Academic journal article Hecate

"Talking about Cruel Things": Girls' Life in the Kahlin Compound, by Daisy Ruddick as Told to Kathy Mills and Tony Austin

Academic journal article Hecate

"Talking about Cruel Things": Girls' Life in the Kahlin Compound, by Daisy Ruddick as Told to Kathy Mills and Tony Austin

Article excerpt


Daisy Ruddick's story of life in Darwin's Kahlin Compound in the early 1920s deals mainly with her experiences there from when she was about six years old until she started work at the age of thirteen.

The Compound was established soon after the Commonwealth Government, in 1911, took over control of the Northern Territory from South Australia. It was intended as a means of segregating Aborigines from whites, and controlling the movements of Aboriginal people in town. It was used also as a home for Aboriginal children of mixed descent who had, in most cases, been forcibly removed from their Aboriginal mothers. Aborigines of mixed descent were known officially as "half-castes", "quadroons" or "octoroons" according to the amount of non-Aboriginal `blood' they possessed. Although the term `half-caste' was generally employed in a derogatory manner, it is used in this Introduction since it became an official, legal term. It is, however, written in single quotation marks in deference to Aboriginal people's legitimate objections to terms that differentiate among their people.

From the time the north began to be settled by Europeans and Asians, sexual contact between Aboriginal women and non-Aboriginal men, and the birth of children of mixed descent, were important features of race relations in the NT.(1) Most encounters were fleeting, as institutionalised racism generally prevented more permanent relationships being formed. Many male townsfolk paid women to perform household duties and, covertly, to provide sexual companionship. Prostitution developed, especially as alcohol, nicotine and opium addiction grew in and around the towns, and European and Asian males induced Aboriginal women and their menfolk to agree to brief liaisons in return for substances for which Aborigines could not otherwise pay. In rural areas the practice of "running down" and abducting women was common. This caused a good deal of conflict between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. In 1900, Centralian sub-protector of Aborigines Thomas Bradshaw, in the face of official denials, felt

compelled to take exception to the statement which has been made that the keeping of gins for immoral purposes is a rare occurrence even in bush centres. It may be that a quibble on the word "kept" is intended, as the unfortunate lubras are not "kept" in the ordinary or any other sense of the word, which does not reflect much on the fathers of their Half-caste children. It is the rule and not the exception for lubras to be used for the purpose specified, as the number of Half-caste children in the country will indicate.(2)

In fact, it was the growing number of children of mixed descent that hastened the belated enactment by the South Australian Government of "protective" legislation for NT Aborigines in 1910.(3) In addition to growing concern about the effects of armed combat between Blacks and whites, the penurious condition of Aborigines around the towns and the incidence of cattle killing(4), the view that special provision needed to be made for `half-caste' children gained currency among whites. There was a number of reasons for this. For one thing, the dominant ideology of the foreign settlers was that Aboriginal people were perhaps the lowest of the races.(5) Hence whites were shamed by the knowledge that children of British ancestry were living traditional Aboriginal lives. Could anything, asked one Protector, "be more appalling or degrading to our much vaunted civilization, of the 20th century"?(6) The dominant view was that whatever happened to full-blood people, whose eventual extinction was taken for granted, `half-caste' children must be "saved". The shame of a growing `half-caste' population helps explain also the otherwise paradoxical virulence of whites' denunciation of `half-castes'. They were commonly said somehow to have inherited the vices, but none of the virtues, of both races or else, as a former police officer put it, they constituted "a very undesirable breed, with the white man's intelligence and the aborigine's cunning and treachery all combined". …

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