Welfare Branch Annual Reports, 1954-72, AGPS,          Canberra

                         Government settlements, policy framework

‘…It is Government policy to establish settlements…to serve as training centres in social change for Aborigines…emphasis is laid in the first place on indicating the advantages, benefits and responsibilities of community living; then on instruction in the skills and techniques for a successful life within such a social pattern.' 

(Welfare Branch Annual Report 1962-63, page 7)

By the early 1970s it is stated: ‘the policy of the Commonwealth with respect to Aborigines in the Northern Territory is that they should have equality of access to the rights and opportunities that Australian society provides, and acceptance of responsibility towards it.’ Settlements are to be developed ‘in the interest of Aborigines, involving them in this development as individuals and in groups, training them to assume ownership and direction of business projects and to take responsibility in community affairs’. 

By then, settlements were becoming ‘small townships’. Thirteen communities had more than 500 people and two more than 1000.

(Welfare Branch Annual Report, 1971-72, under the heading Aboriginal Advancement, page 11) 

Welfare Branch Annual Report 1959-60

Maningrida: evolution of a community, 1957-72

Maningrida is 220 air miles (some 354 kilometres) from Darwin, and is situated on the eastern bank of the estuary of the Liverpool River, near the north-central coast of Arnhem Land. Access is by air, sea and (in the Dry season) four-wheel drive. People from several different groups had traditionally moved around the area. 

...Construction and jobs

Regular employment was provided for foremen gangers and trainee domestics during continuing construction of the settlement. Twenty men from the district were also working in Darwin for the Army. A cool-room, ablutions unit, a staff residence and 34 houses of bush timber and bark were constructed. A 10,000-gallon tank stand was erected, with associated pumping equipment. The airstrip was extended to 4000 feet and licensed for use by light aircraft. (page 61)

Catering and food

The kitchen provided three cooked meals daily for all workers and their dependants, and for the elderly. Bread was baked daily by local bakers trained in Darwin. (page 61)

Agriculture and fishing

Peanuts, cashews, paw-paw, granadilla and eggfruit were grown. More than 1 ton of turtle meat, plus fish and crabs, ensured a varied diet. (page 61)


Leprosy and TB patients began to be transferred for treatment to Darwin. (page 61)


A sports club was formed and an oval was cleared. Five Australian Rules football teams competed at the weekends, to the applause of local supporters. Players were taken by sea to Goulburn Island Mission, 100 miles away by sea, to play three games. (page 61)

Athletics training was started for school-age children. (page 62)

Welfare Branch Annual Report, 1962-63

In 1962-63, 52 miles of access roads were built, with 29 miles of fire roads and 27 miles of fire trails. (page 92) The aim was to bring the community into contact with modern Australia, while not losing traditional culture. 

Welfare Branch Annual Report, 1968-69

In mid-1963, meetings were held with local people to discuss the formation of a Co-operative Society. (page 138)...

Beginning with a small settlement shop in 1963, 'the Progress Association has nearly finished a new store which, if built by contract, would have cost $80,000. In order to save money, the Association employed two European tradesmen and a number of Aborigines, and it was expected that the store would cost about $40,000. It was designed by an architect and was capable of conversion into a self-service store at minimum cost. The shop area was 40 by 60 feet (some 12 by 18 metres), and there was a similar area available for bulk storage. The shop already had several refrigerated display cabinets, and the Association purchased a 300-cubic-foot deep-freeze and a cool-room of the same size...the turnover of the shop was in the vicinity of $330,000 per annum.' (page 139)...

The Progress Association also ran a snack bar open every night of the week, closing only when the films shown twice a week began.

'The first major effort to be made from the profits of the Progress Association's activities would be a community hall, which would also serve as a Council chamber and a cinema...the trend at Maningrida was to merge the Village Council with the Progress Association so that there would be one governing body for all activities in the town.' (page 140)

Welfare Division Annual Report, 1971-72 


‘The Maningrida Progress Association, in a prospecting partnership with the Goulburn Island community and a private mining company, received an initial payment and employment opportunities for several men as field assistants and guides… It also supported the Gunardba Garden Company in providing finance and management for the venture. The company, consisting of 23 shareholders, developed a market garden on the Cadell River under the guidance of a qualified agriculturalist (employed by the Progress Association). The garden flourished and supplied the village with a range of fresh produce—beans, lettuce, sweet potato, cabbage, grapes, paw-paw and other lines. Local demand…was heavy. Twenty acres were cleared and cultivated, irrigation systems installed, buildings erected and farm equipment purchased. In April, the company applied to lease a total of 100 acres for this project.

‘This settlement was also active in fishing and, although it was self-sufficient in local fish demands, it has not succeeded in developing the industry to the export stage…

‘Expansion of the Maningrida arts and crafts business was steady as there is always a demand for top-quality artifacts and handcrafts. The volume of business was so large that the business engaged a book-keeper, thereby freeing the operatives to devote more time to craft work…’

‘The 1971-72 year "has been one of developing, compiling and implementing a new curriculum" in traditional arts and crafts with "a stronger focus on instruction…in the styles, techniques and content of traditional bark painting, weaving and wood carving" at Yirrkala, Maningrida, Bamyili, Garden Point, Elcho Island, Bathurst Island, Oenpelli and Milingimbi…’ (page 48)

‘The Maningrida Progress Association also initiated the pastoral development of an area around the Bulman waterhole in southern Arnhem Land, north of Mainoru Station. More pressing commitments led to the association’s withdrawal from the project; however, interested Aborigines from Mainoru, Mountain Valley and Beswick Stations, Bamyili, Maningrida and Milingimbi then formed the Gulperan Pastoral Company to continue the venture…’

‘The Maningrida bakehouse, built and equipped by the Progress Association at a cost of $18,500 (a loan from the Aborigines Benefits Trust Fund), proved an immense success. Products of the bakehouse were exported to adjacent towns, supplied the local settlement kitchen and satisfied the local demand for bread, pastries, buns, pies and an assortment of cakes. One European master baker and two highly competent Aboriginal bakers comprise the staff of the bakery.’ (page 22)

The First Aboriginal Mining Company, FAMCO, formed between Goulburn Islanders, Milingimbi, Oenpelli and Maningrida people, "successfully negotiated the formation of a partnership with two mining companies to search for uranium".’ (page 25)


‘1972 saw a significant advance in the school building programme for Aboriginal schools, with the completion of an instructional resource centre and double-unit pre-school at Maningrida…Similar units are planned for all government and mission schools.’ (page 45)

‘A teaching officer [who had two years post-school training and experience as a teaching assistant] became a full member of the Commonwealth Public Service when he took up an appointment at Maningrida School, "making education more relevant to Aboriginal children and their parents".' (page 47)

School-age mothers at Maningrida were encouraged to return to school for an intensive course in baby care.’ (page 50)

‘Trained art teachers introduced new techniques which enabled the development of traditional arts and crafts into pottery, copper enamelling, batik and tie-dyeing and weaving.’ (page 49)


‘A group of children at Maningrida was preparing to travel to Centre settlements and the 1972 Areyonga Festival presenting "music and dance as an encouragement to performance of Aboriginal music and dance by Centre school-children." Other schools were sending groups to Brisbane and the Gold Coast.’ (page 49)

The Arnhem Land Games were held at Maningrida and short, readable booklets on gymnastics, track, ball and throwing events planned. Visits were arranged to compete in inter-school matches.’ (page 49)

Five tribes were involved in sacred ceremonies in areas around Maningrida. (page 17)


The Housing Association at Maningrida was financed by the Aborigines Benefits Trust Fund (which that year received overall $517, 971 from royalties, investments and interest payments and disbursed $543,349 for projects) on the understanding that cash and voluntary labour would also be provided by the community. (page 26)

For accounts of pioneering days at Maningrida in the time of David and Ingrid Drysdale in the 1950s, followed by first Superintendent Mick Ivory, see David Attenborough’s Quest Under Capricorn (Lutterworth Press, 1963) and I.A. Drysdale’s No More Walkabout (Arthur H. Stockwell, 1967). Both contain vivid stories of building relationships between local people and newcomers. 

See also The Advancement of Aborigines in the Northern Territory, Department of the Interior, October 1972

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