Carrolup Native Settlement

Ethel and William Fryer with children at Carrolup Native Settlement, 1916. State Library of Western Australia.

I continue including sections of our book Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe, this one focused on the setting up of Carrolup Native Settlement.

‘The economic situation of Aboriginal people living in the South West deteriorates during the first decade of the 20th Century. From 1911, many Aboriginal people move to small camps on the fringes of South West towns, like Katanning, for a variety of reasons. They have experienced a greater difficulty in earning a living on the farms and supporting themselves in the bush. Moreover, the rapid clearing of the land by settlers is leading to a loss of camping places and to some rivers turning salty. 

By moving to the town camps, Aboriginal people are able to access food rations and increase their opportunity to obtain employment. Some parents want to enrol their children in town schools. 

However, the town camps lack basic amenities, such as a water supply and an adequate sanitation. The Aboriginal people living there find it increasingly difficult to maintain their hygiene and with a deteriorating diet, it is not surprising that illnesses and deaths increase. Aboriginal people have little or no money, and other resources, to improve their appalling living conditions. They have no support from white people; to the contrary, they are blamed for their situation.    

The racist attitudes held by white settlers are based on ignorance and myths, and on the beliefs that white people are superior to blacks, and that Aboriginal people will die out. These beliefs are expressed in newspapers, such as in this editorial entitled A Dying Race.

‘“The survival of the fittest” is the primary law of evolution, and no more striking example of its inexorable truth need be looked other than is afforded by the decay and rapid extinction of the Australian aboriginal race which is going on under our very eyes, before the advance of the all-conquering white race… So completely have the blacks retreated before the advance of the whites that in the south west it is comparatively rare to see a single specimen of the native black in the settled district, notwithstanding the fact that they are strictly protected by the Government and well treated by the white settlers.’ The West Australian, 8th April 1912

Aboriginal people are not well treated by the white settlers. White people protest about the Aboriginal camps located on town fringes, as well as the fact that Aboriginal children are attending schools. They complain about Aboriginal people using town facilities, such as hospitals, and even the very presence of Aboriginal people in towns. The settlers’ demands that Aboriginal children be excluded from schools, and Aboriginal people removed from the camps, force the government to introduce an official policy of social segregation of Aboriginal people in the South West. So much for government protecting Aboriginal people!

On his appointment in 1915, Mr Neville implements this policy of social isolation of Aboriginal people. A major focus of his administration during its first five years is the development of a settlement scheme in the South West. The scheme provides a compromise between demands for the segregation of Aboriginal people from the wider community, the need for Aboriginal labour (the First World War is ongoing), and Neville’s determination to minimise expenditure as his department receives a very low level of funding.

Elderly and sick Aboriginal people will receive their rations at the settlements, which will allow closure of many of the other ration stations that have been set up in the South West, thereby saving money. It is also planned that Aboriginal people be forced to contribute to their own maintenance on the settlement.   

The settlement scheme involves the setting up of two ‘native settlements’, the first at Carrolup, located about 20 miles (32 kms) from Katanning. A superintendent at Carrolup is appointed in June 1915, whilst Carrolup Reserve is expanded from 700 to 10,000 acres the following year, on Mr Neville’s suggestion, to facilitate it becoming a self-supporting farming community. 

Neville also recommends the creation of a 4,000 hectare reserve on the Moore River, located about 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of Perth, which opens as a native settlement in 1918. The government provides no additional funding for the development of these two settlements.

The movement of Aboriginal people to the Carrolup Native Settlement had actually started prior to Mr Neville’s appointment. Katanning townspeople had continued to complain about the Aboriginal camp on the outskirts of town, and demanded that Aboriginal people be moved to a camping site on the Carrolup River. No such action was taken by the government. 

In January 1915, after a series of public meetings, local police round up Aboriginal people at the Katanning camp and force them to walk with their few belongings to the Carrolup River camping site. They are accompanied by Ann (Annie) Lock [1] of the Australian Aborigines Mission, later known as the United Aborigines Mission, who had sought government support since 1912 for the establishment of a mission farming settlement in the local area.

Miss Lock now takes responsibility for issuing rations to the Aboriginal people forced to move to the Carrolup Native Settlement. She stays at Carrolup until 1917.

By centralising ration distribution at Carrolup and Moore River, and closing down many other ration depots, Neville forces Aboriginal people away from their customary camping places. This scheme also saves money for the Department of Aborigines and Fisheries. Additional money is saved by phasing out the role of missions. Since Aboriginal children are now excluded from the state schools’ system, the closure of mission schools is another way of forcing families on to the settlements.

The state has further strengthened its control over Aboriginal lives. However, whilst some local Aboriginal people are willing to camp at Carrolup, those from other districts have no intention of being forced to relocate by the government. They see little advantage in shifting to Carrolup and breaking links with families and friends. Housing and living conditions are poor, workers are paid in kind rather than in cash (and more jobs are available on farms due to the World War), and the school, when it opens in 1917, is poorly equipped and staffed.

Parents are also concerned at the prospect of losing their children to the control of Settlement staff—in the Settlement, children are taught to reject their parents and their way of life. The Settlement also gains a bad reputation amongst Aboriginal families for the cruelty of white staff towards the children. Many families ‘go bush’ to avoid being relocated. However, some Aboriginal people, in particular the elderly, have no option but to move to the Settlement due to their dependence on government rations to survive.’

CONNECTION: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe. David Clark, in association with John Stanton. Copyright © 2020 by David Clark

You can read more here in the Prologue of the book.

[1] You can read more about Annie Lock in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

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