Walking Reconciliation Road

Keith Bodman

Aboriginal slavery disguised as 'Protectionism'


Between 1860 and 1970, Australia effectively had state-sanctioned slavery of Aboriginal people. Historians Dr Rosalind Kidd and Dr Thalia Anthony have documented how Aboriginal Australians of all ages were forcibly sent to work on sheep and cattle properties across Australia under government schemes that were supposedly "designed to protect them". Laws in Western Australia allowed Aboriginal children to be sent from the age of 12. The conditions were often horrific: 16-hour days, floggings and forced removal from families. They were either unpaid or received only a few shillings pocket money. State governments assured these workers that their wages were placed in a government trust, but most never saw a cent. Aboriginal people have been trying to recuperate these stolen wages for years. And how much have we offered them? In Queensland you can claim up to $7,000 and in Western Australia a measly $2,000. Yup, a few thousand dollars for a lifetime of forced labour. Aussie Aussie Aussie! Etc.


'Blackbirding' of South Sea Islanders


Between 1842 and 1904, tens of thousands of people from South Pacific islands were captured or coerced into working as slaves on the Queensland sugar plantations. Yes, that same great Australian sugar industry that is now worth $2 billion in exports. As convict labour petered out in Queensland, slave traders prowled the Islands of the Pacific. Their victims were kidnapped, shackled, flogged and many died of disease or maltreatment on the four-month trip over. Once here they were sold to plantation owners. Michael Perry reports that a strong male would cost the equivalent of between $5 and $19 while women, particularly Tahitians, fetched around $32. When slavery was outlawed in 1901, unions banned Pacific Islanders from working on farms and many were simply deported. Later, those who remained were denied the welfare and citizenship rights afforded to Aborigines in the 1967 Referendum.


Slavery in the pearling industry


From the 1870s to the turn of the century, Aboriginals, Malays, Timorese and Micronesians were captured and sold as slave-labour in the pearling industry on the far north-west coast of Australia. Historian K Forrest estimates that around 1,000 Asians were captured and sold into slavery. Aboriginals were rounded up from pastoral stations and, according to missionary and court reports from the time, sold for around five pounds. Pregnant aboriginal women were particularly prized because their lungs were believed to have greater air capacity. The average life expectancy of a slave in the pearling industry was "painfully short". In the book How the West Was Lost, historian Don McLeon writes, "Sickness was rife, colds and influenza typically led to pneumonia and death. The pearlers were alleged to have boasted that so long as they could hold their divers for three months, they made a profit on the investment." But they would often die of beri-beri before then.


Slave money funded Australia's early colonial development


A recent University College London study that traces the legacies of British slave-ownership has shown that Australia was partly built from slave money. Following the abolition of slavery, British slave owners received compensation from the British government for the loss of their 'property' (read: people sold into slavery). In fact, they received 16% of Britain's entire GDP in one year. What did they do with all that money? Well, many of them came to Australia and New Zealand where they bought up vast swathes of land (and in the process dispossessed Aboriginal people); they became directors of banks, museums and libraries, they built churches and they became Governors who, in the case of Governor Broome, contributed to arguments in support of slavery of Aboriginal people. ..Why not flick through the database to see some more examples of how the blood and dirt of slavery is Australia's own blood and dirt.


Keith Bodman

Secretary National Stolen Generations Alliance Inc

Secretary Bringing Them Home WA Inc

Secretary WA Stolen Generations Alliance