The Goulburn Island Mission was established in 1916 by the Methodist Missionary Society of Australasia, later known as the Methodist Overseas Mission. It was located on South Goulburn Island. Dormitories for children operated until the mid-1930s and children attended a Mission school. Control of the Mission was handed to the local Aboriginal Community in 1973.
The Goulburn Island Mission was established in 1916 by the Methodist Missionary Society of Australasia. This organisation changed its name to the Methodist Overseas Mission in the mid-1930s. The site was chosen by Reverend James Watson after he inspected the region for possible locations. He became the Mission's first superintendent and an Honorary Protector of Aborigines for the islands.
The Goulburn Islands lie off the coast of Arnhem Land. The Mission Station was located on South Goulburn Island approximately 320 kilometres east of Darwin. The Mission received a subsidy from the government to assist with its operation. In 1923, 43 children were reported to be under the direct charge of Miss Matthews, the Missionary Sister who provided both religious and school education.
A December 1927 report reveals that four dormitories were operating at the site one each for boys, girls, unmarried women and youths. Forty nine children were living at the Mission and of these, 34 attended school. The Missionary in Charge and the Dormitory Matron were responsible for teaching. The report described the education of children and its purpose:
Every boy and girl upon leaving school must enter upon some employment. The girls until marriage remain under care of the matron in Dormitory acquiring domestic knowledge. The boys are taught the use of all the tools and with surprising quickness very soon adapt themselves. A boy's job is constantly changed, by this means he gains knowledge of all works in hand. All school children are taught light duties pertaining to their dormitory needs. The school curriculum consists of:- reading, spelling, writing, arithmetic, tables, light mental work, little history, poetry, singing, moral lessons (girls sewing). The new church building (cool, light and airy) is used as a school room.
By 1931 the original boys' dormitory and several cottages were demolished as the Mission worked towards a larger more spacious layout. Two years later only two dormitories remained and a number of smaller cottages for families had been erected. By 1935, no dormitories appear to have been maintained. Numbers of children at the Mission however increased to 60-70 during the later 1940s and throughout the 1950s with a significant number of those attending the Mission school.
A 1960 report from the Mission recorded an average attendance of 42 children at the school. Sister Hinch ran both the school the dispensary with the help of two Aboriginal assistants at the school. The school building was described as follows:
the present building is only a temporary building for the School being half workshop and half School. The building is of iron and again very hot. It is far too small and can only house a little over half the children. The surplus have to meet outside. Most of the school equipment, except the furniture, has to be held in a smaller building elsewhere and cannot be adequately used until a new building is built.
By 1964, 89 children were resident at the Mission. The Mission received a subsidy and child endowment payments from the government, and income from sales of crafts made by the residents. In 1973 the Methodist Overseas Mission handed responsibility for the Mission to a local Council.
Sources used to compile this entry: 'Northern Territory: Protectors /Administration / Welfare Branch reports', in To remove and protect: laws that changed Aboriginal lives, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 2010, http://aiatsis.gov.au/collections/collections-online/digitised-collections/remove-and-protect/northern-territory; NAA: A431, 1950/2752 Goulburn & Elcho Island Mission Review Reports - Northern Territory 1923-1952; NAA: E460, 1979/703 Goulburn Island Mission - Policy and Development 1958-1977.
Prepared by: Karen George and Gary George
Created: 7 February 2011, Last modified: 8 May 2014