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Life on the reserves did save many Aboriginal people from death at the hands of the white colonists, but it did not save their traditional way of life, it destroyed it further. The white, paternalistic idea of protecting the Indigenous population did not lead to an improved way of life for them. Protecting Aboriginal people just meant segregating (separating) them from white society. Keeping them on the reserves was 'best' for them. It really just meant more discrimination against them and a total loss of control over their lives.

Each reserve was controlled by a white manager, or by the local police. The managers had complete control over the lives of the Aboriginal people on the reserves, they essentially owned them. They had no citizenship rights - anything that Aboriginal people owned or earned came under the manager's control. In some States the managers had more control than others, but generally the reserves were more like a prison or labour camp than a home.

Aboriginal people who lived on the reserves had to ask permission to leave the reserve, to get a job or even to get married. They were denied citizenship rights and could not own a house or any land. Their daily lives were regimented and run by a routine that could not be broken. The smallest of transgressions could result in severe punishments and their homes and mail could be searched without their permission. There was also a complete ban on any traditional Indigenous celebrations and on their language and customs. On many reserves, even their names had to be Anglicised. Each reserve was different and laid down different levels of restriction on Aboriginal people, but the one thing they had in common was that they took away the ability of Aboriginal people to make choices. See image 1

Life on the Christian missions was not much better. In fact in some cases, it was probably worse. The paternalistic ideas of the white settlers knowing what was best for Aboriginal people also came into play. The Christian missionaries did think they were doing the best thing possible for Aboriginal people when they tried to turn them away from their 'pagan' customs and beliefs, but they were participating in the destruction of a culture.

The restrictions of rights and freedoms that existed on the reserves also existed on the missions, sometimes with even harsher treatment for not following the rules. On some missions breaking the rules brought severe punishments. Aboriginal people could be kicked, beaten or chained up for any transgressions of the strict rules. There were also 'economic' punishments. Rations could be withheld from their family. The worst punishment was expulsion from the mission. That meant no food and being separated from family and community. Some missions were so extreme in their paternalistic attitude that they would not even let Aboriginal people prepare their own food. They had to line up three times a day to receive their meals.

On the reserves and in the missions, education for Aboriginal people was seen as a waste of time and the Indigenous children were viewed merely as potential servants. For Indigenous children, basic education did not go beyond grade three until after 1938. Boys were taught how to be farm labourers and girls were taught how to be domestic servants. Once the children were over 14 years old they were not allowed to stay on the reserves or missions, they had to leave and find a job away from their family and community. Even when the children could go to school, the law in New South Wales meant that if a white parent complained, they could be sent home. In the missions, the schooling was more focused on the Bible and religious teaching than learning how to read and write. See animation

Many children were taken away from the supposed 'bad influence' of their families, especially in the missions. The missionaries concentrated their salvation efforts on the children as they could not persuade their parents to convert to Christianity. Many parents were happy to leave their children with the mission workers because at least there they were guaranteed food and shelter. Some were forced to leave their children by the threat of having their rations cut.

The reserves and the missions became a way to crush Aboriginality and to destroy any last vestige of their customs and way of life. Even the closure of the reserves only served to further destroy the Aboriginal peoples' way of life. When a reserve was closed, the people who lived there could be moved hundreds of miles away from the land where they had been born and with which they had a deep spiritual connection.

As the reserves became overcrowded and more expensive to maintain, the New South Wales government came up with a new policy - assimilation. The Aboriginal Protection Board decided that children;who had some European ancestry, should be removed from the reserves and be placed in white society, so they would become more and more 'European'. Only people of Aboriginal ancestry would be allowed to stay on the reserves, in order to save them from 'dying out'.

This policy marked the beginning of arguably the most tragic period of the history of the Aboriginal;peoples to date - that of the 'Stolen Generations'.

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Question 1/5

1. What did the paternalistic idea of protecting the Aborigines on reserves lead to?

Well educated children

Discrimination and a total loss of control over their lives

Traditional beliefs and customs were protected

A better way of life


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