In 1882 the Aborigines Protection Board of NSW was set up and soon after the first Aboriginal Reserves in the Region - referred to by many Aborigines as 'missions' - were established: Bell brook gazetted in 1883, Burnt Bridge in 1898, Bokal-Ynee (Woodenbong) 1901, Ulgundahi Island (Clarence estuary) 1904, Box Ridge (Coraki) 1907 (see McGuigan 1984 for listing of Reserves in NSW).
While ostensibly established to protect Aborigines from the effects of European settlement the real purpose of the Reserves was to confine Aborigines in places where they could be more easily managed. The experience was traumatic: "For example, the Thungutti people. of the Macleay River ~ originally occupied 2800 km of country. By 1885 they had been confined to 40ha on the Bell brook Reserve" (Creamer 1980: 89). While people were often taken to Reserves far removed from their homelands many of the Aborigines in the Region were put on Reserves on, or close to, their traditional lands (e.g., Bellbrook and Woodenbong) and this helps explain why so many sites of Aboriginal significance have been recorded in these areas.
The historical importance of the missions is twofold. On the one hand they are powerful symbols of oppression, on the other hand they have been the focal points for the maintenance of sites.
1909, Thursday 30 September. Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1889-1915), p.2
As is generally known there are several aboriginal mission stations in the Clarence and Richmond districts, and of late efforts have been made to elevate the condition of the remnants of a declining race. On Tuesday evening a lantern lecture was held in the Grafton Methodist Church, at which some very interesting information was gven respecting the work of these missions. Unfortunately owing to the in- clemency of the weather there was but a moderate attendance.
Rev. W. Stewart presided, and delivered an address on the importance of these missions, after which a large number of lantern views were exhibited, and these were explained by Mr. Fryer, the mission- ary in charge of the station at Coraki, on the Richmond River. They were descriptive of the various phases of mission work among the aborigines all over the Commonwealth, and the slides included build- ings, school scholars. teachers, aborig- inal types, groups, and pastimes. The lady missionaries present were Miss Dug- gan (Nymboida station, Miss Mack (Cab- bage Tree Island Station, near Wardell, Richmond River), and Miss Hainan (who has charge of the mission station on the island below Maclean). Interesting narra- tives were given of the work carried on at the different stations.
Miss Black said that when she arrived at Cabbage Tree Island the natives were extremely ignorant, but gradually became interested in the aims of the mission to elevate them. Some of the men were noted gamblers, and this was the testimony of some of the other missionaries also. Tiley were induced to abandon it, though, said Miss Black, some of the black boys who came from the Clarence tried to reintroduce it. Their experience of the missionaries as given was that the blacks were responding to the efforts of the missionaries in endeavouring to raise them by civilising and Christianising influences, their homes were made brighter and more cheerful, and the children were becoming educated, and were, in addition to the ordinary school curriculum, learning fancy work, and such branches.
Besides information respecting the coast stations, particulars were given as to the progress made at those on the Manning, Macleay, La Perouse, South Const, and in Western Australia. The lectures will be repeated at down river centres also.