top of page
  • Milton James and Jaq James

The 1960s Aboriginal Fruit-Picking Scheme provides evidence of female worker mobility and The Girl E

The Girl Effect includes the claim that when women earn an income, they reinvest an average 90 percent of it into their families, compared to 30 to 40 percent for men. For this reason, women should be the focus of our assistance to help bring an end to family poverty. But where is the evidence that supports this claim? This paper provides anecdotal evidence of the truth of this claim, at least for Aboriginal women from Hermannsburg Mission in Central Australia who left home for work at the Berri cannery in South Australia between 1969 and 1972.

Alfa Raberaba was one of the 10 women from the Hermannsburg Mission in Central Australia that worked at the South Australian Berri cannery in 1969. She gave me the following account of her experience in the group in answer to a series of questions:

Pictured above is Alfa Raberaba, aged 85, at her home in Ataria/Hermannsburg

on 20 May 2012.

Tell me about the time when you went down south to work at the Berri cannery?

This was my first job. I was about forty-five years old then. I was married with four children. I went for the work. I was cleaning apricots. We sometimes worked on Saturday.

What was the pay like?

It was very good money. I put my money in savings bank and bring it home.

Did you like it down there?

Yes, I liked it. I went lots of times; three or four times.

How long did you stay down there for?

I think we were there for about twelve weeks.

Who helped you down there?

Mrs Sweet looked after us. She worked in the kitchen.

Did you visit any places while you were down there?

We went by bus to Loxton church.

Did you like it down there?

Yes, I like it. I was unhappy when it stopped.

Kathleen Inkamala was one of the 10 women from the Hermannsburg Mission that worked at the Berri cannery in 1969. She gave me the following account of her experience in the group in answer to a series of questions:

Pictured above is Kathleen Inkamala at her home in Alice Springs.

I heard you were part of the 1969 Berri cannery group?

Yes, I went down only one time, that was the first group. There was me, my sister Noreen, Arfa, Iris, Marilyn, Agatha, Ethel and Irene, and her sister-in-law Sarah.

What was it like down there?

It was good. We were very busy working. I was washing and cutting apricots and peaches. Some were working in putting them in tins. Noreen and Pauline were putting them into tins. I was washing them.

I read that Sarah came back early?

Yes, Sarah went back home early, she was expecting a baby and Marilyn went with her for company. I stayed until the season finished.

What did you do with your money?

I saved my money in the bank. I didn’t spend much money. I just buy some ice-cream. I liked the ice-cream and I buy some drinks.

What did you do with your savings?

I gave my money to my father for food. Me and my sister gave all our money to our father.

Where did you stay down there?

We stayed in hostel. One lady looked after us. We were happy there. We sticked together.

Did you visit any places while you were down there?

We go together to see the drive-in. We walked there with that lady. She take us to Gerard Mission. Her husband was Pastor there. In morning we went to Lutheran church. One white man came. At night we went to Gerard church. Sometimes we went to Renmark to have a look around.

Were you happy down there?

Yes, we were happy there.

How old were you then?

I was about twenty years old—single—no children. I now have six children. I lost one daughter, and have twelve grandchildren.

Irene Entata was one of the 10 women from the Hermannsburg Mission that worked at the Berri cannery in 1969. She gave me the following account of her experience in the group in answer to a series of questions:

Pictured above is Irene Entata, aged 68, at her home in Ataria/Hermannsburg

on 26 May 2012.

I read that you were in the 1969 Berri cannery group?

Yes, I went maybe two or three times. Maybe two times.

Who looked after you down there?

Mary looked after us. She was from South Australia.

How many ladies went down?

I think there was ten of us the first time. I think there was the same number the next time.

Did you like it?

Yes, I liked it.

Were you homesick?

No, I wasn’t homesick. I didn’t get sick.

What was your job?

My job was taking the seed out of the apricot. We cut them by knife.

What was the accommodation like?

The place where we living was good. There was big kitchen.

What was the money like?

It was good money.

What did you do with your money?

I brought my money home to my family. I only buy some clothes.

Were you happy down there?

Yes, I was happy down there. We liked seeing new places. I was single. I had no children then.

Did you visit any other places while you were there?

We went one time to a rodeo. We walk into town. It was a nice little town. We visited Loxton and Renmark. We saw a big snake down there, we were very scared.

Why did the scheme stop?

I don’t know why it stopped.

What did your family think of it?

My family was happy to see me go.

The Girl Effect is a movement based on the proposed unique potential of young females to end poverty for themselves and the world, which, previously, was generally unrecognised or undervalued by aid organisations.

The Girl Effect was created in 2008 by the Nike Foundation, in collaboration with the NoVo Foundation, the United Nations Foundation and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls. It launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos with a film that challenged people to think differently about the role girls play in development. Today, it’s claimed that The Girl Effect is driven by hundreds of thousands of supporters, including celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey who has her own school for adolescent girls in Africa, who believe in the potential of the approximate 600 million adolescent girls living in poverty. The website,, exists to help this community to continue making a powerful case for supporting girls.

The movement centres around the belief that, when given the opportunity to be included in education, healthcare and economic investment, girls and women are more likely to delay pregnancy and marriage, avoid the contraction of STDs, and are more effective at lifting themselves and their families out of poverty, thereby having a multiplier effect within their villages, cities, and nations. This multiplier effect is based on the belief that, as an educated mother, an active and productive citizen, and a prepared employee, she’s the most influential force in her family and community to break the cycle of poverty.

There is ample literature supporting the fact that there are correlations between young females having access to education, health care, economic investment, reduced teen-pregnancy and child marriage, reduced risk of STD contraction, greater participation in civic life, and increased engagement in paid employment. There is also a significant amount of literature that supports the positive effects of these correlations on the children of the mothers.

However, one of the most remarkable and novel claims made by The Girl Effect to support the view of the multiplier effect is a report written by the Population Council that makes reference to a 2003 Yale Daily News article by Chris Fortson that, “when women and girls earn an income, they reinvest an average 90 percent of it into their families, compared to 30 to 40 percent for men.”[1] When examining the Forton article, it’s discovered that he’s referring to a speech given by Isobel Coleman at Yale University where she referred to a study that made this claim, but neither Coleman, Fortson or the Population Council provided the original source.

The Girl Effect’s page on Wikipedia also makes a claim that another “study has shown that an educated girl will invest 10–20 times more income back into her family and community than a man would.” Attributed to this claim was the following footnote:

$1 in female hands is worth $10 (and in some cases $20) in male hands as women tend to invest money directly back into the family, children, education, health care, etc. while men spend it elsewhere. Source: Analysis by Shelley Clark, commissioned by the Population Council and Nike, who projected using suitable life event data from Malawi, Kenya, and Zimbabwe the proportion of women whose marriages will be disrupted by divorce or widowhood. This analysis excluded those who were never married, whether or not they had children, did not capture those in polygamous union or women who were economically abandoned by their husbands—this data is probably the lower boundary of a proportion of women who carry this responsibility.

A search was done for Clark’s study, but all that was found was this exact footnote lifted from a footnote in a PowerPoint slide produced by the Population Council, which was actually a footnote for a totally different claim relating to women in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Malawi being on their own at some point in their lives before the age of 50 years.[2]

Thus, based on the above, it’s arguable that there is no persuasive evidence presented by The Girl Effect that females invest more of their income back into their families and communities than males. This does not mean that this isn’t true, but official research needs to be done across multiple countries in order for such a claim to prevail.

What is important is that the 1960s Aboriginal Fruit-Picking Scheme does provide evidence that these Aboriginal women from Hermannsburg Mission were investing more of their income back into their families and mission community than males. There is no evidence of any male sending money home to their family. They did bring money and goods home, and presumably some of this was shared with family members. However, in the majority of cases, this wouldn’t have occurred if the Welfare Branch did not manage their expenditures. Otherwise, much or all of their income would have been wasted on grog or other intemperate activities. Indeed, one man said to me, “we just make money for grog.”[3]

The Director of the Northern Territory Welfare Branch said that the male fruit pickers did not support their wives and children while they were away; they left this responsibility to the missions and settlements.[4] [5] According to the Acting Assistant Director (Southern Division) of the Northern Territory Welfare Branch, Mr Lovegrove, “The men did not support their wives and families [when away], but they do not do this [when home] on the settlements …”[6] The women, on the other hand, managed all their own income they received from the Berri cannery, and we have statements from the surviving members of these cannery workers saying that most of their income was brought back home and handed over to the head of the family for the benefit of the whole family.

It was a tremendous loss to the women and their families when these Berri cannery work groups were terminated, for no failing on their part. This opportunity and the flow on benefits to their families were lost due to: 1) redefining a work scheme as a training scheme; and 2) the deplorable behaviour of the men. In the words of Berri Mayor, Douglas Rosenthal, “The problem at Berri is a national disgrace.” Indeed it was a disgrace, and not only the manner in which Mayor Rosenthal was referring to—the entire group engaging in a mindless drunken brawl in the main street of Berri. Mayor Rosenthal said, “And it is all because he [the Aborigines] cannot handle alcohol.” This was true, but it was the South Australian Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA) and the Federal Department of Labour and National Service (DLNS) that invited these particular men with an appetite for grog and a propensity for violence into the scheme. The Ernabella Mission Labour Export Project did not have this sort of problem.

To use the words of the late Albert Grassby MP, this scheme had the potential to give these people “a new economic independence and a new status as one of the human assets of the nation instead of being a burden to be regretfully carried.”[7] When he said this, he had men in mind—not women. If this scheme had given greater attention to women, Mr Grassby MP’s vision may well have been achieved, at least for these women. Instead, we would see many of these women go on to live short tragic lives due to their abuse of alcohol and by the hand of violent drunken men.

This paper is a modified excerpt from the book titled, 1960s Aboriginal Fruit-Picking Scheme—A Critical Evaluation: An instructive history of social policy, social work, and Central Australian Aborigines, by Milton James. Chapter 17, 'Looking at these women's groups from the perspective of The Girl Effect,' was written by Jaq James.

[1] Temin, M., et. al. (2013). Girls on the Move: Adolescent Girls & Migration in the Developing World, Population Council, p. 54, referencing Fortson, C (2003), “Women’s Rights Vital for Developing World”, Yale Daily News, 14 February 2003.

[2] Bruce, J. (2010). “Building the Health, Social and Economic Assets of the Poorest Girls in the Developing World Workshop” (PowerPoint presentation), Population Council,, accessed 29 December 2013.

[3] James, M. (2018). The 1960s Aboriginal Fruit-Picking Scheme—A Critical Evaluation, Critical Social Work Publishing House, p. 294.

[4] Letter by H.C. Giese, Director of Social Welfare, titled, “Aboriginal Fruit Pickers for Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area 1967”, to the Regional Director, Department of Labour & National Service, dated 6 June 1966, NAA F1 1966/4682—65/4612.

[5] Gus Williams was the only man that arranged to bring his wife and children down from the Hermannsburg Mission to stay with him while he worked on the Gundagai asparagus farm. Two wives and an infant from Ernabella Mission attended the 1966 Barmera group, and two wives and an infant from Amata attended the 1968 Lyrup group.

[6] Report by T.C. Lovegrove, Acting Assistant Director, Southern Region, titled, “Fruit Pickers—Shepparton”, to the Director, dated 28 March 1968, NAA F1 1968/913—66/393/177.

[7] Article titled, “300 Aborigines from Territory”, The Area News, Griffith, dated Tuesday 14 February 1967, p. 2.

#GirlEffect #femaleworkmobility #femaleworkers #Aboriginalworkers #remittances #financialselfreliance

194 views0 comments
bottom of page