School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Theses

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    Broken promises: Aboriginal education in south-eastern Australia, 1837-1937
    Barry, Amanda ( 2008)
    This thesis is a comparative study of the education of Aboriginal children from 1837-1937 in the colonies (later states) of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, which together form the south-eastern, and most heavily settled, portion of the Australian continent. It explores early missionary education, the consolidation of colonial authorities' control over schools and the shift to government-run education and training for Aboriginal children of mixed-descent in particular, as part of wider ‘assimilation’ programs. It also pays attention to Aboriginal responses to, protests about, and demands for education throughout this period of rapid change. The thesis demonstrates that missionary, colonial and government attempts to educate Aboriginal people in the south-east constituted an attempt to transform Aboriginal people's subjectivity to suit various aims: for conversion to Christianity, for colonial control, or for training for ‘useful’ purposes. The thesis argues, however, that these attempts constituted a ‘broken promise’ to Aboriginal people. The promise was, that once educated, Aboriginal people might join and participate in colonial society. Instead, they were relegated to its economic and geographical fringes, dispossessed as settlers spread across their land and accorded only liminal positions in the settler-colonies and later, states of the Australian Commonwealth. Temporally, this thesis is bound by two government reports which were influential in the development of colonial and state governance of Aboriginal people. The first is the 1837 British Parliament's Select Committee on Aborigines: British Settlements report; the second, published exactly one hundred years later, is the Australian intergovernmental Aboriginal Welfare Initial Conference of State Aboriginal Authorities of 1937. The thesis also makes use of extensive missionary and government archival material from the south-east. As the first multi-state Aboriginal education history, this thesis offers new ways of understanding the complexities of settler-Aboriginal relations in Australia as well as interrogating the reasons for the chasm between rhetoric and reality in Aboriginal welfare policy. It places this study within a broader transimperial and transnational framework of colonialism, empire and the emergence of the modern nation-state, demonstrating that the education of Aboriginal children was not a single project with a single aim. Rather, it constituted a multitude of approaches, sometimes disparate, formed in response to a broad rubric of colonisation and empire as well as local specificities and situations. In doing this, the thesis engages with the significant methodological challenge of historicising post-contact Aboriginal education, an aspect of the colonial project which was, for Aboriginal people in the south-east, both destructive and empowering, sometimes simultaneously.