Historian Rosalind Kidd presents a stark view of Aboriginal affairs in Queensland. In a succinct form, Kidd offers the results of archival research into government records in that State which reveal a bleak picture of Aboriginal policy up to the 1970s and beyond. Kidd’s work dispels dominant myths about ‘good intentions’, ‘policies of the time’ and other rhetoric espoused by those unwilling to confront the atrocities of the past. Carefully constructing a picture of the harsh reality from extensive examination of primary sources, disturbing evidence is presented of the lack of duty of care and the appalling conditions imposed on Aboriginal people in Queensland on reserves, missions and settlements.
From the Queensland government records, Kidd extracted a wealth of detail about Aboriginal families and their lives, their work, their relationships and their children. The disparity between the way Aboriginal and white children were treated, particularly in the allocation of funding, is a serious indictment of policy makers. Lack of basic shelter, health care, food and education are constant themes as well as the exploitation of the Aboriginal labour force for the benefits of whites.
Kidd has uncovered material previously hidden from the public domain. Despite the lack of public awareness of the conditions she describes, the evidence reveals protests from those who came into contact with the settlements, including ministers of religion and medical officers. Their concerns were met with a lack of response and a continuing diminishing of funds and conditions. Despite appalling mortality and morbidity rates, the hard-headed bureaucracy failed to respond.
The book consistently challenges those who maintain that the policies of the time were merely misguided. Kidd’s research reveals deliberate systems abuse in this nation of the ‘fair go’. The flagrant disregard of labour laws and basic decency in the use of the Aboriginal workforce demonstrates an abuse of human and legal rights. Kidd concludes by suggesting that it is not surprising that people lack a realistic analysis of the situation of Aboriginal people, as the wider community only knows what governments choose to tell or what the media happen to question. She asserts that public perceptions have been skewed by a falsely constructed past, and believes that when millions know the true history they will no longer agree with Prime Minister Howard’s assertion that millions agree with his refusal to express official sorrow.
The book is highly readable and accessible throughout, with appeal to students with an interest in history and politics, and others interested in the history of race relations in Australia. Although the focus is on Queensland, the findings are applicable to other jurisdictions. It dispels the dominant view of history written by the ‘winners’ or those of the dominant European culture. Her work is part of a growing contribution to the unravelling of the complexities of Aboriginal/white relations in Australia.