Vrijdag 29 april 2011
During our stay in Alice Springs we visited the Telegraph Station that was build as part of the Overland Telegraph project in the 1800s. This facility was needed because the signal needed to be repeated to ensure the signal remained strong enough to reach the other end. There were several repeating stations along the line.
The telegraph station in Alice Springs had multiple tasks. It also provided post office services and was the home of the magistrate (the Telegraph Master) for the region. The magistrate was the official representative for the empire and therefore the judge.
Over time this station was also used to take care of ‘half-caste’ children from the region. These were children from European fathers and Aboriginal mothers. In many cases the European fathers abandoned the Aboriginal mothers or were not available because they needed to work far away. This meant that the mothers were in a difficult situation as they needed to provide for their (young) children. One of the Aboriginal women working at the station started to provide a sort of day care to allow the mothers to work.
After a while the government decided (somewhere in the 1920s or 1930s) that it was its responsibility to educate these children, in the European way. The idea was that they could become domestic servants or work with livestock when they grew up. The focus was to keep them away from their Aboriginal culture and families. Later the government decided to outsource this task to missionaries (and give them subsidies for the service).
During our visit there I encountered a very friendly gentleman that started to explain more about the ‘half-caste’ children. It turned out that he was one of these children. The stories he was telling were a mix of positive things in the way they were treated by the people in charge locally, such as the Aboriginal woman taking care of the children and the daughter of the magistrate that tried to influence his rulings. There were obviously also less positive experiences such as not having access to water all the time and the random way the different churches divided the group of children (which resulted in his auntie of 12-13 years to be sent to a different church than himself.
What stuck from my conversation with this gentleman is that he remembered mostly the positive aspects of his stay there and that he freely started sharing the stories of these children. He came back to the region in the 1980s and after a few different jobs became the resident Subject Matter Expert. Such a first hand story is a rare opportunity to get real insight into such a place, despite the displays containing a lot of information.