Bungalow history fobbed off by Feds, NT Government



History was made in the Bungalow, now better known as the Overland Telegraph Station, as the place where taken-away children were interned, but also where people spent their youth who later became outstanding Australian leaders.

But neither the Federal nor the NT minister for Aboriginal affairs deem it worth to give financial support for a “detailed and definitive history” proposed by John P McD Smith.

He is the chair of the St Francis’ House Project in Adelaide where several of the high achievers received advanced education.

There may be a turning point as last week the author, who does not wish to be named, of a PHD work about the Bungalow, and Stuart Traynor, author of Alice Springs, From Singing Wire to Iconic Outback Town have offered their collaboration.

As we reported Federal Minister Ken Wyatt is sitting on $1.2 billion of Aboriginal Benefits Account money idle in the bank while with Covid-19 governments and businesses are facing what could well become the world’s greatest financial catastrophe.

Mr Wyatt doesn’t think a few thousand dollars is worth spending on an historic account of The Bungalow, says Mr Smith.

Neither it turns out does his Territory counterpart, Selena Uibo (pictured), professing that the NT Government “is constantly seeking opportunities to reconcile the atrocities of the past in relation to the intergenerational trauma incurred as a result of assimilation race-based policy.”

But as for money: “There are a number of literary awards that can be accessed …”

And anyway, Ms Uibo is telling Mr Smith that Mr Wyatt is partnering with “the Healing Foundation to adequately capture the history of individual experiences” and this might “also be a pathway accessible to you.”

The NT minister also suggested that a partnership might be developed with the Charles Darwin University, “which may be able to identify a PhD candidate to base their research thesis on The Bungalow to adequately research the history,” writes Ms Uibo.

To place such a far-reaching and historically important project in the hands of one professional is not enough, says Mr Smith.

“To do justice to the stolen children this project requires the input of a team of committed professionals carefully selected for the task. They need to be properly resourced and properly supported with support staff over what would be a long-term assignment. 

“It is realistically only the Federal government and/or the Northern Territory government who have the resources to properly fund such a project.

“This is a racially sensitive national Aboriginal project that is deserving of the highest government input. The definitive history of The Bungalow needs to be addressed with the greatest respect and deep sensitivity,” says Mr Smith.

“Repeated government suggestions of sideline ways of achieving this task are disappointing. It is a programme that needs to start now while there are still people living who can tell their stories to the researchers.”

PHOTO: Bungalow children pictured in 1934 by Dr Charles Duiguid.


  1. Would a Bungalow history look at the distress caused during the time of Superintendent Freeman in the 1930s?

  2. The Alice Springs News has done more to recognise Bungalow history than any government or university. #recognise

  3. “It is a programme that needs to start now while there are still people living who can tell their stories to the researchers.” Agreed!

  4. Why tell only half the story – The Bungalow originated in the township of Stuart in 1914 when Topsy Smith, newly widowed and on her way back to her Arabana country in South Australia with her youngest children and herding a flock of about 450 goats, was stopped at Stuart where 150 goats were taken from her, probably requisitioned for Army supplies, and she and her youngest children were housed in a tent.
    A fibro and tin shed was later built to house Topsy and family, and a number of the mixed blood children stolen from Aboriginal families were brought to Topsy for “mothering” and teaching them basic education along with Ada Standley, new teacher at the township.
    The old Telegraph Station location for The Bungalow wasn’t started until 1930, after Topsy Smith and Ada Standley retired, mainly because the newly relocated to Jay Creek didn’t have sufficient water to support The Bungalow and its inhabitants.
    Why leave out the origins of The Bungalow and refer to it as the Overland Telegraph Station?

  5. @ Sam N: Your mention of Freeman piqued my curiosity as coincidentally he was mentioned in B. E. Baume’s “Tragedy Track” which I was reading.
    Eric Baume waxed lyrical about the prospects of the “half-caste boys and girls” being moved from Jay-Creek to the Old Telegraph Station where the Freeman family would train them “to meet life”.
    In Wikipedia I read that in 1934 (two years after Baume’s lyrical waxing) Gordon Keith Freeman was arrested for the rape of a 16-year-old girl in the dormitories late at night.
    Freeman served 30 days of a three month sentence.
    “Many people did not think this was suitable punishment with some believing it was too light and many it was too harsh.”
    That was Alice Springs nine decades ago – sound familiar?

  6. Dr Charles Duguid who established the Ernabella Mission in 1937 visited Alice Springs in 1934. He was appalled with what he saw at “The Bungalow.
    “[Father] Percy Smith introduced me to The Bungalow. It was a happy enough place for the babies … but their future held little hope. In their later teens they would be drafted out to work – the girls as servants … the boys to whatever work was available in the cattle-stations.
    “They were not paid in cash.
    “The lot of the ‘half-caste’ girls was tragic.
    Far too often they became the playthings of white men … The mental and spiritual deprivations were even more deplorable.
    “The education of children at The Bungalow was negligible. The land takers had made no attempt to teach the Aborigines how to adapt themselves to this cataclysmic change in their circumstances … Their entire way of life [was] destroyed.
    “As a doctor, I was appalled by the physical condition of the Aborigines. Its most dastardly aspect was the spread of venereal disease through pregnancies forced upon Aboriginal women by infected white men.
    “The eyes of all the babies born to these infected women were damaged by gonorrhea, often with serious impairment of vision.”

  7. Aside from a mention in the main article, I wonder that no-one has referred to Stuart Traynor’s superb book “Alice Springs, From Singing Wire to Iconic Outback Town” that provides the most readily available detailed account of the history of The Bungalow.
    Kieran Finnane wrote an excellent review of Traynor’s new book in 2016 with special reference to the history of The Bungalow.
    Stuart Traynor’s offer to collaborate with John P. McD. Smith’s proposal for a “detailed and definitive history” of The Bungalow is surely a ringing endorsement of the worthiness of this project.
    That NT minister for Aboriginal affairs Selena Uibo is apparently so dismissive of it is all the more striking given that her boss Michael Gunner presided over the Chief Minister’s History Book Award which was won by Stuart Traynor in 2017.
    All of which reminds me it’s high time to re-acquaint myself with Stuart’s book again – I highly recommend it as a thoroughly fascinating read.

  8. When apartheid came to an end in South Africa in the 1990s the new government established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate every aspect of apartheid.
    Archbishop Desmond Tutu was made the chair.
    In the same way the Australian government and/or the Northern Territory government need to initiate the proper researching and publishing of the history of The Bungalow, Alice Springs.
    Australia needs to acknowledge the terrible suffering that was inflicted on Aboriginal children and their families over a period of 50 years when these children were taken forcibly from their families. This is a question of morality for which the Australian government and/or the Northern Territory government must take the initiative on behalf of the Australian people and as a mark of respect to Aboriginal people.
    To fob off the initiative to various piecemeal organisations is an insult to the stolen children.
    Come on Minister Wyatt and Minister Uibo, do the right thing.
    We’ve had The National Inquiry but that is not enough.
    We can never move forward without remembering the past.
    We do not progress without an honest and unclouded memory.

  9. Great commentary on a very enlightening article. Such valuable insights from the many who remember way back when these events occurred.
    Many who would have known or been related to those who experienced life in this remote town way before many of us had arrived.
    It is and should be valued narration, from those who know and those who are passing on to the many of us who want to know.
    My background knowledge has come about from a wealth of experiences that I have shared with others and many, who over that time, by their own admission, have said they have experienced little change in their own lifetime here in “The Centre”.
    When I read the above article I concur with one reader’s comment.
    “The Alice Springs News has done more … than any government or university” not just to recognise a sound history of our town and surrounding communities, it has provided us the platform to express our differing opinions to what all adds up to being a “Territorian” in Alice Springs.
    I will leave with many incredible memories.


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