The removal of the Murray Island School Number 774 from the lists of the Department of Public Instruction in 1903 was also an announcement of a new subordinate status:
'The school for the children of Aboriginals at Murray Island', as the Islanders were now known, was now designed to take children to the third grade only. The Murray Islanders were now classified as Aboriginals under a closely-watched segregation from white Australia under what were called Aboriginals Protection Acts. The Aboriginals Department, which supervised them was one of a group of departments for outsiders: prisons, benevolent asylums, inebriate institutions. Classed as inmates, they were all supervised directly as people presumed to be unable to look after themselves.
On Murray Island the white school teacher was given more powers: the Council must carry out his directives. By the 1930s the directive rules were being tightened so that Islanders had to gain permission even to visit their neighbours at Erub, Darnley Island, personal movements were restricted by a curfew, it became an offence to be seen talking to a member of the opposite sex, especially a white person, and the government authority chose the skippers and boat crews of the clan boats.
However, the Islanders were not pushed off their islands or their children taken from them. Inmateship for them was a form of soft violence. Killing them softly as a 'chosen people' meant a loss of confidence in themselves. In Islanders' language it meant being made into 'monkey-men', like puppets on strings performing for others, especially for the father-figure Protector.
Keywords: Mer, Meriam culture, Meriam history, Murray Island Council, school, 1903-1940
Author: Sharp, Nonie