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speeches made at the ‘Day of Mourning and Protest’

supplied by Gisele Mesnage

Our Historic Day of Mourning and Protest
Report of Proceedings

J.T. Patten, President, (1.30pm), said:

"On this day the white people are rejoicing, but we as Aborigines have no reason to rejoice on Australia's 150th birthday. Our purpose on meeting today is to bring home to the white people of Australia the frightful conditions in which the native Aborigines of this continent live. This land belonged to our forefathers 150 years ago, but today we are pushed further and further into the background.

The Aborigines Progressive Association has been formed to put before white people the fact that Aborigines throughout Australia are literally being starved to death. We refuse to be pushed into the background. We have decided to make ourselves heard.

White men pretend that the Australian Aboriginal is a low type who cannot be bettered. Our reply to that is "Give us a chance!". We do not wish to be left behind in Australia's march to progress. We ask for full citizen's rights, including old age pensions, maternity bonus, relief work when unemployed, and the right to a full Australian education for our children. We do not wish to be herded like cattle, and treated as a special class.

As regards the Aborigines Protection Board of New South Wales, white people in cities do not realise the terrible conditions of slavery under which our people live in the outback districts. I have unanswerable evidence that women of our race are forced to work in return for rations, without other payment. Is this not slavery? Do white people realise that there is actual slavery in this fair progressive Commonwealth? Yet such is the case.

We are looking in vain to white people to help us by charity. We must do something ourselves to draw public attention to our plight. That is why this Conference is held, to discuss ways and means of arousing the conscience of white Australians, who have us in their power, but have hitherto refused to help us.

Our children on the Government stations are badly fed and poorly educated. The result is that, when they get out into life, they feel inferior to white people. We say that it is a disgrace to Australia's name that our people should be handicapped by undernourishment and poor education, and then blamed for being backward.

We do not trust the present Aborigines Protection Board, and that is why we ask for its abolition. Incompetent teachers are provided on the Aboriginal stations. That is the greatest handicap put on us. We have had 150 years of the white men looking after us and the result is, our people are being exterminated.

The reason why this conference is called today is so that the Aborigines themselves may discuss their problems and try to bring before the notice of the public and of parliament what our grievance is, and hope it may be remedied. We ask for ordinary citizen rights, and full equality with other Australians."

Mr W. Ferguson (2.00 pm)

"In seconding the resolution moved by the President (Mr Patten), I want to say that all men and women of Aboriginal blood are concerned in our discussions today. Though some are dark and some are fair, we are all classed as Aborigines under present legislation.

The Aborigines Protection Act applies to any person having 'apparently an admixture of Aboriginal blood'. We have been waiting and waiting all our lives for the white people of Australia to better our conditions, but we have waited in vain. We have been living in a fool's paradise. I have travelled outback and I have seen for myself the dreadful sufferings of our people on the Aboriginal Reserves. The most terrible thing is that the dreadful disease of T.B. has made its appearance among our people, and is wiping them out, right here in New South Wales. Surely the time has come for us at last to do something ourselves and make ourselves heard. This is why the Aborigines Progressive Association has been formed.

I held a meeting in Dubbo originally, and the way that people responded made me feel that much could be done. I held meetings in other western towns and finally came to Sydney, where the press helped to draw national attention to our grievance.

We now have a Committee who are bringing before the public the injustices which our people have suffered. Our revelations have astounded many white people, who did not realise such conditions as we describe could possibly exist in a free country.

Now let me explain that our object is to abolish the Aborigines Protection Board. We are going to abolish that Board no matter how long it may take. Everything points to the fact that, within a short while, many people will support us among the white citizens of Australia.

Our first objective is to organise the whole of the Aborigines of New South Wales into our Association. For days at the Parliamentary Select Committee we have had to listen to slanders against our people, especially against our women. Can anyone wonder why we revolt against persons who suppress our people and then accuse us of being 'backward'?

If our young girls and boys were given proper education they would be able to take their place with other Australians in the community. Unless we get proper education and opportunities, our people within a very few years will be extinct.

Mr Cooper of Melbourne will tell you that he has had no reply to a petition addressed to the King. I say definitely that we do not want an Aboriginal member of parliament. We want ordinary citizen's rights, not any special rights such as that. It is because we ourselves have begun to organise that public opinion at last is being awakened.

We ask for the right to own land that our fathers and mothers owned for time immemorial. I think the Government could at least make land grants to Aborigines. Why give preference to immigrants when our people have no land or the right to own land? We ask that the Government should give us some encouragement to make progress.

It is progress we want, not to be pushed back further and further under present Aborigines laws. I say that most of our people in New South Wales have a good practical knowledge of farming, and could make a living as farmers. If not, then the Government should teach our people the principles of agriculture, and help them to settle the land, just as they teach and help immigrants from overseas.

We are backward only because we have no real opportunity to make progress. We have been denied the opportunity. In many parts of Australia the white people on the land are helped by the Aborigines to such an extent that they could not carry on grazing occupation without Aboriginal aid.

The Aboriginal is producing wealth, but not for himself. Yet he is not allowed to have money with which to buy clothes, and food. If the Aboriginal can help the white man to make money outback, why not give him the chance to make money for himself?

We do not need Government protection. We have had too much protection. Now we ask not for protection but for education. We should have trained teachers and nurses of Aboriginal race to go out and help those who are living in darkness. If white people are trained for this purpose, why not train our own people?

The Aboriginal Protection Board system of apprenticing girls for domestic labour is nothing but slavery. All Aboriginal legislation today is intended to drive our people into the Aboriginal Reserves, where there is no future for them, nothing but disheartenment. From many hundreds of letters that I have received from Aborigines all over Australia, I am satisfied that the Aborigines are with us in this movement for progress."

Mrs Pearl Gibbs (Brewarrina, NSW)

"Conditions on all the Aboriginal Stations are a disgrace. They are all very much alike. At Brewarrina the children are taught by a man who is not a qualified teacher. Two old men on that station, one blind, the other a cripple, are left by themselves in a half starved state. The manager of the Station and others get milk from five cows, but the old men get only condensed milk. I spoke to these old men and when they told me how badly they were treated it made me cry, and pray that this movement will be a success. These old men are absolutely neglected. Though on the Reserve, I know that no manager visited them for ten days. They had no milk even for their porridge. I explained the meaning of full citizen rights to these old men, and they knew they would be better off with full citizen rights than under the Protection Board, because they would get Old Age Pension and proper medical attentions."

Mr Doug Nicholls (Victorian Aborigines League)

"On behalf of Victorian Aborigines I want to say that we support this resolution in every way. The public does not realise what our people have suffered for 150 years. Aboriginal girls have been sent to Aboriginal Reserves and have not been given any opportunity to improve themselves. Their treatment has been disgusting. The white people have done nothing for us whatever.

Put on Reserves, with no proper education, how can Aborigines take their place as equals with whites? Now is our chance to have things altered. We must fight our very hardest in this cause. After 150 years our people are still bossed and influenced by white people. I know that we could proudly hold our own with others if given the chance. Do not let us forget, also, those of our own people who are still in a primitive state. It is for them that we should try to do something. We should all work in co-operation for the progress of Aborigines throughout the Commonwealth."

Mr Johnson (Baseman's Bay, NSW)

"As a Vice-President of the Aborigines Progressive Association, I want to say that we must work full hearted to win our objective. Nothing done half hearted is a success. We should all work together to arouse the mind of the white men and women of Australia to our awful conditions."

Mrs Ardler (Nowra, NSW)

"Ever since we have been children we have had to listen to white people saying what is good for us and what is enough for us, and with no education how could we find things out for ourselves? We can do nothing for progress until we get education for our children. I am sure that all Aborigines in Australia are behind us in this great movement.…"

Mr Tom Foster (La Perouse, NSW)

"The Aborigines have three enemies. The first is the Aborigines Protection Board which has meted out most callous treatment to our people, and has forced us to do as the white man wishes. The second enemy is the white missionary, who preaches to our people. Some of these are disgraceful. The third enemy is liquor. White men brought liquor for us, and it has helped to destroy our people. We should stand shoulder to shoulder to destroy these three enemies."

Mr Connelly (South Coast, NSW)

"In 150 years the white men have taken away the hunting grounds and camping grounds of our people, and left us with nothing. We must have unity among ourselves or we will not succeed in the uplifting of our race. Under present laws Aborigines of good character are ordered off certain Reserves, and are hounded from place to place. How can the Board honestly call itself a Protection Board? In La Perouse you have a special Reserve, where people have some citizen rights, but on the South Coast things are not the same. Our people are not given a chance to express themselves. On behalf of the Aborigines on the South Coast, I want to thank the men who have started this great movement of Aborigines progress."

"If we are to succeed we must be united. Let us fight on to a successful end."

Mr W Cooper (Victorian Aborigines League)

"After struggling for so many years, we are going to continue struggling. 'Protect' should mean 'Protect from injury', but the Aborigines Protection Boards do not live up to this idea. They do not act in accordance with British Justice. I have written to Mr Lyons, who still owes me a letter. We must continue our struggle until we win our objectives."

Footnotes not included in this excerpt.

Reproduced with permission of the author, Gisele Mesnage.

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