An Aboriginal reserve, also called simply reserve, was a government-sanctioned settlement for Aboriginal Australians, created under various state and federal legislation. Along with missions and other institutions, they were used from the 19th century to the 1960s to keep Aboriginal people separate from the white Australian population, for various reasons perceived by the government of the day. The Aboriginal reserve laws gave governments much power over all aspects of Aboriginal people’s lives.
Protectors of Aborigines and (later) Aboriginal Protection Boards were appointed to look after the interests of the Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal reserves were used from the nineteenth century to keep Aboriginal people separate from the white Australian population, often ostensibly for their protection.
Protectors of Aborigines had been appointed from as early as 1836 in South Australia (with Matthew Moorhouse as the first permanent appointment as Chief Protector in 1839), with the Governor proclaiming that Aboriginal people were "to be considered as much under the safeguard of the law as the Colonists themselves, and equally entitled to the Privileges of British Subjects". Under the Aboriginal Orphans Ordinance 1844 the Protector was made legal guardian of "every half-caste and other unprotected Aboriginal child whose parents are dead or unknown". Schools and reserves were set up. Despite these attempts at protection, Moorhouse himself presided over the Rufus River massacre in 1841. The office of Protector was abolished in 1856; within four years, 35 of the 42 Aboriginal reserves in South Australia had been leased to settlers.
In 1839 George Augustus Robinson was appointed the first Chief Protector in what is now Victoria.
In the second half of the 19th century, in an attempt to reduce the violence on the frontiers, devastation by disease and to provide a "humane" environment for Aboriginal people, perceived as a dying race, the colonial governments passed legislation designed to "protect" them. The idea was that by legislating to create certain territory for Aboriginal people, the clashes over land would stop, and the Aboriginal people would become less reliant on government rations by using the land to farm.
Aboriginal Protection Boards were created in most colonies/states:
The Aboriginal laws gave governments much power over all aspects of Aboriginal people’s lives. They lost what would later be considered basic human rights like freedom of movement, custody of children and control over property. In some states and the Northern Territory, the Chief Protector had legal guardianship over all Aboriginal children, ahead of the parents. These policies were at their worst in the 1930s. "In the name of protection", suggest the authors of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report, "Indigenous people were subject to near-total control". The forcible removal of children from their families led to what became known as the Stolen Generations.
See also: Category:Australian Aboriginal missions
Broadly speaking, there were three types of spaces formally set aside by the government specifically for Aboriginal people to live on:
Aboriginal reserves: Aboriginal reserves were parcels of land set aside for Aboriginal people to live on; these were not managed by the government or its officials. From 1883 onwards, the Aboriginal people who were living on unmanaged reserves received rations and blankets from the Aborigines Protection Board (APB), but remained responsible for their own housing. Such reserves included Forster and Burnt Bridge.
Aboriginal missions: Aboriginal missions were created by churches or religious individuals to house Aboriginal people and train them in Christian ideals and to also prepare them for work. Most of the missions were developed on land granted by the government for this purpose. Around ten missions were established in NSW between 1824 and 1923, although missionaries also visited some managed stations. Many Aboriginal people have adopted the term ‘mission’ or ‘mish’ to refer to reserve settlements and fringe camps generally.
Aboriginal stations: Aboriginal stations or ‘managed reserves’ were established by the APB from 1883 onwards, and were managed by officials appointed by that Board. Education (in the form of preparation for the workforce), rations and housing tended to be provided on these reserves, and station managers tightly controlled who could, and could not, live there. Many people were forcibly moved onto and off stations. Managed stations included Purfleet, Karuah and Murrin Bridge near Lake Cargellico.
Many other Aboriginal people did not live on Aboriginal missions, reserves or stations, but in towns, or in fringe camps on private property or on the outskirts of towns, on beaches and riverbanks. There are many such places across the state that remain important to Aboriginal people.
Since 1983, Local Aboriginal Land Councils have managed land and housing in similar and other settings.
See also List of Aboriginal Reserves in New South Wales and List of Aboriginal missions in New South Wales.
Several Aboriginal missions, including Point McLeay (1916) and Point Pearce (1915) became Aboriginal reserves, as recommended by the Royal Commission on the Aborigines in 1916. Included in the recommendations was that the government become the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children upon reaching their 10th birthday, and place them "where they deem best". Seven years after the Final Report of the Commission, the Aborigines (Training of Children) Act 1923, in order to allow Indigenous children to be "trained" in a special institution so that they could go out and work.
Most of what is now the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY lands) was formerly the North-West Aboriginal Reserve.
Before the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897, various religious organisations had established a number of mission stations, and the Colony of Queensland government had gazetted small areas as reserves for Aboriginal people to use. Once the Act was passed, all Aboriginal reserves became subject to the Act. For several of these reserves, Superintendents were appointed to carry out the provisions of the Act, and missionaries who had been running Aboriginal settlements also became Superintendents. However, the majority of reserves in Queensland were never "managed" reserves; they had no Superintendent and were usually controlled by the Local Protector of Aborigines.
Victoria had a number of Aboriginal stations and Native Police reserves (run by the colonial government), and missions (run by religious organisations). In 1860, the missions were taken over by the state, becoming stations, though were still often administered by the same religious groups. The stations were run by Superintendents (earlier Assistant Protectors).
The government also operated depots, (run by Guardians) which provided food, clothing and blankets, but not somewhere to live. A number of closed stations were subsequently used as depots.
From 1886, after a contested situation at Coranderrk, the stations were progressively shrunk and closed. Only Lake Tyers and Framlingham were left by the early 1920s. At this time, Framlingham became an unsupervised reserve where many Aboriginal people lived. In 1958 and 1960, two new Aboriginal settlements were built by the government in northern Victoria to provide transitional housing for people living in camps. Within a few years, the residents had chosen to transition to mainstream Housing Commission housing, and the settlements closed. In 1971, Lake Tyers and Framlingham were given to Aboriginal trusts to own and manage.
Established before Protectorate
Established during Protectorate
Established between Protectorate and Board of Protection
Established under Board of Protection
Established by Aborigines Welfare Board
Established by Aboriginal Land Fund Commission
Established by Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning
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