It was only after the 1880s, once most Aboriginal opposition had been crushed in eastern Australia, that Australian colonies began passing oppressive legislation to control Aboriginal people in the name of protection. Between 1886 and 1911 the colonies (and, after 1901, the states) introduced laws that restricted the movement of Aboriginal people to government reserves and controlled most aspects of their lives, including where they could work and whom they could marry. These reserves were, for the most part, small, circumscribed areas where residents could not lead independent self-sufficient lives. Reserve residents lived in makeshift housing and worked on cattle and sheep stations, or, if there was no work, lived on government rations. White officials oversaw the reserves, sometimes living in a nearby town rather than directly on the reserve. In the remote central and northern parts of the continent, reserves were more institutionalized, with schools, health clinics, and a general work regime overseen by missionaries.
In the early 20th century the colonial governments began instituting policies of removing many Aboriginal children, especially those of mixed race and lighter skin color, from their families without parental consent. These children were placed in state institutions or adopted by white families, where they were raised as Christians and educated as white Australians were. Only “full-blooded” Aboriginal children were permitted to remain on the reserves. Child-removal policies grew out of the desire of white Australians to merge Aboriginal people into European culture, thereby extinguishing indigenous traditions and preventing the growth of the Aboriginal population. The practice was officially discontinued in the late 1960s.
Children who had been removed would later become known as the Stolen Generations. Their exact number remained unknown due to poor record keeping. In 1997 the national Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission concluded an inquiry into past child-removal policies. According to the commission’s report, Bringing Them Home, at least 100,000 indigenous children had been forcibly removed from their families and communities from 1910 to 1970.