Joan Strack could speak from personal experience. No less than three Aboriginal apprentices had worked for her in the past, and at the time of writing she was employing an ex-apprentice, previously indentured to her mother. As she recorded what happened to these women at the hands of the Aborigines Protection Board, her growing outrage hardened to such an extent that she joined the Aboriginal leaders of the Aborigines Progressive Association (APA), Pearl Gibbs and Bill Ferguson, in calling for its abolition. Her story of activism in the late-1930s campaign for Aboriginal rights defies categorisation: a conservative, privileged woman in many ways typical of those to whom the board allocated apprentices, she found herself in the ‘enemy camp’, so to speak. But Joan Strack herself saw no irony in her position. ‘For generations my people have employed, have loved & understood the Aboriginals of N.S.W.,’ she wrote to the Premier in 1938, appealing to him to meet an APA deputation. ‘I myself have had them always in my home… & I know their dire need of just ordinary justice.' The granddaughter of successful English–Scottish selectors at Wallaga Lake on the Far South Coast of New South Wales, Joan in later years would tell people she too had been born there, but in fact she only ever visited. Her real birthplace, in 1892, was at her parents’ home in the outer northern suburbs of Sydney, her father having been an engineer on the new railway line. As a wife and mother who lived most of her life in the comfortable suburbs of Sydney’s North Shore, Joan Strack indeed personified the urban caste of ‘well-heeled upper-middle-class ladies who took black domestics’ in the 20th century. Yet her outspoken opposition to this policy had arisen directly out of her personal relationships with her workers, and in this she was exceptional: the vast majority of white mistresses did not speak out against the system which in most cases worked in their own interests. What Joan Strack did was highly unusual, but it is an important story to tell, yielding a personal insight into a history of relationships between white and Aboriginal women that generations of repression and denial have obscured.
Uncommon Ground: White Women in Aboriginal History p. 57-79