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Thursday, 20 April 1961


Mr JEFF BATE (Macarthur) .- I would like to join with the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) in congratulating the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck), not only for the concern he has shown for our friends the aborigines, but because he is bringing Australia out in a particularly good light in a world atmosphere conditioned by apartheid in South Africa, segregation in America, half-naked aborigines in Malaya, deplorable conditions in South America, the caste system in India, and the other racial and tribal barriers which exist. I think the Minister clearly demonstrated his policy when he said -

The policy of assimilation means that all aborigines and part aborigines are expected eventually to attain the same manner of living as other Australians and to live as members of a single Australian community enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same responsibility, observing the same customs and influenced by the same beliefs, hopes, and loyalties as other Australians.

That statement, when given a bit of thought, shows how completely different is the approach of Australia to this very great problem from the approach of other countries in which similar problems are coming to a head. We regret that in Angola in Africa there is warfare and slaughter, due to racial problems. Australia has shown a very enlightenend approach, as the Minister has shown in a very distinguished way. Probably Australia is fortunate that, at this period of its history, a man such as the honorable member for Curtin (Mr. Hasluck) is our Minister for Territories. Australia is maturing in this respect.

Recently, I was fortunate to meet the secretary of the Indian Cabinet. 1 asked him whether any of the Colombo Plan students went home from Australia with any soreness or bitterness, feeling that there was a colour bar or racial discrimination. The secretary said that the period which Asian students spend in Australia was the high period of their lives. The first impression they gained and carried with them always, was that Australia had dignified labour. They observed that all the people joined in the ordinary work of household or farm. Whereas in India and other places another race or a lower caste had to do work such as blackening boots, washing- up and all the chores that were looked upon as drudgery and as being beneath the status of the superior caste, in Australia everyone took a part in these chores as a matter of course. The Asian students who come here see this enlightened approach. They see equality in work, equality before the law and equal opportunity for everybody.

In this year of 1961 we are attempting an enormous task. The outlook is correct but the task is difficult. 1 agree with the honorable member for Kalgoorlie (Mr. Browne) that you cannot take a person from a nomadic existence - the first existence that man knew as a hunter, living in the bush - and change him, almost in a day, to a highly civilized person living in a civilized home fitted with modern conveniences.


Mr Chaney - Who is trying to do that?


Mr JEFF BATE - We are trying to do it, but we have a lot of difficulties. There must be understanding by us, by the people in control, and by the aborigines themselves. Of course, the person who is in a more difficult situation than the aboriginal is the half-caste. That is so in Asia, too. The half-caste gets it from both sides.

Those of us who know what has happened, in many cases, when good houses have been built for aborigines will understand the difficulty. When a contractor came to look at one house in an aboriginal settlement in order to tender for repairing it, he found that every window but one had been smashed and all the fibro sheets had been smashed except two. He tendered for replacement of the lot because he knew that by the time he got back, there would not be one sheet of fibro or one window left intact. That was because the family concerned had not had sufficient preparation for its big change. There must be understanding.

Those of us who know the aborigines well know them to be easy-going, lovable, kindly and generous. That makes our job all the more important because we have good human beings to work with. I do not say that you cannot take a very young aboriginal and make him an excellent civilized citizen. That can be done. But when members of a family grow up in certain surroundings - they may be living down by the river as one member said - they cannot change in one day and begin living in a highly civilized state with high standards of housing. That is impossible.

However, there is the case of the Mulgoa children which some members may recall. Early in 1949 those children were brought from Groote Eylandt. They were war orphans. They lived in the rectory of the Mulgoa Church of England near Penrith. These children were quite young when they came to this area. They were looked after by Mr. and Mrs. Potter for the Church of England. They were sent to the local school and they went to Penrith High School. Some of those children managed to top their class. Some became magnificent sports. One of them - I think his name was Jimmy Macarthur - went to England and became the flying aboriginal wing three-quarter of one of the great football clubs. With the challenge of living successfully in this community in front of them and with the loving care of the Potter husband and wife, these children accomplished a magnificent achievement.

When the time came for them to go to central Australia there was a great outcry in the district. The local people said that they had been pleased to give these children equality amongst them. The local people were afraid that when these children went to live in the conditions which then existed where they were to go, the children would not do so well. Some of the girls had been trained in a Sydney metropolitan public hospital in hygiene and normal sanitation. I saw them, well dressed in starched white clothing, passing round the tea at the farewell to the children who had to leave Mulgoa. These girls were quite attractive and quite desirable.

I come now to this point: The United Nations, in its efforts to assimilate native peoples and raise standards of living in some of the primitive countries of the world, has found that the only way is to work through the women. In other words, the women are responsible for the standard of living in the home, for the clothing that the family wears, for the standard of sanitation and of hygiene and for all those things which are factors in the standard of living. When you educate men, you educate individuals only. When you educate women, you educate the whole community, and particularly the coming generations. The officers of various United Nations agencies such as the World Health Organization, the Educational, Social and Cultural Organization and the Food and Agricultural Organization tried to lift standards of living, first, by putting up notices saying, " Do not use this water. It is filthy. Use that clean water over there ", or by giving examples to be followed and by trying to train native women in midwifery and the various health requirements. But these officers found that this was a complete failure, and that the old shibboleths and taboos still lingered on. However, when they began to educate the women among these primitive peoples, they began to get the best results. So I suggest that the policy of assimilation can be much more successful if it is undertaken on the basis that the education of the women is the best way to tackle the situation.

Some people say that you are wasting your time if you build houses for aborigines, because they do not know how to live in them properly. That has been shown tobe true. This means that the women have to learn elementary sanitation and elementary hygiene if the aborigines are to be brought out of their primitive conditions. 5 am thinking now of the places in western New South Wales where aborigines live near swamps and drains and in the dumps that we hear about from time to time. People such as these cannot go immediately into modern homes and make the transition successfully. There must be a half-way stage, or a number of stages in the transition, during which the women can be trained. This is really a practicable idea. In the electorate of the honorable member for Lyne (Mr. Lucock), on the north coast of New South Wales, the Country Women's Association of New South Wales formed a successful branch of its organization at the Purfleet aboriginal station, and in the activities of this branch the aboriginal women are attending classes in dressmaking, homecrafts, cooking and all the domestic activities which are so important to the standard of living.

What I am getting at is that you cannot deprive people of their old tribal customs and transplant them into this complex community of ours in which we adopt high standards of living which depend on modern housing, kerbing and guttering, sewerage, hot water systems, town water supplies and all the other amenities that we lake for granted. All of these things are developing g rapidly, and if people who are not ready for them are exposed to them there is disaster.

The training of women comes into the next point that I wish to make. We Australians of European race who have held this country for the last 170 years or so are not new Australians and we are not the true old Australians. We who have come in between must accept the idea of the assimilation of our aborigines. Those who know aborigines well know how terribly sensitive they are and how important is the keeping up of their morale. Sometimes, Europeans who are not very splendid characters make remarks about aborigines in their hearing, and this sort of thing destroys the morale of the aborigines, perhaps for ever. When I went to Adelaide to see how the boys from the hostel at Saint Francis's Church at Mulgoa were getting on, I took them along the street to a restaurant to get them a cup of tea. Although they had come from a quite good atmosphere at the hostel, I found that they would not walk beside me but walked a few yards behind me. I slowed down and tried to get them to walk beside me, but they would not. During the trip from Mulgoa to Adelaide, somebody had said something which had hurt their feelings and destroyed their morale.

Many aboriginal people are good and capable citizens. They have some skills which we have not attained. 1 have seen photographs which prove to anybody that the boys and girls at the Mulgoa hostel can catch a rabbit with their bare hands. 1 do not think that anybody in this House or anybody else trained in the European tradition could do that. But the native people have a quickness of hand and of eye which enables them to do some things better than we can. If they are trained from early boyhood and girlhood in domestic science, homecrafts and various other skills, and in our sports, they can excel many Europeans at those activities.

We face a challenge to-day in developing and putting into effect this policy of assimilation, because this is one of the most important matters in the world. The situation which makes it necessary has perhaps been deliberately created, but, nevertheless, it is there. This is a matter of race and of colour, and it has to be dealt with in a very serious fashion. We in Australia had in control of our affairs in the past some wise men who refused to do what was done by the United States of America, which took in the great numbers of people from Africa. As a result, the United States now has a very real racial problem. When our forefathers brought in natives to work in the sugar industry, the native workers were returned to the Pacific Islands when they were no longer required. We still maintain a policy of immigration restriction in order to preserve our standard of living. No doubt because of that wise policy, we do not have a racial problem as great as that which the Americans have or as dreadful as that which exists in South Africa and in other parts of the world.

I support the honorable member for Fremantle in his quite generous praise of the Minister for Territories. I am sure that all honorable members realize the enlightenment that the Minister has brought to bear in the administration of his policies with respect to these problems. This is a long, hard task and it cannot be accomplished in a year or in ten years, or perhaps even in a generation. People with traditions like those of our aborigines cannot be taken completely away from their own home territory and their tribal conditions unless they are taken at a very early age, as were the children at the Mulgoa hostel whom I have mentioned, and trained in very special conditions.

The Potter family, of whom I spoke earlier, knew that reading the Bible to these children, and showing them biblical pictures of Arabs dressed in flowing robes and riding camels or looking at the stars, and all the rest of it, were not enough. The Potters knew that Christianity had to be practical. They knew that these native children had to be shown loving kindness and care. They had to be shown it in their welfare, in their food, in their clothing and in all sorts of ways. In these conditions it is shown that all human beings are born equal, and that they can remain equal it they enjoy equal conditions right from babyhood. But after they have lived in glorious irresponsibility in the warmth of Northern Australia, where at times food is easy to get, where there is that glorious indiscipline of walkabout, and nomadic conditions, and they are influenced by old tribal customs-







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