Servant or Slave is an emotional and confronting insight into the history and legacy of the domestic servitude enforced upon Aboriginal girls in Australia, told through the stories of five women. Many thousands of girls were stolen as young children from their parents and placed in institutions, to be trained as servants who could be assimilated into mainstream Australian society.
Rita Wright, Violet West, and the Wenberg sisters Adelaide, Valerie (Linow) and Rita, are captivating when sharing their life stories. Their firsthand accounts of officially sanctioned enslavement reveal the true intent of the government policy of ‘protection’ prevalent throughout the twentieth century.
Rita, Violet and the Wenberg sisters endured estrangement from their families, immense hardship, rape and even torture, and were coerced into remaining silent or even punished for reporting mistreatment to the local police or institutional authorities. With the government exercising complete control over their wages, many Aboriginal girls and boys were effectively condemned to a treadmill of abuse, from which there was little hope of escape.
The testimony of experts, supported by archival footage, documents that from the early 1920s Aboriginal wages were misappropriated by governments to cover their own liabilities including the cost of removing people to missions and reserves and the forcible removal of children. Servant or Slave reveals that the stolen wages of Aboriginal people unwittingly funded their own disenfranchisement.
In bringing to light the heartbreaking experiences of Rita, Violet, Adelaide, Valerie and Rita, Servant or Slave celebrates their fortitude in pursuing justice for the crimes committed against them. Theirs is a David and Goliath battle, waged not only for personal healing, but to shed light on a barely acknowledged part of modern Australia’s history whose consequences are still felt today.