State Records Office of Western Australia
Title: Transcript of evidence 1934
Item 1 & Item 2
Aborigines Royal Commission 005-3
Monday, 12th March, 1934
H. D. Moseley, Esq., Commissioner.
AUBUR [sic] OCTAVIUS NEVILLE, Chief Protector of Aborigines, sworn and examined:
[Handwritten insert] Coming to Paragraph (d) of the Commission “Disease amongst aborigines and measures for their treatment”
When I became Chief Protector, I found there was an impression, particularly in the North, that the natives were very much afflicted with venereal disease. There were hospitals on Bernier and Dorre Islands capable of treating 480 patients annually. Actually while those hospitals were in existence, for nine or 10 years, 600 patients in all were treated at an annual cost of over £70 per head, which is enormous. That did not include the cost of collection and transport. There were never more than 100 patients at a time on the islands, usually between 50 and 60. Fear of the sea was one of the causes which prevented diseased natives from being discovered, for no doubt they used to hide. There was then an officer who used to travel about collecting diseased natives. The journeys to which I am about to refer took place between 1913 and 1917. On his first trip this officer went, it was thought he would secure about 200 patients. Actually he got only 47. On another expedition, in 1915, he got only 13 patients, and on his final trip he found only 32 bad enough to be sent to the islands.
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After very carefully surveying the position, I recommended that the Government should close those hospitals—they were simply wasting money—and that in their stead hospitals should be erected on the mainland and the natives encouraged to enter them. One hospital was established at Port Hedland and another at Derby. At that time there was very little talk of leprosy. Only 13 cases were discovered between 1909 and 1917. From 1920 to 1923 11 more cases were discovered, including one white, and from 1924 to 1929, 27 cases were found. I mention this specifically to show that most of the leprosy discovered has been within the last three or four years. As regards venereal disease, hospitals on the islands seemed to have cleaned up the existing cases so far as they could be found, but those cases never included patients from the country beyond the usual confines of civilisation. The department has made every effort to convey to the hospitals any native afflicted with venereal disease. Protectors have been enjoined to report every case discovered, and they have to make an annual statement of the conditions in their districts. In 1917 I sought the permission of the Commissioner of Public Health to enable certain of my officers and one or two missionaries to administer a certain form of treatment for cases of venereal disease and he agreed. Throughout the North there are now some 12 officers entitled to do that. They reside in places beyond the reach of ordinary medical aid. There has never been discovered amongst natives the amount of venereal disease alleged to exist. On many occasions we have asked medical officers to visit certain areas and the result has always been more or less the same, namely that they could not find the cases said to exist.
14. In recent years the incidence of the disease has become more apparent. In 1922 I pointed out that venereal disease was increasing and that natives were suffering from other forms of disease. I myself had been through the Kimberleys and I urged the advisableness of a medical inspection right through the North in order to ascertain the prevalence of venereal disease,
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leprosy, and other complaints. In 1923, I repeated that suggestion. We had an outbreak of hookworm in 1921, but owing to prompt measures taken by the Rockefeller survey party under Dr. Baldwin, that appears to have been eliminated, as a result of those representations. Dr Cecil Cook, a Commonwealth officer, was loaned to us in 1924. He went through the North and made a survey. He was an expert in tropical diseases. He visited practically every station in the Kimberleys and in the North-West as far south as Roebourne. He examined in all 2,432 natives and found four cases of leprosy in natives and 84 natives suffering from granuloma venereum. It in important to explain the difference between venereal diseases. There are three forms from which the natives seem to suffer. Granuloma venereum is an Asiatic disease, which was evidently introduced by Asiatics years ago. So far as I can judge, it is the most easily cured of the lot. It does not seem to afflict whites or it has not afflicted whites here, although I believe it can do so. There is also ordinary syphilis from which the natives have not suffered to any great extent, and lastly there is gonorrhoea which is the commonest form, and the form that is increasing, it being so easily conveyed from one to another. It is the early stage of venereal disease and can easily be cleaned up. We have been administering special treatment for granuloma at our own hospitals and have turned out hundreds of natives apparently cured. It is not a long treatment; the natives are in hospital as a rule for only three or four weeks. Some natives have returned re-infected and have been discharged again cured. Dr Cook made several important recommendations.