According to Neville Green, who has written (2011) a comprehensive history of Forrest River Mission, it was run at first by the Perth Diocesan Board of Missions (p.8) and in the 1920s (p.43) by the Australian Board of Missions who, from the 1920s received a government subsidy for housing children. Children were sent from the Fitzroy Crossing district and east to the Northern Territory border. On 1 June 1955 (p.147), the Australian Board of Missions transferred responsibility to the Anglican Diocese of Perth, which set up a Forrest River Committee. In 1965 an advisory committee was set up in the Kimberley.
Forrest River Mission was established by an Anglican missionary, Rev. Gribble, in 1913. A boys' dormitory was built in 1914 and a girls' dormitory in 1915. (Green, 2011 p.39). There was a school at the mission from the outset. Children went to school in the morning and worked around the mission in the afternoons. The school was closed during harvest time. Green reports (p.42) that the dormitories were padlocked, preventing children interacting with family and others at the mission.
Forrest River Mission (Green, p.13) was run with strict rules and institutional conventions that included defined hours of 'rising, eating, working, praying and sleeping' and clothing issued by the mission. Children were separated from their parents and boys and girls were kept apart. These practices continued 'well beyond the Second World War' according to Green who observed that children brought up on the mission were 'often ill-prepared for mainstream society'. Green's research (p.83) found that it was only on Christmas Day that boys were allowed to sit with their parents and spend the day with them. Girls were allowed to leave their dormitories, too, but unlike the boys they had to ask permission from staff to leave the dormitory and talk to family and others.
Reflecting on the loss of traditional culture, Green (p.19) writes that children were regularly baptised and in the early days they could keep their Aboriginal name as a second name but by 1948, only one name (a European name) was allowed. Until 1928, girls were married to boys chosen by Rev. Gribble when a girl reached puberty. This horrified an observer in 1928 (p.24) as the young couple had no real knowledge of each other or choice in the marriage, which were often contrary to traditional marriage rules, and certainly disregarded them. When the couple had a baby, it was removed to the dormitory.
Discipline was harsh, according to Green (p.25): children could be 'strapped, have their hair cropped or made to stand on a box in a public place while balancing a watermelon on their heads'. These disciplines were originally undertaken by Rev Gribble, but were later enforced by schoolteachers and dormitory matrons.
Gribble was transferred from Forrest River by the Australian Board of Missions in November 1928 (Green, pp.25, 58). A number of Anglican ministers were appointed as superintendents of Forrest River in the years following Gribble's retirement (p.57).
In 1930, (Green,p.65) staff at the mission were accused by the superintendent of sodomising 'mission boys'; a female staff member was accused of 'taking lewd photographs of the girls in her care' and selling those photographs in Wyndham. The staff accused the superintendent of using 'the chain as a punishment'. The superintendent resigned, the male abuser committed suicide and the female was dismissed without criminal charges being laid.
In 1936, a new girls' dormitory was built (Green, p.92).
In February 1942, after Darwin was bombed, Green (p.98) records that the dormitory children were evacuated to temporary camps near waterholes around the mission. When they returned to the mission, it was to face food shortages during the war years. While this no doubt caused hardship, Green (p.103) reports that it also enabled children to be allowed to search for bush tucker and to join the Forrest River adults in monthly corroborees to share the gathered food. During the war years, the children were also allowed to have regular, organised 'games evenings' which Green says (p.108) helped to break down the gender barrier between the girls and boys in the dormitories. Decisions were taken about clothing the children would wear during the war, when funds were even lower than usual and Aboriginal people were not entitled to clothing coupons. Green writes (pp.116-117) that 'children under five years would not wear clothes; boys between the ages of five and eleven years would wear short pants and the girls of that age would wear only waist skirts'. The older boys would wear shorts and a sleeveless shirt and older girls would have one dress. There was no mention of underwear. Sugar bags could be made into dresses for little girls on special occasions. Weekly washing was done at the river by women and girls in the traditional way.
School continued for the children throughout World War II and Anglican schools were asked (Green, p.107) to support 'nominated children'. Until 1947, schooling at Forrest River was held in the open air (p.114). According to Green (pp.124, 127, 132) the Bateman Survey in 1947 criticised the lack of proper education opportunities for children at the Forrest River Mission and authorities felt that the isolated position of the mission would not assist the assimilation policies that were gaining currency. In 1953, Forrest River accepted the offer of a government teacher and very minimal funding for school supplies.
Green (p.132) writes that even during the 1950s children had a poor diet, with fresh meat only once a week and damper and tinned meat thereafter.
In 1956, after months of planning and considerable bureaucratic juggling, eight children from the mission went to a holiday camp at Point Peron, south of Perth (Green, p.134). In the late 1950s, children were also being given the opportunity to go on school trips to Wyndham (p.134). In 1961, a two-classroom government school was built at the mission (pp.136-137) and in 1963, staff took the children up to Kununurra to see the Queen.
In 1968, with mounting debts and large expenses, Green reports (pp.153, 157) that Forrest River Mission was closed by Anglican authorities. Children joined their families and were 'scattered across several Wyndham reserves.
On 4 October 1970, Green records (p.162), a group of former Forrest River Mission residents formed the Oombulgurri Committee and decided to return to the land which would thereafter be known as the self-governing community of Oombulgurri.
Western Australian historian Neville Green (2009 pp.559-560) reports that in 1926, there was a massacre of Aboriginal people from the Forrest River Mission. In January 1927, Magistrate GT Wood held a Royal Commission into the incident and found that 11 people were murdered and their bodies burned to hide the evidence. Two police officers were charged with one murder, but at the committal hearings Magistrate Kitson determined there was not enough evidence to proceed. Historians and anthropologists have since confirmed the massacre did occur as the superintendent of the mission alleged.
The collection held by the Department for Child Protection and Family Support (DCPFS) dates from 1894. It includes records from the Government Receiving Depot, the State Children's Department, the Child Welfare Department and more recent departments which have been known at different times as the Department for Child Protection, Community Development, Community Welfare, Community Services, and Family and Children's Services. The records relate to children who were placed in all types of out of home 'care' in Western Australia. Some of the records held by the DCPFS were originally created by another government department or private agency.
Contact Freedom of Information, Department for Child Protection and Family Support:
PO Box 6334, East Perth WA 6892
Telephone: (08) 6217 6388 or (08) 6217 6381
Facsimile: (08) 9222 2776
Free call in WA: 1800 000 277
Anglican Diocese of Perth, Western Australia, Records is a collection of records and historical information that may be relevant to people who were placed in Homes including: Forrest River Mission; Hillston, Padbury Boys' Farm School, Parkerville Children's Home; Perth Boys' Orphanage and Perth Girls' Orphanage; Redhill; Seaside House, Coogee; Swan Boys' Orphanage; Swan Homes; Swan Native and Half Caste Mission; and Swanleigh.
The Archivist, Anglican Diocese of Perth:
GPO Box W2067, Perth WA 6846
Phone: (08) 9425 7243
Fax: (08) 9221 4118
[From the National Library of Australia's 'Bringing them home oral history project'] Green, a teacher at Warburton Ranges and Forrest River Aboriginal Mission Schools and later Superintendent, Western Australian School for Deaf Children, speaks about becoming a schoolteacher after serving in the RAAF. He was principal teacher at the Warburton Ranges Mission, W.A. in 1966 and later at Forrest River Mission. He describes conditions on the missions, the attitude of missionaries towards Aboriginal people, and the difficulties of teaching an inappropriate curriculum. Green later worked at Edith Cowen University where he established a teacher-training course in Aboriginal cultural awareness.
National Library of Australia, Librarian, Information Services:
National Library of Australia, Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: (02) 6262 1266
Fax: (02) 6273 5081
The State Records Office (SRO) holds the State archives collection. The state archives collection includes records that might be of interest to people who were in out of home care as children. These records can be found throughout the collection because many government agencies were involved. The Find and Connect web resource will identify as many of these records as possible.
State Records Office of Western Australia:
Alexander Library Building, Perth Cultural Centre, Perth WA 6000
Phone: (08) 9427 3600
The Department of Aboriginal Affairs [predecessors], Records is a collection of records relating to Aboriginal family history in Western Australia. The collection includes records held in the State Records Office; copies of the Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell genealogies, photographs, journals and data; copies of the Elkin genealogies for the Kimberley region; and the Jan Goodacre Collection of genealogy, photographs and historical records.
Aboriginal History Research Unit, Department of Aboriginal Affairs:
PO Box 3153 East Perth WA 6892
Phone: 1300 651 077
Fax: (08) 6551 8008
10 July 2014
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/wa/WE00077
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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