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:
1. BY THE COMMISSIONER: You expressed a desire to give evidence at this stage of the preceedings. Will you now do so? —I have been Chief Protector of Aborigines since early in 1915. As shown in the last annual report of the department, there are 29,021 natives within this State. Of these approximately 15,134 represent full-bloods, 3,891 are of mixed colour, and a large number of the latter are half-castes. The conditions vary according to the part of the State in which the people reside. The rest of the State cannot be judged by the South-West, nor can the South-West be judged by the position in the North. The problem has many facets. A wide knowledge of the conditions is required to enable anyone to formulate a proper judgment of the situation. The conditions in the extreme North are in most respects fairly good. In the lower Kimberleys, and in the North-West the conditions are passable, but in the Gascoyne and the Murchison they are not so good. Deterioration has already set in. On the goldfields and in the South-West deterioration and demoralisation have long since set in and are becoming acute. The process of demoralisation started 100 years ago in the South-West. It has continued steadily up to the present time. It reached the North somewhere in the seventies or the early eighties. It has not taken much hold beyond the Leopold Ranges, where the people are
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in practically the same wild state in which they originally existed, because there has been no white settlement to speak of in that area. These are a free and independent people, living in the wilds, and closely safeguarded by tribal inhibitions and prohibitions. A little further south we have a number of useful natives, still resticted by their tribal bounds and culture, but a number who have been born in servitude are beginning to forget their own culture to adopt that of the whites.
On the coast and further south we meet the coloured element. On reaching the South-West we find only 500 or 600 true aborigines left. There we have a nameless, unclassified outcast race, increasing in numbers but decreasing in vitality and stamina, and largely unemployable. The fathers are better men than the sons, and the grandfathers better than either. It is my firm conviction that as things are in the South so they will become in the North unless preventive measures are taken. Under present conditions the splendid virile men of the North will become like the useless coloured people in the South.
We hope as a department to tell you what we think is wrong, what remedies we suggest, and what we have dared to attempt with the means available to us. In 1905, when the Aborigines Act was proclaimed, there were with very few exceptions only aborigines and half-castes. There were not more than 900 half-castes in the State. Today there are still aborigines and half-castes but there are two or three generations of half-castes, and numerous cross-breeds, making the total coloured population, which is not purely aboriglnal, 3891, excluding numerous Asiatic crossss at Broome and along the coast, who are quite unclassifiable. In all probability there are nearer 5,000 people of colour in Western Australia. In 1905 there were only 50 half-castes between Geraldton and Albany; today there are some 3,000. A large number of these people are not covered by existing legislation, yet they are living exactly as their forebears did. Indeed their conditions in most respects are inferior to the conditions of the pure-blooded aborigine.
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They have very little in the way of education, but some of then have just enough to enable then to become defiant and unrestrained. Our difficulties as a department are, therefore, constantly increasing. They have abandoned all the good found in the tribal culture of their ancestors, except when they choose to use it as a means to an end. In the South at all events we have reached a stage where decisions must be made concerning the future welfare of these people who are at the parting of the ways. We have to decide whether we shall make them a good, law-abiding, self-respecting people, or leave them as an outcast race, rapidly increasing in number and constituting an incubus and danger to the community. These people in the South have suffered somewhat from the sympathy and pity of the community. They have been spoilt in many ways. They have suffered the good-humoured toleration of the whites, and have been allowed to live their own lives to their own detriment. Like other crossbred races, they have a dislike for institutionalism or authority.Yet above all things they have to be protected against themselves and can not be allowed to remain as they are. The sore spot must be out out for the good of the community as well as of the patient, and probably against will of the patient.
Paragraph (a) of the Commisslon refers to the different classes that should be excluded from the native camps. There are people who advocate separate legislation for half-castes and aborigines. I do not agree with that. The half-caste is bound up with the aboriginal; he is living the life of an aboriginal and it would be impossible to separate the two at present. In our own Act a certain amount of differentiation is shown with regard to the half-caste.
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The half-caste dislikes extremely to be thought an aboriginal, though he does not mind being classed as a native. He objects to what be calls the “Dog Act”, and being placed thereunder; that is, the Aborigines Act. I do not blame him for that. Many of the half-castes should not be called aborigines. They are above that, quite. They have passed along the road to a certain extent, and they naturally object. My view is that the name of the Department should be entirely changed. It should not be the Aborigines Department at all, but the Department of Native Affairs, and the Chief Protector should be styled Commissioner or some such title. Then the whole objection of the half-caste would disappear, and it is a very considerable objection. In some cases it prevents us from handling the half-castes at all, whatever right we may have in the matter. The term “native” of course would include all coloured persons deemed by law to be such. The effect of the proposed change would be excellent. There is nothing adverse in it, and it could not adversely affect anyone. We shall be dealing with Clause (a) again later, when we come to legislation. I do not want to say too much about it just now.