State Records Office of Western Australia
Title: Transcript of evidence 1934
Item 1 & Item 2
Aborigines Royal Commission 005-3
Monday, 12th March, 1934
H. D. Moseley, Esq., Commissioner.
AUBUR [sic] OCTAVIUS NEVILLE, Chief Protector of Aborigines, sworn and examined:
30. Will you next deal with Paragraph (f) of the terms of reference, which refers to the employment of aborigines and persons of aboriginal origin? — Every aboriginal who is a full-blooded aboriginal or who is a half-caste deemed to be an aboriginal under the Act, is required to be employed under permit or under permit and agreement. There are at present 4,054 natives so employed and the number of permits is 552. The figures are less by nearly 2,000 than is customary, this being mainly because of unemployment in the southern portions of the state. There are still a large number employed in the North but not quite so many as in normal times, mainly owing to the condition of the cattle industry. Employers on cattle and sheep stations secure the services of quite a number of natives who are usually engaged under what is known as a general permit, which stipulates that the individual holding the permit may employ so many natives, the number being fixed by the protector.
31. Without limit? — Yes, to the number he may require. Some protectors insist upon the names of the natives being supplied as well, but that is not compulsory. A permit may contain conditions at the discretion of a protector. Likewise the protector may refuse a permit if he does not think the prospective employer is a suitable person. Some difficulty is experienced regarding permits owing to the fact that there are so many unclassified natives in the country areas at present. We have half-castes in blood who claim that they do not come under the Act, yet they consort with natives. They run with the hare and hunt with the hounds as they please. No one can stop them. Then we have the young lads who are beyond guardianship age who snap their fingers at the department in the same way. Natives who are not employed under permits — in using the term “natives”, I include all under that heading — very often get into trouble and when that happens we are called upon to get them out of their difficulty. Had they been engaged legally under permit they would probably have been all right. Pending his complete emancipation and absorption into the community on equal terms, the native, whether he likes it or not, needs some agency to guide him,
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safeguard his interests and encourage him to be thrifty. From time to time the question of payment of wages crops up. In practice no monetary wages are paid in some districts, mainly in the far North, but natives receive wages in kind, food, clothes, medical attendance, and so on. Further south in the North, some of the men get good wages and when we get to the south-west of the State no native there will work unless he gets some sort of a wage, whatever it nay he. Some are working on contract. The whole position as it stands is unsatisfactory from the wages standpoint. You nay have a native on one station receiving £4 a week. That may be a rather exaggerated instance, although I know of that being done. I will put it at £3 a week and point out that the native on the next station who may he doing exactly the same work gets £1 a week. Similarly on a station still further away a native may he getting 10s. a week for similar work. As a result of that system, the highest bidder gets the best native. I am sometimes appealed to in order to prevent one individual from persuading the natives employed by his neighbour to work for him. Of course it is an offence under the act to entice a native from his legal employment. We have been awaiting the amendment of the Act for some time to enable us to adopt a satisfactory method that will stabilise the position. Again I favour the Queensland system. In that State the authorities have had more experience than we have had in these matters. Although I think their system could be improved upon in some respects, the basis of it is sound. Briefly, it is this: There is an Arbitration award for natives providing a minimum wage. I think it is 10s. a week. There are certain conditions laid down regarding housing, food and so on. naturally all employers have to pay the wage specified. Whether that wage is too high, I do not know; that is not the point. It is contended that the wages demanded for natives in Queensland are too high and consequently there are more out of employment in that State than there are in Western Australia on a proportionate basis. Certainly it is a fact that in Western Australia there are proportionately more…
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natives employed than are employed in Queensland. More are at work and fewer are in receipt of charity than in normal times. It is not merely a system of arbitration wages; there are certain principles laid down. Arrangements are made through local protectors and the native is obliged by law to bank his money, and to have a small percentage debited up against his account and paid into a fund from which large sums are drawn to subsidise various activities of the department. Under that system, the natives themselves, whether they like it or not, are helping those who are not in as satisfactory a position as they are. In Queensland they call it a provident fund. The natives in Queensland have over £250,000 to their credit in the savings bank at the present time, and the amount that has been paid into Government funds on account of the natives has been, so I judge, something of an embarrassment. I do not know definitely but I believe that is so. It may mean that the natives do not require all the wages paid to them and the chances are that they could have done with less. At the same time, the department in Queensland is in a position to finance the requirements of the natives with their own money in a manner more satisfactory than is possible in this State. Queensland spends three times as much as we do on our natives and at the same time has not to spend so much State money because the money already available is making money all the time. Many of the natives in Queensland are engaged in private enterprise. For instance, they go in for pearling and some own their own boats. There is a lot of co-operative work in that respect. I submit a copy of the latest report of the department in Queensland (Exhibit No. 11), which speaks for itself. It shows that the balance standing to the credit of natives in Queensland at the end of 1932 was £258,000, in round figures; the amount to the credit of the provident fund was £10,000 odd. That money is apart from that included in what is known as the Aborigines Property Protection Account, to which estates of deceased natives are credited, grants made and so on, and that account represented…
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…£17,000 odd. I am quite sure that we should adopt some such system in this state, but before that can be done the Act must be amended to enable us to proceed along those lines. I introduced this subject years ago, and I submit to you File No. 451/1933 of the Aborigines Department (Exhibit No. 12) in support of my statement. On Page 11 you will find the first minute I submitted in which I suggested that we should go in for some such system.
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It is imperative that we should have a system, whether this or something else, because it is highly unsatisfactory at present. I am not advocating the payment of wages to natives throughout the State because in some districts it would be a mistake; they are quite happy, provided they have enough of the ordinary material things of life; still, as we come south in the State they must become accustomed to money and the use of money. Any such system naturally throws a good deal of work on the local protectors, who as they exist are not in a position to do this work. During the last 10 years or so the whole matter of the natives has become an individual one. Instead of dealing with them in bulk as we used to do, we are dealing with individuals, and they are continually appealing to us for this or that. Also the question of a native receiving or not receiving what is due to him is continually cropping up and we are asked to interfere. I have certain powers under Section 33 of the Act which assist me to deal justly between the employer and the native. Trouble comes about through ignorance on the part of the native who very often cannot read or write, and who doesn’t know that he is being taken down. I have known five 10s. notes being handed to a native in payment for a £10 contract. We should have in the Act a section making it compulsory for any financial dealing between a native and anybody else to be subject to review by or witnessed by a protector.
38. Perhaps you will bring that up again in Paragraph 2?— Yes. At head office we have a number of trust accounts most of which have been opened in comparatively recent times. We encourage natives to save, and we bank part of their savings for them. This applies particularly to those youngsters we send out from our own settlement or stations. We act as custodians of their funds and when they want anything they write or come to the office and get orders on various firms for what they want, and generally we prevent them from wasting their money, although we do not restrict any legitimate desire.
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