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“The system of compulsory education is failing”: Assimilation, mobility and Aboriginal students in Victorian State schools, 1961-1968

Beth Marsden (University of Melbourne School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, Melbourne, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 2 October 2018

Issue publication date: 30 November 2018




The purpose of this paper is to examine the ways in which the mobility of indigenous people in Victoria during the 1960s enabled them to resist the policy of assimilation as evident in the structures of schooling. It argues that the ideology of assimilation was pervasive in the Education Department’s approach to Aboriginal education and inherent in the curriculum it produced for use in state schools. This is central to the construction of the state of Victoria as being devoid of Aboriginal people, which contributes to a particularly Victorian perspective of Australia’s national identity in relation to indigenous people and culture.


This paper utilises the state school records of the Victorian Department of Education, as well as the curriculum documentation and resources the department produced. It also examines the records of the Aborigines Welfare Board.


The Victorian Education Department’s curriculum constructed a narrative of learning and schools which denied the presence of Aboriginal children in classrooms, and in the state of Victoria itself. These representations reflect the Department and the Victorian Government’s determination to deny the presence of Aboriginal children, a view more salient in Victoria than elsewhere in the nation due to the particularities of how Aboriginality was understood. Yet the mobility of Aboriginal students – illustrated in this paper through a case study – challenged both the representations of Aboriginal Victorians, and the school system itself.


This paper is inspired by the growing scholarship on Indigenous mobility in settler-colonial studies and offers a new perspective on assimilation in Victoria. It interrogates how curriculum intersected with the position of Aboriginal students in Victorian state schools, and how their position – which was often highly mobile – was influenced by the practices of assimilation, and by Aboriginal resistance and responses to assimilationist practices in their lives. This paper contributes to histories of assimilation, Aboriginal history and education in Victoria.



Marsden, B. (2018), "“The system of compulsory education is failing”: Assimilation, mobility and Aboriginal students in Victorian State schools, 1961-1968", History of Education Review, Vol. 47 No. 2, pp. 143-154.



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