Moore River, WA
Opened in April 1918 in an agricultural region north of Perth, Moore River settlement was originally intended to be a small, self-supporting farming and training institution for Aborigines. However, its farm failed and its functions soon came to include (in the words of the West Australian in 1938):
'creche, orphanage, relief depot, old men's home, old women's home, home for discharged prisoners, home for expatriated savages, home for unmarried mothers, home for incurables, lost dogs home and school for boys and girls.'
Moore River, in short, became the Western Australian Government's way of tucking out of sight everything that it found problematic in the survival of the State's Indigenous people. The institution also became a source of cheap female domestic servants for well-to-do colonists.
One of its historians, Susan Maushart has commented:
Founded on a philosophy both supremely racist and superbly utopian, and guided by a staff that included sadists as well as saints, Moore River offered its Aboriginal inmates a haven in the image of a prison cell. Claustrophobically crowded, it remained as isolated as a colony on Mars. The adult population were treated as children. And the children were treated as animals - occasionally as pets to be indulged, more often as wild beasts to be hobbled and tamed.
Children at Moore River commented on their conditions by parodying a hymn that they were taught to sing
There is a happy land
Far, far away,
Where saints in glory stand
Bright, bright as day:
Oh, how they sweetly sing,
'Worthy is our Saviour King!'
Loud let his praises ring,
Praise, praise for aye!
The children's version:
There is a happy land
Far, far away
Where we get bread and scrape
Three times a day.
Bread and butter we never see
No sugar in our tea
While we are gradually
Keywords: assimilation, Moore River, racism, reserves, settlements, supervision, Western Australia, 1918-1951
Sources: Maushart, Susan 1993, 'Sort of a place like home: remembering the Moore River native settlement', Fremantle Arts Centre Press, p 126,94; Haebich, Anna 'For their own good: Aborigines and government in the Southwest of Western Australia, 1900-40', University of Western Australia.
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor