Creation of the Aborigines Protection Board

The Aborigines Protection Board emerged in the 1880s and soon developed into an agency of government control over the lives of Aboriginal people in New South Wales. The Board’s role initially involved overseeing the distribution of blankets, rations and various other goods to ‘destitute’ Aboriginal people. In later years, the formation and management of reserves became a major part of the Board’s functions. From 1882 onwards the Aborigines Protection Board increasingly intruded into the lives of the Aboriginal communities of New South Wales, dramatically increasing the regulations and limitations governing Aboriginal people’s lives.

In the early decades of the twentieth century the Aborigines Protection Board successfully pushed for legislative power to control the lives of Aboriginal people and, in particular, Aboriginal children. In 1909 the first protection legislation was enacted, the Aborigines Protection Act. The Act provided the Board with the first of its legislative powers with limited control over the place of residence of Aboriginal people and the lives of Aboriginal children. Its power over Aboriginal children was increased dramatically in 1915 with amendments to the Act which vested in the Board powers to remove Aboriginal children from their families if it considered such removal to be in the child’s interest. The Board’s powers over the place of residence of Aboriginal people were increased in 1918 and again in 1936. The legislation and increases in the powers of the Board occurred in the context of an increasing Aboriginal population, rising European hysteria regarding miscegenation, and a rejuvenated closer settlement movement.

An important factor that led Aboriginal people to live within, or close to, reserve areas despite the resulting heightened European surveillance and interference, was the provision of schooling for their children. While technically Aboriginal children were eligible to attend the Public Schools created in the 1880s, in practice the opposition of European parents frequently led to their exclusion. In response Aboriginal Schools were established on reserves throughout New South Wales. As a result of this situation many Aboriginal people made the decision to reside on, or near, reserves in order to obtain an education for their children. On the south coast the only Aboriginal school was the one established at Wallaga Lake Station in the 1890s.

Excerpt from Eurobodalla Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Study, South Coast New South Wales, 2005. Story contributed by Martin Ind from Moruya High School.