State Records Archive
Title: J. Isdell, Nullagine. Native question general in district
Keywords: Coorabung (Charley), James Isdell, George Olivey, Axel Ostlund, Marble Bar, Nullagine
14th Apr 1900
To H C Prinsep Esq
I would like to again draw your attention to native affairs in this district. If the Government really do intend to watch over and guard the natives against their rapid deterioration and extinction, steps should be taken to do so, the allowing of bush natives to settle down in the close proximity to bush settlements simply means their learning all the white man’s vices and be inoculated with various loathsome diseases. The whole enactments regarding natives wants revising and several new provisions made for their benefit. The allowing of natives to assemble and settle permanently close to these mission centres is not only injurious to the natives themselves but also causes many natives who have kind masters, well cared for and clothed to run away and join the idle natives camped near settlements. It also causes many natives who are well cared for and employed on stations in the neighbourhood to run away and also join these idle vagabonds, these idle natives will not work for anyone – they live on the illicit trade of their women, they are also acquiring a liking for spirits, as in [illeg.] of their camping so close to settlements it is almost impossible to prevent – gins being smuggled into their camps at night time. I was in Marble Bar a few weeks ago, and saw many natives men and women camped you may say in the streets. For the benefit of the natives such a thing should not be allowed.
It makes it a very difficult matter for the police to arrest any natives in these camps, as their movements are so closely watched, that timely warning is always giving of their approach. most the natives camped on the Nullagine townsite do not belong to this district or river, they are mostly from the Oakover and from a distance of over 100 miles eastward. They are simply attracted here by the prospect of being able to trade their women and to live an idle lazy life so a course should not be encouraged by the Government. The want of food does not bring them in, as the country to which they mostly belong is teeming with game and vegetables owing to the last four years good seasons and scarcity of blacks. I would suggest until the government has had time to collect information on which to base a new aboriginal act, that the police should receive strict orders that all unemployed natives should be compelled to camp at least 3 miles outside the limit of any townsite, ending no consideration whatever allow any native women inside the limit, by this means many present idle natives would be compelled to take to their natural way of living and hunting in the bush. Any native men or boys who are employed to be allowed within the limit. And to be also allowed to camp not nearer than a mile from the settlement. The police at present are powerless under present circumstances to abate the nuisance, there is no law in place to cope with it, to arrest and sentence natives under the Vagrant Act would simply entail upon the government is very heavy expense as from Mt Mulligan alone I could send 100 natives in one batch. I am sure that if the matter was talked over with Sir John Forrest, he would plainly see the great injury that is being done to the northern natives through lax regulations and I am sure he would sanction such orders that whilst benefiting all the natives would in no way interfere between masters and servant. I am hoping the government will adapt my previous suggestion as to gathering information from all portions of the colony before pursuing any fresh regulations or new enactments. Mr [Francis Edward] Walsh, the magistrate at Marble Bar, informs me I can [get] a sufficient supply of blankets from him for the few decrepit natives that require them when the cold weather sets in.
I remain yours faithfully,
See letter from Mr J Isdell of April 14th ’00
Acknowledge and thank him – add that during the last year I have been earnestly considering the best means of checking the intercourse, especially the mining centres between the white and black race – and intend to recommend certain enactments to that end – He will be glad to hear that a very suitable man has been appointed as travelling inspector and is now making his way toward the Pilbarra field via the Ashburton and Fortesque – [illeg.] started last August – the area is a large one certainly but I hope the activity of this officer will enable him to reach the Pilbara District in a reasonable time. Meanwhile I have ‘your’ letter of last Dec still before me and will use the information therein in my arguments towards reform. I regret much that my representations in this direction during the last session, owing to the heavy duties of the Parliament then were unavoidably left standing over.
From Clerk of Petty Sessions
To The Chief Protector of Aborigines, Perth
Place: Nullagine, N.W.
Date: 28th April 1900
Re. Coorabung Charley Ab. N.W.A
I have the honour to forward your report on conviction of this Ab Native, together with the remarks thereon by J Isdell Esq J. P.
Clerk of Petty Sessions, Nullagine
Acknowledge – say I have read Mr Isdell’s remarks on this case and shall use them when representing necessity for fresh cases re aborigines
See letter from J Isdell of 12.6.00
Acknowledge – say that the Inspector (W Geo Olivey) may be travelling incognito for what I know, but I fear not always – However, he is a very shrewd and impartial observer – I will make the suggestion to him when I next write – I am glad to say I have received visits from one or two residents of the Pilbarra field whose statements quite corroborate Mr Isdell’s.
See letter from Mr J Isdell dated Nullagine dated July 6th 1900, re condition of natives at Nullagine.
Please reply by wire to Isdell Nullagine – 80 blankets were sent to R M Marble Bar on 23rd April for distribution – am wiring to him re your letter 6th July
Wire to R M Marble Bar – 80 blankets for natives sent you 23 April. Trust you distributed a good number at Nullagine where I hear a number of old and decrepit natives require them. Please see that the instructions in my coming letter of advice are carried out and report if more rations are required there.
If more are reported as required please order them – also blankets.
11th Aug 1900
To H C Prinsep
Yours of 20th July and Mr Olivey just to hand. Also your telegram re native blankets. I sincerely hope that Mr Olivey in his capacity as Travelling Inspector is all you anticipate.
Re native blankets: I have had some correspondence with the Resident Magistrate at Marble Bar on the subject and sent him in the names of about 35 old decrepit natives who are living on the charity of the white residents – and who should be supplied with blankets, clothing and rations by the Government. So far I have not received any blankets for this district. As the Nullagine is a separately proclaimed district from Marble Bar, will you in future arrange that all blankets, clothing etc for natives here be addressed to the district, to avoid delay and correspondence with Marble Bar. I cannot possibly see why many squatting stations and police stations should received the amount of supplies they do, and this district be denied any. Hoping all this will be rectified on the receipt of Mr Olivey’s reports.
I remain, Yours Truly,
Beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter 11th August and to inform you that next season I will send you a bale of blankets, separate from those of Marble Bar – I will write to you further on receipt of Mr Olivey’s report, when no doubt Mr Prinsep will have returned from the Eastern Colonies where he has been on a visit.
27 Sept 1900
From the Resident Magistrate Marble Bar
To The Chief Protector of Aborigines, Perth
I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter No 4/144 of 21st July last.
When in Nullagine on my last visit I made inquiries and find that there are practically no indigent natives in the district. There were a few old natives who should have had blankets for the cold weather, but the supply arrived too late.
In reference to the rumoured immorality of the natives, I have collected a good deal of information but I notice in the Roebourne newspaper that Mr Olivey, your Inspector, is likely to visit the district. I think perhaps it will be better for me to see him and he can then judge for himself and supply a report on this branch of the native question.
I have, etc,
Acknowledged with thanks – It will be better, as you suggest, to wait ill Mr Olivey our Travelling Inspector visits Nullagine, when he can confer with you on the native question in the Nullagine district and report to this office.
I will see that the blankets reach you in good time, next season.
To: The Chief Protector of Aborigines, Perth
At this Township I saw twenty natives altogether, but only if you them were employed and those mostly women. The two hotel keepers, Messrs Clemenen and Walker, employed two or three men each, three women are employed at the hop-beer shop and the butcher has one man and two or three women working for him. At a garden a mile or so up the river a white man named Wordley keeps a woman, there being several natives loafing about there at times. At this garden I saw and treated a very bad case of syphilis and have left medicine with Wordley to contine the treatment. I visited two or three other camps, in company with Constable Brown and found two men about 55, both pretty strong and hearty and three old women two of them nearly blind. These later I should have put on relief but until the loafers are cleared out the township I consider it is useless to feed these old people, as those able to work would probably get the benefit of the rations supplied.
I also saw two half caste children – one a boy about eight or nine at Wordley’s garden and the other, a child only a few weeks old, at Butcher’s camp.
I was informed there were a great many natives about the township just before my arrival, but they had gone into the bush towards Roy Hill farther back for a big Corroboree. The natives for the most part absolutely refuse to work and live on the prostitution of the women. I believe several white men keep women in and around the township and outlying camps, but it is a difficult matter to obtain any definite information, the police constable being quite a new hand and knowing nothing at all about natives.
James Isdell of Mosquito Creek told me he has applied for blankets for the old natives last winter, but none were obtainable. I have since ascertained that there is now a good supply at Marble Bar and will make arrangements for a bale to be sent to Nullagine before the next winter. The police station is very primitive, being a small bough shed, with a big log to chain prisoners onto. The prisoners (native) brought in from Hornjan’s Horryan’s Horrigan’s Station and convicted of cattle killing were kept in the police camp for two or three days.
G. S. Olivey
To Chief Protector of Aborigines
Hold business license in connection my business at Nullagine – have been accustomed employ two old native women about three hours daily – daily officer in charge police refuses allow native women in township – is he justified – these women receive from me daily rations and clothes sufficient for themselves and family
D H Bradshaw
See report from Mr Isdell dated 14.11.00, also letter from Mr Olivey reporting on Nullagine dated Corunna Downs 18.11.00
See if we have any reports at all from Mr Ostlund – if not, why not, to get one at once and see if it agrees with private reports of Olivey’s.
See wire from Mr Bradshaw date 7 Dec 1900 re police refusal to allow two natives in township of Nullagine although in employment
Not knowing circumstances decline to interfere with police who act under orders of Resident Magistrate – but consider that generally native women should be kept out of township
James Isdell was a pastoralist, parliamentarian, and traveling protector of Aborigines. Although he expresses compassion in his communications in some records, such as his regard for protecting the assets of Turkey in Item 1910/0318, he was more notoriously known for being the instigator of the Canning Stock Route and an “enthusiastic child removalist.” The following quote is from a chapter by Robert Manne, in the book Genocide and settler society: frontier violence and stolen indigenous children in Australian history (2004), edited by A. Dirk Moses:
The most enthusiastic West Australian child removalist in these early days was James Isdell, the former pastoralist and parliamentarian, who was appointed traveling protector for the north in 1907. On 13 Nov 1908, Isdell wrote from the Fitzroy River district to the Chief Inspector, Charles Gale. “I consider it a great scandal to allow any of these half-caste girls to remain with the natives.” On 15 Jan 1909, Gale issued Isdell with the authority to “collect all half-caste boys and girls” and to transport them to Beagle Bay. Isdell expressed his gratitude: “It should have been done years ago.” By May 1909, he was able to report from Wyndham that the entire East Kimberley region had been “cleaned up.”
Isdell was aware that sentimentalists from the south sometimes wrote letters to newspapers “detailing the cruelty and harrowing grief of the mothers.” He regarded such complaints as nonsensical. “Let them visit and reside for a while” in one of the native camps and see for themselves “the open indecency and immorality and hear the vile conversations ordinarily carried on which these young children see, listen to, and repeat.” Isdell did not believe that the Aboriginal mother felt the forcible removal of her child more deeply than did a bitch the loss of a pup. “I would not hesitate,” he wrote, “to separate any half-caste from its Aboriginal mother, no matter how frantic momentary grief might be at the time. They soon forget their offspring.” “All Aboriginal women,” he explained in letters to Gale “are prostitutes at heart” and all Aborigines are “dirty, filthy, immoral.” (Moses 2004, 222-223)
Olivey, George Sydney (1863-1937)
George Olivey was the first Travelling Inspector for Aborigines, appointed in 1899 to make a grand tour of the state with the aim of ensuring that the policies of the Department for Aborigines, under Chief Protector Henry Prinsep, were being complied with. He continued in this role until 1902. Born in Sydney to a British military family (his father was Lieut-Col Sir Walter Rice Olivey), he came to Western Australia in about 1887 and was part owner of Annean Station, near Nannine until 1909. He then farmed at Clonbinane, near Busselton until 1911, after which he became the Rabbit Inspector at Northam for the Dept of Agriculture.