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'No more head stockman, he's a chairman now': the making and breaking of the pastoral system in the Kimberley Ranges, 1903-1972

Jebb, Mary Anne (1998) 'No more head stockman, he's a chairman now': the making and breaking of the pastoral system in the Kimberley Ranges, 1903-1972. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis examines Aboriginal pastoral workers' life stories in the context of the two mass movements in Kimberley history: the move toward pastoral stations in the 'early days' of this century and away from them in the 1960s and 1970s. In the northern ranges region of the Kimberley pastoral settlement began in 1903, with a second phase of intense settlement from 1920. The recency of settlement in this region meant that in the late 1980s people were alive who had experienced both 'first contact' and the arrival of 'Welfare'. This study places Aboriginal life story narratives in a wider historical context, drawn from written archives and a range of oral testimonies about the origins and development of the pastoral system in the north and central Kimberley. The broader economic and political context which affected the process of incorporating northern ranges people into the Australian nation is examined through individual contacts and biographies to develop the patterns of alliances with 'Bosses' and the impact of Welfare on those relationships.

In 1971, small reserves on the outskirts of Kimberley towns which catered for 20 to 40 people in the 1950s, held up to 300 residents who were previously living on pastoral stations. The overcrowded and unserviced fringe camps were thought to contain people displaced from station employment by the decision to enforce equal wages for Aborigines in the pastoral industry. It is one of the contentions of this thesis that the social and economic foundations of the old rationing system on most of the stations in the northern Kimberley were crumbling before the award wages decision and its application to the Kimberley in 1969. The 'eviction after award wages' theme underestimates Aboriginal agency in the migration process, fails to take account of their changing social and economic requirements and the pull of Welfare support, glorifies the period of 'settlement' on stations and reinforces the 'myth of the lazy native' which underpinned public debate and Arbitration Commission discussions in the 1960s about the inclusion of Aboriginal workers within the Pastoral Industry Award.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences
Supervisor(s): Reece, Robert and UNSPECIFIED
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