Historical photo of Molesworth Street, Lismore on Carnival Day in 1920. Picture: Richmond River Historical Society
Historical photo of Molesworth Street, Lismore on Carnival Day in 1920. Picture: Richmond River Historical Society

'Crucial' to reflect on slave history on Northern Rivers

HISTORICAL records do not provide a fair account of the servitude and slavery Northern Rivers Aboriginal people were likely subject to, according to law expert Professor Thalia Anthony and international affairs expert Professor Rory Medcalf.

Both academics from the University of Technology Sydney and Australian National University respectively have no doubt the local indigenous population was subject to wage theft and forced labour over a century-long period.

"It's hard to exclude any area of Australia to be free from those practices," Prof Anthony said.

"A lot of the literature is focused on Northern Australia.

"We do know that legislation existed in NSW to allow the forcible employment of Aborigines.

"This tended to be exercised most harshly in areas outside of major population centres."

Professor Medcalf said there was no evidence of "systematic slavery" on the Northern Rivers, however it was, "almost inevitable there were individual cases."

"Some of the kids who were taken from the area in the stolen generations worked as domestic servants," Prof Medcalf said.

"It is very likely a proportion of indigenous people who worked on sheep or cattle stations in the 19th Century here were subject to wage theft and forced labour."

Prof Medcalf, who has published intensive research on Aboriginal massacres on the Northern Rivers, said the Black Lives Matter movement was resonating with local people due to the history of oppression.


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He hopes the rest of the community seek to educate themselves about the past.

"It's really crucial to have a rounded, comprehensive understanding of Australian history and of local history," he said.

"The first step to reconciliation should be a knowledge of the good, the bad and the ugly of own national history."

Prof Anthony said policymakers could help to heal wounds developed over many years.

"Start by not trying to conceal the history of slavery and First Nation's deaths in custody, this is entrenching many people's racialised assumptions," Prof Anthony said.

"There needs to be a more critical engagement, a reckoning with our history that includes indigenous perspectives at the fore.

"We need proper mechanisms to provide proper reparations."

A local Black Lives Matter representative has been contacted for comment, and will provide in upcoming days details about ongoing grievances regarding the treatment of indigenous people in custody.