Racism has been a constant part of Uncle Doug’s life. He grew up on Cherbourg Aboriginal Reserve in Queensland in the 1930’s. Because of his Aboriginality, every aspect of Doug's life on Cherbourg was controlled.
“There was a roll call,” he says “There was a flag stuck on a pole: a Union Jack. Australian flag. You had to turn and salute the flag. I never saluted one day, and got 3 weeks in jail for not doing it.… 3 weeks, straight off, locked up, bread and water.”
"You had to turn and salute the [Union Jack]. I never saluted one day, and got three weeks in jail for not doing it.." Doug Kirk, Aboriginal Elder, Moree, NSW.
Even after he left Cherbourg, Doug continued to experience racism on a daily basis. He encountered some of the most blatant racism whilst living in Moree in the 1950’s, where Doug recalls a rope in the cinema that segregated Indigenous customers from non-Indigenous customers. He couldn’t even use the front door at the cinema, but was forced to exit via a side door opening onto a back alley.
Doug acknowledges that things have come a long way since then. “I have a lot of great friends amongst the white people in Moree now,” he says. “Their kids call me Grandfather, Uncle.” Nevertheless, Doug still experiences racism, “You can feel it," he says. “You sit on a seat, a white lady comes along, wipes the seat over, and then she’ll sit down...”
Despite the challenges he's faced as a result of his heritage, Doug is proud to be Indigenous. “I was born an Aboriginal, so I'll die one, hey!” he says triumphantly.
Stop and think: have you ever felt despised, unwanted?
Imagine being shunned by society to the degree that you were not allowed to sit on the same seats or walk through the same doors as other people. How would these constant reminders that you are considered a second class (even subhuman) member of society make you feel?
Racism towards Aboriginal Australians today is often less overt than in the past. However, even covert racism is harmful to the mental health of Indigenous Australians. Watch this short video to see how everyday racism impacts Indigenous people today.
Explore this topic further: living under 'The Act"
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Australian governments introduced legislation to regulate the lives of many Indigenous people. This legislation is commonly referred to as the 'protection Act' because its stated intention was to 'protect' Indigenous people. The Act was enforced by ‘protectors’, who were often police officers.
This information has been sourced from Unfinished Business: Indigenous Stolen Wages, the report of the Inquiry into Stolen Wages by the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee in 2006.
About Cherbourg Reserve
Cherbourg Reserve was established on Wakka Wakka country in 1900 by a member of the Salvation Army. Originally known as Barambah, Cherbourg was was handed to the Queensland government in 1905.
Almost every aspect of life at Cherbourg was highly controlled. The Superintendent had authority over whether people entered or left the reserve, where they lived, who they lived with, where they worked and who they married.The threat of being further separated from family or removed to other communities (such as the penal reserve on Palm Island) was used as another form of social control.
Living conditions and facilities at Cherbourg were very poor and there was a very high death rate in the early years. Despite this, the population continued to grow due to the forced removals of Indigenous people from other areas across the state.
Not only was the act of removal from country traumatic in itself, but removing someone from their traditional land meant removing that person from their source of meaning and identity. Not only were people forcibly removed from their own land, but at Cherbourg many of their children were further removed from their families to be brought up in dormitories.
Cherbourg had a dormitory system for children and for single women. Children living in the dormitories were usually orphans or children whose parents were considered unable to care for them. The dormitory system in Cherbourg remained operational until the 1970s.
This information has been sourced from Bambrick, H. 2003, Landscapes and Legacies: Cherbourg past to present, a thesis submitted for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of The Australian National University.