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The idea for establishing a historic precinct grew out of the celebration of Cherbourg’s centenary in 2004. Sandra Morgan and her sister Lesley Williams were collecting items for an historic display when they discovered that the old Ration Shed (constructed 1927) at the bottom of the footy oval – still intact. It was from the Ration Shed that those on the Settlement received rations, primarily flour, sugar and meat and at times rice, oatmeal and sago, in exchange for work undertaken within the Settlement. They decided that the building should be preserved and relocated back to the centre of the settlement and adapted as a museum.
The success of the project prompted several members of the community to consider the conservation of other historic buildings, specifically the Superintendent’s Office, Boys Dormitory and Domestic Science building. The group wanted to create a space where they could tell their stories, share their painful past and celebrate their survival.
Housed the administration of the Settlement. This is where the Superintendent and his staff worked, managing our lives and affairs – issuing permits for us to leave the settlement, administering our savings accounts, handling post, allocating houses, etc. We were afraid to visit when summoned to “The Office” as we were mainly treated like naughty children, subject to arbitrary discipline and the whims of those who controlled us. Punishments were given out regularly and could range from a few days in jail to being sent far away to other Aboriginal settlements. A daily roll call was conducted in front of the office where the Superintendent issued instructions and sent people out to work.
The dormitory system was an integral part of Cherbourg soon after it was established in 1901. The Barambah/Cherbourg reserve was regarded as more than just a dumping ground for displaced Aboriginal people but as a place for caring and ‘reforming’ Aboriginal children. Under the Reformatory Schools Act, ‘any child born of an Aboriginal or half caste mother’ was deemed to be a ‘neglected child’ and as such was liable to be sent to a reformatory or industrial school. As in many parts of Australia, boys and girls in Cherbourg were housed in dormitories, cruelly separated from family and community. This had a major impact on our people, something we still feel today. Today there are a few remaining Elders in Cherbourg who survived those times and have stories to tell of those painful times.
Indigenous women were trained in domestic skills such as cooking and sewing. Young women were used as a source of domestic labour in the outside community. Men and boys were contracted out for work on farms and stations. In this regard the Settlement served as a de facto labour depot.