The Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 (Vic) allowed the Aboriginal Protectorate Board to regulate Aboriginal people's employment, marriage, social life, aspects of daily life, and where they lived. This law also meant that the Governor could order the removal of any child from their family to a reformatory or industrial school, a practice that continued until approximately 1970.
Removal of children was undertaken under the guise of protection. It was hoped that children could be given a Christian education which would allow them to assimilate into the non-Indigenous population. The impacts of this practise have been devastating not only to those children who were removed, but also to the family and community from which they were removed. Some of the major impacts (to individuals) of removal include the loss of family connection, culture and language; experiencing physical, emotional and sexual abuse; long term mental health issues (including grief and loss of identity); and denial of parental or caregiver attachment. There was also a major mental health impact (including grief, guilt and a mistrust of authorities) which affected the families of Stolen Generations and subsequent generations.
The Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 (Vic) also saw many Aboriginal people moved to Aboriginal missions, reserves and stations. Many people were not given a choice of which Mission or Station they were sent to live at, particularly those who were forcibly removed, and resulted in families being separated across different missions. In some instances, Aboriginal people were moved farther from their traditional lands than was logistically necessary (e.g. Yorta Yorta people [covering an area which included Echuca and Shepparton] were sent to the Coranderrk mission [Healesville]). It could be assumed that this practise was established to further isolate people from their traditional lands, language groups and family. It was also during this time that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were forbidden to speak their native languages. It is thought that these regulations were implemented as settlers' and Mission managers were fearful of what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people communicated about in their own languages and to further accelerate their assimilation into the non-Indigenous population.
In 1886, the Aborigines' Protection Act 1886 (Vic) came into effect. Commonly referred to as the 'Half-caste Act', this law gave way for Aboriginal people who were of mixed descent and under 34 years old to be removed from the Reserve system. This Act resulted in further dislocation and separation of families. People removed from the Missions and Reserves were to be supported with provisions for up to seven years.
On January 1 1901, Australia became an independent nation and the Australian Constitution came into effect. The Constitution:
"establishes the composition of the Australian Parliament, and describes how Parliament works, what powers it has, how federal and state Parliaments share power, and the roles of the Executive Government and the High Court".
The Constitution included two clauses regarding Aboriginal people. The first, section 51 [xxvi], allowed states to retain their power to make laws regarding Aboriginal people. While the other, section 127, stated that Aboriginal (and Torres Strait Islander people) would not be counted in 'reckoning the numbers of people'. This decision was made as it was thought that states that were home to large Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations would be given an unfair advantage in terms of federal Government funding and support.
Laws specifically designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continued to be enacted until 1957 with Acts removing (Aborigines Act 1910 [Vic]) and reinstating (Aborigines Act 1915 [Vic]) the distinction between Aboriginal people and Aboriginal people of mixed descent.
Despite managing every aspect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's lives, missions sooner or later fell into mismanagement or became impracticable. Pressure from neighbouring farmers demanding more land for their livestock, resulted in the Government selling off parcels of Reserve and Mission land. This move, coupled with the removal of people of mixed descent, and thereby a large part of the labour force, made missions and reserves impracticable and consequently resulted in closure. At the same time conditions at missions and reserves, such as Cummeragunja, were of major concern for residents. Conditions such as overcrowding and a lack of sanitation and rations resulted in deaths of some of the people who lived there.
Despite the Government's position of controlling Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives, many settlers supported the rights and entitlements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. One such activist was Anne Bon. Anne acted on behalf of Aboriginal people and became good friends with Wurundjeri Ngurungaeta William Barak during his travels. With the death of William Barak's son, Anne began petitioning the Government to conduct an inquiry into the management of Coranderrk mission. Until the time of her death in 1936, Anne Bon continued to advocate, and assisted Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in self-advocating, for their civil and human rights.