Servant or Slave

Apr 17 2018

Servant or Slave

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The documentary, Servant or Slave, is directed by Steven McGregor as it discusses the unacknowledged past of Aboriginal people in Australia. When the Australian Constitution came into effect on January 1, 1901, the original people of Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, were excluded from the protection the Constitution provided and were discriminated against. In this movie the heartbreaking experiences of the Wenberg sisters- Adelaide, Valerie (Linow) and Rita, as well as Rita Wright and Violet West, are portrayed as they celebrate their pursue for justice for the crimes that were committed against them during their childhoods. This film looks at the past issues of indentured servitude that was prevalent in Australia from the late 1800s to the mid 1970s. Taken from their families as young children thousands of Indigenous girls were forced into slavery to become domesticized by the Australian government, and then soon employed as servants but denied proper wages. The picture below depicts two girls playing in a field with a car driving towards them. Little did they know that these men in this car would take them away from their families forever. It is hard to imagine that taking children away from their families was so casual to the Australian government. This documentary is a cry for justice from these Indigenous women as they hope the abusive actions against their Stolen Generation will be heard so people will never repeat the awful crimes again.

These five women and many other people are a part of the Stolen Generation. This generation is made up of Indigenous children who were removed from their families from 1910 to 1970. This forcible removal of these children was part of the policy of Assimilation. Assimilation was based on the assumption of black inferiority and white superiority, and this proposed that Indigenous people should be allowed to “die out” through to process of natural elimination, or if possible, be assimilated into the white community. These children were taught to reject their Indigenous heritage and adopt the white culture they were being forced into. However, Assimilation failed its aim of improving the lives of Indigenous Australians by absorbing them into white society. This was due to the fact that white society refused to accept Indigenous people as equals.

These women tell their stories of the tragic experiences they endured of abuse and rape, while trying to continue to shape their lives of their families by telling the stories of their past that are merely only memories. Their stories begin at a young age when they were all stolen away from their parents with no explanation but the fact that their parents were unable to raise them. They were taken to institutions to be trained as servants who could be assimilated in the Australian society. The three Wenberg sisters were inmates of the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls in New South Wales. Here they were abused and kept from having any contact with their families. Their enslavements reveal the real intent of the government policy of ‘protection’ that was prevalent during the twentieth century. However, they were forced to keep silent and were unable to reach for help in fear of their lives. Some instances of abuse would be rape, whipped, or even put in a solitary room with no communication with people for days.

When these women grew older they were sent off from their training homes to be servants in white people’s homes. However, the Australian government had complete control over the wages of these servants and many Aboriginal girls found no hope. It is discovered that the misappropriate wages by the government were resulted from having to cover their own liabilities which included the cost of removing people to missions and reserves and the forcible removement of children. Many of these women experienced rape in these homes by their employers. They felt hopeless as they had no money and no option but to stay in their jobs as a servant. This is where the movie title, Servant or Slave, comes into play. One questions how a young girl who is forcibly stolen from her home, abused into be domesticized, and paid little to none for working in a home, is simply just a servant. It is interesting how in the Bible, a servant is known as a devoted follower to God. However, when I think of the Aboriginal women, I think of them being enslaved to these white people, because they were not willing to work for them, they were forced to.

The Stolen Generation today still tells their terrible stories. Aboriginal people in the 1960s petitioned for land rights and improved living and working conditions. The publicity of these petitions led to Assimilation being increasingly criticised and abandoned in 1967 as a referendum was passed granting Aborigines citizen status for the first time. In 1972, self determination under the Whitlam government granted Aborigines the right to actively participate in  making decisions that would impact their lives. Although they are continuously making steps towards a more equal society, the Stolen Generation still feels the psychological damage and demands that there continue to be more steps towards justice.

I found this film connected to our class because of the culture we have learned from all of the regions we have studied. Many people may not learn about the Stolen Generation because it is not something the Australian culture is proud of. However, I think it is important to learn about because just how we teach American students about slavery, they should learn about the Stolen Generation so history doesn’t repeat itself. I would highly reccomend this movie, I found it compelling and very well made. I myself was not educated on the Stolen Generation and hearing the awful stories these women tell of their childhoods is very interesting to hear as it does not connect to the culture we think about when we think about Australia. Whenever I think about the Australian culture I think about how us Americans always strive to be like them because of their decreasing amount of gun violence. However, it is clear they have a dark past behind their curtain they have up right now, and these Aboriginal women want to take the curtain down to finally feel the justice they deserve.


Works Cited


Admin. “Australian Human Rights Commission.” Constitutional Reform: Fact Sheet – Recognising Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander People in the Constitution, 14 Dec. 2012,


Behrendt, L. “The Stolen Generations.” Australians Together,


Cheyenne, et al. “ The Setting of the Australian Genocide.” The Stolen Generation, Oct. 2016,


Compagnoni, Melissa. “Servant or Slave: Reshaping Australian History through a New Lens.” SBS Your Language, 23 Nov. 2016,


MIFF, director. SERVANT OR SLAVE Trailer. YouTube, YouTube, 5 July 2016,


Servant or Slave. Dir. Steven McGregor. No Coincidence Media, 2016. Kanopy. Web. 17 Apr. 2018.

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