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Willunga Rations Depot

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Fast Facts
Address: 61 High Street
Town or Locality: Willunga
Year constructed: c. 1839
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In 1858, a rations depot for Aboriginal people was opened in Willunga. Like many other depots at the time, the Willunga rations depot was managed by the resident police officer, Police Trooper (PT) John Shaw. PT Shaw repaired an old government building on the Courthouse Reserve, to accommodate the Aboriginal people who came to Willunga. He noted that “the roof is in very bad order, and also the doors and windows are very much need in repairs before the Winter sets in”.

From the letters and records received and sent by PT Shaw, he seems to have acted with some kindness and consideration towards the Aboriginal people who stayed at the depot. He took pains to make the depot weatherproof, to ensure that people were in good health and in some comfort.

The rations distributed to the Aboriginal people were flour, sugar and rice. Items such as quart pots, tomahawks, pannicans, spoons, blankets and medicines were also provided.

PT Shaw was lauded for the way he helped the people under his care. Dr Jay, when reporting on the medical cases among the people at the depot to the government authority, noted that: I cannot close my remarks without adding that policeman Shaw & his wife, both by their perseverance & kindness assisted my remedies, otherwise the last child must have sunk.

Aboriginal labour was often used on farms. P.T. Shaw often mentioned the employment of men during harvest, and retained the services of one girl as a servant for his family. The question of providing of rations to Aboriginal men who were gainfully employed caused a conflict at the depot. PT Shaw reported to the Commissioner of Police: … a short time before they did leave Sam & Fred were very regularly employed and earned good wages -- on which occasions their rations were stopt [sic], (according to my instructions). This seemed to give offence – they became insolent and threatened to leave the place. (May 15, 1860)

All of the Aboriginal people left after this incident. Government policy also changed and depots became focused more in pastoral areas. The exact date that the rations depot ceased in Willunga is unknown, but it is likely to have been around the later months of 1860.

Extracted from Fragments of Time: The lives and works of the Willunga Slate Carvers

Sources

  • Aboriginal Ration Depots. SA History Trust. http://adelaidia.sa.gov.au/subjects/aboriginal-ration-depots
  • R. Foster “Feasts of the Full Moon: The Distribution of Rations to Aborigines in South Australia: 1836 – 1861”. Aboriginal History. 1989 13 1. pp. 63-78
  • Correspondence dated 20 January 1854 Willunga Courthouse Museum Research Room Willunga Courthouse 1 22-7-6
  • Correspondence dated April 6 1859 Willunga Courthouse Museum Research Room Willunga Courthouse 1 22-7-6.



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