Culture and heritage

Aboriginal cultural heritage


Missions were set up in the 19th century, usually by clergy, to house, protect, and 'Christianise' local Aboriginal people. Using Christian texts to guide and justify their actions, missionaries encouraged Aboriginal people to move into mission settlements and join small European Christian communities.

Many Aboriginal people disliked the mission system, and started to demand their own land. The colonial government responded by setting up Aboriginal reserves or stations. Often, these had previously been mission settlements. The reserves had their own machinery, and farmed their own crops and livestock.

The three best-known 19th-century missions in NSW were Cumeragunja, Warangesda and Brewarrina. In 1893 these places were taken over by the government and run as stations or reserves. In 1911, at the height of the government's program of reserve lands, there were 115 reserves. Of these, 75 had been created because of Aboriginal demands for land.

The stories of missions and reserves tell of a time when Aboriginal nations had been devastated by disease, pastoral expansion and conflict. Aboriginal people were heavily restricted in their access to land and freedom of movement. Missions and reserves remain important today because of their ongoing use by Aboriginal people, and because of the deep and personal attachments many people still have to missions and reserves.

What people have said

If those who are accumulating wealth in the possession of this people's land, do not devote a portion of those riches for so noble, so just a cause [as the improvement of the lives of Aboriginal people], will not the cry of a brother's blood, occasioned too often to be shed through the thirst for wealth, encroaching on their native rights, ascend into the ears of Him who has said 'For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise?'

… N. Gunson 1974, Australian Reminiscences and Papers of L.E. Threlkeld, Missionary to the Aborigines, 1824-1859, Edited by Niel Gunson, Australian Aboriginal Studies No. 40, AIAS, Canberra: 194

More information and useful links

Pastoral heritage
See which parks used to be pastoral stations, and learn about the shared histories of the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who lived and worked on them.

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Page last updated: 21 May 2013