The Moore River Native Settlement is an historically significant place for Aboriginal people throughout the State. Many were or have family who resided at the former settlement or have relatives that are buried there. The burial index provides a comprehensive database of the individuals buried at the Moore River Native Cemetery.
Originally conceived as a self-sustaining agricultural and education centre for marginalised Aboriginal people over the next 35 years, it was to become a place of forced incarceration for many under Section 12 of the 1905 Aborigines Act and for others a refuge from the harshness of everyday life.
Within two years of the establishment of the Settlement children were being removed from their families and placed in dormitories inside a fenced compound, where girls were trained as domestic servants and boys in manual labour and farming.
Their families along with others who arrived lived in makeshift camps located outside the perimeter, yet within the reserve area. The adults worked across the settlement often performing menial jobs at little or no expense to government.
By the late 1920s the settlement had evolved into a rigid multi-purpose facility combining the functions of a creche, orphanage, relief depot, home for the aged, frail and discharged prisoners, a refuge for unmarried mothers and those seeking medical assistance from surrounding districts.
Many resisted the move, while a small number were drawn to the settlement which provided a haven from the inequality of mainstream society.
Throughout the life of the settlement there were periods of extreme overcrowding and unhealthy sanitary conditions. A recurrent theme in the history of the settlement was that over the period of its existence governments of any persuasion were reluctant to spend the necessary money to enable the settlement to function as it was originally intended.
A survey undertaken by magistrate Bateman in 1948 concluded that the outlook of the institution was “absolutely hopeless…the results obtained have been anything but encouraging and … in the conditions which exist at Moore River there can be no possible change of success and its continuance without drastic change of policy represents a waste of money and effort”.
Viewed as being counter to the assimilationist policy of the late 1940s the settlement was handed over to the methodist overseas mission in 1951 to be run as the Mogumber training centre.
In 1921 an area of land (0.6 hectres) was gazetted for a cemetery (reserve no. 17702) approximately 2km south-west of the settlement. Prior to the proclamation two children and four adults were buried in a nearby reserve in unmarked graves 2km to the west.
Seven years later iron crosses were introduced to mark the graves of those who were buried. Within the first decade, 99 people were buried, the majority dying from bronchitis and pneumonia. A further 278 would be laid to rest by 1964 when the last burial took place.
Of the 374 deaths that occurred during the lifetime of the settlement, 54 percent were children under 18 and 73 percent of these were under the age of five, a telling number reflecting the harsh conditions the residents endured.
191 were females and 180 were males, while three remain unidentified. Six women are known to have died during childbirth and six of those who are buried were born interstate. These figures are based on records that were located during the research however do not account for all the deaths that occurred at the Settlement. 181 can be linked to families throughout Western Australia, and 40 remain unknown.
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