QSA - Supporting Indigenous Communities in Australia
As well as overseas work, Quaker Service Australia (QSA) has undertaken several, usually small, projects in support of the Australian indigenous population, funded by voluntary donations.
The four projects, in chronological order, described below, illustrate how the nature of QSA's work has changed alongside the changing relationships between the indigenous and settler populations in Australia.
Allawah Grove Aboriginal Settlement
Allawah Grove was set up in 1958 by the Coolbaroo League, an organisation of Aboriginal men and women, and the ‘Native Welfare Department’ of the Australian Government, as a form of ‘transitional housing’ for families who were expected to be found homes in Perth suburbs. In fact that rarely happened and many families remained in Allawah Grove during its whole ten-year existence.
The Quaker connection with Allawah Grove came largely through the Gare family – parents Elsie and Cyril and daughter Sally. From 1959, Sally ran a Girl Guide Company, while Elsie ran a mothers’ club where sewing skills were shared. From that, a shop and a play centre developed.
QSA donated a camper (or kombi) van, which was used among other things to transport children to the school, several kilometres away.
Prompted by one of the volunteers, the women from the mother’s club branched out into creative activities. At one time their bark paintings were sold in souvenir shops around the country.
A weekly clinic was held at the kindergarten to carry out immunisations and other checks. Later an adult clinic was started too.
By 1968, there was strong pressure from outside to close Allawah Grove. Accommodation was found, often at short notice, for the residents, breaking up the community. To enable the scattered residents to maintain contact, the Aboriginal Advancement Council bought a community centre in Perth, and Allawah Grove’s kombi van was sent there.
The passing of Australia’s Native Title Act in 1993 gave recognition to the land rights of indigenous people and accelerated a movement back to traditional homelands. Moonlight Country, in northwestern Queensland was one such homeland. In 2000, QSA were asked by the Bugajinda clan to assist in developing basic infrastructure for the site.
QSA gave a grant that partially funded the construction of a pit toilet and a 10,000 litre water tank to take water pumped from the river and supply showers and other needs. Cyclone proof sheds were purchased and brought (with some difficulty) to the site: creating a council house, a kitchen, and toll storage.
Purga Native Plant Regeneration Nursery
In 1988, the land near Ipswich in Queensland on which the Purga Mission had stood, from 1914 to 1948, was repurchased for the descendants of the indigenous people who had lived there and who had been dispossessed.
In 2001, a group of elders from Purga approached QSA. They wanted to develop a nursery to grow native plant species, to regenerate land that had been depleted by grazing and mining, and to sell in order to provide an income. In parallel, indigenous workers would receive formal horticultural training through the government’s Technical and Further Education (TAFE) programme.
QSA provided a grant in two stages for the construction of a hot house and a shade house as the basis of both a commercial nursery and a training centre. Further money helped to provide a classroom, and potting area and a basic irrigation system.
Coming Right Way
In recent decades, two issues have dominated relations between indigenous Australians and the rest of the population – that of unpaid rent for land taken from indigenous people (‘Pay the Rent’), and that of wages illegally withheld from indigenous workers from the 1800s until the 1970s (‘Stolen Wages’).
It was a Quaker settler, Robert Cock who, in 1837, was the first recorded settler to pay interest on one-fifth of the value of his land as a 'yearly rent' to indigenous people.
However, in her passionate lecture, ‘Coming Right Way,’ given in 2002, Susannah Brindle reminded Friends that Quakers are not always free of biased or stereotypical thinking in their relations with indigenous people. In particular it can be hard for those from the settler communities to understand Sovereignty and Self-Determination in the same way Indigenous Australians do.
The Indigenous Concerns Committee of Quakers Australia guides Friends to seek ways to “come into right relationship” with Aboriginal Peoples.