Behaviour Patterns of the White Group and the Stereotypes

from reference 27

The stereotypes find expression in the discrimination of the white group against Aborigines in the effective barring of the mixed-blood group from participation in all but a very few aspects of the community life.

It has been shown in an earlier paper (see Reference 26) that mixed-blood labour has an important place in the economic structure of the area. In many industries mixed-bloods work side by side with whites, but this acceptance does not extend to other kinds of social contact. A hard line separates economic from other activities, this being most noticeable in the U district, and least so in the larger towns, particularly D. In the U area Aboriginal farm hands are never permitted to feed with the employer, whereas white hands invariably do so. Aborigines are fed under a tree, in an outhouse, or sometimes in the laundry, and are often not provided with cutlery. This happens whether a number of Aborigines are concerned or whether there is only one employee.

I was told by forestry workers that mixed-blood labour usually camps and eats apart from white labour, engaged on the same project at the same rates of pay. In the sawmills at X, where a large proportion of the labour employed is Aboriginal, white and mixed-blood labour form two separate groups for the morning tea and lunch breaks. This does not occur in the sawmills at N and C, where the number of Aborigines employed is relatively small, but is a noticeable tendency at the C mine, where they are often more than half the labour force. When D.X. first commenced work in the railway workshops at D, some of the white employees objected to sharing a room with him. This man is a valued employee who has secured promotion and is often presented as an example of the “best type of Aborigine”, yet the reasons given for this action were couched in terms of the stereotypes that all Aborigines are dirty and diseased. See Stereotypes in Education

In all towns in this area barbers are reluctant to cut the hair of Aborigines. Most refuse outright. This is partly because a white man feels demeaned by acting as valet to an Aborigine, partly because the barber considers that he and his other customers may be risking infection and partly because an Aboriginal clientele is bad for business. Whites will not patronize a barber who has Aboriginal customers. No mixed-blood women aspire to permanent waves, so the problem does not arise with ladies’ hairdressers. The undesirability of a too obtrusive Aboriginal custom is realized even by those storekeepers who do quite a lot of business with them. The complaint is that Aborigines tend to “hang around the store” sometimes sitting in groups on the footpath outside.

The problem of the Aboriginal clientele is solved in the field of entertainment by confining the Aborigines to a special part of the theatre, usually the front rows of the stalls. This occurs in all but the really big towns where the Aborigines form an insignificant minority. The degree of stringency with which this rule is enforced and the sanctions that are marshalled to maintain it vary from district to district. In some areas it is an implicit understanding ; in others police have been called upon to evict Aborigines from seats in the white section of the theatre. Segregation is least strict in those towns remote from Aboriginal settlements and reserves, or in those towns which, while being fairly close to Aboriginal settlements, are not easily reached by public transport. The towns of X and V are cases in point. The former strictly segregates Aborigines, one admission price being charged for Europeans and another for Aborigines ; it is fairly easily reached by a special “picture bus”. The latter is two miles further away and does not segregate Aborigines, but there is no public transport between the station and this township at appropriate times.

Mixed-bloods are completely excluded from other forms of entertainment. They hardly ever attend local dances, and on the very rare occasions when they do it is the young men only who go, and seemingly by special invitation. This happened only once during the two years I spent in the area.

Despite the general strict division between economic and social contacts in the segregation patterns of this area, several men had accepted invitations to call on white workmates socially. The invitation was seldom extended to the Aborigine’s wife, and in the few cases in which this did occur she did not accept.

The segregation pattern is even more stringent between the women of the two groups than between the men. Men often stand in the “workmate“ relationship to whites, but women only in the “employer-employee“ relationship, as their only avenue of employment is in domestic service. Female domestic helps are usually fed in the kitchen, which would be most unusual for white domestic helps. It is significant that even when they call on a former employer to “have a cup of tea“ the mixed-blood woman is given her cup in the kitchen, while the white housewife drinks hers in the lounge. As the two rooms usually adjoin, this does not preclude conversation.

Contacts, then, between Aborigines and whites, are always with selected members of the Aboriginal community, the male bread-winners, unless they involve an employer-employee relationship. Never are they contacts between family groups. This is even more obvious in sport ; mixed-blood men play football and take part in boxing bouts on terms of equality with whites. There seems to be no feeling against Aboriginal teams playing against white teams, or even against members of the two groups playing in the same team. Sport makes a type of relationship possible for men which is denied to the women.

See Stereotypes in Education

The clauses of the Aborigines’ Protection Act which forbid the sale of alcohol to Aborigines affect the men to a much greater extent than they do the women. As in the white community, drinking is chiefly a male activity. Very few Aboriginal women drink heavily, and few are convicted of drunkenness as against a very high conviction rate among males. This is certainly partly because the sources of supply open to men are closed to women ; a town housewife for whom an Aboriginal woman may do housework is much less likely to be willing to obtain a bottle of wine than is the farmer who employs her husband. Again, only about a quarter of the women living on a station are employed ; the rest have very few contacts with members of the white community. The liquor which the men obtain is usually drunk by the men; little is passed on to the women, partly at least because it is an additional offence to be drunk on, or to bring liquor onto, an Aboriginal station.

The only way in which a woman can obtain liquor is by prostitution. Generally it is the older women who are most ready to sell sexual favours for liquor, though I recorded several cases of teenage girls being bought in this way. The practice is probably more common than is indicated by my material, though the number of women who regularly obtain liquor in this way on X and U stations would be relatively small.

Being unable to buy alcohol in any public house is a far more serious social disability than appears at first sight. It means the effective exclusion of the Aborigines from the most important social gathering in any country district. The evening “session“ in the bar is the only occasion on which members of every stratum of the community meet on a footing of equality, to gossip, to conduct business and often to arrange and issue invitations to other more exclusive social gatherings, sports meetings, functions of the local branch of the Returned Soldiers’ League, church dances and parties. In any small country town the hotel is the hub around which the life of the district revolves.

Most whites are well aware of this corollary to the provisions of the Protection Act. When the question was raised, it was often pointed out how impossible it would be to rub shoulders with an Aborigine in a bar. “C.X is the best worker on the station, but I could not see myself drinking by his side in this bar”. When the owner of a timber mill protested that the day would come when the Aborigine would have to be granted full equality, the speaker agreed grudgingly, but pointed out that this would “not be in his lifetime”. Often it was suggested that a white man would not drink out of a glass he knew a mixed-blood had used, and that the Aborigines were too dirty to be served, that they would not know how to behave themselves, or simply that they would “ spit on the floor.” Here the stereotype of the “dirty“ Aborigine is called upon to reinforce that of the Aborigine who “cannot hold his grog”.

When questioned, all publicans vehemently deny that they ever serve Aborigines. In actual fact, most do sell wine, and less frequently a bottle of beer to mixed-bloods at “the back door”. Some publicans state that they would refuse service even to Aborigines with exemption certificates (legal exemptions from the provisions of the Act), as white patrons would refuse to drink with them. I have never heard of such a case occurring, and certain mixed-bloods who do not live on a station and who are more or less accepted by the whites of the district (often being referred to as “highly respected“), are served in these very public houses whether they possess an exemption certificate or not. Aborigines of light caste are also served in districts in which they are not known, sometimes claiming to be “Maltese“ or “Italian“ if questions are asked. Some of the hotels in the larger towns are patronized by groups of Aborigines; in D the members of the All Blacks football team meet every evening in the same bar. It is significant that where there are several Aborigines in a bar they tend to form a group by themselves.

The stereotype of the “drunken Aborigine“ finds expression in the disproportionately large number of Aborigines who are charged with drunkenness. The following figures are calculated from the charge-book of the X police station. These do not represent all charges against Aborigines in the X area; many cases are handled by the V police, some eight miles away.

Period June 18, 1948, to December 28, 1952.

Assault 3
Theft 1
Offensive behaviour 1
Indecent language 1
Drunkenness 31
Offences against liquor provisions of Act 9
Total 46

During this period charges against members of the white community were as follows :

Driving under the influence 3
Carnal knowledge 1
Petty larceny 3
Passing fraudulent cheques 1
Drunkenness 11
Total 19

The population of the X Aboriginal station is about 140, whereas the white population of the town is 559. It is almost unheard of for a white man to be charged under the provisions of the Welfare Act ; the only charge at all likely is supplying Aborigines with liquor, and the recipients for obvious reasons never give away their source of supply.

Although it is generally accepted that Aborigines can obtain liquor and the activities of the white supplier are mostly winked at, there is a tendency for the police to arrest any Aborigine who shows the least signs of being intoxicated, whereas a white man has to be very intoxicated indeed, or offensive as well, before he is liable to be arrested. In a small country community the policeman knows most of the townspeople personally, and is loath to arrest them if he can possible avoid doing so. Also, a large proportion of the arrests of Aborigines are made at the instigation of station managers, some of whom are over-zealous in policing the liquor provisions of the Act. These factors weight the liability to arrest for drunkenness against the Aborigine.

All police in this area agree that serious crimes are extremely rare among Aborigines. When convicted, offenders are treated leniently when the offence is against another mixed-blood. Penalties are very much heavier when the offence is committed against a member of the white group. Of the three cases of assault cited above, two involved only mixed-bloods and were punished by a fine of £5. The third involved the white station manager and was punished by three months’ gaol. At U during May 1955, the assault of one Aborigine on another with a heavy piece of wood which caused quite serious injury requiring hospital treatment brought a fine of £10, whereas an assault on the station manager during 1954 was punished with six months’ imprisonment. During September 1955 a sixteen-year-old youth of sub-normal intelligence (he could be taught neither to read nor write during five years at school) was sentenced to two months’ imprisonment for participation in a theft from a white man. This was his first offence.

It is equally true that many serious crimes never come before the courts, because of the extreme difficulty of persuading Aborigines to testify against one another.. A killing at U in 1953 provides the best example of this. Not one of the 130 residents would admit to knowing anything whatever about it.

A surprisingly large number of Aboriginal women claim to have been raped, some on more than one occasion, but I did not record one case in which there was sufficient evidence for a charge, let alone a conviction. It seems likely that many of the women concerned are not altogether unwilling. Carnal knowledge charges are quite frequent, but are usually dropped. In the café in the township of U mixed-bloods are not served meals, though they can buy food at the counter.

In none of the cafés in X are Aborigines denied service, nor could I record instances of this type of exclusion in any of the large towns in the area. At one time Aborigines were required to occupy the back seats on the tourist bus which passed X station on the way to Brisbane, but this seems to have been a rule introduced by a particular driver and not supported by the bus company.

Generally there is more camaraderie with bus and taxi drivers than with any other section of the white community, these being frequently referred to and addressed by Christian names. Taxi drivers, particularly in the X area, depend on the station people for a large proportion of their custom.

Before considering the reaction of the Aboriginal communities to this rejection by Europeans, the very few mixed-bloods who have won a degree of acceptance by the white community must be mentioned. These are predominantly but not exclusively resident in the towns, and have little or no social contact with the station people. Nearly always they are immigrants from other tribal territories and have no relatives on stations in the vicinity. Socially they tend to form a clique most often centred around membership in a football team. They are not debarred from drinking in the public houses, and belong to unskilled or semi-skilled economic groups. Invariably they are better educated than are the station Aborigines, and are commonly accredited with being “as clean as white people”. The tendency, very obvious in other parts of the State, for them to occupy a particular quarter of the town, is also noticeable here, more so in D than in the other towns.

The Europeans definitely distinguish these from the station Aborigines, and accord them a degree of acceptance, while they themselves look down on the station people as an inferior “class”. Intermarriage with the white group occurs more frequently in this “class”, though more than eighty per cent, of marriages are still contracted with other Aborigines, preferably with other members of this “class”.

Significantly, it is only by severing connection with the stations and reserves, by cutting themselves off from the Aboriginal communities, that they are able to escape or mitigate the stigma of the stereotypes. There are families on stations, particularly X, who live in better homes, are every bit as clean, and are economically more prosperous than many members of this urban “upper class”, but who do not enjoy anything like the same degree of acceptance by the white community.