New Norcia

Employment of people requiring natives

State Records Archive
Consignment: 652
Item: 1909/0033
Title: Aborigines – Employment of people requiring natives

Keywords: William Pickering, John Atkinson, Jeremiah McClune, Kaloorup, Southern Cross, Mount Jackson Station, Mogumber, New Norcia, Canterbury, labour

Key phrases:

“I have heard indirectly that labor of this description is to be obtained and that if properly treated also good results. If you can supply you might be able to advise as to the best way to handle these boys as I understand the wilder they are the better.” [William Pickering, farmer]

“They [will] be well treated while in our possession” [John Atkinson, pastoralist]

From: W Geo Pickering, Kaloorup, via Busselton
To: Chief Protector of Aborigines, Perth
18th Dec 1908
I have the honor to request that you will be kind enough to advise me as :-
1. Will your Department supply labor in the shape of two young aboriginal boys from the North?
2. If so, upon what terms and conditions.
I have heard indirectly that labor of this description is to be obtained and that if properly treated also good results. If you can supply you might be able to advise as to the best way to handle these boys as I understand the wilder they are the better.
I have the honor to be, Sir, your obedient servant,
W Geo Pickering

South Fremantle
To Director, Aborigines Department, Perth
21 Dec 08
Dear Sir,
We being in need of 2 natives for station work, at and around Mount Jackson, Southern Cross, and being willing to pay all expenses in connection with the obtaining same then deck passage down the coast, also to guarantee that they be well treated while in our possession, further that when no longer required by us to put them onto that portion of the Colony from whence they came – beg that you will give us any necessary permission in order that our friends in the North from whom we expect to obtain the natives may know that the requirements of your Department have been complied with.
Yours faithfully,
John Atkinson
[Memo at base of letter]
Acknowledged – informed none at present in Perth – would write again when one turned up

New Norcia
To Mr Gale, Chief Protector of Aborigines
18th Jan 09
I will feel very much obliged if you can procure me two Aboriginals for shepherding. I will give good wages also usual supply rations free and will pay their fare up to Mogumber. I prefer married men as they are more content to tend their flocks. Please reply at your earliest disposal as I want them at once. By doing so you will greatly oblige me.
Thanking you in anticipation.
I am, Sir, yours respectfully,
J McClune

Subject: Aborigines – employment of – people requiring Natives
1) Pickering (file 33/09) Kaloorup via Busselton
2) Atkinson (file 34/09) Mount Jackson, Southern Cross
3) McClune, Canterbury, New Norcia

Katitjin Notes:

Question: What made the colonisers specifically request aboriginal workers from the North? What made them believe that the Chief Protector would “be able to advise as to the best way to handle these boys” and that “the wilder they are the better”?

Question: Who were the “friends friends in the North from whom we expect to obtain the natives”?

Note: The choice of the term “possession,” rather than “employment” – “They [will] be well treated while in our possession” [John Atkinson, pastoralist] – is indicative of slavery.

William George Pickering (1869-1953)
Born in England, William Pickering was an architect who tried his hand at farming near Busselton between 1905 and 1918, before giving up and returning to his profession. He designed many hotels and buildings in the southern wheatbelt region. Pickering was the Country member for Vasse in WA Legislative Assembly 1917-1924.

Media Response to the Roth Report I

Dr Walter Edmund Roth (1861-1933) Photo: John Oxley Library, State Library, Qld

Dr Walter Edmund Roth (1861-1933)
Photo: John Oxley Library, State Library, Qld

The following newspaper articles are responses to the Roth Report, recorded in The West Australian. The newspaper and date are followed by the headlines as written in the article and brief outline of what is contained in the article. Click on the date to go to a PDF version of that item.

The West Australian
30 Jan 1905
The Aborigines Question
The Investigations by Dr Roth
A Comprehensive Report
Drunkenness, Disease and Crime
Important Recommendations
This article is part one of three, and provides a lengthy summary of the Report, which does not include specific editorial comment; however, note that although the focal point of the report was a scathing indictment about the ill-treatment of Aborigines by Anglo-Australians, the headlines ignore the findings of abuse and neglect, highlighting instead negative Aboriginal behaviours that were not prevalent in the Report itself.
7,900 words

The West Australian
31 Jan 1905
The Aborigines Question
Dr Roth’s Investigations
Treatment of Aboriginal Prisoners
Charges Against the Police
This lengthy article is part two of three, focussing on issues related to sentencing and the treatment of Aboriginal offenders.
6,043 words

The West Australian
01 Feb 1905
The Aborigines Question
Dr Roth’s Investigations
The Indenture and Contract Systems
Alleged Abuses
The Mission Stations
The third and final instalment of the summary of the Roth Report focusses on the issue of working contracts and apprentice agreements made (or not made) with Aboriginal workers in the north-west. Also summarises the evidence given for the principal missions in WA: New Norcia, Beagle Bay, Swan Native Mission, Sunday Island, Broome.
6,039 words

The West Australian
31 Jan 1905
The editorial focusses on the upcoming legislation that results from the Report. It also highlights the “problem” of Asians in the pearling industry:
“The condition of affairs…is mainly due to Asiatic aliens allowed into the State as pearling boat’s crews…mostly Malays, Manilamen, and Japanese…The contact with Aboriginal women with Eastern Asiatics can only be shocking and demoralising from every point of view…the half-caste offspring of such unions, if any there be, can have no abiding or respected place in the scale of humanity… There can be no question whatever that all practical steps should be taken, by legislation or otherwise, to prevent such moral atrocities.”
1,378 words

1871 Habits & Customs Report

Report page 21 (Source NLA)

Report page 21 (Source NLA)

1871 Information regarding the habits and customs of the Aboriginal inhabitants of Western Australia

This report was compiled as supporting evidence and background to accompany the 1871 “Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council relative to the Aboriginal Natives.” Scroll down to read the full document, or download the PDF from AIATSIS.

In early accounts of Western Australian history, there are references to the evidence taken from missionaries who operated the “Native Industrial Institutions” referred to in the final report.

“History of Western Australia” by W B Kimberly, written in 1897:

In 1871 the Legislative Council appointed a Select Committee to devise means for the more systematic protection of the aborigines. The committee suggested that grants of land should be made to natives, where recommended by the Principal of any Native Industrial Institution, on condition that such grants should not be sold, transferred, or let without the consent of the Governor; and if not improved or cultivated for three consecutive years, that the Governor should resume the land. The evidence of several philanthropists was taken. Bishop Salvado, while declaring that natives were incapable of sustained physical or mental effort, said that he successfully taught natives at New Norcia such trades as tailoring, boot and harness making, as well as agriculture, &c. In 1871 four men at New Norcia reaped 190 bushels of their own corn. Father Garrido had reported that they were good shepherds, teamsters, stockmen, and shearers. Mrs. Camfield described their adaptability for domestic work. (Kimberly 1897, 247)

“Handbook of Western Australia” by C G Nicolay, written in 1880:

The opinion of those in charge of the Institutions at New Norcia and Albany (since transferred to Perth) are to be found in the reports made by them, which were published with the Council Papers for 1871. 

Bishop Salvado says that the natives are generally not capable of continuous hard work, either corporeal or mental, and that he considers condemnation to hard labor condemnation to death; he found it necessary to combine both, giving three hours daily to bodily, three to mental labor in the school, and the rest of the day to relaxation, gymnastics, games, music, dancing, &c. He considers the labor of a well-conducted farm most suitable as a means of civilization. Tailoring, shoemaking, and harness making, have been successfully taught and practised, but require too long continued and regular labor for natives generally. The young men become good agriculturists, and four reaped 190 bushels of wheat of their own in the year 1871. All labor at New Norcia is paid for at customary rates, and the property of individuals is respected. He finds that the diseases from which the natives suffer most are not so amenable to the ordinary course of medical treatment adopted by European medical men as they are in the case of the settlers, but that they more often recover under their native remedies. They suffer much from “home sickness,” and occasional hunting is allowed them on this account.

Father Garrido reports that they have been found good shepherds and teamsters, and first-class stockmen, but, like Bishop Salvado, he prefers agricultural labor, as more tending to civilization; that in one year 5413 sheep were sheared at New Norcia by natives, one shearing 1421 sheep in 25 days, and earning £19s. 8½d. The girls, he says, are taught to wash, cook, and work with the needle; several couples have been married, and those living in cottages on the estate of the Monastery have adopted the habits, manners, and dress of civilized life.

Mrs. Camfield, who had charge of the school at Annesfield (Albany), reports specially on the fondness of the natives for music. One girl, sent to Sydney, played for some time the harmonium in St. Philip’s Church, and gained her living by teaching; several others married civilized natives from institutions in the other colonies, having become good housewives, able to make bread, cook, wash, cure fruit and meat, and use their needle well; some are now employed as school teachers. She also notes the fondness of the boys for mechanical arts. They are, she adds, easily taught to be neat and clean in their persons, being very observant and great admirers of dress. (Nicolay 1880, 93-95)


Kimberly, Warren Burt. 1897. History of Western Australia: A narrative of her past together with biographies of her leading men. Melbourne: F W Niven & Co

Nicolay, Charles Grenville. 1880. Handbook of Western Australia. Perth: Richard Pether, Govt Printer

1871 Habits and Customs of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of Western Australia