Servant or Slave (2016)

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SERVANT-OR-SLAVE--3Here is one of my biases; I like to hear the stories of Aboriginal women. I was aware of it as I sat down to watch this hour-long documentary about the stolen wages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the past century. As the notes of a simple gospel song played and the first of a handful of beautiful, resilient Aboriginal women began to speak, I could feel my heart swell and the first prick of tears, because this is a sad, sad story.

It tells us of the history of the notion of Aboriginal ‘protection’ which, like ‘welfare’, was no such thing. It allowed Aboriginal people to be taken from their home and raised to be servants, where they were often abused and their wages ‘kept’ for them or garnished by the government to pay for the Aboriginal Welfare Board.

The film emphasises the financial gain for the government and for white families and pastoralists of having a replaceable workforce where there was no legal, nor seemingly moral, necessity to pay them anything more than pocket money. It reframes this, not as servitude but as slavery.

This is a lovely documentary; not groundbreaking in technique nor complex but simple, convincing and moving. I cannot help thinking what I would do if my children were taken away and I had no rights. I cannot help thinking that the same justifications were used during the NT intervention. I cannot help thinking that this is not history and there is still much to be repaired and forgiven.

4 stars

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