Chapter 4
Photo of Australian Aborigines Conference Letter 1938Photo of the Australian ABO Call, The Voice of the Aborigines letter from 1938
After the Dreamtime, the creation of the land and beings, the Alyawarra lived in their traditional way for tens of thousands of years.
Donald Thompson (holding a spearthrower) with Banjo Morton. In front of them are traditional boomerangs and shields. These tools date back thousands of years.
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A black and white photo of two Alyawarran men standing holding a piece of equipment
Image of a article describing the Attack at Barrow Creek from 1874
Then white colonists arrived in the late 1800s.

In 1872, the Northern Territory was carved up into pastoral leases. Tension grew between pastoralists and local aboriginal people as the land and waterholes were quickly degraded by cattle.

In 1873, the Barrow Creek Telegraph Station was set up near Alyawarra land. Katyetye aborigines attacked the station – probably as a result of the treatment of their women.

Violent reprisals followed for two months.

It is estimated that some 50 or 60 aboriginal people were killed as a result.

A black and white photo of Charles Winnecke
Charles Winnecke (1857-1902). Photo taken c 1875.
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In 1877, Charles Winnecke’s expedition to survey the border between South Australia and Queensland passed through Alyawarra lands.
They were the first Europeans to come into contact with Alyawarra people, and the interactions were peaceful. Although the Alyawarra people were shy of Europeans, Winnecke’s expedition relied on the help of the local people to find water.

However, the pressures continued to grow on the Alyawarra as pastoralists subdivided the Sandover region in the early 1900s.
We were forced from our traditional lands in 1910. We were continually on the move because pastoral stations were not happy having indigenous tribes near their main watering points for cattle and horses.

The stations we were moved from and onto were Argadargada, Lake Nash, Georgina Downs, then back to Amarroo and onto McDonald Downs.
Richard Downs
A back and white photo of Elkedra Station
Elkedra Station
Antagonistic settlers in the north-west and the south of Alyawarra country in the 1920s were influential in forcing the local people east.
The owners of Elkedra Station in the north, Riley and Kennedy, were known to behave badly towards the local women and men. Anecdotal evidence suggests that mass deaths of Alyawarra people occurred in this decade.

White colonial history has recorded these occurrences as 'brave frontiersmen' fighting the 'dangerous savage', but the truth involves terrible treatment of the local people, who were often merely protecting what was theirs.
My grandmother’s mother, Flora, was one of the first generations in Jingili country to see invasion…Two pastoralists passing through Bamayu took Flora and her sister Louise, then young women, to Alyawarra country.

In 1927…Flora, then a young mother, died a horrendous death at Elkedra Station…The Alyawarra Elders still remember and speak of her violent death. Coincidently, the investigating officer was the same officer involved in the Coniston Massacre and charged with the murder of 17 Aboriginal people.

My grandmother Eileen was born on Alyawarra country and was an illegitimate child of a pastoralist… My family knows of this frontier violence first hand.

Aboriginal people, alive in my lifetime, have passed on encounters with the “cheeky whitefellas”, the “real revolver men” and their violence and brutality. The old homestead at Elkedra still today has chains attached to trees from where pastoralists tied Aboriginal people and the buildings where Aboriginal people were locked for the night.
Joanne Luke
Joanne Luke
Photo of the Australian ABO Call, The Voice of the Aborigines letter from 1938
The chaining of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory around their necks and feet was a common practice amongst pastoralists as well as police.
It stopped the local people running away.
A black and white image of a group of Aboriginal people sitting with chains around their necks
When white explorers first arrived at Lake Nash it was occupied by a group called the Bularnu. Unfortunately for them the Lake soon attracted pastoralists who settled nearby to take advantage of the good water supply.
The white occupation and the introduced diseases decimated the Bularnu and when a group of Alyawarra migrated there around 1920 only remnants of the Bularnu remained. The Alyawarra themselves were fleeing from areas of their land further west that had been occupied by pastoralists. The two groups amalgamated with the remaining Bularnu teaching the Alyawarra their dreaming stories and ties that related to sacred places in the lake area. These sacred rites conferred on the Alyawarra the right to occupy the land.
Ian Tarrant (Desert Wisdom – The Alyawarra of Lake Nash)
Ian Tarrant from Desert Wisdom – The Alyawarra of Lake Nash

To avoid and escape this conflict in the 1920s some Alyawarra moved 320kms east to Lake Nash to get work as stockmen.

Following more pastoral lease subdivisions in the 1920s and 1930s, many Alyawarra people from the west sought refuge and work at Lake Nash Station.

The last patrilineal members of the Pwelany countries handed over responsibility for the area to the senior Alyawarra people.

‘Absorption’, Assimilation and the Stolen Generations
A black and white image of a group of children
Children of ‘mixed blood’ started to be removed from Northern Territory communities in accordance with Commonwealth Government policies.
The 1920s and early 1930s saw a policy of ‘absorption’, whereby the genocide of the Aboriginal race would be achieved by ‘breeding them out’.
This was replaced in 1939 by Assimilation, which required the taking of ‘half-caste’ children away from their families and forcing them into families, missions and schools to learn how to be white.
Reginald McCaffery
Acting Director, Native Affairs NT
Cattle worker
Generally by the fifth and invariably by the sixth generation, all native characteristics of the Australian aborigine are eradicated. The problem of our half-castes will quickly be eliminated by the complete disappearance of the black race, and the swift submergence of their progeny in the white.
Dr Cecil Cook, Northern Territory Chief Protector 1927
Dr Cecil Cook, Northern Territory Chief Protector, 1927
The ‘Bringing them Home’ report estimates that as many as 100,000 Aboriginal children were removed from their families as a result of Australian protectionist and assimilation legislation.

They were based on the ‘scientific’ rationalisation that through removal, Aboriginality could be bred out within a few generations…

One solution to the ‘mixed-race problem’ employed by the Australian government was to enforce strict regulations and control over who Aboriginal people could marry.

To encourage the “breeding out” of Aboriginality, there were laws stipulating who Aboriginal people could marry based on blood quantum. My Uncle Dan had to write letters to the Protector of Aborigines in order to ask for permission to marry.
Joanne Luke
Joanne Luke
Exemption certificates

From 1943 until 1969 Aboriginal people were able to apply for ‘exemption certificates’ to free themselves from the Protection Act and be regarded as citizens with access to social security benefits the rest of the population received as their due.

Malcolm Thomson
Drover/stockman 1950s and 60s
Cattle worker
An image of a General Certificate of Exemption from 1951
Getting an exemption was very hard.

The decisions were based on subjective judgements about, for example, whether the person applying knew what money was.

Timeline of events

The Australian Constitution comes into force. First Nation people are not acknowledged. Section 127 states: ‘In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.’


The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 disqualifies ‘Aboriginal natives of Australia … unless so entitled under Section 41 of the Constitution’ from voting.


The Invalid and Old-age Pensions Act 1908 declares that ‘Aboriginal natives of Australia’ are ineligible to receive benefits.


The Aboriginals Ordinance 1911 places Aborigines in the Northern Territory under the direction of a Commonwealth Protector who is given power to ‘undertake the care, custody, or control of any aboriginal or half-caste’.


The Aboriginals Ordinance 1918 widened the definition of ‘Aborigine’ and increased the powers of the Protector and the police.


The Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association is formed to campaign for citizenship rights for World War 1 Aboriginal returned servicemen.


Over ten years a series of government inquiries and reports into ‘the interests of Aborigines’ take place. J.W. Bleakley’s 1929 report recommends minimum wages for pastoral workers but is not heeded. At a 1937 Conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal Authorities a resolution sanctioning an assimilation policy was passed.

“…the destiny of the natives of aboriginal origin…lies in their ultimate absorption…”


Aboriginal activists William Ferguson and Jack Patten organise a ‘Day of Mourning’ for 26th Jan. They appeal for full citizenship, equality, and Aboriginal involvement in policy decisions, presenting a 10 point plan to Prime Minister Joseph Lyons.


The Child Endowment Act 1941 extends child endowment to Aborigines who are ‘not nomadic or dependent on government benefits’. This supports the Assimilation policy.


Under the Unemployment and Sickness Benefits Act 1944 benefits were only payable to Aborigines ‘if the Director General was satisfied that, having regard to his character, standard of intelligence and development, it was reasonable that he should receive benefit’.


The War Service Land Settlement Agreements Act 1945 enables returned service personnel access to land under soldier settlement schemes. Indigenous personnel are not specifically excluded but the assessment procedures are prejudiced against them receiving the land they are due.


The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1949 specifies that Aboriginal people had the right to enrol and vote at federal elections provided they were entitled to enrol for state elections (at that time, all states except Queensland and Western Australia) or had served in the Australian Defence Forces.

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