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:
We have 173 of these accounts in operation carrying a balance of over £2,300, and I have invested on behalf of those youngsters something like £2,400. They are quite capable of saying their money and knowing what to do with it, provided there is someone to guide then in their earlier years. That is just the nucleus of what I hope will be done as time goes on.
33. Before lunch, you asked for Dr. Cook’s report.
I have not the original but I have a copy which the Commonwealth authorities sent to us. It begins on page 235 of Medical and Public Health file 1765/23 (Exhibit 13).
34. That brings us to G, the question of missions.
In every annual report issued by me there is a statement showing the number of missions, something of what they are doing, and where they are situated. Altogether there are 11 places where missionaries work. There are six organised missions in the North, five of which are subsidised. There are four in the South, not subsidised but two of which are used at ration stations by the dept. In years gone by there used to be terrific confusion in regard to the subsidies of missions, and for years my predecessor tried to find a settlement of the difficulty. However he did not succeed and when I came I found that some missions were receiving inordinate amounts, while others, carrying out practically the same work, were receiving very little. So I sought to get the thing on a proper basis. We did that in time by first of all deciding the amount it took to keep an inmate in a mission. That amount is based on the accepted standard in the North which is £10 and in the South £14. But that implied that the mission, being a philanthropic institution, would assist upon keeping those people. Moreover, some missions were settled on very large native reserves and were run as cattle stations, in addition to their other activities. It was considered that those missions were in a better position to help themselves than others which had no land. So it was arranged that the subsidy which the State…
[End of page 37]
…should pay to a mission which had a large area of land granted by the State should be £5 per head per annum, the mission to pay the other £5; and in respeot of those missions which had no land to speak of the amount was fixed at £7. That is the existing system. In order to get at this, it was necessary that every mission should be inspected, so that the dept should be satisfied that the inmates and children at the mission were proper subjects for Govt relief. Those missions as far as possible were inspected and it was quite evident that a number of the inmates should not be receiving Govt relief at all; in other words, they were able-bodied and quite capable of getting work. Inspections were made and the inmates were all listed, and each mission was provided with a subsidy on the monetary basis I have mentioned, in accordance with the inmates it was looking after who otherwise would be the care of the Govt. Naturally, that created considerable divergence in respect of the grants being made; it amounted to this, that the greatest pleaders got the most. However they have not been able to do that since the system was altered. I put in a return which shows what the missions have had from the State since 1898. It begins in Mr. Princep’s time and comes down to 1933 (Exhibit 14). In that time the protestant missions, numerically stronger than the Roman Catholic, have received £29,986 or 53.98 per cent of the money, while the Roman Catholic missions have received £25,569, or 46.02 of the money. I mention that because I have been accused of partiality, a defect I have studiously avoided. The figures speak for themselves.
[End of page 38]
As in other matters, we are awaiting amendments to the Act in order to frame regulations designed to assist us in respect to the work of the missions. There are no such regulations at present. While the Chief Protector considers Inmates of missions to be subject to his care, as are natives elsewhere, he has no authority to demand to be supplied with information or to insist upon reforms and alterations. Missions should be subject to departmental supervision. They should submit annual reports. The Minister should have power to issue a permit or permits to persons desiring to embark on missionary work, either individually or as institutions. Trouble arises from the fact that missionaries are unsuitable and entirely ignorant of the natives or of what they may expect to find in the mission field, and consequently they fail. In the event of a mission not doing good work, the only remedy is for the department to take it over, if it is willing, or to cancel the reserve on whicb it operates. Neither of these courses has so far been adopted, though we have temporarily managed missions at the request of the authorities.
36. I consider that Government stations and settlements are preferable to missions because, and mainly because, Government authority is recognised above all things by the natives. I have no objection whatever to missionary effort at settlements and stations under departmental regulations. The mission authorities are so hampered by their efforts to get money and do the practical work that there in not much time left for the spiritual side. Still, in view of our own ineptitude, I do not wish to cast stones at the missions. The department has so far been unable to afford a fitting example of what a settlement should be as a guide to the missions.
37. I do not agree with all that the missions do, such as curtailing the liberty of the subject, interfering with tribal customs, marrying against tbs wishes of the people, or consummating unsuitable marriages. Some of those matters we propose…
[End of page 39]
…to regulate by law. At the same time, it cannot be denied that the missions are doing splendid work of a charitable kind, much of which the State should have been doing. Much improvement is needed from the medical point of view. Personally I do not oppose the teaching of the ethics of Christianity. I consider that youngsters who are to go out to work amongst us — we profess to be a Christian nation — should also be taught something of the same Christianity in which we profess to believe in order that there may be some sort of similarity between their ideas and ours, quite apart from the moral side, which is very important.
38. The multiplicity of denominations confuses the religious issue in the mind of the native. There are seven or eight denominations doing missionary work here and the position might be improved by adopting a standard method of imparting the tenets of the Christian faith as approved by the State, and using that standard throughout. I believe that some of the religious instruction might be definitely harmful, because it is misunderstood. I understand that the missionaries in India and elsewhere are coming to the same conclusion. The mere making of grants to missions is useless. Some missions are doing good work in full harmony with the department and the department’s wishes. Others adopt the attitude that the less the department knows about their doings, the better. I only wish to add that in my opinion missionary workers should be married people and that husband and wife should be living happily together. The psychology of the native mind demands this. We have discovered it on our own stations and all our managers, and generally those second in charge, are married men living with their wives. I submit File 52/29, Regulations for the control of Missions, pages 29 – 31 (Exhibit 15).
39. Sub-paragraph (h) “Trial of aboriginal offenders” will be dealt with when the subject of legislation is considered.
[End of page 40]
40. Speaking generally on paragraph 1, I have mentioned the necessity for a medical inspector. Years ago, before my time, there were two inspectors in the department who were constantly visiting the stations to ensure that the native people were being looked after properly and were not abused in any way. Those inspectors were dispensed with and for years we had no one at all until I succeeded in getting one man appointed. He was with us for a year or two and then his services had to be dispensed with because there was no money with which to pay him. Obviously, the Chief Protector cannot be traversing the State all the time. He can make only a few journeys in the year, and it is quite impossible for him personally to know what is going on on the hundreds of stations and in the many places where natives are employed. His protectors are mostly in the towns and do not supply him with the information he most needs. The only way to overcome the difficulty is to have travelling Inspectors always going around. In addition to the medical man for whom I have asked, there should be another man in the North, and a man for the north-western districts and, if necessary, the goldfields. The south I can manage myself. At considerable expense of time and effort I have traversed the State from Wyndham to Eucla more than once. While I am away, things happen at head office that one is not in a position to rectify. Too much time is occupied in travelling. Some people have argued that the Chief Protector should live in the North. The absurdity of that contention is demonstrated by the distribution of the natives. There are 9,000 odd in the Kimberleys, nearly 4,000 in the North-West and Murchison, and over 5,500 on the goldfields snd in the South-West, so they are fairly evenly distributed. The ideal would be to have a deputy in the north — the Act makes provision for deputies — or adopt my plan to alter the name of the department and the Chief Protector, and have district commissioners and, under them, assistant district commissioners, and so on, as they have in other British colonies and dependencies.
[End of page 41]