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Parry, Naomi
'Such a longing': black and white children in welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940
Type of Work
PhD thesis
Department of History, University of New South Wales, 2007, 361 pp

When the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission tabled Bringing them home, its report into the separation of indigenous children from their families, it was criticised for failing to consider Indigenous child welfare within the context of contemporary standards. Non-Indigenous people who had experienced out-of-home care also questioned why their stories were not recognised. This thesis addresses those concerns, examining the origins and history of the welfare systems of NSW and Tasmania between 1880 and 1940. Tasmania, which had no specific policies on race or Indigenous children, provides fruitful ground for comparison with NSW, which had separate welfare systems for children defined as Indigenous and non-Indigenous. This thesis draws on the records of these systems to examine the gaps between ideology and policy and practice.
The development of welfare systems was uneven, but there are clear trends. In the years 1880 to 1940 non-Indigenous welfare systems placed their faith in boarding-out (fostering) as the most humane method of caring for neglected and destitute children, although institutions and juvenile apprenticeship were never supplanted by fostering. Concepts of child welfare shifted from charity to welfare; that is, from simple removal to social interventions that would assist children's reform. These included education, and techniques to enlist the support of the child's family in its reform. The numbers of non-Indigenous children taken into care were reduced by economic and environmental measures, such as payments to single mothers.
The NSW Aborigines Protection Board dismissed boarding-out as an option for Indigenous children and applied older methods, of institutionalisation and apprenticeship, to children it removed from reserves. As non-Indigenous welfare systems in both states were refined, the Protection Board clung to its original methods. It focused on older children, whilst allowing reserves to deteriorate, and reducing the rights of Aboriginal people. This cannot simply be explained by race, for Tasmania did not adopt the same response.
This study shows that the policies of the Aborigines Protection Board were not consonant with wider standards in child welfare of the time. However, the common thread between Indigenous and non-Indigenous child removal was the longing of children and their families for each other.

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  • Evans, Caroline; Parry, Naomi, 'Vessels of progressivism? Tasmanian state girls and eugenics, 1900-1940', Australian Historical Studies, vol. 32, no. 117, 2001, pp. 322-333. Details
  • McCulloch, J.E., Child Welfare Department : report on the general organisation, control and administration of, with special reference to state welfare institutions, Alfred James Kent, Government Printer, Sydney, 1934, 142 pp. Details
  • New South Wales. Aborigines Protection Board (ed.), Report of the Board, Government Printer, 1881-1941. Also available at Details
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  • New South Wales. Aborigines Welfare Board (ed.), Annual report of the Aborigines Welfare Board for the year ended …, Government Printer, 1949-1968. Details