Introducing the Remembering the Mission Days online exhibition is Dr Lawrence Bamblett, a Wiradjuri man from New South Wales and a Research Fellow at AIATSIS.
The quotes in the Remembering the Mission Days exhibition are taken from newsletters published by the Aborigines Inland Mission of Australia (AIM). The newsletters collected here, Our Aim and Australian Evangel give important insights into the power of classifying people in the act of colonisation. They tell us something about Aboriginal cultural strength, patriotism and resistance.
Written in these pages is an earlier version of the story of Aboriginal inferiority that justified the demand that Aborigines accept a destiny as an imitation of the coloniser. There is an obvious story here that Aborigines are elevated according to how well they adapt to the religion of the coloniser. Of course these newsletters should be read as wrong in assuming that white people’s religion was superior to Aborigines’ religion. That fact is beyond argument.
If we look beyond the racism we find a lot of genealogical information and life stories that may be crucial to people trying to reconnect disrupted families. The newsletters give detailed outsider accounts of one aspect of life within Aboriginal communities. They may be more instructive now than they would have been then for readers who knew little of Aboriginal people.
They also reveal new insights to people with intimate knowledge of the communities where the Aborigines Inland Missions laboured. That means they are a wonderful research tool for individual and group interviews with senior people. We can read much in the language used, the descriptions and the images published. They report on movements of Aboriginal people. Although not stated in these reports, working with the AIM helped Aborigines maintain connects to people and places even during the harshest restrictions of the managerial system employed by government. There is much to mine from the omissions.
These pages, like all documents produced about Indigenous people, tell us at least as much about the people who wrote them as they do the subjects. They do reveal glimpses of Aboriginal responses to colonisation. On their own, as propaganda, the newsletters give a one-sided view of Aboriginal people. Critically analysed today alongside other sources, they tell us something about Aboriginal resistance and patriotism as a foundation to current efforts to regenerate culture.
Do the Aboriginal patriots reveal themselves to you in these pages?