- by Roland Boer
- The Guardian
- Issue #2026
Aboriginal people see the process of stolen generations going back to the early days of the brutal British colony, which was soon centred around Parramatta. With increasing conflict between the colonisers and Aboriginal people defending their land, Governor Lachlan Macquarie and William Shelley (London Missionary Society) concocted a plan in 1814 to “improve” and “civilise” Aboriginal students through instruction in reading, writing and religion, “training” in manual labour for the boys and “useful needlework” for the girls.
In early 1815, the initial “Native Institution” was established in Parramatta, although it was moved to Blacktown in 1823. Information concerning the whole process is buried in the State Archives of NSW. It makes for interesting, although depressing, reading.
Students were separated from their family and tribal structures and lived in dormitories. Students were “recruited” through abduction during punitive raids, promises of “land grants” to compliant families, and annual “public conferences” with roast beef, bread, and jugs of ale to “persuade” families of the institution’s benefits.
Despite Macquarie’s glowing reports of the institutions “successes” in “civilising” Aboriginal children, the institution always struggled to find students. Most left at the first opportunity. A fence was constructed, with openings between the slats so that parents could see their children on a daily basis. The various directors of the institution noted the reluctance of families to give up their children, and Yarramundi spoke in 1818 of the fear of “men in black clothes” seizing children for the institution.
Seeking to make a new start, the institution was relocated to Richmond Road, Blacktown, in 1823. A large mission house, chapel, cottages, and outbuildings were constructed. By 1829, the “Native Institution” was closed and the land sold in 1833. The NSW State Archives speak of differing interests of the colonial governors Brisbane and Darling, who followed Macquarie, as well as rivalry between the Anglican Church and the Wesleyan Methodists. Ultimately, the legacy of the Native Institution was the oppression of Aboriginal people, who saw the whole effort as what we would now call cultural genocide. The few remaining children were all orphans, with parents killed by colonists or disease, and they were later shuffled from one mission school to another.
The land on which the Blacktown institution stood has a subsequent history. After its closure, a former student who is known to us only as Maria Lock, petitioned the colonial regime for the land, since it was adjacent to her brother Colebee’s earlier land grant (by Macquarie). She was successful and on her death in 1878 bequeathed the land to her children. The land remained in Aboriginal hands until the early twentieth century. In light this continuous occupancy, the Darug Land Council has been seeking to have the land returned since the early 1990s. To date, these efforts have been denied.