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:
I personally did discover, in years gone by, the names of dead natives still on the list as being fed, or being paid for. We hold, particularly in the far North, a number of large reserves. Some of these are held for stations, and others for the future use of natives. The reason for the establishment of cattle stations was, briefly, the fact that in years gone by the natives killed the settlers’ cattle to a large extent, and that the authorities were at their wit’s end to know what to do to prevent this. They used to gaol the aborigines, and the police were always out chasing cattle killers. Moola Bulla was established in 1911. Prior to that the State was spending about £10,000 a year in bringing natives to justice and keeping them in gaol. In 1903 there were 314 natives in gaol, and in 1909 there were 369. As soon as the native stations were established, the killing began to decline. Wherever the stations have influence today, there is no cattle killing at all. There may be an odd case, once or twice in a year; but the killing has practically ceased, and the cost now is infinitely less than it was in those days.
24. The stations, of course, are not expected to pay, and in fact do not pay; but they are run at a very limited cost and earn quite a lot of money, which goes into the Treasury. The average annual cost of a station like Moola Bulla is about £800, whereas the average annual cost of a place like Moore River is about £4,000. The cattle stations are a very cheap means of settling the native difficulty. Those stations are sanctuaries to which all the natives repair whenever they want to. They sit down for a few weeks, enjoy as much meat as they can eat, and then go off again. But always the principle is adopted that the natives have to do some work before they are fed. The question of native stations is very important to the North. They extend along the whole coastline…
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…of our State, and practically to Queensland.
25. There has been poaching by aliens along that coast for many years, and the aliens have been in contact with the natives. They have introduced Asiatic diseases, and altogether their association with natives has been most undesirable. Huge reserves for aborigines are quite useless unless adequately protected, and they cannot be protected by regulation alone. There must be somebody there in authority to safeguard them. There are always men of an adventurous turn of mind travelling around the coast, both foreign and British, ever indifferent to the risk of their lives. They treat lightly any possible danger from natives. Unfortunately it is these men that have done the harm, harm which is aggravated by the further necessity for police intervention. A spirit of antagonism has been raised up between the natives on the one part and the gospel of putting in the boot on the other. This mutual antagonism will remain wherever natives are numerous, and probably it will become more serious unless steps are taken to improve the position. I foresee constant friction and probably a repetition of some of those regrettable incidents which we have read about lately, and which discredit the name of Australia abroad. It is too late to shut the door after the horse has gone out. We have even had the occupation of these reserves of ours by whites within recent years, without any knowledge of the authorities whatever. There is nothing to prevent persons from landing and establishing themselves in freelance fashion on the reserves, possibly to the ultimate embarrassment of the department end the Government.
26. The one authority which the natives readily recognise is the Government, not as exemplified by the police, whom they classify as something apart, but as exemplified by the agencies established by the department, specially created for the natives. The Aborigines Department have to bridge the gulf between the two factions, and there is not any other agency…
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…which can do it equally well or gain the confidence of the natives to the same extent. It is my view that on every reserve of any magnitude there should be a Government native station such as those we possess in the North. Some of these stations should be large, some just big enough to suit local requirements, and others mere depots. The managers of these stations are picked men, married, living with their wives; and so far as we are concerned the sites for these places are co-terminous with the tribal districts. These managers are trusted by the natives, and respected by them. They do their duty without fear or favour, and are of a type mostly found in the North — virile, capable, resourceful. At Munja Station on the west the natives will carry the sick 200 miles so that the manager may tend them.
27. You mean their own sick people ? — Yes. Should that manager require to admonish a native for wrong-doing, he simply sends a message to the man to come in and the man comes in and submits to his punishment. The oldest-established native customs, such as the promising of children of tender years to old men already possessed of wives, are giving way under our system, and family life is being restored on those stations and children arc increasing there. My point is that if the department concerned with the welfare and protection of the natives gets in first and establishes its relations with the natives, that is the proper and indeed the only way to be adopted for policing those large areas, or rather I should say caring for the natives in those unsettled areas. We should get in first, so to speak. We have to pave the way for white settlers, and in the process we have to see that a fair deal is given to the natives. The money that is spent on the apprehension of wrong-doers, on the search for missing whites, and on maintenance of remote police stations might be better spent on the provision and upkeep of these outposts.
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26. Coastal stations should have a vessel attached to them, provided with auxiliary power and with a wireless receiving or transmitting set. Since the native stations were established in the Kimberleys and the method of dealing with cattle killers was altered, a number of police stations have been closed there, and thus there has been some reduction in the police force stationed in the Kimberleys. Before Munja was established there had been a number of murders of whites, and probably of blacks too, but mostly of whites so far as we know, in the area north of Munja. Since the station was established, there has been nothing of the kind, and the natives are rapidly becoming accustomed to whites; in fact, settlement is increasing. Before that the few isolated settlers had to get out. Now you can go anywhere in that country with comparative safety. The native station is better than the police station, so far as the North is concerned. However, I do not deprecate the wonderful work the police have done. They have been only obeying orders and using traditional methods. I think those methods should give place to others which do not create hostility in the native mind and which in the end succeed in bringing about order and goodwill, and even-handed justice to white and black alike. I do not want to reflect upon the missionaries in what I have said. The missionary is doing good work, and the department can use him as its agent. But, generally speaking, this work is beyond the means and facilities of missionary endeavour, and is the Government ‘s job.
29. What I want to emphasise is that the voice of authority is the only voice which the natives will regard. These northern stations of ours have not got the institutional character of the southern settlements. The natives on the northern stations have an unrestricted life, and the stations are very popular with them. Whether the institutional element will have to come in at a later date I do not know.
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I fancy it will, because we have the half-caste children brought in from other stations, and those children have to be cared for and educated. The life on those northern stations is the life which the natives themselves understand.
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