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:
11. Referring now to the southern portions of the State and the Goldfields areas, we find that most of the aborigines are reduced to dependence upon Government rations as their sole-support. Throughout the State, police officers and one or two others are entrusted with the duty of rationing indigent natives. We have our own officers here and there at depots. There are about 74 places where rations are issued by the department, including native stations and settlements but not including missions. Naturally, on our own settlements the diet is on an improved basis because we rear stock for the benefit of the natives, vegetables are grown and the food is cooked. I produce a circular
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issued by the department regarding the rationing of Indigent natives (Exhibit No 1), which will explain the method of rationing the natives and disclose what they get. The actual extent of the weekly rationing is as follows: 1½ lbs. meat; 10 lbs. flour; 1½ lbs. sugar; 4 ozs. tea. In addition a stick of tobacco is issued to those accustomed to its use—that would mean to all if we let them have it. That rationing was merely intended as a standby in cases of necessity. It was never meant to be what it has become, namely, the staple food of the people. They might have been able to put up with it for 12 months but they have been getting it for a good deal longer than that now. Meat which it the main-stay of the natives, used to be supplied on a much more liberal scale than the rate of 1½ lbs. per week as now. In 1926-27 we were given sufficient money for the specific purpose of issuing additional meat to the natives and we were able to give them ¾ lbs. meat daily; that was, to all indigent natives. I mention that point specially because meat is so important to the natives. With the increased numbers we have had to provide for, we had to reduce the amount of meat available to ¾ lbs. three times a week, and in 1930-31 a further reduction had to be made due to the departmental vote being decreased, and thereafter we had to give 1½ lbs. of meat weekly to the most deserving cases only. Naturally, when the number of people to be rationed increased from 300 to 400 to over 1,000, and we had less money for that purpose, we had to cut down somewhere, and that was the only way it could be done. Other measures were taken. Certain officers were dispensed with. Certain reductions were made and expenditure reduced to an absolute minimum, beyond which we could not go. In consequence, the natives had to suffer and that is the position now. Undoubtedly the scale of rations is insufficient, especially for the young, and it is not entirely suitable. I am quite safe in saying that the natives throughout the south-western and goldfields areas are suffering from malnutrition and weakness brought about through lack of food
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and their power of resistance to diseases has decreased very considerably. If you visit the Moore River Settlement, you will find the natives in very good condition, not because they get much more to eat but because they have a properly balanced diet. Even there they do not get what they should receive. In addition to the lack of food there is an insufficiency of clothing and blankets. Formerly natives used to clothe themselves as a result of their earnings. Today they depend largely upon the garments provided by the department. Those requirements are supplied once a year only, and they consist of a shirt and pants for men and a dress and singlet—they call them flannel undershirts—for the women. Those clothes have to last the natives for 12 months. The blankets with which they are supplied are good and large, and one blanket should possibly last a native for two or three years. But throughout the whole State we have about 750 nearly 2000 blankets only annually for distribution. In consequence, the children, particularly in the southern areas, are suffering from the effects of cold and sickness, probably brought about by the lack of clothing and comforts that they need. This has the effect of making a whole family huddle together in a small 8 ft. by 6 ft. or 8 ft. by 10 ft. structure with probably every crevice closed up, their heads under the blanket and in those conditions the whole family are breathing in filth and germs all the time. This is done in an endeavour to keep warm or dry.
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