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:
Many of the natives are quite capable of handling guns, and recognise the danger of having one about. Until the Firearms Act came into force certain provisions of the Aborigines Act covered the supply of guns to aborigines. That Act came into force on the 1st Jan, 1932, and repealed certain sections of the Aborigines Act, namely sections 47 to 51. I knew nothing about this until the Act became law. I then pointed out that an injustice was likely to be done to the natives by reason of the change, and this eventually led to a conference between the Commissioner of Police, or his representative, the Undersecretary and myself. The result of that conference is set out on page 15 of file No. 12/32 (Exhibit 17). Under the agreement arrived at, no native was to be refused a license because he was a native, or that he could not pay the fee, that the Chief Protector was to be advised of all applications received from natives, that if there was a refusal the reason was to be given to him, and that no licenses were to be issued in the Kimberleys. The date of the conference was the 28th Jan, 1932. I am sorry to say that the Police Dept have not carried out one clause of that agreement, except that the natives are being granted licenses free. I find from inquiry that the natives have lost half their licenses.
45. In what way do you mean?—Whereas under the Aborigines Act, 65 licenses were held in the previous year, the number dropped to 35 after the Commissioner of Police took charge.
46. Have these people applied for licenses and been refused?—Yes. I have a number of letters from natives, and I am constantly being appealed to, but cannot get the applications even considered. On principle, the police believe the native should not have a gun. Consequently, all sorts of excuses are made to prevent it. I have plenty of verbal evidence on the subject. I have no personal grievance over this, but point out that the unfortunate natives have lost another of their few privileges. The whole thing is confused, because in certain districts outside the limits of the…
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Firearms Act a native may carry a gun if he wishes to, but under the Aborigines Act that was not possible. In the Kimberleys any native nay carry a gun if he wishes, whereas he could not do so before. The Act is so worded that it is intended to apply to whites only. The natives were never thought of. The latest proposal is to classify them as the Asians and Chinese in
Broome are classified, but it would be better to bring them back under the Aborigines Act. I agree that in principle only one authority should issue these licenses.
47. Is there any appeal from the refusal of the Commissioner to grant a license?—-I believe so. I have appealed departmentally in one or two cases.
48. Is there any constitutional authority to hear such an appeal?—To my knowledge, that has not yet been invoked. The adverse report of the police officer of the district is sufficient cause for refusing a license. I know of natives who have held a license for years, but they cannot get one now because the recommendation of the local constable is against it.
49. I wish now to deal with tribal customs. I desired to introduce a section into the amending Aborigines Act which will enable us to exercise some control over tribal oustoms. That would be done by districts. A tribal custom that is not objectionable in the Kimberleys would be very objectionable in the South-West. It is important that the dept should have power to prevent certain tribal customs in certain districts. Some of the natives in the South-West still have two wives, and this leads to all kinds of complications and trouble. Years ago, in the time of Lord Forrest, there was a proposal forcibly to prevent certain tribal customs. Lord Forrest said that it would not do to enforce anything of that kind then, but he approved of circulars being sent to all concerned asking them to use their influence with the natives to prevent these things from happening.
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Unfortunately, the circular did not go out, and the file stops there. It is time we took a hand in some districts where these practices have gone to extremes. One practice which has the worst effect of all is that of promising infant girls as wives to elders. They are even promised before they are born. This leads to some old fellow getting for a wife a girl who has just reached the age of puberty. Possibly he already has two other wives, one old and the other middle-aged. You can trace practically every native murder to that cause. We have spent thousands of pounds in an endeavour to bring natives to justice for doing things which no one could cavil at. A young man comes along looking for a wife, and finds her attached to a hoary ancient and runs away with her. Then the trouble starts. There is a case before the Supreme Court to-day on that subject. In certain districts where the natives are civilised, or becoming civilised, we should have power to stop what is known as the practice of having a plurality of wives and the promising of infants as wives. This has had more to do with the decimation of the native races than anything else. Missionaries are up against it now. They find that some of their best girls are being filched away by some hoary ancient in the bush. I do not suggest we should interfere much with the practices of the bush natives in respect to their man-making ceremonies. At the same time, some of these things lead to blood poisoning and death, and we might suggest to the natives that we can carry out the operations far better than they can. If they want the operation of circumcision performed, we would be quite willing that it should be done by the nearest medical man. That would save untold agony to boys and obtain the same object. In course of tine it will be necessary to prevent natives from carrying out a certain operation known as Sturt’s terrible rite. This has very little effect…
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…on the procreation of the species, because there are numbers of families on our stations where the fathers have been operated on, and children are being born year after year. Child marriages should be stopped. Very often the infant girl is taken away when too young. She becomes old at 20 and is past child-bearing when very little older. We should do what has been done in India by the British, prohibit child marriages. Young bloods of the South-West are imitating their fore-bears in this respect by trying to get hold of girls who are little more than children. I only ask that we should be given power in certain districts if possible to regulate this matter.
50. An absolute prohibition would be difficult, if not impossible, to get ?—Yes, and it would be unwise because the natives would be the first to resent it. In some districts they agree that it is time the thing petered out. There are young men on stations who have been born there and strenuously object to being operated on. They have to submit themselves to it, but dislike it intensely, and it is quite unnecessary in their case. I have had to prevent half-caste boys from being stolen away by aborigines for this business. We should have authority to stop it. With regard to exemptions, Section 63 of the Aborigines Act gives the Minister power to grant them. Some of the exemptions are too easily obtained. I would not exempt anyone in certain areas.
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51. Is that section ever used?—Very often.
52. For what reason?—To exempt. We have quite a number exempted.
53. For what reason would they be exempted?—Because it is considered that they are able to live as a white lives. That is the only object of the exemption. The object of the aborigines is to be enabled to enter hotels, as a matter of fact, and obtain drink.
54. Have you ever known an exemption in the case of a full-grown aboriginal?—I have known of one or two cases. I think aborigines stand up to it better than half-castes do. My point is that in the Kimberleys exemptions should be prohibited until we can straighten out the matter of legislation and the classes of people. There is a considerable danger in exemption natives in the far North and in places like Broome. While there are some people who constantly support the natives in this respect and try to obtain exemptions for them, I think it is quite a mistake. I agree that when we have got the Act straightened out and the people concerned are, shall I say, made amenable to legislation, as they should be, then, if any of them can prove that they can live as a white, they should be exempted, but not before. Take a half-caste in the Kimberleys, and there are quite a number of adult half-castes in the Kimberleys doing stock work. Suppose a half-caste is exempted and placed with 20 or 30 native stock boys. His temptations are too great. He abuses the women, and lords it over the male aborigines. That position, in my opinion, will only lead to trouble. I prefer the exemption to be a highly prized privilege obtainable only when a native or half-caste can prove beyond doubt that he is capable of living up to it. I am handing in two volumes of reports by the Chief Protector (Exhibit 18), also the report of the Chief Protector for 1933 (Exhibit 19).
THE COMMISSION ADJOURNED. 12-3.34.
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