What are places made of?

Visiting NT Library and historian Samantha Wells

Last week, Les, Dotty and I visited the NT Library and we read the books that wonderful historian Sam Wells had put aside for us. It was a really big day for Dotty and Les. A very old photograph was found that had Les’s Mum and Dad in it. Les’s father the late Harry Huddleston was a traditional owner from Burrungu and his mother, Florence Croft was born in the Tanami Desert. Les’s parents and older brother were moved to Mulgoa mission near Penrith from Groote Eylandt after the bombing of Darwin 1941. This was part of the government’s policy in forced assimilation of Aboriginal people. Les moved back to Darwin with his parents in 1971. Les’s story is not unusual here but it doesn’t make any discovery any less poignant as he is still trying to piece the puzzle together in many ways.

Dotty is a Larrakia woman and Historian Sam Wells talked to Dotty in particular about the infamous Kahlin Compound and how the aboriginals who lived there were the labour that created the Bagot Community and then in 1937 the aboriginal people from Kahlin were moved to Bagot but before Bagot, the compound was used as a place where all Aboriginal people were forced to live.

In 1910, legislation was introduced about Aboriginal people that meant the Commonwealth could really take control of Aboriginal people’s lives.  Under the act that was called “An Act to Make Provision for the Better Protection and Control of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of the Northern Territory”, Chief Protectors were empowered to create institutions and reserves for Aboriginal people.

Reading Dr Bill Day’s extensive work

We also spent a day reading the extensive information that Dr Bill Day has on his website. Click here to read Dr Bill Day’s history of Bagot. It is difficult to comprehend the history of Bagot and even more difficult to discuss with people who still live with the legacy of that history. We created a timeline of events from when Bagot was created to explore what events were most important to depict in Painting Home. After Bagot Community was created in 1937 it was handed back to the army from 1940 to 1946 and then the Commonwealth brought back all of the ‘half-castes’ and in 1947 they brought back the ‘full bloods’ separating them with a fence. The fence has become a motif that the artists wish to explore as well as the children. ‘Karu’ is the Larrakia word for child and children are important part of Bagot’s history and future.

We spent some time putting together a timeline of events in Bagot’s history. The selection of information ranged in scale from events that took place within the boundaries of Bagot to the circumstances that were affecting Aboriginal people across Australia.

Key events on the timeline

1937 – The area was cleared and construction done completed by Aborigines from the Kahlin Compound
1938  – All residents were transferred from Kahlin Compound to Bagot by May 1938.
1939 – Children moved from Kahlin and a fence is erected between ‘half-castes’ and ‘full bloods’
1940 – The buildings at Bagot were handed over to the Army to be used as a hospital and military camp. The Aboriginal residents were evacuated to a number of places, including Berrimah and Belyuen, at that time known as Delissaville.
1941 – Special units were formed at Bathurst and Melville Island, at Groote Eylant and on the Cox Peninsula with almost exclusive Aboriginal servicemen. The Aboriginals who served in these units were not formally enlisted and nor were they paid.
1946 – ‘Half-castes’ moved back to Bagot
1947 – Retta Dixon Home – home for ‘half-caste’ children
1948 – ‘Full Bloods’ moved back to Bagot
1953 – NT Welfare Ordinance was passed and full-blood Aboriginal people were declared wards of the state, with their names recorded in the ‘stud book’ as the Register of Wards was known.  In Darwin they were expected to live at Bagot to be trained in line with the new assimilation policy.
1950s and 60s – During the 1950s and for much of the 1960s approximately 250 people lived at Bagot until the population stabilised to between 300 and 350, although the numbers rose to as many as 400 when visitors were in town (Woodward 1974:56; Bauman 2006:131-2).
1959 – Darwin declared a town
1959 – The Social Services Act 1959 enabled all Aborigines who were not ‘nomadic or primitive’ to receive the maternity allowance, widows’ pensions, old-age and invalid pensions, unemployment and sickness benefits.
1961 – The Administrator, Roger Nott, wrote to Canberra suggesting that most of Bagot Reserve should be revoked to provide land for a suburban subdivision
1961 – Bagot provided leadership for the Northern Territory Council for Aboriginal Rights (NTCAR)with guidance from Darwin unionist working on the waterfront.
1961 – A Commonwealth Parliamentary Committee was set up to investigate and report to the Parliament on Indigenous voting rights.
1962 – The right to vote in state/territory elections was also extended to Indigenous people in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.
1963 – Yirrkala bark petitions. These are the first documents bridging Commonwealth law as it then stood, and the Indigenous laws of the land. These petitions from the Yolngu people of Yirrkala were the first traditional documents recognised by the Commonwealth Parliament and are thus the documentary recognition of Indigenous people in Australian law.
1964 – Aborigines were given full rights as citizens instead of being classed as wards of the state.
1964 – A new Northern Territory Social Welfare Ordinance gave the Director of Social Welfare power  ‘over persons who in the opinion of the Director are socially or economically in need of assistance’ and the Ward’s Employment Ordinance remained in force leaving Aboriginal people on Christian missions and government settlements unequal in employment, wages, vocational training and housing.
1965 – The ‘Freedom Ride’ led by Charles Perkins toured rural NSW between 12 and 26 February in a bid to highlight segregation and racism in country areas.
1966 – NTCAR propose a program for new living standards for NT Aborigines Click here to see the resolution
1966 –  Aboriginal pastoral workers were awarded equal wages but the industry was not required to comply until December 1968.
1966 – Gurindji Strike – In August Gurindji workers, led by Vincent Lingiari, withheld their labour from the British owned Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory. The strike lasted seven years and gathered significant momentum for Aboriginal land rights.
1966 – All references to ‘Aboriginal natives’ were removed from the Social Services Act but benefits could still be paid to a third party and remote Aborigines did not qualify for unemployment benefits.
1967 – Australians voted overwhelmingly to amend the constitution to include Aboriginal people in the census and allow the Commonwealth to create laws for them.
1971 – Land Rights Movement gathers momentum in Darwin. Bagot people joined sit down protests on the crosswalk at the gate to block traffic on Bagot Road on three occasions in 1971
1972 – Larrakia Petition – signed in October 1972 by 1,000 Aboriginal people from all states and territories of mainland Australia. The petition is 3.3 metres long and it was torn in a scuffle with police when some Aboriginal people tried to hand it to Princess Margaret on a visit to Darwin. It was then posted to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II who handed back to the then Governor- General. Some signed with their name, others with thumb prints.  Dr Bill Day, an anthropologist, helped create the petition.
1973 – The Woodward Land Rights Commission was established with Justice Woodward being appointed to hold a Commission of Inquiry into appropriate ways to recognise Aboriginal land rights in the Northern Territory.
1973 – National Land Rights Conference held at Bagot.
1973 – Kulaluk residents meet with Aboriginal Land Rights commissioner at Kulaluk
1974 – Cyclone Tracy
1975 – The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 conferred rights to equality before the law and bound the Commonwealth and the states to the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
1975 – Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam handed back to the Gurindji people a lease to 1250 square miles, formerly part of Wave Hill Station now called Daguragu.
1975 – On 11 November the Commonwealth Parliament was prorogued by the Governor-General and the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Bill lapsed.
1976 – The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, based on the bill framed by the Whitlam Government, provided recognition of Aboriginal land ownership and established Aboriginal Land Commissioners, Aboriginal Land Trusts and the Aboriginal Benefit Trust Account.  It enabled traditional Aboriginal lands to be granted to Aboriginal Lands Trusts and provided for the creation of a Central Land Council, Northern Land Council, Tiwi Land Council and Anindilyakwa Land Council.
1976-79 – New buildings built as Bagot was re-established.
2007 – The Federal Government Emergency Response, known as ‘the Intervention’

So far…

This is where we got to…so next is mapping from the 80s to current day Bagot.


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