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Australian Digital Theses Program

Thesis Details
TitleCalculating Lives: The Numbers and Narratives of Forced Removals in Queensland 1859 - 1972
AuthorCopland, Mark Stephen
InstitutionGriffith University

European expansion caused dramatic dislocation for Aboriginal populations in the landmass that became the state of Queensland. On the frontiers, violence, abductions and forced relocations occurred on a largely informal basis condoned by colonial governments. The introduction of protective legislation in the late nineteenth century created a formal state-directed legal and administrative framework for the forcible removal and institutionalisation of Aboriginal people. This became the cornerstone for policy direction in Queensland and remained so into the mid-twentieth century.

This thesis traces the development of policies and practices of removal in Queensland from their beginnings in the nineteenth century through to their dismantling in the mid-twentieth century. There has been much historical research into frontier violence and processes of dispossession in Queensland. The focus of this study is the systematic analysis of archival data relating to the forced removals of the twentieth century.

The study has its genesis in an Australian Research Council Strategic Partnership with Industry — Research and Training Scheme (SPIRT) grant. This grant enabled the construction of a Removals Database, which provides a powerful tool with which to interrogate available records pertaining to removals of Aboriginal people in Queensland. Removals were a crucial element in the gathering and exploitation of Aboriginal labourers during the twentieth century. They also constituted a major form of control for the departments responsible for Aboriginal affairs within the Queensland administration.

Tensions between a policy of complete segregation and the demand for Aboriginal labour in the wider community existed throughout the period of study. While segregation was implemented to an extent in relation to targeted sections of the Aboriginal population, such as “half-caste” females, employer insistence on access to reliable, cheap Aboriginal labour invariably took precedence.

Detailed analysis of recorded reasons for removals demonstrates that they are unreliable in explaining why individuals were actually removed. They show a changing focus over time. Fluctuations in numbers of removals for different years reflect reasons not officially acknowledged in the records, such as the need to populate newly created reserves and establish institutional communities. They tell us little about the situation of Aboriginal people, but much about the racial thinking of the time.

This study contributes to our knowledge base about the implementation and extent of Aboriginal child separation in Queensland. A comprehensive estimate of the number of separations concludes that one in six Aboriginal children in Queensland were separated from their natural families as a result of past policies.

Local Aboriginal Protectors (usually police officers) played a major role in the way that the policy of removals was implemented. Local factors often determined the extent of removals as much as policy direction in the centralised Office of the Chief Protector of Aborigines. Removals took place across vast distances, and the Chief Protector was often totally reliant on local protectors for information and advice. This meant that employers and local protectors could have a major impact on the rate of removals in a given location.

Responses of both Protectors and Aboriginal people to the policy of removals were not always compliant. Some Protectors worked to ensure that local Aboriginal people could remain in their own community and geographical location. Aboriginal people demonstrated a degree of resistance to the policy and there are a numerous recorded examples of extraordinary human endurance where they travelled large distances in difficult circumstances to return to their original locations and communities.

The policy of removals impacted on virtually every Aboriginal family in the state of Queensland and the effects of the dislocations continue to be experienced to this day.

Thesis 01Front.pdf (186.7 Kb)
02Main.pdf (1317.1 Kb)
03Main.pdf (3396.1 Kb)

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