Cecil Cook

A O Neville’s Evidence – Pt 7

State Records Office of Western Australia
Microfilm
Acc 2922/1-2
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:

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] Continued…

15. Have you a copy of his report ? — Yes, I will supply it. One of his recommendations was that there should be an itinerant officer in the Kimberleys to be entrusted with the matter of inspecting and treating natives between Derby and Wyndham, his headquarters to be in Hall’s Creek. After Dr Cook’s visit, two or three conferences were held between…

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the Ministers and the officers concerned, and it was finally agreed that leprosy should be a matter for the Medical Departnent and that I should continue to control the incidence of venereal disease amongst natives. Consequently I am not able to give much evidence regarding leprosy that will be obtainable from the Medical Department. It was suggested that native leper cases should be transferred to a leprosarium at Darwin. In company with the Minister, I visited the Federal health authorities in Melbourne with a view to getting that suggestion put into effect. It was not done then, but it was brough about more recently and lepers are supposed to be sent to Darwin. In 1925 I again pointed out that in the Kimberleys I had cone across a number of revolting cases of disease. All the district medical officers were not then administering the treatment we had adopted at our hospitals. As a result of my representations they were asked to do so in order that they might treat local cases. I also recommended that the district medical officer at Derby should be relieved of his duties for 12 months so that he could travel up and down the coast and administer the propor treatment. That was not agreed to. I further pointed out that a suitable policy to control the increase of the disease would be the gradual establishment of small native stations or depots in order that we might get in touch with the natives and eventually effect the cure of those needing attention. We had plenty of rumours regarding the incidence of the disease in different parts of the north but could not get anything tangible on which to act. On the contrary, our own stations advised that there were no general signs of disease existing in the far North, and in that statement at least one missioner concurred.

16. The district from which most of the lepers came recently was one of those traversed by Dr Cook and found by him to be comparatively clean. One road board — I think it was Broome — suggested an annual inspection of natives on the same lines as those followed in the expedition conducted by Dr Cook, but owing to the high cost, the suggestion was not given serious consideration.

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In 1927 I pointed out that it would be just as cheap to appoint a permanent travelling medical officer who would be always on the job to do the work. Since then I have repeatedly urged the appointment of inspectors, at least one of whom should be a medical man. I submit file 126/33 (Exhibit 4). I pointed out that district medical officers could not be expected to visit the interior and that as a matter of fact they did not do so unless something special transpired. Consequently they could not know or seek out the condition of the natives.

17. Natives in remote districts disguise their condition. If they know that anyone is going to visit them, ten to one they will clear out until that person has left. I contend that only an officer of the Aborigines Department — a medical man or otherwise — travelling and repeating his visits can be expected to ascertain the real condition of those people. There have been short visits by medical men and recently the medical officer at Derby has done excellent work in discovering lepers; but had my recommendation been adopted in the first place, we would not have had the condition that prevails today. We would have been very much further advanced in the matter of the treatment of venereal disease. Because those people have simply been left alone for so long and because no one has understood their condition and because the diseased ones have not been actually located, the present
rather bad state of affairs has resulted.

18. In 1928, I recommended the establishment of a native hospital just from that district outside Wyndham. We had had several medical reports from that district notifying the presence of venereal disease, and are still getting them. The reason we know so much about those things — we are not given details — is that whites are contracting venereal disease and they allege they get it from the natives. Whether that is so, I am unable to say. However, Wyndham has forwarded quite n number of complaints during the last two or three years.

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No money wag available for such hospital, and I could not go on with it. The position is the same today. I put In File 184/28 (Exhibit 5).

19. Another difficulty cropped up some years ago when lock hospitals were in existence. The difficulty was that shipping companies refused to carry veneral cases. Now and again we were able to get one on board, largely on sufferance, but in the last year or two it has been impossible to convey natives in that way. At intervals during the past ten years I have suggested that we should have a boat of our own. Then the North-West Department was in existence we tried to arrange with the Commonwealth for a vessel for the use of the Fisheries Department, the Aborigines Department and the Customs Dept, but negotiations failed. Lately I have continued to urge that we should have a boat and that that boat should be established at Munja Station. Possibly something will come of that recommendation in the near future. It is essential that we should have a boat of our own to carry natives and to transport our goods and produce to Broome. There are difficulties experienced in approaching Derby by a small boat. Vessels prefer to go to Broome. Again there is the question of transporting lepers to Darwin and about this there has been considerable difficulty. If we had our own boat it would be a simple matter to take them there. Such a vessel would have to be an auxiliary boat. Also there would be saved the cost to us of certain services. It would cost no more, probably less, than we are spending today in certain directions. Further, with regard to the question of venereal disease on the stations in Kimberley, and particularly East Kimberley, I recently arranged for a visit of the district medical officer at Wyndham to our Moola Bulla Station. Moola Bulla is probably one of the best conducted stations in the North, as indeed a Government station should be, and you would expect to find no more adverse conditions there than anywhere else. I am going to submit a copy of the doctor’s report which I received about the end of last year. It is on Page 50 of File No.120/26 (Exhibit 6). It is safe to say that the natives on the other stations are in no better condition than are those at Moola Bulla.

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A O Neville’s Evidence – Part 6

State Records Office of Western Australia
Microfilm
Acc 2922/1-2
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:

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] Continued…

[Handwritten insert] Coming to Paragraph (d) of the Commission “Disease amongst aborigines and measures for their treatment”

When I became Chief Protector, I found there was an impression, particularly in the North, that the natives were very much afflicted with venereal disease. There were hospitals on Bernier and Dorre Islands capable of treating 480 patients annually. Actually while those hospitals were in existence, for nine or 10 years, 600 patients in all were treated at an annual cost of over £70 per head, which is enormous. That did not include the cost of collection and transport. There were never more than 100 patients at a time on the islands, usually between 50 and 60. Fear of the sea was one of the causes which prevented diseased natives from being discovered, for no doubt they used to hide. There was then an officer who used to travel about collecting diseased natives. The journeys to which I am about to refer took place between 1913 and 1917. On his first trip this officer went, it was thought he would secure about 200 patients. Actually he got only 47. On another expedition, in 1915, he got only 13 patients, and on his final trip he found only 32 bad enough to be sent to the islands.

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After very carefully surveying the position, I recommended that the Government should close those hospitals—they were simply wasting money—and that in their stead hospitals should be erected on the mainland and the natives encouraged to enter them. One hospital was established at Port Hedland and another at Derby. At that time there was very little talk of leprosy. Only 13 cases were discovered between 1909 and 1917. From 1920 to 1923 11 more cases were discovered, including one white, and from 1924 to 1929, 27 cases were found. I mention this specifically to show that most of the leprosy discovered has been within the last three or four years. As regards venereal disease, hospitals on the islands seemed to have cleaned up the existing cases so far as they could be found, but those cases never included patients from the country beyond the usual confines of civilisation. The department has made every effort to convey to the hospitals any native afflicted with venereal disease. Protectors have been enjoined to report every case discovered, and they have to make an annual statement of the conditions in their districts. In 1917 I sought the permission of the Commissioner of Public Health to enable certain of my officers and one or two missionaries to administer a certain form of treatment for cases of venereal disease and he agreed. Throughout the North there are now some 12 officers entitled to do that. They reside in places beyond the reach of ordinary medical aid. There has never been discovered amongst natives the amount of venereal disease alleged to exist. On many occasions we have asked medical officers to visit certain areas and the result has always been more or less the same, namely that they could not find the cases said to exist.
14. In recent years the incidence of the disease has become more apparent. In 1922 I pointed out that venereal disease was increasing and that natives were suffering from other forms of disease. I myself had been through the Kimberleys and I urged the advisableness of a medical inspection right through the North in order to ascertain the prevalence of venereal disease,

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leprosy, and other complaints. In 1923, I repeated that suggestion. We had an outbreak of hookworm in 1921, but owing to prompt measures taken by the Rockefeller survey party under Dr. Baldwin, that appears to have been eliminated, as a result of those representations. Dr Cecil Cook, a Commonwealth officer, was loaned to us in 1924. He went through the North and made a survey. He was an expert in tropical diseases. He visited practically every station in the Kimberleys and in the North-West as far south as Roebourne. He examined in all 2,432 natives and found four cases of leprosy in natives and 84 natives suffering from granuloma venereum. It in important to explain the difference between venereal diseases. There are three forms from which the natives seem to suffer. Granuloma venereum is an Asiatic disease, which was evidently introduced by Asiatics years ago. So far as I can judge, it is the most easily cured of the lot. It does not seem to afflict whites or it has not afflicted whites here, although I believe it can do so. There is also ordinary syphilis from which the natives have not suffered to any great extent, and lastly there is gonorrhoea which is the commonest form, and the form that is increasing, it being so easily conveyed from one to another. It is the early stage of venereal disease and can easily be cleaned up. We have been administering special treatment for granuloma at our own hospitals and have turned out hundreds of natives apparently cured. It is not a long treatment; the natives are in hospital as a rule for only three or four weeks. Some natives have returned re-infected and have been discharged again cured. Dr Cook made several important recommendations.