A Dormitory Girl's Story

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A Dormitory Girl’s Story

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders often use the phrase ‘Living under the Act’. This refers to the period in Australian history where they were subject to the copious amounts of rules and regulations, and the policy and administration, imposed by the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of 1897, as well as back lying subsequent legislation. Between the late 1800’s and 1950’s, the Queensland Government introduced a large range of legislation aimed at the Aboriginal population living in the state. The overwhelming majority of this legislation, and the rhetoric which surrounded it, insisted that the pure motive of this legislation was the focus on Aboriginal Protection and the survival and care of a dying race. However such legislation was derived for the main purpose of forcibly removing Aborigines from White communities, and the denial of their rights and Australian living. Every Aboriginal would illustrate their own story about ‘living under the act’ and as Australian Indigenous history is being embedded in Australian curricula, it is important to use such stories in the education of our hidden, and in some cases shameful history. An excellent text to endorse not only multicultural knowledge, but also a great autobiography giving comprehensive understanding on ‘living under the act’ is Ruth Hegarty’s autobiography, “Is That You Ruthie?”, published in 1999. Ruth Hegarty’s life story from birth to the age of 60 is illustrated in her autobiography, winner of the David Unaipon Award. Through 141 pages she tells of sever social racism, overwhelming rules and legislation, maltreatment, and the only life she ever knew, as a dormitory girl. Ruth was born into the dormitory life as her mother and family were moved to the Aboriginal reserve in Cherbourg while .Ruth’s mother was pregnant. Once born, Ruth was separated from her mother and brought up as regular dormitory girl. Starting her predetermined and set out life as a dormitory girl going through basic schooling to eventually become a domestic labourer for the white society at the age of fourteen, which was what all these dormitory girls had to hope for, the only life they would ever know. These reserves were home to many aboriginals, young, old, male or female. Victims of Australia’s Eurocentric past, her story reflects on the comprehensiveness of government regulations, which controlled every aspect of her life as an Indigenous person while ‘living under the act’ in relation to the removal of Aborigines to reserves, education and employment. Government rhetoric and legislation in the early twentieth century in Queensland was said to be focused on Aboriginal protection. This focus was mainly due to the belief that the Aboriginal race was ‘doomed’ or ‘dying-out’ which in fact, was the underlying intentions of most of the legislation. One of these acts introduced was the ‘Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act which was introduced through Queensland parliament in 1897 was influenced by humanitarian pressures on the government to protect the so-called, ‘dying race.’ Between the late 1800’s and 1950’s, the Queensland Government introduced a large range of legislation aimed at the Aboriginal population living in the state. The overwhelming majority of this legislation, and the rhetoric which surrounded it, insisted that the pure motive of this legislation was the focus on ‘Aboriginal Protection and the survival and care of a ‘dying race’. This Act was the first instance of separate legal control over the Aboriginies, and was more restrictive than most other legislation in Australia. Bleakley, the chief protector of Aboriginals in Queensland from 1914 placed great emphasis on the segregation of Aborigines and White-Europeans. He believed, “this the only possible way of improving the Aboriginal race.” (Bleakley, 1914) Bleakley continued with, “Complete separation of the two races was the only way to...
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