|Title:||Oenpelli Church of England mission|
|Content creator:||JW Bleakley|
|Notes:||This photograph is part of an album of over 170 images collected by JW Bleakley in 1928, as part of his Commonwealth government report, The Aboriginals and Half-castes of Central Australia and North Australia (1929). Digitised copies of these photographs are in Series A263, ALBUM.|
|Keywords:||Aboriginal communities, Aboriginal peoples, missions, racial conflict, sheds, Church of England missions, Gunbalanya, Kunbarllanjnja, Oenpelli, Bruce|
|Record creator:||Australian News and Information Bureau, Canberra|
This black-and-white photograph, from John William Bleakley’s government report The Aboriginals and Half-castes of Central Australia and North Australia (1929), was taken at Oenpelli mission in the Northern Territory, an institution run by the Church of England’s Church Missionary Society (CMS). Indigenous men, women and children are posing outside a building. Reverend Alfred Dyer – dressed in clergyman's surplice – and his wife Katie can also be seen.
This photograph comes from a report by Bleakley (1879–1957), Chief Protector of Aboriginals in Queensland, who in 1928 was asked by Prime Minister Bruce to investigate the conditions of the estimated 21,000 Indigenous people in central and northern Australia living inside and outside institutions. Bleakley was appalled by the extent of disease, malnourishment and unsanitary housing. Large numbers of children went unschooled, while adults – many of them unskilled – were not paid for their work.
The photograph is part of a series which documents attempts by missions to convert Indigenous people to Christianity and encourage them to give up their traditional ways of life in favour of what Bleakley called a ‘settled and industrious’ life. Missionaries provided food, shelter, clothing, medical assistance and training of young people as domestics and stockmen. Even at the time, missions were criticised for forcing Indigenous people to abandon their beliefs, customs and languages.
Reverend Alfred 'Alf' John Dyer (1884–1968) and his wife Mary ‘Katie’ Dyer (1874–1940) founded the Oenpelli Mission for the CMS in 1925 on a former dairy farm on the East Alligator River. Although Oenpelli was in its infancy during Bleakley’s visit, he was impressed by the health and industriousness of the 190 people under the mission’s control.
Bleakley observed that Christian missions, while motivated by a desire to convert and promote European values, showed more concern for the welfare of the people in their care than did government homes. Missions were at times the sole refuge from physical abuse and exploitation.
Bleakley saw the assimilation of Indigenous people as inevitable, and his report identifies how this would be achieved, with the type of care varying according to the proportion of ‘European blood'. He recommended that the Northern Territory’s seven missions be given sole responsibility for Indigenous welfare and education under the supervision of a government administrator. He pressed for increased funding to missions and for improved medical care, education and vocational training to develop self-sufficiency.
Some of Bleakley’s recommendations were implemented and helped pave the way for the creation of the Arnhem Land Reserve. With the introduction of self-determination policies by the federal government in the 1970s, the lands of former missions such as Oenpelli (now Gunbalanya) were given back to the traditional owners. The community of Gunbalanya, with its health and community services and small businesses, now serves some 1,000 Indigenous people across the region.
© Education Services Australia Ltd and National Archives of Australia, 2007-10