As proposed at a recent RQI general meeting, Posts from the Past will feature on RQI´s website from time to time. The following is a repost of a story titled ´Aboriginal domestics´ published in the Maitland Daily Mercury just over 100 years ago.
At a time when the troubles of the kitchen, nay, housekeeping in general, are such as to induce half the community to give up the hopeless pursuit of a happy home and resign themselves to the restricted life of the boarding house, it is pleasant to find in our midst one bright spot in the great servant difficulty. Without doubt this announcement will stir envy in the hearts of hundreds of housewives.
Where, they will ask, is such an Elysium to be discovered. The answer is simple. At the department of the Protector of Aborigines in William street. But, alas, there is one direful difficulty in the way of acquiring that peace of mind which only the reliable help can give, and that is the impossibility of meeting the demand for the household treasures that are kept upon the premises. When this present arrangement of training the aboriginal girl as a domestic servant and placing her as a ward of the State was mooted there were not wanting persons who were convinced of its impracticability, and who predicted failure both from a moral point of view and on the score of lack of intelligence.
They were, however, these wiseacres, entirely ignorant of their subject, for most people who have had to do with the black women, know their remarkable teachableness and trustworthiness. And this is what the department has to say today of the 300 or so girls which it has under its special care. From the first there was no trouble in placing the women, and in the majority of cases the homes proved suitable, that is, the mistresses endeavoured to make some allowance for the first few weeks, and as a reward were astonished to find how readily their charges became both capable and painstaking servants.
They are, explained one of the heads of the department, to a representative of the ‘Daily Mail’ (Brisbane), much more amendable to discipline than the white girls, and, added to this, they do not demand three evenings off a week, and the young man in the kitchen during the other four. Then they do not mind direction, and provided that a little patience and tact is used, they not only learn rapidly, but become sincerely attached to their employers! There are, it was learned, about 300 girls in situations in the State, and no sooner is there one available than she is snapped up, leaving several dozen disappointed householders to retire unsatisfied.
The girls retain their places well, and bv the excellent system of the department their wages are banked for them in the Government Savings Bank, with the result that there is standing to their united credit a sum not far short of £1.000. They love nice clothes, and when seen in the trams or buses are invariably spotlessly clean, and not only tastefully but often really well dressed, and their manners are irreproachable. “But do they not marry off?” asked the writer. “No,” was the reply, “very seldom.” “Then they are increasing as the young girls grow on the mission stations?” “No, we do not interfere with the mission blacks. Our only supply are those young women who have reached an age upon the Government stations and reserves when it is advisable to remove them. They then come to town and are drafted into service.” “And their health under the new conditions?” “Is excellent, the work seems to thoroughly agree with them, and they are happy and bright.”
In further conversation it was gleaned that there are in reality three grades of girls, the fullblooded blacks, who are excellent in scullery work, and at any of the rougher duties, the elder half castes, who are taking up a higher grade of service, and the young girls, most of them half or quarter castes, who make the most patient and reliable nurses. The latter are in constant demand and cannot be obtained without considerable waiting. “Then you have not much trouble with your charges,” remarked the questioner in conclusion. “Very little, indeed,” was the reply, “the girls are not the slightest trouble as a rule, and readily adapt themselves to any sphere of household service.”