Author’s research: Secrets From The Dust – Separation of the races and the settlements

In this next post from my series about how the research for Secrets From The Dust relates to the novel, I look at the use of settlements to separate the races from each other, and Aboriginals from their mixed-raced children. A short scene from the novel, which illustrates how the settlements were run, then follows.

Co-habitation between the races in Australia was illegal until 1967, though there were marriages and relationships which defied the law. In addition, Aboriginal parents were often separated from their mixed-raced children, so that they could be assimilated into European values under a government sponsored policy. Settlements where Aboriginals could be controlled lay at the heart of this practice.

Aboriginals lived on mission settlements at the turn of the C19th. They received their rations of tea, flour and sugar poured into a single sack. Afterwards the three were skilfully panned to separate them. It was at the settlements that mixed-raced children would also be taken from their parents as young as 4 years old, and placed on the other side of a chicken wire fence in dormitories, so that there could be little contact and cultural contamination. Then later, the children were sent to other institutions or foster homes.

In the mid-1950s, the Queensland missions were pleading with government for more funding to address the derelict housing, constant food shortages, unsafe water supplies, and high rates of sickness and death common to most of the missions. On the missions and settlements, infant mortality and rates of disease were much higher than for non-indigenous children in the State.

In the 1970s the health authorities started to train Aboriginal health workers to work in the settlements. But Aboriginals can be inside forbidden degrees of relationships, where they cannot look at or talk to each other. Consequently, generally, there would be two Aboriginal health workers at each clinic, so that if one is within the forbidden area of a relationship for dealing with a certain patient, the other could take the case. A Nagangkari spiritual healer may be called to remove an evil spirit from a patient (e.g. sucking on the forehead to remove an evil spirit in the form of a piece of wood, which is then disposed of in the traditional way) before ‘white fellas medicine’ is tried.

In the Northern Territories, the major health problems are alcohol related for both Europeans and Aboriginals. Europeans tend to drink beers; Aboriginals ports, sherries and wines.

Since the late 1970s, many Aboriginals have been moving out of the central settlements created by the government and churches into outstations funded with mineral royalties, where they can run their own lives

Secrets From The Dust – Scene 49:

Her husband put his arm around her and led her away, but even when they exited the gates, she looked back over her shoulder at Matron Blythe. She had met others like her when they lived on the settlement. They always thought that they were helping, trying to do the best for them. Her own mother, a half-caste named Alice, had grown up on a government settlement. When she reached fourteen they had sent her to work as a servant on a white farm, labour for which she was paid in rations of food and clothes. They sent her back to the settlement each time she became pregnant, and Daisy became the third pregnancy for which she was returned. She said the white farmers wouldn’t leave her alone, but the government appointed missionaries said she needed to curb her promiscuity, for which they prescribed hard and longer hours of work. Each of her children she only held until they were four years old, and that’s when the missionaries took them and placed them on the other side of the chicken wire, which ran down the middle of the dormitory, so that there would be no contact. That’s why the mothers kept them children on their breasts for such a long time, so that they could give them a lifetime of loving and touching in those four years. Soon after this the mothers were sent out to work, and by the time they returned with their next pregnancies, their older offspring had been moved into segregated children’s dormitories, so that they could be converted to the Christian values and work ethics without risk of cultural contamination. Daisy and most of the other children found ways to break the strictly regimented rules that governed settlement life, and they sneaked across fences to make contact with the women—all of whom would act as their parents and let them call them auntie, whether their real mothers were there or not. Sometimes they even dug under the fences to go and spend time in a blacks’ camp close by. But one day the missionaries looked at her and agreed that she had too much white blood to live with the others, and they gave her to a white family. The family said the girl had some kind of spirit in her, and they were frightened of this, so when she escaped to live in a blacks’ camp, they didn’t complain. She grew up there learning their ways, and when she was old enough she became Toby’s woman, only getting tied in their customary way, because it was illegal to marry an Aboriginal without the white protectors permission. Their mob had been drawn back into a settlement because the government was still trying to force their people off the land, but the management there had not been so keen on separating them from their children. She had allowed her kids to go to school, but secretly she still taught them their ways, until a new manager came and everything changed. He applied the rules the way they were written, and rations were reduced or denied if they continued to go fishing, hunting or tucker gathering, as well as if they spoke their own lingo or refused to put their kids up for adoption. But Daisy and her mob kept breaking the rules, and so he threw them off the settlement telling them to see if they could survive on their own, but without their mixed-race kids. They went back for them kids, and then they had kept moving to stay close to where their husbands were working and steer clear of the cunnichman and the Welfare. She hoped she had taught her daughter enough to survive until they got to her. She had seen how much their girl liked to do good at their schooling and always wanted to be as good as them other kids, and it worried her, because she knew she wouldn’t be allowed.

Previous Author research notes:

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About georgehamilton

George Hamilton likes to know what’s going on around the world, to delve into the customs and practices of different cultures, and this is often a feature of his novels. His tales are based on characters intense personal or family dramas, with major social or political events strongly impacting their story. In addition to World Literature, he also writes multi-genre novels which include: Historical, Suspense/Thriller, and Contemporary. He currently lives in London, England.
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