Eras Journal - Mitchell, J.: "Country Belonging to Me": Land and Labour on Aboriginal Missions and Protectorate Stations, 1830-1850
"Country Belonging to Me": Land and Labour on Aboriginal Missions and Protectorate Stations, 1830-1850
(Australian National University)
The first major Aboriginal missions and protectorate in Port Phillip and New South Wales were established during the 1830s and 1840s, a period that also saw the swift expansion of pastoralism, destruction of native habitat and dispossession of Indigenous people. Thus, questions of how land could be secured and worked assumed powerful practical, moral, and cultural significance in Aboriginal-missionary relationships and missionary plans for the Aboriginal future. It is clear that Aboriginal people articulated to protectors and missionaries a strong sense of land ownership and unjust dispossession, claims which missionaries believed and sympathised with. However, it is equally apparent that protectors' and missionaries' support for Aboriginal people's right to live on portions of their ancestral lands was accompanied by an insistence that Aborigines radically reshape their relationship to the land, renouncing the "savage indolence" of nomadic life and embracing hard, regular agricultural work. Aboriginal labour on protectorate and mission farms was more significant than sometimes acknowledged, although older relationships to land also endured and hostile colonial circumstances - environmental and social - presented obstacles to agricultural success.
Many historians have discussed early debates over Aboriginal land ownership, but few have extensively used the records of the first missionaries and devoutly Christian protectors. Henry Reynolds has drawn on these strongly in relation to humanitarian support for native title, but he focuses on their legal and political implications and does not differentiate sharply between practising missionaries and protectors and more distant philanthropists. Thus, more discussion is still needed on how questions of land ownership and work shaped missionaries' relationships with Aborigines and ideas about Aboriginal humanity and potential. Such discussions seem particularly relevant in the light of the recent furore surrounding Keith Windschuttle's publication The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. Windschuttle's denial of the existence of meaningful Indigenous ties to land in Tasmania and the possibility that Aborigines deliberately and articulately opposed dispossession has sparked renewed debate over the history of Aboriginal relationships to land. It therefore seems worthwhile pointing out that the evidence contained in missionary and protectoral papers from Port Phillip and New South Wales contradicts any denial of Indigenous land ownership in these regions.
Writing in the early 1840s, explorer Edward John Eyre commented that European settlers attempting to expel Indigenous people from their ancestral lands regarded Aborigines as "intruders in their own country…vermin that infest the land". When defending their position, many colonists asserted that Aborigines had no legal or moral claim to the land, as they had never owned or used it productively. The Sydney Gazette and Sydney Morning Herald, for example, claimed that Aborigines were merely "wanderers", who "bestowed no labour on the land" and had no real property sense - "This vast country was to them a common".
The European idea that nomadic life and communal land use signified backward savagery can be traced back at least as far as Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke. Such theories stated that human societies passed progressively through hunting, pastoralist, agricultural, and commercial stages; these socio-economic changes prompting increasingly sophisticated systems of law, government, manners, and morals. Hard labour (defined as the cultivation of the soil) and the enclosure of private property, were the primary factors legitimising land ownership and differentiating civilisation from savagery. Such claims had already been used to rationalise American colonisation and the enclosure of British common fields; in both cases, the dispossessed peoples were portrayed as lazy, unreliable, thievish, and wild. Thus, pre-existing racial and class ideas could be drawn upon to rationalise Aboriginal Australian dispossession.
Heather Goodall and Henry Reynolds have noted that such arguments were popular with early squatters, an interest group doubly keen to emphasise their own right to the land because many other colonists still regarded them as greedy, lawless opportunists. Squatters asserted that dividing this "wasted" and "empty" land between individual owners and cultivating its produce gave it usefulness and meaning. Prominent pastoralist James Macarthur claimed in 1849 that
the worthless, idle Aborigine has been driven from the land that he knew not how to make use of, and valued not, to make room for a more noble race of beings, who are more capable of estimating the value of this fine country.
Similar claims were used by colonists to portray Aborigines in general as lazy, thoughtless, erratic, and doomed. These colonists included some religious writers unsympathetic to Aboriginal causes, like Anglican leader Samuel Marsden, who described Aborigines in 1826 as incapable of industry, reflection or future planning, roaming the bush "like the fowls of the air or the beasts of the field". Other critics ranged from the Border Police officer who reported that Aborigines' "wandering, wild life" made their improvement unlikely, to explorers and journalists who claimed that Aboriginal people lived lazily and without forethought, unlike "settled" Polynesian farmers.The Australian and Sydney Gazette described them as "totally destitute…of industry and ingenuity…wretchedly inattentive to the very means of subsistence", "a very erratic and wandering race", possessing "a vagrancy of mind that bears a strict analogy to their vagrancy of body". Such remarks denied the relevance and endurance of Aboriginal relationships to land, and implied that since Aborigines supposedly disregarded their own welfare and future, colonists need not worry about them either.
However, the claim that Aboriginal people had no rights to the land or a future on it was contested by protectors and missionaries, who were influenced by the British humanitarian lobby. The 1837 Parliamentary Select Committee on Aboriginal Tribes reported that "native inhabitants of any land have an incontrovertible right to their own soil: a plain and sacred right". Meanwhile, the Religious Society of Friends and the Meeting for Sufferings asserted that Aborigines had a sense of land ownership and that it would be unjust to violently expel "the poor inhabitant of the wilderness" from the land God had given them. Such claims drew partly on alternative European definitions of land ownership by philosophers like Samuel Pufendorf, who stressed original occupation and consensual communal possession as the key factors in land ownership. British humanitarians' acceptance of such theories was, of course, limited. Few actively opposed colonialism; instead, they campaigned to make it beneficial (according to their views) rather than destructive to Indigenous people.
Missionaries and protectors aimed to reserve land for Aboriginal communities, preferably land acceptable to Aborigines and located on their traditional country. Once again, British humanitarianism was relevant here, but missionaries were also acting on Aboriginal claims. Francis Tuckfield of the Buntingdale mission near Geelong during the 1840s was surprised at how carefully and intricately the country was divided according to kinship systems. Missionary Joseph Orton, travelling in the same district in 1839, noted that the land was clearly bounded; his guides refused to venture outside their country, saying it would be unsafe. Similarly, Woiworong guides explained the borders of their country to protector William Thomas, who concluded that they must be able to choose their reserve land themselves, and chief protector George Augustus Robinson recalled an Aboriginal man declaring land ownership: "when Tung.bor.roong spoke of Borembeep and the other localities of his own nativity, he always added 'that's my country belonging to me!! That's my country belonging to me!!'" Meanwhile, protector James Dredge described Taungurong attachment to land as material, historical, and personal:
Within these boundaries of their own country, as they proudly speak, they feel a degree of security and pleasure which they can find nowhere else - here their forefathers lived and roamed and hunted, and here also their ashes rest. And this is the scene of their fondest and earliest recollections…with every nook they are familiar, they know just where their favourite roots are most abundant, the haunts of the Kangaroo, Emu and Opossum - in short, it is their home.
Missionaries and protectors recognised that these land claims had been ignored and violated. Again, their humanitarian backgrounds were influential here, but so were Aboriginal complaints. Robinson was angry that squatters claimed their licenses entitled them to violently expel Aborigines. In 1841, when he asked an Aboriginal family he met on the Glenelg river where they came from, "they beat the ground and vociferated, Deen! deen! (here! here!), and then, in a dejected tone, bewailed the loss of their country". Protectors stressed the moral injustice and material poverty of dispossession. In 1839, James Dredge noted the cruelty of "the original lords of the soil" being reduced to abject poverty, while Europeans profited from the land. Edward Stone Parker claimed Aboriginal people were being "beaten back by the 'white man's foot'…excluded, perforce, from lands which they unquestionably regard as their own…classified with and treated as wild dogs".  He found it difficult to answer "their repeated complaints of the loss of their country". Meanwhile, throughout the 1840s, Aborigines protested to Thomas about dispossession, saying "no good white man, take away country, no good bush, all white man sit down", "Big one hungry Black fellow by & by - no Kangaroo - White man take away Black fellows' Country".
Such complaints applied to cities as well as rural districts. The Yarra was a traditional meeting place for Kulin people -"Waworangs, Boonurongs, Barrabools, Nilunguons, Gouldburns" - who begged around Melbourne throughout the 1840s but also arrived for political and ceremonial purposes. These people did not portray themselves to protector Thomas as intruders in Melbourne; on the contrary, they reacted furiously when authorities turned them away. They told Thomas in 1840 that they had been fond of this place long ago and "plenty sit down here". Thomas protested that they were annoying the colonists - "they make Willums [shelters] on white man's ground, and cut down Trees & cut off Bark, make white man sulky". Aborigines retorted "no white man's ground, black man's". They added that Europeans owed them access to Melbourne because Woiworong had originally protected the colonists from violence from the Barrabool (Wathaurong). One man claimed to have killed Barrabool people in revenge for attacks on Europeans. Thomas apparently believed this, informing Robinson that the "Port Phillip tribes" had prevented massacres of Europeans. Thomas, like most missionaries and protectors, did not wish to extend Aboriginal land rights to cities, believing Aborigines could not cope with urban temptation and sin. However, Woiworong's claim of a historical obligation for Europeans to allow them access to this land served as an uncomfortable reminder of dispossession and broken promises.
Dispossession troubled missionaries too. James Günther of the Wellington Valley mission was angry that colonists frequently asserted that they had the "first claim" to the land. In 1840, Lake Macquarie missionary L.E. Threlkeld lamented that Awabakal country around Newcastle was being "sold from under their feet". Joseph Orton, infuriated by settlers' complaints about Aboriginal sheep theft, retorted "what else can be expected from savages who are conscious of being intruded upon their natural rights violated - and their only means of subsistence destroyed…and they thus violently and unjustly deprived of their own soil[?]" Orton observed the destruction of Indigenous food supplies and the violence between different Aboriginal groups forced onto one another's land by "the Christian Heathens who are enriching themselves on the spoil of the dispossessed and wallowing in the blood of their victims".
It is important to note, however, that missionaries' acceptance of the existence of Indigenous forms of land ownership did not equal a validation of Aboriginal culture or land use, or a willingness to negotiate equally with Aboriginal people. As Heather Goodall notes, this is an issue which Reynolds' work on the historical basis of native title law has tended to downplay. I would suggest this may be because contemporary native title rights are strongly linked to proof of "authentic", "traditional" cultural life - a link not made in the 1830s and 1840s. Rather, protectors and missionaries hoped that reserved land would provide economic and spiritual uplift, protecting Aborigines from parasitical begging, training them away from nomadic life and easing their transition into European labour. In other words, the continuance of Aboriginal life on ancestral lands was not intended as a way of preserving pre-colonial cultures, but of radically reshaping them.
Although the Port Phillip protectors had been instructed to travel with Aboriginal groups before persuading them to "settle", they, along with most missionaries, usually remained at their stations. Few were skilled bushmen and most had families unwilling to travel. Furthermore, their company was not always wanted. Aborigines refused to take Dredge and Thomas on some journeys, warning that the protectors could not walk the distance or find food and might be killed by "wild black fellows".However, missionaries and protectors not only avoided nomadic life themselves, they also discouraged it amongst Aborigines. As James Dredge explained to Jabez Bunting in 1841, travelling with Taungurong would set a bad example by appearing to endorse their way of life.
While the expansion of pastoralism made pre-colonial land use increasingly untenable, there were also strong ideological reasons for missionaries' and protectors' hostility towards nomadic hunter-gatherer life. At Wellington Valley in 1832, William Watson complained of Wiradjuri's "vagrant habits" and "remarkable aversion to labour", while mission agriculturalist William Porter hoped in 1841 that steady Christian work would amend their "naturally wild, volatile & wandering habits". Meanwhile, Parker, although pleased by some Aboriginal people's hard work, commented that "indolence and dislike of constrained labour, are, in common with all savages, characteristic vices of the Aborigines", and protector Charles Sievwright claimed that hunter-gatherer life made people "quite improvident of the morrow". Throughout the 1840s, Thomas described Aborigines as "erratic", "fickle creatures", and advised as early as 1841 that vagrancy laws be used to control their movements. Such comments demonstrated missionaries' association of nomadic hunter-gatherer life with laziness, irrationality, aimlessness, disloyalty, and carelessness about the future.
Missionaries' determination to "raise" Aborigines to the level of industrious farmers indicates some acceptance of the dominant European idea of progress through socio-economic stages, despite its use by colonists to rationalise Aboriginal dispossession. Their descriptions of nomadic hunter-gatherer life as disgracefully wasteful and idle were also undoubtedly influenced by their Evangelical Protestant belief in the virtues of thrift, diligence, and self-improvement, the minimisation of "waste" time and the elevation of worldly work to a religious duty and even a blessing. Thomas, for example, lectured Aborigines in 1841 that if white men were as lazy as they, God would punish them by sending a drought to destroy half the earth. Ploughing and planting would, he believed, teach Aborigines responsible future planning and faith in God's rewards.
I do trust (by the blessings of Providence without whose aid our labouring schemes are in vain) that when they behold the first fruit of their own labor spring out of the earth a radical change will take place among them. 
Similarly, Hurst and Parker described their stations' progress in terms of simultaneous religious enlightenment and "industry and general steadiness". As Reynolds notes, hard work was assumed to prepare people for Christian conversion by teaching discipline, punctuality, sedentary life, and acceptance of European authority.
Assumptions about class were important here. Reynolds has commented that by asserting Aborigines' potential equality with European workers, humanitarians denied innate racial difference but also cemented their own distance from and superiority over such workers. They also revealed their terror of pauperism. Missionaries and protectors usually agreed that unchecked colonisation had made Aboriginal people's work habits worse then ever by rewarding them for begging and prostitution instead of encouraging hard, honest labour. Thus, Joseph Orton stressed that Aborigines around Geelong had been reduced to "pilfering - starving - obtrusive mendicants", "a tax upon the [European] inhabitants".Sievwright characterised Aboriginal beggars around townships as having "their faculties wholly overthrown…their energies stultified, and extinguished". Starvation was not necessarily the greatest danger for beggars, missionaries believed. Rather, protector Thomas and missionary George Langhorne warned that Aborigines' ability to beg decent food made them lazy, ungrateful, and discontented, less likely to submit to missionary authority. Thus, as Tim Rowse points out, state attempts to control Aborigines economically often rested on a distinction between the respectable, deserving poor (self-sufficient yet obedient) and paupers, who were supposedly degraded by loss of responsibility and self-respect.
Protected agricultural labour was offered as a form of redemption. This was consistent with more general colonial hopes; as Goodall points out, the European ideal of the happy, independent yeoman farmer was reshaped to symbolise the bright future available to colonists in Australia, where well-behaved convicts and soldiers were rewarded with land grants. Furthermore, while the process of taming "wild", "promiscuous" country and making "waste" land useful was popularly linked to the dispossession of Indigenous people, missionary efforts to change Aborigines into farmers of their ancestral lands can be seen as attempts to incorporate Aborigines into this colonising project in a rather more collaborative way. Aborigines would, missionaries hoped, be integrated into the colonial economy while kept safely isolated from European dependence and sin.
Thus, missionaries and protectors saw Aboriginal people's future on their traditional lands as intimately linked with their adoption of agriculture. Thomas, for example, stated in 1843 that he hoped to see Aboriginal farms established in the district of every "tribe", surrounded by respectable European farmers, so the protectorate could "permanently settle the Aborigines on their own country…surrounded with the fruits and results of Industry". Missionaries had tried to form agricultural communities as early as 1819, when Reverend Robert Cartwright planned to establish Aboriginal farmland around Sydney. Governors Arthur and Macquarie had proposed that Aborigines become farmers, and the Port Phillip protectors were encouraged to instruct Aborigines in agriculture.
Aboriginal societies were not imagined as turning into farming communities immediately. Bain Attwood has noted that the isolated and underdeveloped nature of most missions meant that traditional forms of economy and land use continued into the 1860s. Protectors in the 1830s and 1840s, despite their distaste for nomadic life, nonetheless accommodated aspects of it. Thomas, Parker and Sievwright traded animal skins, baskets and other handicrafts with Aboriginal people in return for rations, sending the products to be sold in Melbourne. On Parker's station in 1842, the women made 96 hats, 70 baskets, 42 tablemats and 11 nets. Protectors accepted this work as long as it followed their rules about respectable work habits and Aborigines' supposed need for supervision. Thus, Thomas sternly refused to trade on Sundays, Parker calculated standarised payments for Indigenous produce (for example, two pounds of flour for one kangaroo skin), and Robinson insisted that Aborigines must not be paid in money. Despite their disapproval of "savage" land use, protectors found these trades at least temporarily acceptable.
Meanwhile, protectorate and mission farms were developing. It has sometimes been assumed that these failed because Aboriginal people simply could not farm successfully, a claim which has been extensively rebutted by Richard Broome in his discussion of Aboriginal workers in south-eastern Australia. As Broome - and the missionary sources - point out, Aborigines undertook a variety of jobs, including ploughing and harvesting crops, growing vegetables, chopping wood, fetching water, clearing land, hutkeeping, fencing, driving bullock trains, looking after livestock, doing laundry, domestic service, cooking, and building huts. However, few people worked consistently; participation could range from several months of solid work to occasional odd jobs. They were no doubt influenced by pressure from missionaries and protectors, who commonly used rations to reward or punish workers. Other incentives were also offered; the Buntingdale missionaries gave presents to people who built huts for themselves, and Parker paid industrious workers small amounts of money.
Aboriginal participation varied between stations and individuals. Parker, for instance, was fairly happy with the work done on his station, while the Wellington Valley missionaries were frequently dissatisfied with Aboriginal "laziness". In general, young people were most likely to be described as hard working, probably because they had fewer responsibilities within their own communities, and because missionaries particularly targeted them, considering them easier to improve. Parker, Watson and Tuckfield commented that young men with close ties to the missions showed unusual enthusiasm for "settled" farm life. However, traditional factors remained relevant, making nomadic jobs like shepherding more popular and influencing sedentary labour. During ploughing time at Sievwright's station, the women and children (who usually hunted and dug for roots) developed a method of pulverising the sods with their digging sticks, a technique Sievwright said worked better than cross-ploughing.
Traditional factors also influenced the time people spent on mission farms. One man at Buntingdale, Karn Karn, built himself a house there in 1841, explaining that his people were from the district and he laid personal claim to the mission land. Christopher Anderson, discussing the Lutheran mission at Bloomfield River in the late nineteenth century, argued that missions frequently fell on land where a restricted number of people had a right to live permanently; others could only visit for short periods and had responsibilities to different parts of the country. As I have noted, missionaries were aware of general divisions of land, but more intricate kinship divisions might account for the repeated absences of some people - absences which the baffled missionaries could only explain as bloody-minded laziness. Parker, for instance, despite appreciating hard Aboriginal labour, concluded in 1846 that they could not stick at regular work; his only explanation was that they "prefer their own misery and wretchedness". Due to missionary bewilderment and lack of evidence, Anderson's point cannot be decisively proven with regard to the first protectorate and missions. However, it does suggest an intriguingly different way of understanding these institutions - not just as pathetically failed ventures abandoned by scornful Aborigines (although this was partly true), but rather as temporary camps frequented by people for different periods of time, according to seasonal changes and varying land rights and responsibilities. The possibility that mission farms might have been more successful if Aboriginal land tenure had been taken more seriously was finally voiced in 1859 by Thomas, when commenting on the early success of an agricultural station established by Kulin people beside the Acheron River -"Hitherto, white-men have selected the spots…much of the ill success attending previous exertions has been through this - drawing them to a locality in which they took no interest, or felt no pleasure in camping on".
However, there were also other reasons why few Aboriginal people adopted agriculture permanently. Drought was a serious problem during this era, particularly at Wellington Valley, ruining the crops and garden and killing the horses and cattle. As Lynette Peel points out, many white farmers were also ruined at this time. The significant time, effort and money that had to be put into farms before they would show any returns discouraged many Europeans and, presumably, many Aboriginal people too. Casual work on private stations could pay better, and Parker and Thomas observed that Aboriginal men worked well as police trackers, holding the job in higher esteem than farming. Some men complained to Thomas about receiving poor rations when the Native Police "only walk & get plenty to eat & good clothes". One man, Koogr, was embarrassed to attend church when the policemen were there, because they were better dressed than him, commenting "Policemen no work & plenty clothes".
Parker and Günther also noted that Aboriginal workers were offended by any suggestion of servitude. As Broome notes, they may have taken their cue partly from white colonial labourers, who were often described as talking back to their "masters" and leaving jobs they disliked. Moreover, Günther claimed that in Aboriginal societies "no man has an idea of serving another". One man protested indignantly when Parker employed a white labourer, demanding to know why he could not do the same job for a wage. Parker said Aborigines would quit if they felt their work primarily benefited their European employers - "They appear generally to feel that they owe us nothing and that they are under no obligation to work". Robinson also observed in 1841 that some men of high status demanded rations while refusing to work, insisting that they were "gentlemen" and that "white gentlemen did not work only poor fellow". Robinson saw this as proof of the bad example set by idle Europeans, but it could also be interpreted as evidence of senior men using European concepts to reinforce their status.
Missionary and protectoral accounts also indicate that family pressure discouraged some Aboriginal farmers. Men who had cultivated small areas of land complained to Parker and Watson that their relatives demanded so much of the produce that it was hardly worth the effort. Missionaries also lamented when hard workers were persuaded to leave the stations. William Porter at Wellington Valley blamed the elders for dissuading the youths from working. Thomas claimed in 1841 that "idle" people who preferred bush life forced their relatives to accompany them, and Tuckfield observed that some people were threatened with violence if they refused to travel. Missionaries did not ask these "interfering" people much about their motives. However, since many attempts to stop people working were accompanied by demands that they travel or participate in ceremony, I would suggest that the problem was not necessarily European labour per se, but rather the possibility of this labour seriously curtailing pre-existing cultural duties.
The general failure of mission and protectorate farms cannot be attributed to Aboriginal decisions alone, however. Disease, poverty and violence undermined stability, as did missionaries' and protectors' frequent lack of farming experience, skilled European workers or adequate provisions. In 1839, for example, protector Sievwright, surrounded by sick and hungry people, wrote angrily "I have neither means of employing the industrious nor of relieving the wretched". Meanwhile, William Le Souef, who took over Dredge's Goulbourn protectorate station, complained that his tools were faulty and Aborigines could barely use the spades because they had no shoes. Political and economic problems also hindered farming. Sievwright's farm collapsed amid sex scandals and disputes with surrounding settlers, while Le Souef's initially successful crops withered away when he was fired for mismanagement and his station reduced to a rations depot.
The importance of destructive external factors became most apparent on the few occasions when Aboriginal communities strongly supported farming ventures. Awabakal had worked satisfactorily on Threlkeld's station, but many had to leave to work in Newcastle in 1828, when Threlkeld's funding ran out. In 1843, when the people at Buntingdale heard that the mission was closing, they called a meeting with the missionaries and promised to do some farming and domestic labour if the station would remain open. This they did, until renewed inter-tribal violence forced them out of the area. By the late 1840s, Jajowrong around Parker's station were increasingly involved in pastoral work, but few could get training in skilled jobs, as European workers feared Aboriginal labour would undercut their own wages. In 1841, when James Dredge was replaced by William Le Souef, the Taungurong, displeased with their new protector, visited Dredge in Melbourne and "expressed an ardent wish that I would come and live with them; they said they would look out a good place and would all sit down there, build houses like the white fellows, and plant potatoes". Dredge liked the proposal but had alienated his superiors too badly to get his job back. It is difficult to know how sincere such suggestions were, but they do indicate Aboriginal people's determination to remain on their land and willingness to negotiate terms for this. They also demonstrate how such efforts could be destroyed by factors beyond their control. This point was perhaps most evident later on, with the collapse of the initially successful Coranderrk station, due to illness, mismanagement, settlers' determination to take over the fertile land, and government attempts to expel "half-castes". It is questionable how much hope any Aboriginal stations had, in the face of such colonial hostility and rapid pastoral expansion.
By the 1850s, the original protectorate and missions had closed and Aboriginal people in Port Phillip and New South Wales were becoming incorporated into the colonial economy, albeit on an impoverished level. Ann Curthoys and Heather Goodall have observed that by the 1860s and 1870s, Aboriginal people throughout New South Wales relied on a combination of European employment, hunter-gathering and begging, while maintaining limited kin obligations and ties with their land. Missionary accounts support this claim. Peter Read estimates that most young men from Wellington Valley mission worked for settlers by the 1850s. The Buntingdale missionaries reported by the early 1840s that many local people worked for settlers, the men as stockworkers, the women (they implied) involved in prostitution. In 1840, Threlkeld reported that most Awabakal now worked in Newcastle as fishermen, water carriers, messengers, and servants. Notably, many of these people, although leaving the missions, still worked on or near their ancestral lands.
The Port Phillip protectors also reported Aboriginal people working for settlers by the 1840s. Parker, Robinson and John Watton (who took over Mt Rouse station) observed that many people from the Loddon, Goulbourn River, Yarra, and Mt Rouse districts now worked at harvesting, sheep washing, grain cutting, and stock keeping. The 1850s gold rush led to greater demand for Aboriginal labour. Some settlers interviewed by government committees around this time claimed Aborigines were "lazy", but others said they worked well save for "their strong disposition to wander". While disapproving and chauvinistic, their comments suggest that traditional relationships to land and kin, while severely damaged, still vitally shaped Aboriginal people's lives. Thomas, similarly, noted in 1853 that many people still preferred outdoor life and often left jobs when traditional obligations called them elsewhere
the hook, axe, or bridle down, and all further [evidence] of civilisation for the day is over; off goes apparel and they bask under the canopy of heaven as in their primitive wildness, evidently enjoying their freedom from encumbrance…such is their wandering propensity, that all the kindness, entreaty or persuasion, cannot secure them one day beyond their determination.
Aboriginal people's relationships to land were of vital concern to the first missionaries and protectors. While generally supporting Aborigines' right to continue living on portions of their ancestral lands, missionaries nonetheless insisted that Aborigines' economic and emotional relationships to these lands must be radically altered. Aboriginal responses to these projects of intertwined moral and economic "civilisation" varied, but generally demonstrated economic adaptation existing alongside a damaged but still powerful cultural life. While their refusal to wholeheartedly embrace missionary attitudes towards land and work was important to the eventual collapse of mission farms, the fact that even enthusiastic Aboriginal work met strong environmental and social setbacks indicates that the colonial explanation that Aborigines were simply incompetent farmers was more convenient than correct.
(the email you send to email@example.com will be read by the Eras editorial committee and published on the "Discussion" page)
 Edward John Eyre, Journals of Expedition of Discovery into Central Australia and Overland from Adelaide to King George's Sound in the years 1840-1, vol. 2, London, T. and W. Boone, 1845, p. 171. Back
 Sydney Gazette, 19 August 1824; Sydney Morning Herald , 7 November 1838. Back
 Barbara Arneil, John Locke and America: The Defence of English Colonialism, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1996, pp. 61-62, 109-12, 148; Russell McGregor, Imagined Destinies: Aboriginal Australians and the Doomed Race Theory, 1880-1939, Carlton South, Melbourne University Press, 1997, pp. 1-5; J. M. Neeson, Commoners: Common right, enclosure and social change in England , 1700-1820, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993, pp. 28-33. Back
 Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy: Land in Aboriginal Politics in New South Wales, 1770-1972, St Leonards, Allen and Unwin, 1996, pp. 39-42; Henry Reynolds, The Law of the Land, Ringwood, Penguin, 1987 (1992 edition), pp. 73-74. Back
 James Macarthur, quoted in Barry W. Butcher, "Darwinism, Social Darwinism, and the Australian Aborigines: A Reevaluation", in Roy MacLeod and Philip F. Rebock (eds), Darwin's Laboratory: Evolutionary Theory and Natural History in the Pacific , Honolulu , University of Hawaii, 1994, p. 373. Back
 Samuel Marsden to Archdeacon Scott,"Report on the Aborigines of N.S.W., 2 December 1826", in Niel Gunson (ed.),Australian Reminiscences and Papers of L.E. Threlkeld, Missionary to the Aborigines, 1824-1859 , vol. 2, Canberra, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1974, p. 347. Back
 Australian, 8 July 1836; George Bennett, Wanderings in New South Wales, Batavia, Petir Coast, Singapore, and China , vol. 1, London, Richard Bentley, 1834, p. 172; Baron Charles von Hugel, New Holland Journal: November 1833 - October 1834 , Dympha Clark (trans. and ed.), Burwood, Melbourne University Press, 1994, p. 38; Report from Border Police Office, Binalong, 12 March 1842, enclosed in dispatch from Sir George Gipps to Lord Stanley, in Aborigines (Australian Colonies) , return of an Address to the House of Commons, 9 August 1844, printed by order of House of Commons, [no place cited], 1844, p. 220; Samuel Marsden to Archdeacon Scott, "Report on the Aborigines of N.S.W.", in Niel Gunson (ed.), Australian Reminiscences , vol. 2, p. 347.Back
 Australian, 26 December 1840; Sydney Gazette, 24 June 1804 and 23 August 1822. Back
 Report on the Parliamentary Select Committee on Aboriginal Tribes (British settlements), reprinted with comments by the Aborigines Protection Society, London, William Bell, 1837, p. 4. Back
 The Meeting for Sufferings,"Report of the Aborigines' Committee of the Meeting for Sufferings, 1840", in The Meeting for Sufferings (ed.), Tracts Relative to the Aborigines , London, Edward Marsh, 1843, p. 9; The Religious Society of Friends, "An Address of Christian Counsel and Caution to Emigrants to Newly Settled Colonies", in Meeting for Sufferings (ed.), Tracts Relative to the Aborigines, p. 2.Back
 Arneil, John Locke and America, pp. 55, 58; Kate McCarthy, "'Cultivation' in a Colonial Context: the concept of (private) property in early New South Wales", unpublished Honours thesis, Australian National University , 2000, pp. 27-29. Back
 For example, James Dredge,Brief Notes on the Aborigines of New South Wales, Geelong, James Harrison, 1845, p. 40; William Thomas, Petition to Sir George Gipps, undated, placed after entry for 28 January 1844, William Thomas Journal and Papers, 1834-1844 (WTP), MF323, Reel 3, Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales); Francis Tuckfield to General Secretaries, 1 January 1844, Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society Archive, Australasia 1812-1889 (WMMS), Box 2, AJCP M125, National Library of Australia. Back
 Francis Tuckfield to General Secretaries, 30 September 1840, WMMS, Box 2; Francis Tuckfield to General Secretaries, 30 October 1841, WMMS, Box 2. Back
 Joseph Orton to General Secretaries, 18 July 1839 , WMMS, Box 1. Back
 George Augustus Robinson,Journals: Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate, vol. 2, 1 October 1840 - 31 August 1841, Ian D. Clark (ed.), Melbourne, Heritage Matters, 1998, p. 318; William Thomas to G.A. Robinson, 9 July 1840, WTP, MF323, Reel 4; William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, "Journal of the Proceedings during the months of June, July & August 1841", Aboriginal Affairs Records (AAR), VPRS4467, Reel 2, Victorian Public Records Office; William Thomas, undated excerpt fiche 91-92, WTP, MF323, Reel 5. Back
 James Dredge, 6 June 1842, James Dredge Diaries, Notebooks and Letterbook, ?1817-1845 (JDD), MS11625, State Library of Victoria . Back
 G. A. Robinson to C. J. La Trobe, 12 December 1839, in Michael Cannon (ed.), Historical Records of Victoria: Aborigines and Protectors, 1838-1839, vol. 2B, Melbourne, Victorian Government Printing Office, 1983, p. 413; George Augustus Robinson, "A Report of an Expedition to the Aboriginal Tribes of the Western Interior during the months of March, April, May, June, July and August 1841", in Ian D. Clark (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson, Chief Protector, Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate , vol. 4, Clarendon, Heritage Matters, 2001, p. 23. Back
 James Dredge to Jabez Bunting, 20 April 1839 , WMMS, Box 1. Back
 Edward Stone Parker to G. A. Robinson, 1 April 1840, in Michael Cannon (ed.), Historical Records of Victoria, vol. 2B, p. 413. Back
 Edward Stone Parker to G.A. Robinson, 1 December 1843 , AAR , VPRS4467, Reel 3. Back
 William Thomas, 17 April 1840 and 17 September 1841, WTP, MF323, Reel 2. Back
 Edward Stone Parker, "Quarterly Journal, 1 March - 31 May 1841", AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2; Gary Presland,Aboriginal Melbourne: The Lost Land of the Kulin People , Ringwood, McPhee Gribble, 1985, p. 35; William Thomas, 27 October 1839, WTP, MF323, Reel 1; William Thomas, 13 October 1840, 26 March 1841, 18 and 20 August 1841, WTP, MF323, Reel 2; William Thomas, 13 April 1840, WTP, MF323, Reel 4; William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 29 February 1840, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2. Back
 William Thomas, 5 September 1840 , WTP, MF323, Reel 1. Also, William Thomas, 19 and 21 August 1840 , 9 September 1840 , WTP, MF323, Reel 1, and William Thomas, 17 September 1841 , WTP, MF323, Reel 2. Back
 William Thomas, 15 September 1840 , WTP, MF323, Reel 1. Back
 William Thomas, 13 and 15 September 1840, WTP, MF323, Reel 1; William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 14 September 1840, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 1; William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 1 March 1841, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2. Back
 James Günther to Dandeson Coates, 30 November 1838, p. 2, in Hilary M. Carey and David A. Roberts (eds), Wellington Valley Project (WVP), http://www.newcastle.edu.au/discipline/history/wv-project/ . Back
 L.E. Threlkeld to E. Deas Thomson, "Annual Report of the Mission to the Aborigines, Lake Macquarie 1840", in L.E. Thelkeld, Papers 1815-1862 (LTP), MLA382, MF329, Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales). Back
 Joseph Orton, 24 May 1839, also 23 May 1839 and 31 May 1839, Joseph Orton Journal 1832-1839 and 1840-1841 (JOJ), MF302, Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales). Back
 Joseph Orton, 29 March 1841, JOJ, MF302; Joseph Orton to General Secretaries, 5 January 1841, WMMS, Box 2, AJCP M125; Joseph Orton to General Secretaries, 8 September 1841, WMMS , Box 2, MP2107. Back
 Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy, p. 47. Back
 James Dredge, 13 October 1839, JDD, MS11625; William Thomas, 4 and 5 August 1840, WTP, MF323, Reel 1. Back
 James Dredge to Jabez Bunting, 10 May 1841 , WMMS, Box 2 , AJCP M125. Back
 William Porter to Dandeson Coates, 22 February 1841, p. 4, WVP; William Watson to Dandeson Coates, 31 December 1832, p. 2, WVP. Back
 E. S. Parker to G. A. Robinson, 1 April 1840 , in Michael Cannon (ed.), Historical Records of Victoria , vol. 2B, p. 695; Charles Sievwright quoted in Lindsey Arkley, The Hated Protector: The Story of Charles Wightman Sievwright, Protector of Aborigines, 1839-42 , Mentone, Orbit Press, 2000, p. 203. Back
 William Thomas, 31 October 1844 and 10 May 1846, WTP, MF323, Reel 3; William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 1 March 1841, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2; William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 1 June 1846, Quarterly Report, 1 March - 31 May 1846, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2; William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, "Journal of the Proceedings during the months of June, July & August 1841", in AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2. Back
 William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 24 May 1842 , "Journal of Proceedings, December 1841, January & February 1842", AAR , VPRS4467, Reel 2. Back
 William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 6 October 1840 , AAR , VPRS4467, Reel 1. Back
 Benjamin Hurst to Sir George Gipps, "Report of the Wesleyan Missionary Society's Mission at Buntingdale, Port Phillip, from April 28 to November 23 1840", AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 1; Edgar Morrison, Early Days in the Loddon Valley: Memoirs of Edward Stone Parker, 1802-1865, Daylesford, published by the author, 1965, p.73 Back
 Henry Reynolds, With the White People , Ringwood, Penguin, 1990, p. 90. Back
 Henry Reynolds, With the White People, p. 100. Back
 Joseph Orton to General Secretaries, 13 May 1839, WMMS, Box 1, AJCP M125; Joseph Orton to General Secretaries, Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, 18 July 1839, Joseph Orton Letterbooks, MF302, Part 2, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales).Back
 Charles Sievwright to G. A. Robinson, 1 September 1839, "Report of the Proceedings, March to August 1839", in Mira Lakic and Rosemary Wrench (eds), Through Their Eyes: An Historical Record of Aboriginal People of Victoria as Documented by the Officials of the Port Phillip Protectorate, 1839 - 1841 , Melbourne, Museum of Victoria, 1994, pp. 116-17. Back
 George Langhorne to C. J. La Trobe, 15 October 1839, in Michael Cannon (ed.), Historical Records of Victoria , vol. 2B, p. 500; William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, "Journal of the Proceedings during the months of June, July & August 1841", AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2. Back
 Tim Rowse, White Flour, White Power: From Rations to Citizenship in Central Australia, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 25-26. Back
 Heather Goodall, Invasion to Embassy, pp. 38, 42, 44. Back
 William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 1 December 1843 , "Journal of Proceedings, September 1843 - December 1843", AAR , VPRS4467, Reel 2. Back
 Robert Cartwright to Governor Macquarie, 6 December 1819, Historical Records of Australia , series 1, vol. XX, January 1819 - December 1822, Sydney, Library Committee of the Commonwealth Parliament, 1917, p. 265. Back
 Ann Curthoys, "Race and Ethnicity: A Study of the Response of British Colonists to Aborigines, Chinese and non-British Europeans in New South Wales, 1856-1881", unpublished PhD thesis, Macquarie University, 1973, p. 39; Lord Glenelg to Sir George Gipps, 31 January 1838, in Peter Frauenfelder (ed.), Aboriginal Communities: the Colonial Experience, Port Phillip District , Melbourne, Education Centre of the State Library of Victoria, 1997, p. 49; Henry Reynolds, The Law of the Land, p. 145. Back
 Bain Attwood, The Making of the Aborigines , Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1989, p. 65. Back
 Lindsey Arkley, The Hated Protector , p. 7; T. M. O'Connor, Protector Edward Stone Parker: Port Phillip Gentleman , Melbourne, UCA Historical Society (Victoria), 1991, p. 10; G. A. Robinson to C. W. Sievwright, E. S. Parker and W. Le Souef, 21 August 1840, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 1; William Thomas, 26 October 1839, WTP, MF323, Reel 1; William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 11 September 1841, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2.Back
 Beverley Blaskett, "The Aboriginal Response to White Settlement in the Port Phillip District , 1835-1850", unpublished Masters thesis, University of Melbourne, 1979, p. 220.Back
 T.M. O'Connor, Protector Edward Stone Parker , p. 10; William Thomas, 12 July 1840 and 26 July 1840, WTP, MF323, Reel 1; G. A. Robinson to C.W. Sievwright, E.S. Parker and W. Le Souef, 21 August 1840, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 1. Back
 Richard Broome, "Aboriginal Workers on South-Eastern Frontiers", Australian Historical Studies , vol. 26, no. 103, October 1994, pp. 202-20. Back
 For example, James Günther, 7 July 1838, p. 3, 31 June 1839, p. 9, 7 December 1839, p. 21, James Günther Journal, WVP; Benjamin Hurst to Sir George Gipps, "Report of the Wesleyan Missionary Society's Mission at Buntingdale, 28 April to 23 November 1840", AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 1; Joseph Orton, 27 April 1839, JOJ, MF302, Reel 1; Edward Stone Parker to G. A. Robinson, "Return of Work done by the Aboriginal Natives of the Jajowrong Tribe", reports for November 1840, December 1840, November 1841, December 1841, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2; Edward Stone Parker to G. A. Robinson, "Return of Work done by the Aboriginal Natives of the Jajowrong Tribe", reports for February 1843, May 1845 and August 1845, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 3; Charles Sievwright to G. A. Robinson, 1 September 1839, in Mira Lakic and Rosemary Wrech (eds), Through Their Eyes , p. 118; John Smithies to General Secretaries, 26 October 1844, WMMS, Box 2, AJCP M125; William Thomas, 2 August 1840, WTP, MF323, Reel 1; William Thomas, 20 and 21 January 1842, WTP, MF323, Reel 2; Francis Tuckfield to General Secretaries, 30 September 1840, WMMS, Box 2, AJCP M125; Francis Tuckfield to General Secretaries, 30 October 1841, in WMMS, Box 2, AJCP M125; William Watson, 9 March 1833, p. 11, 15 October 1834, p. 2, 4 June 1836, p. 6, William Watson Journal, WVP. Back
 Beverley Blaskett, "The Aboriginal Response to White Settlement", p. 216; Francis Tuckfield to General Secretaries, 30 October 1841, WMMS, Box 2, AJCP M125. Back
 Rosalind Jane Lewis, "Edward Stone Parker: Protector of Aborigines, Missionary and Visionary", unpublished Honours thesis, Deakin University, 1987, p. 19; Francis Tuckfield to General Secretary, 15 June 1845, WMMS , Box 2, AJCP M125; William Watson, 20 June 1833, p. 15, William Watson Journal, WVP. Back
 Lindsey Arkely, The Hated Protector, p. 317; Jan Critchett, A"Distant Field of Murder": Western District Frontiers 1834-1848 , Burwood, Melbourne University Press, 1990, p. 146. Back
 Joseph Orton, 4 May 1841, JOJ, MF302, Reel 1.Back
 Christopher Anderson, "A Case Study in Failure: Kuku-Yalanji and the Lutherans at Bloomfield River, 1887-1902", in Tony Swain and Deborah Bird Rose (eds), Aboriginal Australians and Christian Missions , Bedford Park, Australian Association for the Study of Religion, 1988, pp. 328-29, 334. Back
 Edward Stone Parker, The Aborigines of Australia, Melbourne, William Clarke, 1846, p. 23. Back
 William Thomas 1859, quoted in Aldo Massola, Coranderrk: A History of the Aboriginal Station, Kilmore, Lowden Publishing, 1975, p. 8. Back
 Lynette J. Peel, Rural Industry in the Port Phillip Region, 1835-1880, Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1974, pp. 31-32, 39-42. Back
 William Thomas, 26 February 1842 , WTP, MF323, Reel 2. Also, Edward Stone Parker, The Aborigines of Australia, p. 23. Back
 William Thomas, 6 March 1842 , WTP, MF323, Reel 2. Back
 Richard Broome, "Aboriginal Workers", p. 219. Back
 James Günther, quoted in Henry Reynolds, With the White People, pp. 96-97. Back
 Edward Stone Parker, "Quarterly Journal, 1 June - 31 August 1842 ", AAR , VPRS4467, Reel 2. Back
 Edward Stone Parker, quoted in Henry Reynolds, With the White People, p. 96. Back
 George Augustus Robinson,Journals , vol. 2, 1 October 1840 - 31 August 1841, p. 75. Back
 William Watson, 7 July 1836, p. 2, William Watson Journal, WVP; Edgar Morrison, "The Loddon Aborigines: Tales of Old Jim Crow", in Geoff Morrison (ed.), A Successful Failure: The Aborigines and Early Settlers, Maryborough, Graffiti Publications, 2002, p. 241. Back
 William Porter, 10 September 1838, p. 10, William Porter Journal, WVP. Back
 William Thomas to G. A. Robinson, 1 March 1841, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2; William Thomas to Joseph La Trobe, 7 April 1841 , AAR , VPRS4467, Reel 1; Francis Tuckfield to General Secretaries, 30 October 1841, WMMS, Box 2 , AJCP M125. Back
 Charles Sievwright, 1839, quoted in Lindsey Arkley, The Hated Protector, p. 4. Back
 William Le Souef to Joseph La Trobe, 23 April 1841, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 1. Back
 L.E. Threlkeld, A Statement Relating to the Formation and Abandonment of a Mission to the Aborigines of New South Wales: Addressed to the serious consideration of the Directors of the London Missionary Society , Sydney, R. Howe, 1828, p. 12. Back
 Francis Tuckfield, August 1843,"Report on the Wesleyan Missionary Society's Mission to the Aborigines of the Sub District of Geelong, Port Phillip", WMMS, Box 2 , AJCP M125. Back
 Edward Stone Parker to G. A. Robinson, 16 January 1849, AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2. Back
 James Dredge, 27 November 1841, JDD, MS11625. Back
 Dianne Barwick, "Coranderrk and Cumeroogunga: Pioneers and Policy", in T. Scarlett Epstein and David H. Penny (eds), Opportunity and Response: Case Studies in Economic Development , London, C. Hurst & Company, 1972, pp. 11-36. Back
 Ann Curthoys, "Good Christians and Useful Workers: Aborigines, Church and State in NSW 1870-1883", in Sydney Labour History Group (eds), What Rough Beast? The State and Social Order in Australian History, Sydney, Allen & Unwin, 1982, pp.33-34; Heather Goodall, "New South Wales ", in Ann McGrath (ed.), Contested Ground: Australian Aborigines Under the British Crown, St Leonards, Allen & Unwin, 1995, pp. 59, 67-68. Back
 Barry John Bridges, "The Church of England and the Aborigines of N.S.W.", p. 694; Peter Read, The Hundred Years War: The Wiradjuri People and the State, Sydney, Australian National University Press, 1988, p. 23; William Watson, 10 February 1837, p. 11, William Watson Journal, WVP. Back
 Benjamin Hurst to Sir George Gipps, "Report of the Wesleyan Missionary Society's Mission at Buntingdale, Port Phillip, from 28 April to 23 November 1840", AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 1; Francis Tuckfield to General Secretaries, 16 August 1842, WMMS, Box 2, AJCP M125. Back
 L. E. Threlkeld, "Memoranda", in Niel Gunson (ed.), Australian Reminiscences, vol. 1, p. 166. Back
 Edward Stone Parker, "Quarterly Journal, 1 June 1842 - 31 August 1842", AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2; George Augustus Robinson, "1844 Annual Report", in Ian D. Clark (ed.), The Papers of George Augustus Robinson , vol. 4, p. 84; John Watton to G. A. Robinson, 1 January 1849, "Report of Proceedings at the Aboriginal Station at Mount Rouse for the year 1848", AAR, VPRS4467, Reel 2. Back
 James Malcolm, interviewed for Report from the Select Committee on the Condition of the Aborigines, 1845, in Peter Frauenfelder (ed.), Aboriginal Communities, p. 59; First Report of the Central Board Appointed to Watch over the Interests of the Aborigines in the Colony of Victoria, Melbourne, Government Printer, 1861, State Library of Victoria, pp. 14-26. Back
 William Thomas, 1853, quoted in Richard Broome, "Victoria", in Ann McGrath (ed.), Contested Ground, pp. 133-34. Also, Henry Reynolds, With The White People , pp. 129-30; William Thomas, Aborigines: A Return to Address Mr Parker - 21 October 1853, Melbourne, Government Printing Office, 1854, State Library of Victoria, pp. 11, 14, 30. Back