Yarrabah, Christian phoenix: Christianity and social change on an Australian Aboriginal reserve

Hume, Lynne (1990). Yarrabah, Christian phoenix: Christianity and social change on an Australian Aboriginal reserve PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Hume, Lynne
Thesis Title Yarrabah, Christian phoenix: Christianity and social change on an Australian Aboriginal reserve
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1990
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Open Access Status File (Publisher version)
Supervisor -
Total pages 330
Language eng
Subjects 370100 Sociology
210301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History
Formatted abstract
This thesis is a study of social change on an Australian Aboriginal Reserve in Far North Queensland. The focus of the study is on the part played by Christianity in bringing about change.

Yarrabah was founded in 1892 by an Anglican missionary intent on bringing the Word of God to Aborigines in the area. Since the 1970's Christian leadership has been in the hands of Aboriginal priests. The religious domain has changed from an externally-imposed system, under the influence and power of European missionaries, to one which is Aboriginal-instigated. Today, Aboriginal priests are attending to the spiritual needs of their own people. This thesis explores historical changes which have brought about this situation. It also discusses how the action of individuals has implemented social change. It is therefore both a social history and a discussion of process; about how individuals can change the system and how, in tum, the system acts on individuals - a dialectical relationship.

The thesis is organized as follows. Chapter One states the problem and poses fundamental questions which are addressed in the following chapters. Chapter Two discusses the theoretical framework and the analytical issues around which the data is organized.

Chapter Three describes how the community is structured today. Using a historical perspective, Chapter Four shows die choices available and the constraints imposed upon people growing up on an Aboriginal mission. This chapter covers the period 1892 to 1960. During this period spiritual and administrative leadership were merged under mission control. In 1960 the mission became a Reserve, at which time sacred and secular authority were divided. The period from 1960 to the 1980's is covered in Chapter Five.

Chapter Six describes the emergence and development of the "new" Christianity, when Aboriginal priests began ministering to their own community. In 1980, in the wake of a renewed interest in Christianity, many Yarrabah people began experiencing "visions". These visions are discussed in Chapter Seven. Chapter Eight articulates the way the 'new' Christianity is organized. The social implications of the revival are detailed in Chapter Nine which looks at the outcome of the revival and its effect on individuals and the community. Chapter Ten compares events at Yarrabah with other Aboriginal communities and concludes the thesis.

The results of this research, which are elaborated in Chapter Ten, can be summarised as follows. Yarrabah Reserve began as a separate, bounded community in 1892. The majority of the population were involuntarily relocated from various areas of Queensland, many having been sent to the Mission as young children. Missionary rules and mores were strictly upheld; children were segregated from parents and other adults at a very early age and were gender-segregated into the dormitory system where they remained until marriage. Thus, traditional Aboriginal culture effectively disintegrated. As "troublemakers" were removed from the mission, and the mission authorities ruled over the sacred and secular lives of its residents, adoption of Christian mores and attitudes was inevitable and systematized. Traditional Aboriginal norms, ideas and values had to be adjusted to concur with the prevailing mission system. Residents became inextricably locked into this system.

In spite of this, throughout the history of the mission individuals at various times rebelled against that system. After 1960, when secular and sacred authority were disjoined, rebellion took different forms. Passivity, alcohol abuse, disregard for mission sexual mores, factionalism, and violence became a new cultural pattern.

In the late 1970's Yarrabah men were themselves entering priesthood and a new era of Christian awareness began. Many people made a conscious effort to change their lifestyles and their society. The results of these changes and the dynamics of process form the basis of this study.
Keyword Aboriginal Australians -- Missions -- Queensland.
Aboriginal Australians -- Religion.
Yarrabah Aboriginal Reserve (Qld.) -- History.
Additional Notes The author has given permission for this thesis to be made open access.

Document type: Thesis
Collections: Queensland Past Online (QPO)
UQ Theses (RHD) - Open Access
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Created: Thu, 01 Oct 2009, 15:29:03 EST by Ms Christine Heslehurst on behalf of Social Sciences and Humanities Library Service