By 1900 the NSW Aborigines Protection Board had decided that it was better for Aboriginal people to live separately from Europeans. It was to ‘protect them from the worst excesses and corrupting influences of European society’.1 To this end Aboriginal people were gathered from camps on the fringes of towns and placed, sometimes forcefully, on government reserves where they were provided with basic necessities. In October 1900, 18 acres at Purfleet was put aside to establish an Aboriginal reserve just outside Taree.2
The reserve was both a government venture and a missionary one where the NSW Aborigines Mission was the manager. Miss Mary Delves was the volunteer missionary when it began in May 1901. She worked to convert Aboriginal people to Christianity and was instrumental in having the Purfleet mission hall completed. The hall was officially opened on 24 June 1903. By this date though, Aboriginal children were being excluded from NSW schools so the hall was used as a segregated school during the week with the Department of Public Instruction providing furniture, school materials and a qualified teacher. On the weekends it was used for worship.
The mission continued to grow and by 1904 a full-time missionary was employed, Miss Oldrey. In the 1905 Annual Report, there was much praise for Purfleet Station’s progress. The students’ standard of education was higher than most schools in the district. The men had fenced the reserve and were building their own cottages with flower beds and vegetable gardens. By the end of 1905 there was a sense of optimism at Purfleet. The ‘freedom’ people had during these times however was to change when the Aborigines Protection Act, 1909 was passed. That is a different story…
Author: Janine Roberts based on the book by John Ramsland, ‘Custodians of the Soil: A history of Aboriginal-European relationships in the Manning Valley of New South Wales’, Greater Taree City Council: Taree, 2001, pages 73-86.
1 Ramsland, P. 73
2 Manning River Times and Advocate for the Northern Coast District of NSW, 17 October 1900, 2.