Eventually, after much devastation, slaughter and extermination, various churches became involved in the establishment of missions as the accepted solution to a people who had been reduced to a wretched and precarious existence. Effectively, missions involved the formalised concentrating tribal peoples who were highly mobile, widely spread-out and diverse, into small, permanent, densely populated settlements. In many instances, it involved the forced co-mingling of disparate tribes and language groups, which in some cases destroyed the highly successful, genetically sound, marriage/parenting patterns.
The Churches replaced traditional spirituality and culture with a Christian religion and culture, and set up substantially self-sufficient missions, under rigorous paternalistic control.
The mission period was generally harsh, rigid and intolerant, and too often held a rather despicable, now old-fashioned, view of traditional and dark skinned people as “devil-ridden” that has greatly mellowed out today, at least in most Christian sects. There is an alternative view, that they were the ones who never left the garden.
One desert mission became made up of several different tribes who had been shifted to a ration station in preparation for the British nuclear testing on their traditional grounds. They were eventually picked up by a fundamentalist church, which permanently separated all children from their parents, and brought them up as virtual orphans in separated girls and boys dormitories. The church had very rigid attitudes to good and evil, and solved their discipline problems by attempting to ‘thrash the devil out of them’. Some decades later, after they were unable to secure sufficient religious conversions, the church abandoned the mission
Despite this, there were certain principles many missions offered that were invaluable. Missionaries had, at the very least, a sense of dutiful care and generally understood self-sufficiency, and were thus able to offer some measure of a self-sufficient community. They were also generally competent at what they did, and tried to live by, and induce high ethical standards.
Many remote missions were able to provide a substitute, whole-of-life Christian culture. Some missions succeeded well in the general aim of living self-sufficiently, sustainably and abundantly, often by creating a supporting mixed farm that gave many people employment and ensured all people had a decent standard of living and health.
One coastal mission was founded in 1881, and by 1912, it had a coconut plantation, 140 head of cattle, 7 horses, goats, pigs, fowls, vegetable gardens, a bakery, a butchery, milking sheds and a sawmill. It was a self-sufficient, model farm and community that provided all people with a decent standard of living. Excess produce was exported by ship to distant Island missions. By 1937, it had over 600 head of cattle.
Another coastal mission was started up in 1935.
By the end of 1939, a chapel and a clinic had been constructed. One acre of land had been cleared for gardening purposes. A sawmill was completed in the following months and this led to the construction of other buildings, including a nun’s house and a school, along with a kitchen and dormitory for youngsters. By the mid-1950s there was a garden, a bakery, a small-scale cattle station, and a brick factory. Local people were involved in every enterprise.
The mission period, as difficult and punishing as it often was, may well be the high point of post-settlement remote Aboriginal life. It gave many groups a life of security, continuity, abundance, sensible infrastructure, and for many spiritual upliftment. But it did not prepare them for a post mission life, without the entire mission support system, including administration and overseeing.
Missions generally deprived Aboriginal people of their traditional spiritual life and culture.