State Records Office of Western Australia
Submissions of evidence – A (2), B, C-D, Carrolup Mission, E, F-K, L-M, Moseley, H D (Royal Commission); N-P, S; Rischbeith, Bessie; R, T-Z.
[The following 104 pages are included in a sub-folder within Folder A, but the pages are unsigned, undated, and unidentified. It is assumed to be the submission from Mary Montgomerie Bennett because it is verbatim the statement made by her as a witness before the Royal Commission on 19th March 1934.]
1. The social and economic conditions of aborigines and persons of aboriginal origin.
The deplorable social and economic position of aborigines and people of aboriginal origin is caused and conditioned by the victimisation of the aboriginal women; this victimisation is the open saw which must be healed so that progress can be made. The native women in the wild tribes suffered the “property-status” which caused great suffering for the women and also most of the trouble in the tribes. Bad as this was, the conditions have been made and immeasurably worse since white occupation added to the “property-status” of the women and young people, the new “merchandise-status”.
Mrs Jamieson Williams, an Australian delegate to the League of Nations, has dealt with some of these aspects at Geneva, and urged on Australians to study the conditions in which native women here live, and also shows how a precedent may be followed, and “the question of the status and future of native women could well be discussed under the three committees: mandates, slavery, and traffic in women and children,” indicating a fourth committee, of the international labour office.
It is still true today that in the outback of Western Australia there is universal prostitution of black women, drunkenness being frequently the prelude to immorality, and under the present state of the law the future of our bonny native boys and girls will be one of vagabondism and harlotry. To chief contributing causes of the increase in first-generation half-castes are:-
1. starvation by dispossession, and
2. the condation of the “property-status” by the squatters and administration.
The squatters say, “Don’t interfere with native customs”, but they do not mean the very strong and indeed vital bond that correlates the natives to their territory which
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is there livelihood; no, the native customs which the squatters choose to support are comprised in the “property-status” of women and young people under the patriarchal system, which the squatters have commercialised, bartering with the old native men for the old men’s surplus property in wives, and for the unpaid labour of the young men; the old men never need starve while they can trade their supernumerary girl-wives and the unpaid labour of the young men to the white men for flour and tobacco.
Squatters always tell me that the girls come to them unsought, but this is not always true. The girl often does protest against being sent to a white man, in spite of hunger and in spite of incurring beatings and threats from her aged native owner; but whether she struggles against the degradation to which she is forced, or whether she loses heart and gives up, eventually, in nine cases out of ten, despair and disease destroy soul and body. Yet I know many aboriginal girls and half-caste girls who have preserved their chastity by the most to scrupulous avoidance of all white men’s camps.
The desert tribes of Western Australia are known above the others for having worked out the most complete roles for maintaining the supremacy of a patriarchal oligarchy by compelling the women and young men to accept the “property-status”, which is just slavery, property in human flesh. The old men polygamists assign the female children at birth amongst themselves, and every female child, be she full-blood aboriginal or be she half white, is the property of some old polygamist. One result in a settled district that I know is that there are at least 50 young men unmarried, and with no prospect of marrying for many years, and then they will have to marry girls who are hardly more than children, where as if polygamy were stopped in the settled districts, they could have young women for their wives now. The squatters pretend that the old men would make trouble if polygamy was stopped and perhaps kill some of the young men. The truth is that the death-rate would actually be less than
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it is now through polygamy and adultery.
Polygamy is the casue of nearly every fight among natives. A man takes another wife; sooner or later the first wife has reason to be jealous of the new wife, and a fight ensues between them. Old Wodja of the Koolahr tribe at Forrest River brought me his new wife one morning after a terrible beating from his first wife, and I spent days nursing her back to life after the most terrible shock and battering. A great number of examples of suffering and injuries can be given. If the husband takes part in the fight he sides with the new wife and the first wife gets and unmerciful beating. It is not usual for her relatives to interfere, for she is his “property” to do what he likes with, but sometimes family affection is too strong and there is a spear fight between the men; if one should chance to be killed it starts a vendetta which is endless.
A young man may run away with one of the wives of an old man, or with one of the girls whom the old man has bespoken; the young people are tracked at once, if possible, and punished; one man, which I know (Gympie’s husband Paddy) was punished by having an eye put out. And unfaithful wife maybe put to death, and her husband is held to be justified in killing her, though he may have five other wives, and may have neglected or deserted her, or sold her to white men.
Mary Ann, killed at Laverton, had been sold to white men many times by her husband Moonggie, but when she failed to return at his command, his brother Bung-arra in his absence, righteously – according to native law – speared her to death. The brother was imprisoned for seven years, but nothing was done to improve the position of native women or give them the protection of our laws. A curious thing is that though an old native man will sell any or all of his wives to white men again and again, he will never at any price agree to release one of them to marry another native man who loves her and whom she loves; and if the other native man should seek such a solution unaided
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or unprotected by a white man, the old native man will stir up the other members of the tribe to take his life.
But a native trucker can take whom he will and the executive represented by his policeman master is presumably behind him! Sunny K.
I clean and clean-living half white girl called Dooa was appropriated by a dirty old witchdoctor, Mortidan, who is old enough to be her grandfather, and whom she loathes.
In one district there is a mission home, Mount Margaret United Aborigines Mission, where the parents bring their children when they cannot find enough food in the bush, and they frequently come back and see their children, some of whom are half whites. The old men of the tribe realised that they would not be given these girls to share amongst themselves, and, fortified by encouragement from the whites in the district, they frightened the mothers into taking their daughters out of the home back to camp again. One of the women who removed her child, Winga, then 12 years old, had her taken from her by the prospective husband, an elderly man with a wife who is Winga’s eldest tribal sister, and therefore entitled to the other sisters! He made it his business to impress on the poor frightened child that she belonged to him, but then the wife became roused and made such trouble that the child was taken back to the Home. The mission had no power to refuse to let the parents take the child, but when they came for her again she knew what was in store for her, and she set up such a screaming that they decided to leave her. She is now married to a young native man at the expressed wishes of each of them, but they had a long wait first, while the missionary overcame the objections of the Aborigines Department and of the tribal elders. There was never any valid objection to these young people marrying for there is no relationship.
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Another girl, Narteen, had been assigned in infancy to an elderly man with a wife and family; accordingly when she was 13 the old men threatened her mother into taking her out of the home and giving her to the allotted husband, Joe. The mother did not want to do it, but obeyed to save her skin; the child did not want to go, but had no choice. She resisted Joe and cried so bitterly that he lost his temper and threw a boomerang at her, whereupon her brother took her back to the Home; Joe’s wife, Nargoonda, made a fuss also; so for that time Narteen escaped. A couple of years later Narteen and a young half-caste man (unrelated) named Ranji MacIntyre fell in love with each other and met clandestinely. A baby was born and the old man we are so furious at the chance of Narteen’s upsetting their arrangement that she should be Joe’s extra wife, that they threatened the lives of the young family. To relieve Narteen’s fears, the missionary sent them away to another mission station while he reasoned with the old men and pacified them. Afterwards he sent for them to come back and live in peace among their own people in their own country.
An aboriginal called Jack Smith, who has lived all his life among white people, had four wives, one of whom he killed for running away from him. Later, another wife named Wommun, who was only a child when he appropriated her, escaped from him in 1932 and he declared that he would kill her. She is dead, and the natives say that he carried out his threat, but because a white man who was with Wommun reported that she died of pneumonia, no inquest was held, in spite of the threats which had been reported to the police. Wommun’s mother was in the deepest grief, but her father had six wives and would consider that Jack Smith was justified in killing an absconding wife. Wommun’s father is the tribal leader Moonggoodie who led his people back from Mogumber. He has lived among white people all his life. His wives are Dalphin, Tarbuttie, Yinnagudda, Nungoonoo and Ngooldale who both ran away from him with other men, and a lovely child of about 12 years called Yoongootooroo.
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All these cruelties have been committed in a district which has been settled for 40 years, and under the noie of the police-protector. But it is not the slightest use reporting that a native woman has been threatened for the policeman will only say of the native man who has threatened her, “but she belongs to him,” endorsing the property status, which is the root of the evil. It is possible that if the then policeman at Laverton, Constable Polak, had not been so complacent about the murder of the poor girl Wommun, and the murder about the same time in the same area of an old woman called Faldool, the victim of a vendetta, Tom Wall might not have been killed for keeping a native’s wife.
Missionaries do not ask that the way of living of the few wild uncontaminated tribes should be altered, nor that natives with several wives should be required to give them up. What they do ask is that these men shall not be allowed to appropriate any more wives, or claim property in the young women or girls they have bespoken in infancy. They do ask that in the settled areas of the “property-status” of human beings with its attendant evils of infant betrayal, child marriage, wife lending, and polygamy, shall be declared illegal, that there shall be one law, the law of the land, that aboriginal and half-caste girls who need the protection of the law shall obtain it, and that all people shall be free to make their own lives within the law, and not be handed over to claimants as property.
This would cut the roots of the following evils which should be ended:
1. Vicarious killing and injuring in vendettas, when very frequently the women are the ones to suffer: Namma an old woman was speared and had her leg broken by her son-in-law, because his wife, her daughter, ran away; and Jinnasoonda’s old mother was set upon and beaten when her son, who had been given drink by white men, accidentally killed another native man.
2. Wife-lending as a social obligation; Noonga-maroo, Ngurra, and many others
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have suffered this misery when tribal tradition required. a half-caste girl, Goomunya, refused to be lent and had a bitter quarrel with her original husband, but came through safely, thanks to mission protection.
3. Wife-exchange, when making a peace pact.
4. Wife barter to white men, the cause in the increase of the first generation half-castes. It is not the young man with one wife who barters is her; it is the old man with many wives. The young native man when he is lucky enough to find a wife usually looks sharp after her. A young native man, Tintardie, said, “I want one wife; I think a man ought to have one wife and look after her.”
5. Initiation mutilations and witchcraft rituals which are associated with anti-social crimes regarded in primitive cultures as manifestations of witchcraft. Girls are made to suffer introcision at puberty at the hands of one of the old men, but if they get wind of it they come to the mission till the danger has passed. Dooa escaped by coming to the mission. Yougada did not escape. I remember hearing my old aboriginal nurse speak with horror of the suffering which she had been made to undergo. The boys are made to suffer subincision which is designed to prevent conception; this is the account that the natives themselves give of it.
6. Child marriage, which frequently has harmful consequences to the poor little mother’s and to the children as well. It is traditional that the first baby does not live, but I am unable to say whether it is killed. Narteen’s first baby, which was born at the mission when she was 16, is a beautiful child, but there was general incredulity at the camp that it could have been born alive, and it was illuminating to hear the comments about the first baby never surviving. Sometimes the witchdoctor has come to the mission when a native woman has been confined there, but his intervention has not been permitted. It is not the general practice among the natives for the witchdoctor to intervene in confinement, but the fact remains that when
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there is a lot of trouble the natives will call in the witchdoctor, and in the first confinement there nearly always is a lot of trouble, and when the witchdoctor is called in, the result nearly always is a dead baby.
The great need which would quickly effect reform is a sound of public opinion founded on the Christian teaching of the intrinsic value of every human being.
Having seen what are the “social conditions” of our natives as implemented by their own traditions, it remains to set out what are the results from the impact of white settlers who are practically all men.
An educated half-caste man whom I know wrote from the north in 1932:
“Poor womenfolk don’t get any protection up this way. We went through twelve stations, and on every place you see about half a dozen half-caste kiddies running with dark mothers. It’s a disgrace to the stations. And half-caste women living with white men on out-camps…”
The Aborigines Act and Regulations pretend to protect aboriginal women, but in practice do nothing of the kind; in practice, the aboriginals are wholly at the disposal of the settlers and the police. I know a district where the missionary used to report to the police all the white man who kept aboriginal women in their camps, but as he soon found it was quite useless he gave it up. The police used to provide an alibi for the white men! But there were the full blood aboriginal mothers with half-caste babies and the large number shows that abuse of the native women is widespread. Some of the police are themselves among the worst offenders. On good native evidence some of my half-white pupils are the children of a policeman who had several children by different black women and abused more black women. Another policeman is on good native evidence the father of Unggungga’s baby who is about a year old. Yet another policeman is refuted by some to be the father of Nargoonda’s son. Poor Nargoonda when a girl was the property of an old man who sold her to many white men and anyone of three of these white men is possibly her boy’s father.
[Handwritten note at base of page]
1. allegedly ex-constable O’Loughlan 2. allegedly Constable Polak 3. two of these three white men were allegedly a man name Walker and Constable Hunter.
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My conclusion is that the police are so free with their “alibi” because they so often need one themselves.
A great many white men support Mr Wise’s declaration in parliament that the inflection of a fine even up to £100 is not “the means of overcoming this problem.”* A squatter, Mr Frank Matthews, himself told me that “co-habitation of white men with black women could never be stopped because there are no backstreets in the bush.” Practically all white men deny “keeping stud gins” – the station people’s own term for these unfortunates – but their ever-present fear of disease belies them. The “disease problem” of our natives is first and last the problem of prostitution. It is the logical result of the subhuman conditions in which are dispossessed, unrepresented, “regulation-governed”, native race is compelled to exist, underfed, and untaught, uncared-for, turned off their native country, turned away from schools and hospitals, described as a “menace” and treated like vermin, instead of what they really are, magnificent potential citizen’s whom Australia cannot afford to destroy.
In honesty, I must say that I do not think that the worst feature of our “prostitution problem” is the “disease problem”, but the wicked callousness which it engenders in the white men who are without natural affection and compassion and are indifferent to whether their children live or die, or get enough to eat or starve, or grow up in conditions which are predisposed to vice. I do know of wealthy squatters, station managers and others, who have half-caste children, but there are no grounds for pretending, as has been done, that any one of them has been true to any woman, black or white, or has done his duty to his half-caste children, by having them taught to be self-supporting, self-respecting Australian citizens; though the fathers are ready enough, even while they deny them, to demand to retain them on their stations as serfs. Of all the half-caste children whom I know – and cleverer, finer, more affectionate, responsive children cannot be found anywhere – only one, Ningga Violet
[Handwritten note at bottom of the page]
* A practical difficulty that occurs at once is where will one find white men to give evidence when nearly all can blackmail each other into silence.
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Goldsmith, is acknowledged by her father, and he is a poor man, but he does send her a letter from time to time, and when he can, a little present. She writes better than he does.
Employment and unemployment alike place our native and half-caste girls in the greatest peril. It is perfectly plain too, whether we take Mr Wise’s statement in the house, that “natives are roaming about the country in their hundreds… sixty to seventy percent being young females, without home, without clothing, without control and with no education whatever”, or whether we take Mr Neville’s complaint about the children whom he sends out to service from the Government institution, the ruin of these poor children is reacting on the State which is so gravely failing to prepare them for life.
Leaving conditions of employment aside, the question which all institutions for an unrepresented race have to find an answer to is: How to protect aboriginal and half-caste girls from prostitution while living among white people?
To their credit many missions recognise that it is not possible under present conditions, and so they refuse to send the girls a way to earn their living in great loneliness in an alien community which so often proves a trap. Instead, they train them in the employment of a home, and some missions, notably that at Mt Margaret, also teach industries to the young people whereby they become self-supporting. Thus, unnecessary crimes and tragedies are avoided, and there is no occasion of bitterness afterwards to the happy, self-respecting, self-supporting young couples.
Eventually they do go out to work, if they want to – they are not sent – but then the girls have the protection of their husbands. Even so, the risks and dangers are such as we would not tolerate if our own daughters were the ones who had to face them.
A young half-caste couple home I know took service with a white man, the half-
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caste man droving and his wife cooking. When her husband was out and she was cooking her employer came up, and asked “if it was alright?” Seeing that she would have to defend herself, she ran to the nearest hill where there were a lot of stones lying about, and to her relief saw her husband returning. She told him what had happened and they decided to leave as soon as the droving was done. Again the employer waited till the husband was out, and again the terrified girl made it quite clear that she would not consent to his propositions. Thereafter he found fault with everything that she did, and when the droving was finished, refused to pay her the wages which she had just learned, only paying with her husband threatened an action at law.
Last year the same couple got work on a station in the shearing season, and with them were another half-caste girl and an aboriginal girl with their aboriginal husbands. When the husbands were out mustering, a white man thought it would be a favourable opportunity to call the girls into a shed, but they sought refuge with the half-caste woman, and, the night being hot, slept by her open door. In the middle of the night, the man, who they recognised, tried to get in between them; they screamed and ran into the room, and the man went off. My friend advised the half-caste girl to go up to the man when everybody was seated at breakfast and ask him what he meant by trying to get into her bed in the night, and the brave girl did it though she was shaking so much that she could hardly stand. The man could not find anything to say. His employer suggested to my friend that the girl might have been mistaken; it might have been a dog. But my friend insisted, “This dog had two legs”. The manager then sent the man away. A white woman who was on the station at the time was indignant that native girls should be exposed to so much danger. The white men will not leave them alone.
Last year, July 22nd, 1933, I saw a motorcar load of men provided with drink, and they went to a blacks’ camp and demanded women. A missionary went to the camp
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and told them to go; they went, but after dark they returned; but some missionaries suspected they would return and made their way to the camp; the white men, bent on a “gin-spree”, had already given drink to some of the native men, but other natives saw the lantern and recognised the footsteps, and warned of fthe white men in time to save the native women from molestation. The names of the white men are Hurtle Martins and Charlie Healey, and the police were informed, and nothing has been done.
It is quite impossible to get justice for aboriginal women who have been molested.
(This aspect of the subject falls naturally under 1.(a) “the inclusion or exclusion of different classes of persons of aboriginal origin in or from native camps”.
[Handwritten note at the bottom of the page]
“Prostitution”, wrote Mr Love (Stead’s Review, Oct. 1930), “he is the greatest evil that civilisation has brought to the Aborigines. The Aborigine has quickly learned to appreciate flour and tobacco. Too often the only way in which he can procure these luxuries (perhaps they have become necessities) is by the prostitution of his women. Having travelled across Australia from south to north, and from north-west to north-east, I came to the matured opinion that nearly every black woman in a bush or cattle-station camp is at the disposal of any passerby for the price of a stick of tobacco.”
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1.(a) The inclusion or exclusion of different classes of persons of aboriginal origin in and from native camps.
This is but another way of describing the Aborigines Department’s policy of arbitrary deportation which has caused more suffering and terror to our natives than any other single cause, except perhaps having the whole of their country taken from them for squattages. A social worker, writing in the Australian Board of Missions Review for September, 1933, says truly, “Deportation by the government is one of the chief factors in causing the sure extinction of our native race…Family life to the Aborigine is everything… such interference is fatal.”
That the Department means well is presumed, but this does not justify inflicting such suffering as the splitting up of families always brings about, and it does not justify deportations of innocent people. No department in the world can take the place of a child’s mother, and the Honorary Minister does not offer any valid justification for the official smashing of native family and community life when he says: “The removal of half-caste children is a necessity for so many reasons that it seems almost futile to mention them”.
So mothers with infants, and individual children, and sometimes families, are mustered up like cattle and deported to the remote Government Native Settlement at Moore River, there to drag out their days and years in exile, suffering all the misery of transportation, for no fault, but only because the white supplanters are too greedy and too mean to give them living areas in their own districts.
A Western Australian half-caste man, Norman Harris, in pleading for “freedom, justice, and one law”, makes the true charge: “Under the Aborigines Act everyone of us is a prisoner in his own country. Any police officer can come along and take all of our children at any time and we cannot object or we are committing an offence under the Act. A police officer deeming us to come under Clause 3, sends us off. If we refuse to go, we are forced to a settlement under Clause 55, and can be kept there under Clause 12; in many cases death alone ends our term of duress”.
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It is quite impossible to get justice for native women who have been molested. Our native women know only too well by continual bitter experience that whoever else may go free, they will be made to suffer every burden. They are kept inarticulate by being denied education which is the power of self defence as well as of self expression; and they are terrified of police and police courts and associate them only with victimisation. The native name for police is “munda-murrungga”, meaning “iron-hands”. Of course no native woman dreams of making a complaint or giving evidence against a white man who molests her, knowing well that she will be the one who is made to suffer.
What does happened to a native woman victim of a white man?
She is taken away from her own country and people and sent hundreds of miles away, deported, for no crime, but only for being a victim, to a remote government institution in strange country. “She won’t be any more trouble,” say the white people. But the white man who is the cause of the trouble is privately questioned, denies everything, and remains in the district to repeat the same offence against fresh victims. Last year (Kalgoorlie Miner, May 25, 1933), a white man was fined one pound for consorting with an aboriginal woman, and the unfortunate aboriginal woman and the half-white baby were deported to the congested Government institution, where the Minister admitted there are neither buildings nor teachers to care for the people as they should be cared for. And the bush is full of white men who molest native women with impunity, while only the victims are punished.
The attitude of the white people is reflected in the aborigines act which expressly excludes the mother’s evidence as to the father of a half-caste child, and also excludes “all right of the mother” in the child, though the mother is the only one who shows the child parental affection, and though, as the Chief Protector pointed out, the aboriginal woman and a half-caste woman deemed to be an aboriginal under the Act are the only
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ones whom the law reaches for the offence of cohabitation with white men – the defenceless victims! (Mr Neville’s reply to a questionnaire sent by the British Commonwealth League, London, April, 1933.)
Half-castes have told me how they eluded capture by the police, sometimes escaping by the nearest chance after a close chase, preferring hunger and cold and tribal mutilation and appropriation by an old man to that greatest terror of all – exile from their kin and country. Dooa escaped by darkening her skin. Another half-caste girl, Marie, never did venture away from the spinifex country, and was more ignorant of white people’s ways for a long time than many aboriginals. Another half-caste girl, who suffers from eye trouble as so many do, was caught when the others escaped and was sent away to the remote Government institution. Year by year her mother Morel used to beg the missionaries to apply for Wulleen’s return. At last the great day came when the request was granted, and I had the pleasure of bringing Wulleen back to her own country. (I have accompanied native and half-caste girls travelling, and I do not consider it safe for them to travel without a white woman.) Once we got north from Kalgoorlie the news ran along like wildfire, and at each station when the train pulled up groups of natives collected to welcome the poor child back. In their joy at seeing her again they would stretch up and take my hands in theirs with such affectionate confidence. It was a triumphal journey.
A shy, gentle, half-caste girl was taken by a squatter and they had three children. Afterwards, Lily Quinn, as she was called, and the three children were sent away to the Government institution. The poor girl escaped with her children, more than once but they were always captured and brought back. At last she was given permission to return to her own country and keep the youngest child on condition that she married a half-caste man who had applied for her. They were married, and returned to her country,
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and placed her little girl in the mission home there, and as they often camp there, they see as much of the child as white people see of their children. Many a time when I went into the raffia room I used to see Lily sitting there working, with her little girl nestling beside her; but the two older children are condemned to grow up away from their mother.
Many of these poor children are parted from their mothers who are the only ones who do really love them, and their hearts are starved for want of love, but first for years they suffer the misery of hunted animals, always running away from the police, in the hope of hiding in the country which they know, among their own people, but always in fear that at any moment they may be torn away, never to see them again. They are captured at all ages, as infants in arms, perhaps not till they are grown-up; they are not safe until they are dead. If they are not caught and deported as children, because their mothers have been victimised by white men, one day they will be caught and deported with their children because they have been victimised by white men, but the weary round will go on; from Moore River they may be sent out to service, and back to Moore River many of them will be sent again, because they have been victimised again. The native woman NEVER gets justice.*
Many of my pupils have been hunted by the police for years, and some of them still be the marks of shock. Before they were born their aboriginal mothers went in fear of having their half-caste children taken from them, and in fear their children grow from babyhood. Ninggah is a nervy child, continually looking behind her. It is a marvel to me how she gets her work done. Karngoor he’s a handsome lad, but his early fear still haunts him, and the terror that comes into his eyes reminds me of shell-shocked victims. Yet his mother, Yinbidda, is the most splendid-looking woman I have ever seen, tall and like a Greek statue. Freddie is a clever child, with strength of
[Handwritten note at the bottom of the page]
* As long as they live our natives will not forget the terrible fright they had when numbers of their tribe were trapped by the police – husbands were separated from wives and mothers from children – and they were deported to Mogumber for no fault, for they had not committed any, but because they were hungry.
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character under his acute sensitiveness, but it will be some time before he outgrows the fear of his babyhood years. Nung-oo, a girl of thirteen, is still shy to gaucherie, and there is no doubt that this fear is a great handicap to school progress, but it has its compensation, and that by terrified avoidance of all white people, many native and half-caste girls have preserved their chastity.
I have often heard the simple children pray that God will bless their father and mother, and then I have realised that they mean their aboriginal mother’s aboriginal husband, who very often does show them love, and brings them presents, a rabbit or a sixpence, and take an interest in what they are doing, the dress that a girl has made for her mother, the bread that she has learned to bake, and her schoolwork too. And all these children have their native names and their native relationships. The native tribes are much more Christian than the white races.
The Chief Protector of Queensland writes wisely:
“The most successful system is that in which these children are given… Training in schools among the people of their own race and away from undesirable white influences. This ensures them a safe and natural environment at the most receptive age. Their natural leanings more towards the aboriginal than the white side, and they have no desire to be forced into a society where they must always be under heavy disability because of the outcast condition. Sufficient reserves in their own district with schools would protect them from disturbance and contumely, and would also provide the reasonable liberty that is necessary for their development… It would appear to be for their own happiness…that they should have the opportunity to meet and marry among their own people.” Evidently “their mother’s people” is what is meant.
Departmentalism is no substitute for mother love.
I do most earnestly ask that the official smashing of native family life may be stopped, and that native families may be permitted to live where they wish within the law. The laws that are enough for the proper conduct of white communities should be enough for the proper contact of native communities also. Our aim should be to raise the native camps into thriving self-respecting village communities, rather than to break them down materially by knocking their homes down and spiritually by taking their children and women from them.
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1.(b) Proximity of native camps to towns.
It is clear that if we do a duty to our native race we shall not erect any barriers against them that the needs of health do not justify us in erecting against people of our own blood. The sooner the camps are elevated into a comfortable village community is the better. Meanwhile we ought to remember that the natives have not been allowed to keep one living area for their own use as of right between the Llewellyn and the north of the Tropic; the government institution at Moore River has been described to me by many of our half-caste people as a “prison farm”. I urge the proclamation of a real living area to the native people in every district, so that they can establish themselves in their own country; and I earnestly beg that the size of the area be generously large and that instructional help be given in erecting dwellings and providing water supplies and sanitation.
Also need to bear in mind that in so many places where there are native camps in proximity to the town, the natives were originally brought there against their will for the convenience of white employers in the town. I cite examples under the heading “employment”. I do not say that this justifies either keeping them there against their will or pushing them out against their will. The fact remains that the idea of a camp near a town, is a standing disgrace to white civilisation, a visible proof of our criminal neglect of the people from whom we have taken all that they had, their land. There are grave dangers of their acquiring our bad habits, and also of their being molested by undesirable white people. But I think we must confess that there has been such a lot of hunting and harrying of our native people, such a lot of smashing of their dwellings that no more acts of this nature can be permitted. Let us instead attract them by a gift of a good living area in their home district to make their own homes and gardens and farms, from which of course they should be free to seek service if they wish to.
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Meanwhile a beginning can be made in the South-West Division and extended, and opportunities for ameliorating conditions with the plant and staff already on work can be increased, though many new reserves with equipment are needed. At Gnowangerup Mr and Mrs Wright with Miss Pulley, a certificated teacher who gives her services to teaching the native children, have established a mission on the tiny five-acre native reserve alongside the town rubbish depot. On this reserve Mr Wright has built a fine school and a small hospital. But the work is hampered by the smallest of the reserve. Mr Wright asks for a special reserve for the natives where there is an area of 4,000 acres available, where the natives could erect homes for themselves and have gardens and some stock and grow feed. If this were granted, Mr Wright offers to erect the school and hospital on this area. The natives could be self-supporting, given this chance, in a comparatively short time, and would also have the happiness of profitable employment in their own homes and gardens when they are not out working. They are suffering acutely from bad times, and insufficient ration, and are also keenly sensitive to the unfair discrimination against them.
Miss Hooton, the honorary secretary of the W A Federation of Parents and Citizens Associations, asks for a reserve large enough to form another living area for the landless natives near Brookton, Beverley and Pingelly. On a sufficiently large reserve which included arable land as well as rough country for hunting, real homes could be made, and educational and vocational training could be established.
Mr Spencer of Kojonup asks for a reserve for the natives in their own country, Tone River, where the remnants of a numerous tribe even now find their way back to their original territory. This elementary justice is urgently necessary throughout the State.
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1.(c) Physical well-being of aboriginals, and any suggested measures for amelioration.
The things which are most vital to the well-being of the aboriginals are, in order of importance:
Land to live on,
Their own family and community life
Education, which is power to earn.
I earnestly ask for these four vital needs for our native people.
It is a terrible commentary on white civilisation that in this country of primary produces there is progressive deterioration of the food supplies of our natives. Dr Cilento and Dr Hermant, in a report to the League of Nations Health Organisation, refer several times to this important factor in depopulation, namely –
“The change of diet of the natives as the result of European occupation, which by resulting food deficiencies in fats, proteins and vitamins, may result both in increased infantile mortality and in a decreased birthrate”.
Mr Williams, in a recent anthropology report, notes also the qualitative and quantitative limitations of the food supply of natives when their land is occupied by whites. Again in a report last year Dr Cilento says:
“When the Aboriginal is a mere hanger-on…an abject dependent of European families and tenants…or where, though living under native conditions, white settlement has restricted him to some worthless ravine or creek bed, only rapidly declining tribal remnants remain, and these are a standing reflection upon the civilisation that permits the conditions producing this situation”.
The latest report of the Aborigines Department of Western Australia witnesses to the same conditions in Western Australia, starving our native people to death in their own land. Mr Neville says:
“I believe that never before have the natives sunk to such a condition of penury as they are exhibited during the year. Eking out an existence on government rations alone they are undoubtedly deteriorating, particularly the children, as the foodstuffs supplied do not provide for the special requirements of children. Designed years ago to be an aid… the ration has now become the sole diet of the people and
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t is inadequate.
“Deaths due to influenza and pulmonary causes are steadily on the increase. Figures point clearly to the fact that undernourished and lacking sufficient bedding and clothing the people are less able to resist the inroads of disease when it attacks them…The appointment of a Travelling Inspector who shall be a medical man… to detect and deal with cases met with on his travels, and with power delegated to enable him to send cases into hospital for treatment as necessary, is badly needed…Such an inspector would be invaluable from the point of view of the health of the people generally, and could also report as to their physical condition in relation to dietetics.
“It is remarkable how the people themselves have born there privations uncomplainingly, and while this is partly due to their patient and law-abiding nature, it is unfortunately also the outcome of inability to improve their position”.
A previous report (1930) states “the loss of child life was greater than ever”, therefore the different reports, read in conjunction, show a progressive deterioration of the conditions under which the natives are forced to exist. The destruction of their native game makes it impossible for them to supplement their food by hunting. The inadequate dole is not given to great numbers of destitute native people, and when it is given, it is given to protect the squatters’ sheep, rather than to feed the natives. The Government ration per adult per week is:
10 lbs of flour, but only 8 lbs if baking powder is put in it,
1 1/2 lbs of sugar, and
1/4 lb of tea. In some places a little meat is given.
Children get half the quantity, but it is only given to children over three years old; children under three years old get nothing. How would we white people like to be reduced to this starvation diet, and be refused all relief for children under three years old? And how can the mothers feed their children up to the age of three years when they are not getting enough food to keep them in health? The terrible privations which our native people suffer without redress are revealed in recent happenings within my experience:
Lulu, the native girl who lost her right hand through a white man’s bungling, in 1933, shed never a tear for her own pain and loss, but she shed many tears for her little girl, aged two years, when her milk dried up! How was the poor mite to
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thrive without her mother?
On February 15, 1933, a telephone message came through from the police at Laverton, asking the Mt Margaret Mission to send in for an aboriginal girl Lulu; the matron of the hospital at Laverton had done all she could for Lulu and the case was getting beyond her. Lulu had announced her refusal to go to the police station. The previous constable, who was on holiday at the time, had a very bad reputation with the natives for taking their women. Lulu consented to come to the Mission. She is small and slender, about eighteen; she is one of two wives of an elderly native who was working on Whitecliffs station. She was hunting rabbits for food and put her hand down a rabbit burrow and was bitten by a snake. It could not have been a very poisonous snake for she was alive when Mr Brockman happened along about an hour later. Hearing of the snakebite, he tied two ligatures above Lulu’s right wrist and elbow, cut her finger and rubbed in permanganate, but omitted to remove the ligatures, indeed, kept them on, though the arm swelled and Lulu was in agony. At last a half-caste couple who were working on the station asked Mr Brockman the next day for petrol to take Lulu into the hospital at Laverton about 40 miles away in their own truck. They drove as fast as they could, reaching Laverton about 6 o’clock in the evening to find the matron was away on a case, and the police refused to touch the arm as it looked dangerous. As it was just after 6 o’clock they also omitted to telephone to Leonora or Kalgoorlie to ask for instructions. When the matron returned the ligatures had been on just half an hour short of 30 hours! She removed the ligatures and treated the arm for some days, but the mischief has been done.
I took Lulu to Kalgoorlie by the night train on February 16th, arriving on Friday morning February 17th, when we went straight to the hospital where they were expecting Lulu. The doctor told me there was not a chance of saving her hand, and he held a consultation with another doctor who agreed with him. The damage had been caused by keeping the ligatures on so long. The hand had mortified and the mortification was spreading. I dreaded telling Lulu, but she showed wonderful courage. She shared never a tear for herself, but many for her little girl, aged two years. Through the mortification her milk had dried up, and how was the pool might to thrive without her mother?
No redress and no amends have been made to poor Lulu, to help provide the necessary food that she can no longer obtain independently, so when I compare her plight with what might be the plight of a white girl in a similar case, I know quite well that a white girl would be awarded compensation for any injury that she might have been made to suffer, though inadvertently, and would be awarded compensation in any court. I attach correspondence re Lulu (Ex. 38)
Even more tragic is the case of a bush native, an active young fellow called Toomberanno, who had the misfortune to suffer treatment from a noted witchdoctor for a spear wound in the leg. With skilled medical care he would have made a good and quick recovery. Instead, the witchdoctor, Mindie-nungoo, subjected him to such terrible usage, that when at last he succeeded in getting a message through to the mission, and the mission people fetched him, there was no flesh for a space below
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the knee, but only the two white bones like sticks, and the lower part of his leg had mortified. All this happened near the police protector at Laverton. Toomberanno was promptly taken to Leonora Hospital, about 60 miles away, where the doctor, at his expressed desire, amputated the leg. In this Toomberanno was this obedient to the witchdoctor who had forbidden him to seek other help. This happened at the end of 1933. Toomberanno made a good recovery, and has valiantly attempted to regain a measure of independence with his crutches. While he was at the mission in addition to the ration Mr Schenk fed him from his table, but Toomberanno is young and active and wanted to roam the bush as he had been used to, hunting for the native game. Once away from the mission he soon discovered that hunting on crutches was very different from hunting on two feet. To get a kangaroo at all he would have to go someway out, and being hungry for his native food – meat – he killed a sheep, and immediately realised the peril that he and his wife were in. They went to the mission and soon afterwards the traces of the sheep were seen and squatter and police came along. Toomberanno’s wife saw them come and fled to her camp in terror. She had been pregnant several months, and their baby was born prematurely. There was no one at their camp but Toomberanno to look after her and dispose of the body of his little son – the life of his son for the life of a sheep. Then he came to the mission, asked for medicine for his wife who was very ill, and gave himself up. I saw him and had the news from him, and I never saw a man looks so utterly unhappy. It was all the more distressing to see his misery because when his leg was at its worst he never lost his fortitude. I do not think that white people imagine a small part of the unnecessary suffering that their occupation brings on the natives. When Toomberanno arrived at the station his condition of strain was apparent in the nervous hurry of all his movements. A railway porter wanted to take him across to the police station in the lift, but the police refused, and Toomberanno saw and ascended stairs for the first time in his life, perforated iron stairs, and had to tackle them with crutches; twice his crutches
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slipped from under him, and once he fell with a crash. But surely we ought to be able to offer something else to a man who has been maimed than to go hungry, and to suffer the loss of his little son, and spend six months in prison. Mount Margaret Native Reserve is only 200 acres – 200 acres for a home for many hundreds of natives, their only home between the Great Australian Bight and north of the Tropic, while all around are huge sheep stations. The squatters say they can’t make a living on less than hundreds of thousands of acres. Then how can hundreds of natives live on such a restricted area as a paltry 200 acres? Their great needs are living areas in their own districts where they can live with their families, instruction to enable them to earn their own living, and a much better ration till that time comes.
Natives from Moore River Native Settlement tell me that they never get enough to eat there, (details under “administration”.) For purposes of comparison I put the Government scale of ration for natives with the prison diet given at Broome Gaol side by side.
Government ration for natives
per adult per week
sometimes a very little meat
no potatoes or vegetables
10 lbs flour, 8 lbs if baking powder added
1 1/2 lbs sugar
1/4 lb tea
Broome Gaol ration for prisoners
per adult per week
1 lb meat
1 lb potatoes or other vegetables
1/2 lb bread
1/2 lb wheatmeal and extra once for vegetable soup
1 1/2 oz sugar
2 pints tea
1/2 oz salt
distributed as follows:
breakfast: porridge and sweetened tea
dinner: soup; meat and vegetables
tea: bread and sweetened tea
in addition each man has 1/2 oz soap each day and two baths and two changes of clothes a week.
[End page 24]
The importance of education as a measure for amelioration cannot be overestimated. But Western Australia is a State where the Education Department does not recognise any responsibility for educating the aborigines, and the Aborigines Department has no vote of money for the purpose of education. The miserable pittance of the Aborigines Department has been progressively reduced even during these times of depression and while augmenting the vote for relief for the white people. The money that the Aborigines Department is spending on education is not a fraction of what is needed for educating the native children. Only about 500 native and half-caste children are receiving any training, about 150 in the two Government Native Settlement schools, and about 350 in the various missions schools, as the following rough estimate shows:
Mogumber Govt Settlement: app 120 children
Moola Bulla Govt Settlement: app 35 children
New Norcia R.C. Mission: app 47 children
Lombadina R.C. Mission: app 28 children
Beagle Bay R.C. Mission: app 80 children
Forrest River Anglican Mission: app 45 children
Kunmunya Presbyterian Mission: 12 children
Mt Margaret U.A.M. Mission: app 45 children
Sunday Island U.A.M. Mission: app 36 children
Badjeling U.A.M. Mission: app 30 children
Gnowangerup U. A. M. Mission: app 30 children
The position is that in Western Australia today thousands of intelligent aboriginal and half-caste children are growing up without any teaching or training whatever and without sufficient food. Though Chinese and other aliens are allowed to attend W.A. schools, the native children are shut out!
In some places as many native or half-caste children have been allowed to attend school as will make up the number to qualify it for the government grant, but when there are enough white children to qualify it for the grant the native and half-caste children are turned out. Then some white people have the dishonesty to pretend that the native children have not the capacity to profit by teaching, whereas the truth is that where aboriginal and half-caste children are admitted to the State schools, the head
[End page 25]
pupil is generally a native! A native child recently won the prize in open competition for the best essay on Sydney Bridge. Doctors, educationists and others testify to their ability and industry. The Adelaide anthropological expedition to the Musgrave Ranges in 1933 found that: “The children are as tractable subjects for scientific investigation as their elders, and their general intelligence appears to approximate to that of white children of the same age.”
Mr Piddington, the anthropologist, found in one reliable test of a group of 25 full-blood aboriginal children and about 30 half-caste children, a difference of only two points of intelligence quotient from the white average, their median intelligence quotient being 98. Actually, the full-blood aborigines excel both half-caste and whites, their average intelligence quotient being 104, that is, four points above the average.
The Rev Mr Love, Superintendent of Kunmunya Mission, says: ” They are born linguists. Many wild natives speak four languages, their own, the languages of the tribes on each side of them, and English.”
Mr Love speaks to them in their own language and English; “pidgin” is not used. It is interesting to read Mr Love’s observations on the Worrora language which seems to have been framed for the minutest precision, and is more highly inflected than any other known language. This minute precision, surpassing French and Greek, is characteristic of the Australian aboriginal languages. The children of the Kunmunya Mission school show good progress in reading and writing, and have reached the stage when they read for pleasure. They are very keen little scouts and brownies. In night school once a week the Worrora tribespeople learn to read and write their own language, the textbook being Mr Love’s translations of the Gospel of St Mark into Worrora. Two of the older children who are rather new still to their English lessons, are very quick at the Worrora lessons. It is most interesting to see Jerry, one of
[End page 26]
the Worrora boys, spelling out a long word, syllable by syllable, and then recognise it with a delighted chuckle. There is no limit to the pleasure and the power that Mr Love is that making available to them.
Mr Schenk, Superintendent of the Mt Margaret Mission, says of the schoolwork in his report (1933):
“For the time the children have been at school their work compares very favourably with that of white children. The language difficulty is a great obstacle, and as a result of the greatest progress is seen in arithmetic. The children are all apt and quick, and the work of the full-bloods particularly shows a style and finish in execution which are most encouraging. Singing is taught: the spirit which the children put into their singing of the national anthem makes one reflect what splendid material for citizenship is here, an aspect which is further brought home by the native care which all show for their relatives; several children have at their own expressed desire made dresses for their mothers in camp and their small sisters.
“In the 12 months of 1930 to sixteen girls made 127 garments for themselves; and in the first six months of 1933 eighteen girls made 102 garments for themselves and their sisters.
“One evening a week the boys make Meccano models in which they show great resource and ingenuity.”
Having to learn a language strange to them is a great handicap. It is as if we had to learn to read and write and do sums in Russian or Japanese. It is even more difficult because the difference in the way of living is even greater, whether the child be a full-blood born in the district, or a half-white from a station. The handicap of learning in a strange tongue is just as great for the half-castes who are disowned by their white fathers, but are accepted by their aboriginal mothers’ people, with all tribal rights and obligations.
Secondly, there is the “inferiority complex” which is unfairly created in the child’s mind by the majority of white people, and intensified by the white people’s horrible jargon “pidgin”. In regard to this, we should be there in mind that “pidgin”, which was introduced by the white people, is debasing the speech of the white people out back. In combating the children’s diffidence our best ally is their instinctive courtesy, for which they would hate to refuse to do what they are asked, and so they discover they can do many things which they would not otherwise dare to attempt.
[End page 27]
Thirdly, there is the absence of what may be called “literate surroundings”, such as belong to every white child, who requires much of his knowledge by reading the titles of books, or advertisements in trams, and prices in shop windows, besides seeing daily in his home all kinds of equipment and how to use it.
I lovely half-caste girl, Nung-oo, who was thirteen when she came to the mission, could neither read nor count, and she was too shy to speak above a whisper, and could not be persuaded to skip. However, she helped to turn the rope for the others to skip, and could very soon count up to a hundred, and understand number; and after six months teaching, first, for one hour a day, then for two hours a day, from amaterus – volunteers who love these children and believe in their ability – this girl can sew and embroider and cook and wash, and do sums and read simple words and write from dictation. And she achieved all this though her school hours during the first six months amounted only to the school time of a white child for six weeks.
The reason for these short hours is the number of different classes representing the different stages that the children are at, moreover, individual attention has to be given, especially at the beginning, because of teaching the children in a language that is foreign to them. They are very thirsty for knowledge and apply it, as the following examples show:
Kundawarra, a full-blood Aboriginal boy, aged eight years in 1833, read the story of King Canute and was heard telling it some weeks afterwards correctly, including the name. For sometime the first place in arithmetic used to be won by him, or by a half-caste girl, Dinboola, who is three years his senior. They both love arithmetic, and looked upon such exercises as finding “partners of 15” as a game, and would run off from 20 to 30 ways of making up “15” in a very short time; not satisfied with additions, they proceeded on their own initiative to make up the number by multiplication too – not bad for children whose whole time at school then equalled for Kundawarra
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the school time of a white child for four months, and for Dinboola, the school time of a white child for five months.
Jimma, a half-caste girl aged nine years, whose school hours equal the school time of a white child for four weeks, is a neat worker; she does her sums in a very short time, and looks up and exclaims, “I want more!”
Birrooga, a full-blood Aboriginal boy aged nine years, whose broken in time at school equals the school hours of a white child for six months, has done some fine drawing and painting, untaught and just for fun. Perhaps because he lives in desert and has never seen a cherry tree growing or a painting of one, he is very fond of drawing and painting cherry trees fruiting. He has a fine sense of line and colour, and also writes well.
Another artist is a full blood aboriginal girl, Dunawa, aged twelve years in 1933, whose broken in time at school equals the school hours of a white child for six months; she has been much away with her parents in the bush. She has a keen appreciation of beauty and delights in every mood of nature. Her favourite school work is drawing and painting and composition, making up sentences, though she has very little English. She has a real love of expression and works hard to combine the stubborn material of words.
Cunnama, a full-blood aboriginal boy, aged five years, his time at school equals the school hours of a white child for five weeks, draws the letters of the alphabet with verve and takes the greatest pains, in dictation, to analyse the sounds which make up a word, e.g., “s” is always identified as “for ‘nakes”.
The most remarkable progress has been made by a full blood aboriginal boy, seven years old, named Noonjie, who when he began school in the latter half of 1933 could not speak one word of English. During his first three months at the mission his school hours equals the school time of a white child for two weeks, and in that time he was doing sums up to 5, and forming simple words. I do not know any white
[End page 29]
children who would do better with all their advantages in so short a time, and very few who would do as well. This little fellow is in very truth the embodiment of Professor Porteous’s is description of his race – “equipped with keen perception and mental alertness of a special kind”.
The children are very fond of all handicrafts. Doing their schoolwork well entitles them to do more work, like cooking, and there is always a large number of applicants. Sewing is popular to. Dunawa’s artistic temperament shows in her sewing; I remember her starting to make a dress for herself at 2 o’clock on Friday afternoon, and working at it till it was too dark to go on any longer; the dress was finished all but the sleeves and she wanted to wear it on Sunday. So she asked if she might go on after tea, but I refused. Then next morning she wanted to “sit quiet in my veranda and sew”, but I was busy with a cooking class, and refused again. So Dunawa went away, quiet and unresentful, but full of her fixed purpose, and at the end of the morning she came back again, with a friend, little Ninggah, for she was not risking any more repulses – to return a needle and cotton that she had hunted about on the floor for, and used to finish her dress, all by herself! She also brought the dress to show me.
Spinning is another craft that all have taken to naturally. It is not hard work, and the spinners like working in company. When a class comes out of school, there is a rush to the spinning room to see if any of the wheels are free, for the rule is, first come, first served. Little six-years-old Milbumbie comes day after day to beg to “pin”, and she does spin, and is so proud of her slender skein. Many of the girls are beautiful spinners, the best being Winneeya, aged thirteen years, and Wonmoon, aged fourteen years. Sometimes a little girl will card the wall while her mother spends, and then they will change round. The women spin on an average six ounces of yarn a day, but I have known Dunawa and some of the other children spin as much as five ounces in an afternoon. Mrs Schenk’s rule is to pay them both morning and afternoon
[End page 30]
according to weight and quality of yarn.
The boys do fretwork and weaving; and all are paid for their work at piecework rates and in money. Experience proves that the native children and adults, just as much as white people, appreciate the opportunity for what educationalists call “self-expression”, and economists call independence”. It is just what these children earn by their own work, well done, which makes all the difference in their lives, giving them an outlook of hope and self-reliance. And they spend their money sensibly on reasonable amenities, and generously to, sharing with each other, but looking first after the wants of the nearest relatives, mother, or brother, or sister. Every boy and girl in the home is responsible for looking after smaller child, and every week some of the children will spin to buy barley to make soup for the old people in camp. Fruit is the favourite purchase of all; and the boys my penknives and the girls by combs and hairslides and floral materials for making dresses.
Ii is impossible to value highly enough of the enormous educational value of the mission store, with its long window full of pretty things, labelled and priced, the finest school of any, for the pupils teach themselves, and they never tire. Such a fine young fellows, good workers, who have never had a chance of going to school, study the things in the window and ask the school boys what is written on the labels, and then proceed to use the labels as primers, teaching themselves to read and reckon. The store fulfils the double purpose for which Mr Schenk built it: to provide instruction for the natives how to spend, and also the pleasure and stimulus of acquiring amenities for themselves and their families, as a result of their own labour.
One is reminded of the “measures of amelioration” introduced by Sir Wilfred Grenfell to Labrador, when he established cooperative stores and, at the peril of his life, vanquished the infamous “truck” system which was depopulating the country.
[End page 31]
In Dr Grenfell’s words:
“Love build for a future… and at present we see no other way than to work for it, and know of no better means than to ensure permanency of the hospitals, orphanages, schools, and the industrial and cooperative enterprises, thus to hasten however little, the coming of Christ”.
Many employers of natives resent any education for the natives for the contradictory reasons that,
1. the natives have not mental capacity to profit by teaching, and
2. they learn the value of money!
when, obviously, employers and police can no longer victimise them as they have been wont to do. Obviously, too, the way to protect the white workers is to protect the native workers.
Education is earning power, a necessity to enable boys and girls, when they become men and women, to earn their own living, a service which State and Commonwealth owe to every child, wether white or black, and would owe even if it were able to guarantee their support, for no dole can take the place of the power to earn and the power to rise which are the inherent rights of every human being. Give all children the opportunity to learn and earn.
Other people want any teaching that may be given to the native children to “be of such a nature as to bring them up as useful workers with merely such an amount of reading, writing and numbers as would be of service to them in their position as humble labourers”, – the implication being that they shall learn, not what they have the power and desire and industry to learn, but only what will suit the convenience of the slaver-employers! The day may well come when we shall need a native Nelson and a native St Joan to save us!
Our natives have the capacity and industry to achieve anything that we can achieve, and if they were taught a full range of school subjects for full school time by qualified teachers, they would amaze us with their results. But the very few who are
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getting any teaching at all are being taught principally by amateurs for short time and are rarely taken as far as Standard III. The consequence is that people depreciate the native race because of the terrible dereliction of the white people.
A report of the Victorian Citizens’ Education Fellowship states:
“Contact with whites and disposition of land has broken up native culture, so ours should be given to full-blood and half-caste children, and to as many older people as possible, and this as a right, as it is to white people.
“The natives and half-castes need particularly protection from the vices and exploitation of the whites, and good land and water reserved for their own use. They need to handle their own money and to have more industrial and technical training made available. Travelling doctors are needed. There is a need for the reservation of good land instead of the worst, as has been done for the North American Indians. Opportunities for agricultural and technical education and good reserves have saved this race and could save ours.
“It appears certain that, given protection and intelligent training, the aboriginal is quite capable of assimilating the best in our civilisation, and we must see that he gets it. Our neglect to deal fairly by our own native population is regarded as a stigma in England and elsewhere. We must realise the problem as one involving our credit as a nation and one to be dealt with by the Government, probably best through the missionary societies, and any expenditure necessary regarded as rent for the land we have and use.”
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1.(d) Disease amongst aboriginals and measures for their treatment.
The disease problem is, first and last, the problem of prostitution, and constitutes another urgent reason for establishing a native reserve in each district, a real living area and home, where are essential services could be provided, and a real cleanup in health begun. This should not be largely left to laymen as at present, but should be in the hands of qualified medical practitioners, doctors and nurses. Long neglect of terrible evil and its consequences is reacting on both natives and whites. For about half a century now Western Australia has recklessly imported indentured Asiatics for the pearling industry, thus further complicating the disease problem. Warning was given but not regarded, and on the north-west coast conditions are as bad as they have ever been; as the only published a report of these conditions is still true of the north-west coast today, I would ask leave to attach it. (Vide (f) p.50)
With a view to keeping the indentured Asiatics and the aborigines apart, clauses were introduced into the Aborigines Act and Regulations prohibiting aboriginal women and female children from going to creeks where pearlers land for wood and water, but these prohibitions are not in forced, and aboriginal women have gone with their me to Cape Bossut and Whistler’s Creek to fish with the government ration depot at La Grange has been out of supplies. The unfortunate aborigines have to suffer always, whether they are debarred from obtaining their native food, or whether they go to fish illegally and are molested by lugger crews and others.
Last August Members of the House detailed some of the results of these subhuman conditions in the disease and degradation of our unfortunate aboriginal people, and also glanced at: “the acute and embarrassing problem in the North-West today… the rapidly increasing half-caste population…”
But the disease problem is as wide as the State. It exists equally throughout the Eastern and other Divisions.
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In the papers (Kalgoorlie Miner, Jan 26 and Sep 22, 1933) there are frequent complaints of natives begging in Kalgoorlie, begging along the Trans-Line, begging in Wiluna, and infection from ophthalmia is anticipated, and the opinion is expressed that the “natives ought to stay in their own reserve”, when they have not any! except the tiny reserve at Mt Margaret, where many tribes meet. The remedy is to increase this reserve.
The traffic in native women is fatal to the health of the natives. Some employers have refused to admit liability for medical treatment for native employees who suffer from venereal disease, on the excuse that the native has become diseased by his own fault. Doctors say, on the contrary, that it is seldom, if ever, the native man’s fault, for he has been infected by his native wife, perhaps the girl whom he has rescued alike from her aged native owner and from the white men whom she has been sold to. Some people are perfectly callous about the suffering of our aboriginal people, fated, so Dr Cilento tells us, “to be infected with venereal disease”. But the whole price must be paid. It is not only innocent aboriginals who suffer, but many, many innocent white women and their children too.
Tom Wall, who was killed at Laverton for trying to keep an aboriginal woman from her husband, was said by another white man to be so diseased as to be a danger to the white community! – through consorting with native women.
In Kalgoorlie, (Kalgoorlie Miner, Apr 5th, 1933) Dr Webster submitted a report on venereal disease, and urged the need for a depot in Kalgoorlie where (white) men may receive treatment and “prevent what is now a serious economic loss”.
The complement of Dr Webster’s appeal for white men is an appeal for a system of adequate reserves for aboriginal men and women where they will be protected from molestation by white and others, where essential medical and educational services should be provided, to train them for self-support, and where a real clean-up in health
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could be undertaken, and thus remedy what is not only a serious economic loss but an overwhelming national disgrace.
With regard to the spread of venereal disease, Dr Webster, of Wyndham, has reported that “practically all the natives in the Kimberleys either have, or have had, venereal disease.”
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1(e) Native settlements
This is the heart of the whole matter. The surest way to destroy a race is to destroy its communities, and destruction is the effect – sometimes intended, sometimes unintended, – of pastoral occupation of native territories. The taking of ALL their land from the natives for stock, and dispersing the original owners in small bands of from twenty to thirty – enough to work one station! – is more fatal to the natives than every other injury put together. Formerly, the “station” was a tribe’s territory and supported some five hundred human beings; now about twenty to thirty are all that the lessee wants to work “his” station, and the rest are not encouraged to stay. A squatter told me, “I feed them well, I treat them well, and if they don’t work I tell them to go!” But they have nowhere else to go. Meanwhile a resolution of the Second Pan-Pacific Women’s Conference in 1930 points the need for an awakened conscience in our hemisphere:
“That in the study of family life and inter-racial relationships shall be included in the study of indigenous people governed by a dominant race, especially in regard to their fundamental right of land ownership.”
Western Australia makes the same claim as the federal government, (West Australian, Jan 4, 1934) “It might be argued that the area originated for pastoral leases comprises the best land and has the best water supplies. This is probably a fact, but the Crown lands ordinance provides that pastoral leases, which comprise the bulk of the leased land, shall contain reservations giving to all aborigines and their descendents full rights of occupancy.” Consequently, it is claimed that the Government cannot be accused of not making adequate provision of land for the aborigines. But this statutory right of the aborigines to hunt over their land and have access to water is a dead letter and valueless, as has been officially proved both in the Federal Territories and in Western Australia.
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In the process of turning a tribe’s territory into a stock station, the lessee naturally does what he thinks best for his stock. His interests require that the natives shall be kept away from water holes so that the stock may not be alarmed at the presence of a blacks’ camp and stay away from water! When I was at Moola Bulla the Government Native cattle station, I asked Mr Woodland, the manager, if there were natives camped out about the run as well as around the homestead, and he made the typical squatter’s reply, “I sincerely hope not! I don’t want niggers about the run frightening the cattle from the water.” And this was on a Government Native station, presumably conducted for the benefit of the natives!
The native game, which is the native food, is destroyed as vermin, or driven of the country for the white man’s stock; the berries and other vegetable foods of the natives are eaten out by the white man’s stock; the white man drops poison baits for the natives’ hunting dogs, or shoots them – the dogs scalps being worth 10/- a piece to him, if the police, who are usually also the receivers, agree that a dog’s scalp is a dog’s scalp. The climax of refined hardship and abuse has so far been reached in the Dog Act, where the black is not allowed to have more than one male dog unregistered, the effect of such legislation being to prevent aborigines using dogs for hunting purposes, and so limiting still further the supplies of native food otherwise available.
But the natives, who are thus dispossessed of their country and deprived of their native food, may not kill any of the stock which are depastured on what was their tribal territory, though by their own tribal law all the animals on the country belong communally to the tribe that occupies it. If in hunger the natives kill a sheep, the penalty of three years’ imprisonment with hard labour may be their lot. In this connection, it is important to remember that many stations in the Kimberley, and in the North-West Division also, are unimproved, unfenced, so the stock get mixed up, “boxed”, and several squatters will meet and carry out their musters together; but it is not an unknown thing when a white man wants meat, for him to kill anybody’s bullock, telling the aboriginals of the local
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tribe, who do his work, and who recognise earmarks and brands, that the beast is an exchange, but they also see that the first thing that they are required to do is to destroy the ears and the portion of the hide with the brand. A manager told me that there was far more killing of stock by white then was ever done by blacks.
The fact that some station owners are kindly does not affect the fundamental essential destructiveness of their policy one jott.
The immediate vital need in Western Australia today is resumption of land in every district where there are natives, to establish reserves for them in their own homeland. By their own laws the natives may not leave their own country for that of another tribe, for that would be trespass. Strange country is full of terrors for them; and they cling to their own country with the deepest attachment.
We are often told how many acres have been set aside for the natives in this million-mile State, but we are not told that these reserves exist in only two of our six Divisions, in the far tropical north, and in the central desert, with the solitary exemption of the Government Native Settlement on barren heath at Moore River or Mogumber as it is sometimes called. The reserves which exist to benefit the tribes which inhabit them, but are no help to the rest of the natives in the vast stretch of country between the Leeuwin to the north of Broome, covering seventeen degrees of latitude, and extending some 1300 miles drawn in a straight line on the map. In the great North-West Division alone, which is larger than many European countries and some Australian states, there is not one home for our native people, though there is a ration camp on the rabbit fence. Dr Duguid told the Presbyterian Convention in 1933:
“The word ‘reserve’ is a farce. There is not one reserve in Australia which is sacrosanct to the blacks.”
The reserves which exist are continually being encroached on by white men. A cattle station was recently taken from an aboriginal reserve, and similar theft of country are continually being made. The Chief Protector said in his last report (1932):
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“None of these are a Class “A” reservations. A Class “A” reserve is one the declared purpose of which cannot be altered except by act of parliament… Being convinced that these Kimberley reserves, notably those comprising the native cattle stations and other areas reserved for such a purpose, should be declared Class “A” reserves, I recommended accordingly, but my recommendation was not approved. Since then the wisdom of my suggestion has been forcibly illustrated, inasmuch as settlement has taken place on a certain area which is being held as a future site for a native station.
“Considerable prominence has of late been accorded to the efforts of certain mining syndicates directed towards sending their representatives into the somewhat forbidding country east of Laverton towards the South Australian border in search of gold. Most of the prospects which these investigating parties desire to test lie within the large reserve for aborigines…The time may not be far distant when instead of holding it as a reserve for aborigines we shall have to rigidly exclude them from it… The scheme for creating a native settlement of sorts somewhere within this territory… should receive early consideration, if the penetration of this area by whites continues.”
Robbery confers no title to ownership, but it does lead to extraneous wars. I protest against the theft of native reserves, and I do most earnestly urge on the Government to stop these theft, and make the native reserves inviolable, and establish more reserves, wherever there are natives starving.
What we need is a system of extensive reserves devoted exclusively to the use and benefit of the natives in each district, due regard being given to their location in districts where the majority of the natives are already. Coastal natives should not be sent to reserves inland, and tableland natives should not be sent to reserves on the coast. Districts where the marches of several tribes meet should be reserved. The whole question of reserves resolves itself into one of either sacrificing many human lives or losing a few pounds annually from rents.
Already a system of reserves is necessary not only for justice, but for the relief of the Treasury. Parliament must raise vast sums for rations to avert the frightful reproach of starving the natives to death in their own country, or restore land where, safe from molestation by white, and safe from official deportations for no fault, our natives can settle in homes and earn their own living and develop what is morally their country as well as ours.
At least fifty reserves are needed in Western Australia, equitably spaced
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throughout the State, in the natives’ own districts.
It is the fact that every mission or Government station in Western Australia cares for some 300 to 500 natives, and it would appear that at the present stage this is the number that one reserve can care for. On the basis of 500 natives to a reserve, 50 reserves are needed in Western Australia to care for our native population of about 20,000 to 30,000 natives.
Proper superintendence is essential to the maintenance of a reserve, and I urge that the superintendents of reserves shall be married men living with their wives, and abstainers from drink and bad language. The Victorian Citizens’ Education Fellowship, in recommending “more reserves with properly defined boundaries, adequately protected from unscrupulous whites…” states “this can be best done by establishing a mission station at each reserve.”
The inmates of Government Native settlements plead for Christianity. One woman writes:
“What is needed here is good Christian people at the head of the station, as they used to be a few years back… How hard they worked for the government, and for the church, and for God.”
And another woman writing from another settlement says:
“What is needed is a Christian manager.”
The heart’s desire of the natives of spiritual vision as well as material needs is very forcibly expressed by Dr Cilento in his report (1933):
“The whole native question needs very careful and complete revision. At present much of the organisation, time and work, is a mere beating of the air; the difference between passive control and active development of the natives is poorly apprehended on most stations…
“It has been frequently objected that it is impossible to inspire the aboriginal to active and purposive work. I have no hesitation, after a long experience of many kinds of coloured people, in directly denying that suggestion. There is a certain lethargy found in most native peoples living under stereotyped conditions, but this is almost invariably because the conditions are faulty… The outstanding problem of the native reservation… may be said to be the establishment of a plan obvious to the native which makes for his social and material betterment. Without it his detention in a reservation becomes merely a period of imprisonment; with it he may
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be encouraged towards development. The care of natives is essentially a matter of supervision… that goes all the way from actual disease control to the control of adequate food supplies and suitable working conditions and methods of recreation and educational improvement.”
We shall file unless we recognise the essential spirituality of all human beings, and that “the only way to save the remaining blacks is along the way of Christ.”
(Dr Duguid, South Australia, the authority on leprosy and other diseases, and his address to the Presbyterian Assembly in 1933.)
There is ability in law to resume land from lease for native purposes. It has been stated that “there is nothing to prevent the executive resuming the whole or portion of the runs and proclaiming them reserves for the sole use of the natives”. The stock runs are enormous, many reaching the limit allowed by the Land Act, namely, a million acres. The threat of compensation for improvements is used by the lessees to deter from resumption of portions of their leases, notwithstanding that most of these improvements are legendary, very many properties not even being fenced.
Last year in parliament several reserves were asked for in the South-West Division, and Mr Rodoreda indicated the need for a real reserve in the North-West Division, (Hansard, August, 1933):
“Native servants are being dispensed with… and are roaming around the north west in parties numbering 40 or 50. They are denied work by the station people… Some of these natives have been born and bred on stations” (their tribal land) “and have no other occupation to enable them to support themselves… They must get their food supplies somewhere. The station owners are alarmed, especially those who are further back from the coast. When 60 or 70 natives are banded together and want food, it is certain they will get it, even if they have to rob the station stores. They are not being looked after by the Aborigines Department… within a few years these aborigines will become a menace to the north west.”
Another real living area needed is for the natives of the eastern goldfields, now entirely taken up as sheep stations; the good work that is being done at Mt Margaret
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Mission is hampered by the smallness of the reserve, the native reserve of only 200 acres, and the mission lease totalling together 3 1/2 miles square, while around are some of the largest leases in the eastern division. On the Mt Margaret Mission Mr Schenk has built school, hospital, children’s home, work rooms, houses for native couples, all the buildings needed for a complete native settlement. Here the natives are taught to work at industries to become self supporting, when slack times come on the sheep stations after mustering and shearing, and the natives are turned away. The conditions are not suitable for agriculture, so industries were started and are continually being added. The great lack is land to grow meat to feed the natives, and nowhere in the State would land cost less. But here is a settlement already in being, with plant, and voluntary workers, able to care for twice the number and more. Travellers along the Trans Line are humiliated by the misery and degradation of our unfortunate native people. It is earnestly hoped that the opportunity for removing this blot from the Eastern Division of the State will be utilised by providing a sufficiently large living area for all our natives people of that district in their tribal meeting place at Mt Margaret.
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1.(f) Employment of aborigines and persons of aboriginal origin is dealt with under nine sub-headings:
1. No freedom of contract,
2. Compulsion and third degree methods,
3. Aboriginals employed on luggers and the relations of aboriginals and indentured Asians,
4. Removal of the labourers from their usual place of residence, (Slavery Convention, article 5)
5. Aboriginal prisoner employees,
6. Unpaid labour,
7. The native boys and girls from the government settlement,
8. Criminal Code penalty for a Civil Code offence, and private jails,
9. The remedy is land.
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No freedom of contract
It is to be hoped that the principles on which Labour has re-organised employment of white labourers will be extended to aboriginal labourers also.
Sir Isaac Isaac’s definition of slavery as “the deprivation of all kinds of property, including a man’s property in himself”, exactly describes the present position of the majority of our native and half-caste people. Being deprived of all kinds of property – their land with the water and the animals on it – deprives them also of their property in themselves, and of freedom of contract, because they must, from hunger, accept any employment the white man offers, on any terms that the white man offers.
A white man who wants to employ on land aboriginals, male half-caste children under 14 years and female half-castes, or to employ on boats aboriginals and male half-castes over 16 years, must make an application to the police officer in charge of the nearest police station; the police officer is often a “protector of aborigines” and also authorised to grant permits to work them. The Government List for 1934 shows that 6 departmental officials, 13 magistrates, and 28 police officers were empowered to grant permits to work aboriginals and half-castes. The latest Government Report (for 1932) shows that 3,856 natives were assigned under 577 permits, 3,478 natives being employed under 235 “general” permits, so large numbers of people must have been worked under some of the permits. A permit to work a single native or a married couple costs the employer five shillings; a general permit to work a specified lump sum of aborigines and half-castes costs the employer £2. The employer does his own recruiting and there is no requirement to pay wages. A settler told me that he had to keep on the right side of the local official who grants permits to work natives, or the official might refuse him “niggers” to work his station. Settlers
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and police work in so well together that when amendment of the Aborigines Act was proposed the Hon C H Wittenoom claimed in the House that natives should “be made use of on the northern stations”, and that natives “ought to be left to the care of the station owners and the police.” This accurately describes their position and explains the extinction of the aborigines and the increase of half-castes.
But as we recognise the unfairness of such a course as handing over the white workers to the station owners and the police, we ought also to recognise the unfairness of handing over the aboriginal and half-caste workers to the station owners and the police, and bear in mind that three important safeguards have been denied and still are denied to our aborigines and half-castes: education, medical services and the vote.
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Compulsion and third degree methods
The Government Report for 1930 admits forced labour and kidnapping of natives under the term “illicit practices”, and also that the Government is powerless to deal with them. Compulsion and third degree methods of persuasion are used to make the natives work for the white men, and are continued with pressure to keep them up to the mark. Gross abuses occur, but seldom get past the conspiracy of silence. Yet one such case, which occurred in 1932, was reported in the press of England and Australia. A pastoralist named Baker, holding a permit to work six natives, went out with a revolver and a rifle looking for natives to work on his station; he shot one aboriginal who died almost immediately, shot their hunting dogs, and took three natives to work on his station, but two of them escaped under cover of night. “The significance of Baker’s defence is that he was ‘out looking for labour with a rifle’.” He was acquitted.
Compulsion does not end with recruitment. J. Parks, a Broome drover, shot a native dead simply for leaving his job. After a short term of imprisonment Parks was using native labour again droving with half-caste workers. It is reported that his permit to employ natives was withdrawn; if so, it mattered little to him, for he worked them without the permit, as a great many more white people do.
The Commonwealth’s indenture system in Papua, under the most favourable conditions is described by the man who is responsible for applying it – Sir Hubert Murray – as “akin to slavery”. Much more is this true of Western Australia, where, as its Government Reports show, there is practically no supervision, and no care is taken “to ensure that the penalties imposed by law” (for the illegal exaction of forced of compulsroy labour ) “are really adequate and are strictly enforced. ” (I.L.O. Convention, Article 25.)
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