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Bureaucracy and Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory: 1900-1968

Henderson, Ian (2002) Bureaucracy and Aboriginal peoples in the Northern Territory: 1900-1968. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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From 1901 until 1968 the Commonwealth bureaucracy essentially ran the Northern Territory. The way the Territory was administered was dictated by the remoteness of the Government and the difficulty in communications, both within and outside of the Territory. This power facilitated a situation which pitted the dominant colonists and bureaucracy against the Aboriginal peoples in a conflict over scarce resources. The pastoralists required water for the stock; the Aboriginal Peoples required water to survive; the pastoralists and the miners needed cheap labour. Various methods were employed to discipline the People on the pastoral properties—provide ration stations designed to attracted the People from the wild and seduce them into a sedentary lifestyle; harassment by the police and an incomprehensible legal system administered in a foreign language; hound them into ‘reserves’, a euphemism for land that was seen as of no use to the colonisers or their stock. Finally assimilate them into the dominant race through a form of eugenics. My research transported me from expecting a simple ‘documentary reality’ relationship between the bureaucrats and the Aboriginal peoples towards a more conspiratorial connection between the dominant class, the bureaucracy and the Aboriginal Peoples. Paradoxically, these same pastoralists and miners were dependent on Aboriginal labour to enable their enterprises to be viable. To this end the bureaucracy administered laws that controlled standards of habitation, provision of food and clothing, and wage rates provided to the Aboriginal workers. The pastoralists and the miners observed such provisions in the breach, but other provisions controlling: where the Peoples could work and who they could work for, who they could marry, and where they could go were implemented assiduously. Working and living conditions for all but the Peoples in the most remote areas were bad to say the least.

In the administration of the law the actions of certain police were horrific by any measure and the Supreme Court under Judge Wells made a mockery of justice and court procedures. The most celebrated case to come before the worthy judge was that of R. v Tuckiar, which was later appealed on the grounds of the judgement and court proceedings and gave rise to scathing criticism by the High Court Judges in unison.

Of course, the ultimate expression of conflict between the bureaucracy and the Aboriginal Peoples was the doctrine of assimilation. This doctrine was designed to actively absorb the Aboriginal Peoples into the general Australian population along with their culture and languages. Resulting from a selective form of eugenics the so-called ‘stolen generations’ and its undesirable results have emerged. This thesis records much of that conflict through the eyes of the bureaucracy and to a lessor extent the Aboriginal Peoples themselves.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Ruthrof, Horst
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