The general lack of awareness of this history about the Aboriginal pre-colonial and colonial past prior to the Mabo decision is what has been called the historical silence. Prior to Mabo the Adnyamathanha were a people without a history. Mabo legally acknowledged Indigenous occupation and the possible recognition of property rights for a substantial number of Aboriginal communities.
Was the mission initially a refuge:–a Christian haven in the heartless world of settler capitalism in the era of segregation and protection. This system of colonial empire was imposed at the turn of the 20th century when white control of aboriginal people became an end in itself, and which used, and increasingly capitalised on, dominant scientific arguments – namely social Darwinism – in its efforts to legitimise its programme of conquest and control of Aboriginal people.
I was shocked that I knew nothing of this history of colonial devastation, the subsequent black-white relations, the history of aboriginal employment as colonised labour in the pastoral station in the latter part of 19th century, the history of the Christian mission experience or the responses by the Adnyamathanha to the restrictions placed on them by segregationist controls, institutional racism and settler capitalism. I knew nothing about the Adnyamathanha’s Native Title Claims or that it was recognized by the Federal Court in 2018.
I am having to reconstruct this history of the missions in settler society after the camel trek including the photographic history. It does seem that the missions in the 1930s were designed to break down traditional community links; and they were sites to both contain and study full blood aborigines until they died out, whilst aborigines of mixed descent could be assimilated in white society. The
Was the Adnyamathanha experience one of institutionalization and survival in what Peggy Brock called outback ghettos? To what extent did their Aboriginal ‘agency’ successfully prevent assimilationist policies from succeeding? To what extent was this institutionalisation also a vehicle for Aboriginal resistance and survival? To what extent did Aboriginal struggles against governmental intrusion become part of the wider processes of Aboriginal contestation against white hegemony? To what extent was 20th century white Australia as much inclined to Aboriginal dispossession as its 19th century predecessor? To what extent do we recognize the Adnyamathanha as a distinct people with their own system of customary law, self governance and property rights?
I know very little of this history. Or how the Adnyamathanha people reacted to Mountford’s photos of them. I had no knowledge of the walking trails of the Aboriginal people in the northern Flinders Ranges prior to colonization; their trading and exchange patterns; the red ochre expeditions to the Pukardu mine; or that the current Birdsville and Strzelecki Tracks were based on the early pastoralists stock routes, which in turn were adapted from the walking trails of the Aboriginal people.
I do have a broad brushed history of there being a long period of invasion and settlement on contested ground after the period of open hostilities on the frontier had ceased. Penhall’s policy, and that of the Aborigines Protection Board (APB), favoured the removal of aboriginal children from their parents, which had been official policy since 1908. Premised on a denial of Aboriginal sovereignty and rights to land, Aboriginal policy and administration for most of South Australia’s history was directed at assimilating Aboriginal people into the settler’s culture. The Aborigines Protection Board (APB) was abolished in 1962 with the proclamation of the I have Aboriginal Affairs Act (1962) and the assimilationist presumptions that had guided Aboriginal policy began to be challenged.