Pilbara Aboriginal History
The first waves of Europeans to the Pilbara were explorers. Male pastoralists and missionaries quickly followed. Aboriginal people were overpowered and moved off traditional land to allow pastoral undertakings. Whole Aboriginal populations were moved to different locations and many traditional links were damaged or broken. Forced relocation and several Aboriginal massacres occurred in this period.
In the Pilbara it was common practise to forcibly retain Aboriginal people on pastoral stations to be used as slave labour. This practise continued until 1946 when a mass walk off the stations by Pilbara Aboriginal people occurred. The people went on strike for better pay and living conditions. This period is referred to as the Strike of 1946.
Many Aboriginal people, especially of mixed descent, were removed from their families and placed into missions, orphanages, and children's homes, adopted or fostered out during the first half of the 1900s. Many children were forcibly removed from their families by the Government of the day. These children are often referred to as Stolen Generation children.
From the early 1800s State and Federal governments legislated for Aboriginal people. A number of these legislations reflected the unenlightened and racist attitudes of the day and therefore impacted negatively on Aboriginal people. The legacy of these legislations is strongly evident in the number and high degree of social issues affecting Pilbara Aboriginal people.
The WA Aborigines Act of 1905, which gave the Chief Protector of Aborigines complete power over Aboriginal people and guardianships of all children to age 16, had a far-reaching negative affect on Aboriginal people. This Act was amended in 1936 and eventually repealed in 1963. Equally, the 1944 Natives (Citizenship Rights) Act had a massive negative impact on Indigenous people because citizenship was granted on application and in order to gain this, Aboriginal people had to renounce Aboriginal culture, language and contact.
Until 1967, Aboriginal people were not governed by the Commonwealth Government of Australia and so were, strictly speaking, not classed as Australian citizens until a change in the Australian Constitution was enacted late that year. To read about the Referendum of 1967, click here.
Click here to download a copy of this information in a Wangka Maya brochure 'Pilbara Aboriginal History, Cultures and Languages'.