'In 1897, the Aboriginals Protection Act was passed by the Queensland Parliament. The Act provided for the creation of reserves and allowed for the forcible removal of Aborigines to reserves. On reserves, inmates were subjected to a wide range of controls and disciplinary measures. They were restricted from practicing many traditional customs, punished for the most minor infringements of settlement regulations, and their children placed in dormitories. Proponents of the system defended such measures as necessary for the better care and protection of the state's Aborigines. Some research has been undertaken on the reserve system in Queensland and indicates that other motives prompted the establishment of reserves. This research, however, has been spasmodic and tentative and certainly no consensus yet exists as to the rationale for reserves.
'This thesis critically examines the purpose and rationale of the reserve system by focusing on the Barambah settlement (later became known as Cherbourg) which was established in 1900 in south-east Queensland. The Barambah settlement became the model for other settlements and typified how the Act operated. This thesis refutes the supposedly humanitarian basis for the reserve system. One of the major functions of the settlement was to serve as a place for segregating Aborigines from whites. They were forcibly removed to the settlement to be out of sight and out of mind. The removals program also functioned as a means of disciplining and controlling inmates once on the settlement. Another major function of the settlement was to establish cultural hegemony over the inmates. Vigorous attempts were made, on the one hand, to inculcate the inmates with the values of white capitalist society, and on the other, to destroy their cultural ties and identity. The school and dormitories were the principal means of achieving this goal. Ironically, many of the techniques used, particularly in the dormitories, were anything but civilised. A third major role of the settlement was to serve as a labour depot. Despite supposedly being created to isolate Aborigines from whites, inmates were sent out to work as labourers and domestic servants. The settlement served as a source of cheap and dependable labour for capital.
'This thesis also explores the physical conditions on the settlement. A basic rationale of the reserve system was to provide a place for the preservation and protection of Aborigines. Yet the evidence indicates that the settlement did not achieve this aim. On the contrary, as a result of neglect and the poor conditions, inmates were more susceptible to disease and experienced higher rates of mortality than among the total Aboriginal population.
'This analysis shows that the essential nature of Aboriginal-European relations remained unchanged from the colonial period. The reserve system did not signal a new era of cooperation and more humane treatment as some historians have suggested. Importantly, it is argued that the overt and direct violence of the frontier was replaced by covert and passive violence. Violence in this latter form permeated the settlement, being manifest in the removal program, the incarceration of children in dormitories, the denial of cultural expression, and poor health conditions.
'Other issues considered include the reasons why settlements such as Barambah did survive and flourish. Previous attempts at establishing reserves were characterised by failure. Barambah, however, became a successful institution as a result of a better understanding of the techniques of control. The issue of how the settlement was perceived from the outside is also addressed. Some commentators have argued that settlements served to throw a blanket of forgetfulness over Aborigines. It is argued, however, that while valid in a limited sense, awareness of the settlement did exist, both in the immediate district and in the wider public. The final major issue examined concerns how the inmates responded to the reserve system. Despite the oppressive nature of the settlement regime and concerted attempts to destroy their value and belief system, inmates maintained a sense of 'otherness' that clearly set then apart from the dominant white society. Ironically the reserve system itself helped to promote cultural resilience and vitality among the inmates. Inmates adapted to the circumstances and while losing some aspects of their culture and identity, forged new identities and cultural forms as 'the Barambah mob'.' (Thesis abstract)