An Aboriginal reserve, also called simply reserve, was a government-run settlement for Aboriginal Australians, created under various state and federal legislation. Along with missions and other institutions, they were used from the 19th century to the 1960s to keep Aboriginal people separate from the white Australian population, for various reasons perceived by the government of the day. The Aboriginal reserve laws gave governments much power over all aspects of Aboriginal people’s lives.
Protectors of Aborigines had been appointed from as early as 1836 in South Australia (with Matthew Moorhouse as the first gazetted appointment as Chief Protector in 1939), with the Governor proclaiming that Aborigines were "to be considered as much under the safeguard of the law as the Colonists themselves, and equally entitled to the Privileges of British Subjects. Under the Aboriginal Orphans Ordinance 1844 the Protector was made legal guardian of "every half-caste and other unprotected Aboriginal child whose parents are dead or unknown". Schools and reserves were set up. Despite these attempts at protection, Moorhouse himself presided over the Rufus River massacre in 1841. The office of Protector was abolished in 1856; within four years, 35 of the 42 Aboriginal reserves had been leased to settlers. In 1839 George Augustus Robinson was appointed the first Chief Protector Victoria in 1839.
In the second half of the 19th century, in an attempt to reduce the violence on the frontiers, devastation by disease and to provide a "humane" environment for Aboriginal people, perceived as a dying race, the states' colonial governments passed legislation designed to "protect" them. The idea was that by legislating to create certain territory for Aboriginal people, the clashes over land would stop, and the Aboriginal people would become less reliant on government rations by using the land to farm.
- Victoria's Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 established a board there.
- In Queensland, the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897, for the "better protection and care of the aboriginal and half-caste inhabitants of the colony", established the positions of regional Protectors and later Chief Protector. Further amendments and other Acts followed, but the effects were very similar, until 1991.
- In Western Australia the Aborigines Act 1897 abolished the Aborigines Protection Board and established the Aborigines Department.
- In New South Wales, the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 gave the Board for the Protection of Aborigines control of the Aboriginal reserves in New South Wales and the lives of the people who lived on the reserves. Amendments to the Act in 1915 gave the Aborigines Protection Board in New South Wales broad powers to remove Aboriginal children from their families, resulting in the Stolen Generations.
- In South Australia, the protection of the Aboriginal people was mostly left to missionaries from 1856 to 1881 (after the office of Protector was abolished, the work being done by Sub-protectors reporting direct to the Commissioner of Crown Lands), when another Protector was appointed. In 1912, the Aborigines' Office (which had operated under a succession of different ministers) became the Aborigines' Department, initially a change in name only. In 1918, an Advisory Council of Aborigines was appointed under powers given by the Aborigines Act 1911, to take control of the existing missions. The Aborigines Act Amendment Act 1939 abolished the office of Chief Protector of Aborigines and the Advisory Council, and created the Aborigines Protection Board, of which Charles Duguid was a founding member.
- The Northern Territory Aboriginals Act 1910 was an Act of the South Australian parliament, after having made no legislative provision for Aboriginal people in the NT for 47 years, soon before the NT was transferred to federal control. It was repealed by the Aboriginals Ordinance 1918 on 13 June 1918, which combined and replaced the Northern Territory Aboriginals Act 1910 and the Commonwealth Aboriginals Ordinance 1911. These Acts established the Northern Territory Aboriginals Department and created the office of Chief Protector. The department was responsible for the control and welfare of Aboriginal people in the Territory, and under the Act, the Chief Protector was appointed the "legal guardian of every Aboriginal and every half-caste child up to the age of 18 years", and had the power to confine such children to an Aboriginal reserve or institution. The 1939 version of the Ordinance, intended to give effect to the change in policy (from protection to assimilation), did not allow for self-determination either.
The Aboriginal reserve laws gave governments much power over all aspects of Aboriginal people’s lives. They lost basic human rights like freedom of movement, custody of children and control over property. In some states and the Northern Territory, the Chief Protector had legal guardianship over all Aboriginal children, ahead of the parents. These policies were at their worst in the 1930s. "In the name of protection", suggest the authors of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report, "Indigenous people were subject to near-total control". The forcible removal of children from their families led to what became known as the Stolen Generations.
- Several Aboriginal missions, including Point McLeay (1916) and Point Pearce (1915) became Aboriginal reserves, as recommended by the Royal Commission on the Aborigines. Included in the recommendations was that the government become the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children upon reaching their 10th birthday, and place them "where they deem best". Seven years after the Final Report of the Commission, the Aborigines (Training of Children) Act 1923, in order to allow Indigenous children to be "trained" in a special institution so that they could go out and work.
- Most of what is now the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY lands) was formerly the North-West Aboriginal Reserve.
Before the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897, various religious organisations had established a number of mission stations, and the Colony of Queensland government had gazetted small areas as reserves for Aboriginal people to use. Once the Act was passed, all Aboriginal reserves became subject to the Act. For several of these reserves, Superintendents were appointed to carry out the provisions of the Act, and missionaries who had been running Aboriginal settlements also became Superintendents. However, the majority of reserves in Queensland were never "managed" reserves; they had no Superintendent and were usually controlled by the Local Protector of Aborigines.
- Neumann, Klaus; Tavan, Gwenda. "Chapter 4. 'A modern-day concentration camp': using history to make sense of Australian immigration detention centres". Does History Matter?: making and debating citizenship, immigration and refugee policy in Australia and New Zealand. ANU Press. doi:10.22459/DHM.09.2009. Retrieved 4 February 2020.
- Neumann, Klaus, 1958-; Tavan, Gwenda (2009), "Chapter 4. 'A modern-day concentration camp': using history to make sense of Australian immigration detention centres", Does history matter?: making and debating citizenship, immigration and refugee policy in Australia and New Zealand, ANU E Press, ISBN 978-1-921536-95-3CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
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- Note: Neumann mentions 1905 - need to establish what happened in that year.
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