Aboriginal family life has been disrupted and forcibly changed over the last two hundred years, as a result of the many segregation and assimilation policies introduced by Australian governments. Often a combination of the two was employed. The policy of segregation has impacted upon Aboriginal family life, for through this policy, Aboriginals were restricted and prohibited to practice their traditional culture, hence, resulting in the loss of their Indigenous identity and limiting the cultural knowledge for future Aboriginal generations. The segregation policy also achieved in disfiguring the roles of family members, primarily the male’s role within the family. The policy of assimilation, in comparison to the segregation policies, has also affected Aboriginal family life, because through the removal of children from their Aboriginal homes they to as a result were deprived of their Indigenous identity and cultural links. However, the policy of assimilation has had far greater an impact upon Aboriginal family life, for it has not only separated families and communities, but denied the parenting and nurturing of a generation of Aboriginal peoples and has also attributed to breakdowns in relationships between the non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal parent.
As European domination began, the way in which the Europeans chose to deal with the Aborigines was through the policy of segregation. This policy included the establishment of a reserve system. The government reserves were set up to take aboriginals out of their known habitat and culture, while in turn, encouraging them to adapt the European way of life. The Aboriginal Protection Act of 1909 established strict controls for aborigines living on the reserves . In exchange for food, shelter and a little education, aborigines were subjected to the discipline of police and reserve managers. They had to follow the rules of the reserve and tolerate searchers of their homes and themselves. Their children could be taken away at any time and apprenticed out as cheap labour for Europeans. The old ways of the Aborigines were attacked by regimented efforts to make them European . Their identities were threatened by giving them European names and clothes, and by removing them from their traditional lands and placing them on centralised reserves among Aboriginal people from many different tribes.
The policy of segregation had an enormous impact on the lives of aborigines. Despite being discriminated against, the aboriginal people were being deprived the right to practice and maintain traditional aspects of their culture, thus their children were being taught to reject their aboriginality. In turn the rapid decline in population meant that many elders were dead and thus many rituals and traditions were lost . The loss of elders and the prohibition of practicing rituals impacted on aboriginal family life, as a result of being unable to show their children traditional dances, native language and stories of the dreamtime, cultural knowledge was not sufficiently carried on or passed down to the next generation therefore hindering Aboriginal traditional life and depriving Aboriginal children of their indigenous identity.
The reserves also held repercussions for the structure and roles within the aboriginal family. The role and status of men more than women was effected, thus many Aboriginal men, especially unemployed, slipped into aimlessness . Traditionally the male role within the family was that of hunter and gatherer. It was the husband, or fathers role to find and provide food for his family. As a result of Aboriginals being considered inferior to whites, thus acquiring a lower rate of pay, many families became dependent on food handouts provided by the missionaries and reserves, thus the fathers role of gathering for his family was subsequently lost, in turn isolating and alienating him from his family. Due to what was seen as the Aboriginal fathers inadequacies, despite having been placed in areas where there was little employment, segregation had accentuated assimilation, for the preparation had been adequately achieved.