1871 Habits & Customs Report

Report page 21 (Source NLA)

Report page 21

1871 Information regarding the habits and customs of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Western Australia

This report was compiled as supporting evidence and background to accompany the 1871 “Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council relative to the Aboriginal Natives.” Scroll down to read the full document, or download the PDF from AIATSIS.

In early accounts of Western Australian history, there are references to the evidence taken from missionaries who operated the “Native Industrial Institutions” referred to in the final report.

“History of Western Australia” by W B Kimberly, written in 1897:

In 1871 the Legislative Council appointed a Select Committee to devise means for the more systematic protection of the aborigines. The committee suggested that grants of land should be made to natives, where recommended by the Principal of any Native Industrial Institution, on condition that such grants should not be sold, transferred, or let without the consent of the Governor; and if not improved or cultivated for three consecutive years, that the Governor should resume the land. The evidence of several philanthropists was taken. Bishop Salvado, while declaring that natives were incapable of sustained physical or mental effort, said that he successfully taught natives at New Norcia such trades as tailoring, boot and harness making, as well as agriculture, &c. In 1871 four men at New Norcia reaped 190 bushels of their own corn. Father Garrido had reported that they were good shepherds, teamsters, stockmen, and shearers. Mrs. Camfield described their adaptability for domestic work. (Kimberly 1897, 247)

“Handbook of Western Australia” by C G Nicolay, written in 1880:

The opinion of those in charge of the Institutions at New Norcia and Albany (since transferred to Perth) are to be found in the reports made by them, which were published with the Council Papers for 1871. 

Bishop Salvado says that the natives are generally not capable of continuous hard work, either corporeal or mental, and that he considers condemnation to hard labor condemnation to death; he found it necessary to combine both, giving three hours daily to bodily, three to mental labor in the school, and the rest of the day to relaxation, gymnastics, games, music, dancing, &c. He considers the labor of a well-conducted farm most suitable as a means of civilization. Tailoring, shoemaking, and harness making, have been successfully taught and practised, but require too long continued and regular labor for natives generally. The young men become good agriculturists, and four reaped 190 bushels of wheat of their own in the year 1871. All labor at New Norcia is paid for at customary rates, and the property of individuals is respected. He finds that the diseases from which the natives suffer most are not so amenable to the ordinary course of medical treatment adopted by European medical men as they are in the case of the settlers, but that they more often recover under their native remedies. They suffer much from “home sickness,” and occasional hunting is allowed them on this account.

Father Garrido reports that they have been found good shepherds and teamsters, and first-class stockmen, but, like Bishop Salvado, he prefers agricultural labor, as more tending to civilization; that in one year 5413 sheep were sheared at New Norcia by natives, one shearing 1421 sheep in 25 days, and earning £19s. 8½d. The girls, he says, are taught to wash, cook, and work with the needle; several couples have been married, and those living in cottages on the estate of the Monastery have adopted the habits, manners, and dress of civilized life.

Mrs. Camfield, who had charge of the school at Annesfield (Albany), reports specially on the fondness of the natives for music. One girl, sent to Sydney, played for some time the harmonium in St. Philip’s Church, and gained her living by teaching; several others married civilized natives from institutions in the other colonies, having become good housewives, able to make bread, cook, wash, cure fruit and meat, and use their needle well; some are now employed as school teachers. She also notes the fondness of the boys for mechanical arts. They are, she adds, easily taught to be neat and clean in their persons, being very observant and great admirers of dress. (Nicolay 1880, 93-95)


Kimberly, Warren Burt. 1897. History of Western Australia: A narrative of her past together with biographies of her leading men. Melbourne: F W Niven & Co

Nicolay, Charles Grenville. 1880. Handbook of Western Australia. Perth: Richard Pether, Govt Printer

1871 Habits and Customs of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of Western Australia

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