.
1948 First mass-produced motor car in Australia.
1949 Federal legislation conditionally allows Aboriginal peoples to vote in
federal elections.
Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority created.
Liberal–Country Party federal government.
1950s Significant rise in the birth rate known as the ‘baby boom’.
1953 Australian Atomic Energy Commission is established.
1954 Royal Tour of Australia by Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.
1955 Post-war immigration reaches 1 million.
1956 Commencement of first regular Australian television service.
Melbourne hosts the Olympic Games.
Federal provision for Asian immigrants to gain citizenship after 15
years’ residence.
1958 Abolition of ‘dictation test’ for non-English-speaking immigrants.
1960s Major growth in trade with Asian countries.
1961 Oral contraceptives for women are commercially available.
1962 Aboriginal people given the vote in Commonwealth elections.
First university Chair of Australian Literature is established.
1965 First report by Professor Ronald Henderson on poverty, which
focuses on Melbourne.
1966 New boom in immigration.
Japan becomes Australia’s largest overseas export market.
Introduction of decimal currency.
Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin is the first woman to become a
federal minister.
1967 Referendum to count Aboriginal people in the census and to allow
the Commonwealth to make laws for them. Referendum has the
highest majority ever.
Postcodes are introduced.
1970 Net immigration begins to decrease.
Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch is published.
1971 Anti-apartheid demonstrations are held during the South African
Springbok rugby tour in Australia.
1972 Whitlam Labor government is elected to office on 2 December.
Whitlam government abolishes the White Australia Policy.

231

Australia in the 20th Century

6.1a How have the rights and freedoms of Aboriginal
peoples in Australia changed during the post-war
period?
Change over time
The paternalistic view
In the period 1901 to 1914, the various state governments maintained the same attitude
towards Aboriginal peoples as the British colonists had in 1788. This attitude was based
on a belief that the Aboriginal peoples were ‘uncivilised’ and inferior to Europeans
because they did not have clothes, a Christian religion or the English language. Most of
Paternalism in terms
all, they were not white and were ‘savages’.
of government
means implementing
These attitudes led to paternalism towards the Aboriginal peoples by the whites.
regulations in order
Paternalism comes from the word ‘paternal’, meaning fatherly. In terms of government
to manage a group
in the manner of a
action, it means taking ‘fatherly’ control of people who are believed to be unable to act
father.
for themselves. Paternalism is sometimes well-intentioned, but it is based on the belief
that one group is superior and they must ‘do what is best’ for the inferior group.
The paternalistic view of state governments, church leaders and the white population
meant that Aboriginal people were not consulted about what was best for them. It was
believed that their life would be ‘improved’ by Christianity, schooling and following the
‘white man’s ways’.
The forcing of Aboriginal people from traditional land was connected to paternalism.
White Australians considered their needs for the land to be superior to those of
Aboriginal peoples. It was believed that placing displaced Aboriginal people on reserves
or missions and giving them handouts of food and basic supplies was humane; that life
in a building was better than wandering in a bush.
These paternalistic attitudes were the
Source 6.1
result of ignorance of Aboriginal culture
Aboriginal children with a missionary, c.1910. In what ways does this
and lifestyle. Even ‘expert’ white people,
photograph show paternalism?
such as Daisy Bates (1859–1951), who had
lived among Aboriginal people, suggested
that they should be gathered into a large,
central reserve closed to outsiders until the
Aboriginal people had established their
own form of government. They were to be
allowed to keep their traditions, but would
be taught how to farm.
The need to isolate (or segregate)
Aboriginal peoples from the white
population was also related to
paternalism. Isolating Aboriginal people
on reserves was seen as one way of
protecting them from European diseases
and alcohol. However, this action did not
take into account the fact that traditional
land, not the land of a reserve, was
important to Aboriginal peoples.

232

Chapter 6

Changing rights and freedoms

Paternalism and the Dreaming
Traditional land was connected to the Dreaming (also known as the Dreamtime). The
Dreaming involved legends about the past, how things were created and the laws to be
followed. It involved the present and the future. The Dreaming bound Aboriginal people
to everything in their lives and their environment. This is explained in source 6.2.
Source 6.2
The Dreaming

In the beginning was the Dreamtime, the time of creation, Alcheringa … Dreamtime … lives in
Aboriginal legends handed down … for at least 40,000 years. In song, story and poetry, art, drama
and dance, the Dreamtime tells how the Spirit Ancestors formed and gave life to the land and laid
down the Law …
For Aboriginal people the Dreamtime explains the origin of the universe, the workings of nature
and the nature of humanity, the cycle of life and death. It shapes … Aboriginal life by regulating
kinship, family life … with a network of obligations to people, land and spirits …
Dreamtime is continuous and present, a cycle of life without beginning or end … Dreaming is the
life of the spirit and the imagination … Most of all, Dreamtime is the religious experience, the spiritual
tie that binds Aboriginal people to the land that owns them.
Dreamtime is the spirit of the land. In most of modern Australia, the Dreamtime was the web of
life, the harmony of all things that was shattered by the white invasion.
Nigel Parbury, Survival: A History of Aboriginal Life in New South Wales,
published by the NSW Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs in 1986, revised 1988

A totem is something
in nature that is seen
as an emblem of a
family or clan.

Linked to the Dreaming is the importance of objects and places connected to the
Spirit Ancestors. To the Aboriginal people, their territory is not simply trees, hills, caves
and rivers. These are places created by the Spirit Ancestors who lived in the landscape.
In fact, these ancestors had changed themselves into the natural features of the
environment. Such places are sacred sites.
The Aboriginal view of life is that humans, animals and natural features are all
part of the same life-force. Each group has a totem (place, animal, fish or bird) which
represents their Spirit Ancestor from the Dreaming.
Each person also has a personal totem based on happenings during their mother’s
pregnancy. The people, land, totems and life form an Aboriginal person’s system. Each
Aboriginal group had its own territory, with its special features. Moving a group to a
reserve, away from these special features, meant disconnecting them from life itself.
This was not understood by those with paternalistic attitudes.
Aboriginal people also held the land in great respect and saw it as the mother that
gives life to all. It was important to care for the land, to preserve and conserve it. They
knew that, in order to survive, they must protect the balance between themselves
and nature. For this reason, Aboriginal society preferred tradition, continuity and little
change.

Source 6.3
Aboriginal ties with particular land

Contrary to the beliefs of the first white observers, Aboriginal groups did have definite ties with
particular pieces of land. They were not complete nomads, but rather semi-nomadic: that is they
camped at different temporary campsites within their own identifiable territory. Though the tie with
the territory was not obvious to the European eye, it was in fact stronger than the same tie in western
society.
M. Prentis, A Study in Black and White: The Aborigines in Australian History (2nd edn),
Social Science Press, Katoomba NSW,1988

233

Australia in the 20th Century

Working
historically

Comprehension
1
2
3
4

In your own words, define ‘paternalism’ as it applied to Aboriginal peoples from 1901
to 1914.
Why did white Australians at this time have paternalistic views about Aboriginal peoples?
What was wrong with the idea of putting dispossessed Aboriginal people on reserves?
Below is a list of statements about Aboriginal peoples. Decide whether each statement is
paternalistic or not and explain why.
a Aboriginal people need looking after.
b Aboriginal culture is primitive.
c Aboriginal people cannot control their lives.
d Aboriginal people can be improved by Christianity.
e Aboriginal people are better off if placed on reserves.

Analysis and use of sources
1
2
3
4
5

From source 6.2, list three things that the Dreamtime explains to the Aboriginal peoples.
According to source 6.2, what is the most important feature of the Dreamtime in
Aboriginal religious beliefs?
Explain what is meant by ‘the harmony of all things that was shattered by the white
invasion’.
How does source 6.3 support the case that Europeans did not understand the connection
between specific Aboriginal groups and specific pieces of land?
Here is a scenario: The establishment of a town and farms led to the dispossession of a
local Aboriginal group. A paternalistic group proposes to move the displaced people to
a reserve 300 kilometres away, where they can ‘live their own way’.
What information from sources 6.2 and 6.3 could you use to argue against this case?
List your points.

Communication
Using your points from question 5 above, and from what you have learnt in this section, write a
one-page exposition to argue the case against placing the Aboriginal people on reserves.

The policy of protection
Chronology of protection in the 19th century
1838

1857
1881

1893

Royal Society for Protection of Aborigines is established in the colony of New South Wales.
Protectors are given money and land to set up stations. At the stations, Aboriginal people are taught
to farm and Aboriginal children are taught European culture.
New South Wales Protectorates are closed down. Aboriginal people are not interested in them and
white settlers are against government money being spent on Aboriginal peoples.
New South Wales Government appoints a Protector of Aborigines. The Protector has power to set
up reserves and force Aboriginal people to live on them. Aboriginal peoples have no political or
legal power to object.
The Aborigines Protection Board is established in New South Wales. Aboriginal affairs in Western
Australia were under the control of the British Parliament until 1897. Victoria appointed an
Aborigines Protection Board in 1860. Queensland established two Protectors in 1897.

The policy of protection for Aboriginal peoples was connected with paternalism.
This policy had its origins in the 19th century and was described by one authority
to ‘smooth the pillow of a dying race’. The previous chronology will help you to
understand the idea of protection.

234

Chapter 6

Changing rights and freedoms

In 1909, the Aborigines Protection Act was passed in New South Wales. It led to the
appointment of two white ‘guardians’ who had many powers to control Aboriginal
peoples. Some of these are outlined in source 6.4.
The Victorian Aborigines Act 1886, like the policies of all Australian states, also put
Aboriginal affairs into the hands of others. Source 6.5 contains extracts from that Act.
Many Aboriginal people were forced to live on reserves, and suffered as a result. Under
the policy of protection, Aboriginal children could be removed from their families and
sent to homes to be trained as servants or farm labourers. The Cootamundra Girls’
Home was established in 1911.
The purpose of protection and the way it operated is described in source 6.6 by the
historian Malcolm Prentis.

Source 6.4
Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (NSW)
There shall be a board for the Protection of Aborigines and it will be headed by the Inspector-General
of Police.
The Board will appoint managers of reserves.
The duties of the board will be to:
• control the money for assisting Aborigines
• distribute blankets and clothing to Aborigines
• have custody of Aboriginal children and educate them
• manage reserves
• supervise all matters affecting Aborigines
• remove from the reserves any Aborigines who should be earning their own living.
NSW Parliamentary Debates, 1909

Source 6.5
Aborigines Act 1886 (Vic.)
The Governor in Council may make regulations and orders:–
For prescribing the place where any aboriginal or any tribe of aboriginals shall reside:
For prescribing terms on which contracts for and on behalf of aboriginals may by made with
persons other than aboriginals …
For apportioning amongst aboriginals the earnings of aboriginals under any contract …
For the care custody and education of the children of aboriginals …
All bedding, clothing and other articles issued or distributed to the aboriginals … shall be considered
on loan only, and shall remain the property of His Majesty …
Victorian Parliament, 1915, 6 George V, No. 2610

Source 6.6
The policy of protection

It has been described by some authorities as a system of ‘protection–segregation’: that is, separation
of Aborigines from white society in order to protect them from its bad effects … In its protective
aspect, the policy did provide for medical care (stations often had matrons), rations, and such things
as fishing tackle and agricultural implements; and blankets were still distributed. It was sometimes
the policy to place children in ‘homes’ or stations or even taking them from their parents; it was
thought in this way they could be salvaged from the ‘primitive’ lifestyle of their parents … Education
was another means of raising particularly Aboriginal children to ‘civilisation’. This tended to be left to
Christian missions.
M. Prentis, A Study in Black and White: The Aborigines in Australian History (2nd edn),
Social Science Press, Katoomba NSW, 1988

235

Australia in the 20th Century

In 1911, control of the Northern Territory was transferred from South Australia to the
federal government. This gave the Commonwealth responsibility for looking after the
20 000 full-blooded and several hundred ‘half-caste’ Aboriginal people of this territory
and occurred at a time when some members of the public were calling for better
treatment of Indigenous Australians.
The federal government, under the Commonwealth Aboriginals Ordinance 1912,
established an Aboriginal Department under a Chief Protector and allowed for the
creation of reserves. The Chief Protector had the power to take any Aboriginal person
into his custody and, along with the police, could arrest Aboriginal people without the
need for a warrant. Further, under the ordinance, all marriages between Aboriginal and
non-Aboriginal people could only take place with the permission of the minister for
external affairs.

How did Aboriginal peoples react to ‘protectionism’?
In the period up to 1914, Aboriginal peoples were forced to accept ‘protectionism’. One
Aboriginal person complained that the Europeans had stolen his country and were
now stealing Aboriginal children by taking them away to live in huts, work and read
books like ‘whitefellows’. It was not until Aboriginal activists such as the Australian
Aborigines Progressive Association (1924) and the Australian Aborigines League (1932)
pushed for reform that changes were made.

Working
historically

Comprehension
1

2
3
4

Using the scale 1 cm = 5 years, draw a timeline and place on it these events:
a appointment of a Protector of Aborigines in New South Wales
b Aborigines Protection Act passed in New South Wales
c Aborigines Protection Board established in New South Wales
d Commonwealth government takes over Aboriginal affairs in Northern Territory
Why do you think the policy of protection was developed?
How were rights of Aboriginal peoples different from those of non-Aboriginal peoples
under protection?
What relationship can you see between paternalism and protection?

Analysis and use of sources
1
2

3
4
5
6
7
8

Refer to source 6.4. Who was in charge of the Aborigines Protection Board?
Use source 6.4 to decide whether the following statements are true or false:
a Aboriginal people living on reserves had control over their own money.
b Aboriginal parents had custody of their own children.
c Aboriginal people were able to manage and run the reserves themselves.
d All Aboriginal people were allowed to live on the reserves.
How do sources 6.4 and 6.6 help you to understand the policy of protection?
Refer to source 6.5. What powers did the Aboriginal peoples have for determining where
they lived?
If a group of Aboriginal people earned money, could they decide how they would share it
among themselves?
Refer to sources 6.5 and 6.5. Was the legislation in each state similar or different?
Refer to source 6.6. Why were Aboriginal children placed in homes?
Is there evidence in sources 6.4 and 6.5 (primary sources) to support the view of Prentis
in source 6.6 (a secondary source)?

Communication
Source 6.7 contains a description of New South Wales protection legislation. Using this model,
write a description of the Victorian legislation for the protection of Aboriginal peoples.
236

Chapter 6

Changing rights and freedoms

Source 6.7
Model of a description of New South Wales protection legislation
Orientation that introduces
the reader to the subject of
the description

The legislation in New South Wales relates to the
protection policy was the Aborigines Protection
Act 1909.

A series of paragraphs to
describe each feature of
the legislation

The first section of the legislation established a
Board for the Protection of Aboriginals. The head
of this board was to be the Inspector-General of
Police.
The next section tells of the Board’s authority
to appoint managers of reserves. No details are
given on who these managers should be.
The final section of the legislation details the
duties of the Board. Six duties are listed including
controlling the money of Aborigines and custody
of Aboriginal children.

A conclusion to signal the
end of the description

The legislation provides historians with an
understanding of how the policy of protection
was applied to Aboriginal people in NSW in the
1900s.

The policy of assimilation
Source 6.8
Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls, c.1940s

Source 6.9
The aim of assimilation

[It aimed to have] all persons of Aboriginal blood or mixed blood living like white Australians
Sharman Stone (ed.), Aborigines in White Australia: A Documentary History, Heinemann, Melbourne, 1974

237

Australia in the 20th Century

An anthropologist is
a person who studies
human society and
culture.

The policy of assimilation replaced that of protectionism during the 1940s in Australia.
The aim of assimilation is given in source 6.9.
During the 1930s, improved methods of communication led to greater contact
between the city and the outback, with more people becoming aware of the ‘Aboriginal
problem’. At the same time, a number of Christian missionaries and anthropologists
began to question the government’s policy of protection and segregation of Aboriginal
peoples onto reserves. Professor A.P. Elkin of the University of Sydney and T.G.H.
Strehlow of Adelaide argued that protection should
be replaced by assimilation. Aboriginal peoples
Source 6.10
themselves also began to actively seek better
Professor A.P. Elkin was a proponent
of assimilation
treatment.
At the 1937 Conference of Commonwealth and State
Aboriginal Authorities, agreement was reached on
moving from the passive policy of protection to a more
positive policy described as assimilation. Assimilation
meant Aboriginal peoples would be encouraged and
assisted to become like white Australians and they
were to have the same rights as white Australians.
They were to forget their own culture and live as
Europeans. The policy was based on the mistaken
belief that all Aboriginal people wanted to accept
the loss of their own culture. A later government
definition of assimilation is contained in source 6.11.

Source 6.11
Government definition of assimilation
All Aborigines and part-Aborigines are expected eventually to attain the same manner of living as other
Australians and to live as members of a single Australian community enjoying the same rights and
privileges, accepting the same responsibilities, observing the same customs, and influenced by the same
beliefs, hopes and loyalties as other Australians.
Conference of State Ministers, 1961

Source 6.12
Exemption certificates

Aborigines had to apply and be recommended to achieve an exemption, which meant proving to
the DWO that they were willing to live separately from other Aboriginal people, to work in approved
‘regular’ jobs and to save for approved purchases. Home furnishings would be ‘approved’, for
example, but sharing of wages with kinfolk or spending money for travel to maintain extended family
relationships would be definitely ‘disapproved’. Denial or revocation of exemption certificates meant
families were more vulnerable to school segregations and to loss of their children, were far less likely
to receive Federal unemployment benefits or old-age pensions, and were denied access to hotels
and alcohol, which meant exclusion from the labour exchange of many country towns as well as from
the social network of the rural male workforce.
Despite the high cost of not participating in the ‘exemption’ process, many Aborigines refused to
be humiliated into applying for what they called a ‘Dog Licence’.
Adapted from Heather Goodhall, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770–1972,
Allen & Unwin/Black Books, Sydney

238


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