In the lead up to NAIDOC Week, University of Newcastle historian, Dr Victoria Haskins, will be honoured tonight for her award-winning work on Aboriginal 'stolen wages' and its relationship to the former government policy of Aboriginal child removal.
Dr Haskins' article "and so we are 'Slave owners'!" has been awarded a prize for best article published in Labour History, a leading Australian journal about the history of the nation, in the preceding two years.
Dr Haskins said the issue of stolen wages, the earnings withheld from Aboriginal workers throughout the twentieth century, had made prominent headlines over the past few years.
"The questions surrounding these monies 'disappearing' will undoubtedly continue to be a vexed issue, given the history of state control over Aboriginal labour, and the practice of governments withholding Aboriginal workers' wages in trust funds," she said.
"My work examines the trust fund system as it operated in NSW under the Aborigines Protection Board's regime from 1883 to 1940. It highlights the context and complexities of the issue, and its significance for racial interrelations then, and now.
"The involvement of white employers, in particular white women who engaged Aboriginal domestic labour through the protection board, was fundamental to the success of the government policy of Aboriginal child removal.
"Whether the employers knew it or not, the governments' practice of removing girls and women and placing them in a so-called 'apprenticeship' system to become domestic servants, was intended to break up existing Aboriginal communities."
Dr Haskins' article explained that employers were obliged to pay the great proportion of the workers' wages directly to the Aboriginal Protection Board to be held in one central 'trust account'.
Some employers saw their participation in the system as benevolent, even philanthropic. For these employers, the system of wage withholding could become contentious, when it became understood that the wages that they were paying to the Board were not being distributed to their servants.
The article concludes that for white Australians, acknowledging the role of white employers in this system may be the first step in making restitution.
It also makes a contribution to a deeper understanding of the role of the broader community in the government policy of the time, and provides a context for the role non-Aboriginal Australians play in the Aboriginal workers' cause today.
Dr Haskins will be presented with her award tonight at the biennial National Labour History Conference in Melbourne.