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Indigenous Australian women and work : an historical context

conference contribution
posted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by O Best, Bronwyn FredericksBronwyn Fredericks
The aim of this on-going research is to interrogate the era of colonialism in Australia (1896-1966) and the denial of paid employment of Aboriginal women. The 1897 Aborigines Protection and the Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act witnessed thousands of Aboriginal people placed on Government run reserves and missions. This resulted in all aspects of their lives being controlled through state mechanisms. Under various Acts of Parliament, Aboriginal women were sent to privately owned properties to be utilised as ‘domestic servants’ through a system of forced indentured labour, which continued until the 1970’s.This paper discusses the hidden histories of these women through the use of primary sources documents including records from the Australian Department of Native Affairs and Department of Home and Health. This social history research reveals that the practice of removing Aboriginal women from their families at the age of 12 or 13 and to white families was more common practice than not. These women were often: not paid, worked up to 15 hour days, not allowed leave and subjected to many forms of abuse. Wages that were meant to be paid were re-directed to other others, including the Government. Whilst the retrieval of these ‘stolen wages’ is now an on-going issue resulting in the Queensland Government in 2002 offering AUS $2,000 to $4,000 in compensation for a lifetime of work, Aboriginal women were also asked to waive their legal right to further compensation. There are few documented histories of these Aboriginal women as told through the archives. This hidden Aboriginal Australian women’s history needs to be revealed to better understand the experiences and depth of misappropriation of Aboriginal women as domestic workers. In doing so, it also reveals a more accurate reflection of women’s work in Australia.


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Oxford, England



Place of Publication

Oxford, England

Peer Reviewed


Open Access


External Author Affiliations

Not affiliated to a Research Institute; Office of Indigenous Engagement; Queensland University of Technology;

Era Eligible


Name of Conference

Oxford Women's Leadership Symposium