Lousy Little Sixpence: Like one big family
Two people removed from their families as children to enter into servitude, Margaret Tucker and Bill Reid, speak of their experience growing up. Historical footage shows children placed in missions. Summary by Romaine Moreton.
Lousy Little Sixpence has an historical place in Indigenous film as an educational piece that preserves the life stories of many Indigenous people – now elders – who were procured by the missions to enter the workforce and become servants to wealthy white families.
The issue of stolen wages is ongoing – the withheld wages earned by those indentured Indigenous workers, who contributed to the Australian economy without any financial reward, remains unaddressed to this day. So this is an important film that offers a background to the present struggle for the very generations depicted in this film to receive the wages that were supposedly held in trust for them. In December 2006, a Senate Committee inquiry recommended that 'Indigenous claimants are fully compensated for monies withheld from them’. It further noted, 'The committee is concerned that establishing a national inquiry or a Royal Commission into stolen wages will not directly resolve the stolen wages issue and will only delay actions taken by state and territory governments to address these issues. The advanced age and ill-health of many potential claimants means that the expeditious resolution of claims must be a priority. It is time to resolve this issue’.
It is quite incredible to listen to the testimonies of Indigenous elders born in the early 1900s – their reflections and personal accounts of what it meant to be administered by the Aborigines Protection Board, removed from their families and sent to work in cities. The work of Jack Patten is documented in this film, and his participation in the establishment of the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association (APA), which was invested in dismantling the Aborigines Protection Board, as well as fighting for and attaining citizen’s rights for all Indigenous peoples.
Lousy Little Sixpence synopsis
A documentary using historical footage and interviews with Indigenous people who belonged to the generation that were forced into unpaid servitude by the Australian government. The title refers to the amount of pocket money the indentured workers were supposed to be given – but never received – while their wages were managed by their 'employers’, on behalf of the Aborigines Protection Board.
Notes by Romaine Moreton
This clip shows Margaret Tucker and Bill Reid recalling their lives growing up on Aboriginal reserves in New South Wales. Tucker describes the Cumeroogunga community as ‘one big family’ and Reid says that the Pilliga Reserve was self-sufficient, with plenty of food to eat and regular contact with a neighbouring mission. Their recollections are intercut with black-and-white historical footage and photographs depicting reserve life, including Elders making implements such as boomerangs and baskets, and the Pilliga Reserve band making music.
Educational value points
- The clip highlights life in the two types of Aboriginal reserve that existed in NSW in the early 20th century. Cumeroogunga on the banks of the Murray River was a government reserve. These reserves, established from the 1880s onwards, were run by non-Indigenous managers appointed by the Aborigines Protection Board, which kept any income produced by the reserves. In return, rations and basic housing were provided. Children received a rudimentary education.
- Pilliga in the north-west of NSW was an independent reserve. These reserves dated from the 1860s when some Indigenous communities requested and regained the use of some of their country for farming, hunting and collecting food. The reserves remained independent until the 1920s when the state government either converted them into government reserves or, in response to white farmers’ demands, revoked the people’s use of the land and turned them out.
- Yarmuk (1880?–1959), an important Yorta Yorta woman also known as Theresa Clements, is shown in the clip in a photograph with her four daughters, who include Margaret Tucker (1904–96). Yarmuk grew up on Maloga Mission before moving to Cumeroogunga Reserve where in 1939 she was one of the leaders of a walk-off in protest against terrible living conditions. A respected Elder, she worked to preserve and pass on Yorta Yorta language and culture.
- Weaving is and was a significant cultural and economic activity in many parts of Australia, and women on reserves such as Cumeroogunga maintained their traditions as well as contributing to the income of reserves by making mats and baskets such as those shown in the clip to sell to tourists. For thousands of years, people along the Murray have made a range of objects using sedges, grasses and reeds – such as ceremonial items, belts, baby carriers and eel traps.
- As seen in the clip, music and dance were important aspects of life on reserves, particularly on independent reserves, with residents forming bands playing gum leaves, violins, banjos and harmonicas and dancing on the clay pan, a cement-like layer of clay below the soil surface. Reid’s reference to dancing at Pilliga Reserve indicates that people on independent reserves were able to host gatherings for recreational and ceremonial activities.
- Tucker’s and Reid’s happy childhoods, like those of thousands of NSW Indigenous children, ended abruptly when they were taken from their families, sent to institutions for ‘training’ and then out to indentured work. Elsewhere, both cite the experience as motivating their subsequent involvement in Indigenous political causes, with Tucker active in the Australian Aborigines’ League and Reid in the Aborigines Progressive Association.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia
This clip starts approximately 3 minutes into the documentary.
Margaret Tucker is being interviewed.
Margaret Tucker I was born at (inaudible) about 74 years ago on the Murrumbidgee. My mother taught us a lot and she was of the Murray River tribe. My two sisters were born on the Murray River and two of us were born on the Murrumbidgee. We used to love to get with the old people — out on a summer night especially and they’d sing in our language and they would teach us to do the corroboree. Our people were like one big family.
Bill Reid, from Pilliga Reserve, is being interviewed outside.
Bill Reid Yes, we had quite a good social life. We used to be the clay-pan dancers and one event that was especially looked forward to was the — the visit of the Burrabadee people, that was the Mission at Coonabarabran. They used to come down each year and supply half the concert. There was a violin player from Coonabarabran and we had our violin player and we’d all join in and form a sort of band. We had a pretty, a pretty good life there. There was plenty to eat. We were not dependent on the government for food or anything. We were totally independent of that type of help.
We see historical footage of people posing for the camera, doing craftwork, and sweeping.