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Servant or Slave (ATOM study guide)

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    Servant (noun): A person employed by another, especially to perform domestic duties.
    Slave (noun): A person who is forced to work for another against their will.

    Servant or Slave is an emotional insight into both the history and legacy of the domestic servitude forced upon Aboriginal people in Australia. Crucially confronting, the hidden reality of slavery existing throughout Australia's history is told through the stories of five women. Many thousands of girls were stolen as young children from their parents and placed in institutions to be trained as servants, with the 'aim of assimilation' into 'mainstream' Australian society.

    Rita Wright, Violet West and sisters Adelaide Wenberg, Valerie Linow and Rita Wenberg share their firsthand accounts of officially sanctioned enslavement. Their stories reveal what was the true intent of the Australian government policy of 'protection' prevalent throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    Rita, Violet and the Wenberg sisters endured estrangement from their families, immense hardship, rape and torture, and were coerced into remaining silent, or even punished, for reporting mistreatment to the local police or institutional authorities. The women continue to live with the trauma of surviving these atrocities caused by the hand of the State. With the government exercising complete control over their wages, many Aboriginal girls and boys were effectively condemned to a treadmill of abuse, from which there was little hope of escape.

    Dr Fiona Skyring, Dr Ros Kidd and Professor Larissa Behrendt provide expert testimonies supported by archival footage. Together, they provide evidence that from the early 1920s, Aboriginal wages were misappropriated by the government in order to cover their own liabilities. Sadly, these even included the cost of removing people to missions and reserves, as well as the forcible removal of children. Servant or Slave therefore reveals that through the misappropriation or theft of their wages, Aboriginal people unwillingly funded their own disenfranchisement.

    These heartbreaking experiences shed light on a barely acknowledged part of modern Australia's history, the consequences of which are still felt today. All Australian Indigenous families have been affected by the systematic dispossession and injustices inflicted at the hands of government policy. As journalist Stan Grant stated in his address to the staff of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet in 2016, 'You cannot separate [such suffering] from the malaise that sits at the heart of so many of the socioeconomic issues and the policy issues that we see today'. It is up to schools to ensure that these stories continue to be told, discussed and learned from in order to move towards healing the wounds of our recent history. Through acknowledgement, those still affected by the intergenerational harm caused by Australian government policy can be empowered. Equally, all students will be empowered by truly understanding the legacy Australia inherited as a nation from past injustices in order to move forward and promote change.

    Curriculum links

    Servant or Slave directly meets the aims of the Year 10 History, Civics and Citizenship, and Health Education content descriptions of the Australian Curriculum. The film also allows students to develop their Ethical Understanding, and Personal and Social General Capabilities, through the lens of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority.

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