1[“The Native Question”, The Hedland Advocate (Port Hedland, WA), Saturday 14 May 1910, p?]

The Native Question

No. 1.

There is no question among those who give serious thought to the Australian, and more particularly the Nor’-West settler, than that of the native question. Unfortunately, the sentiment of the civilising spirit in its best and most humane form has not obtruded itself on those responsible for the settlement of the European race on the soil of the aboriginal. The greed for the acquisition of the territory, without the giving of any advantages, which might with reason have been stipulated for, has been the dominant spirit hitherto. Deprived of his land, the right to live on it, the native, from being a king of the soil, has become a mere chattel of the pastoralist, retained (if useful) without remuneration, and in some cases is liberty of locomotion restricted. Useful as a servant or slave, he has worked for years for the pastoralist without wages. To the magnificent asset of unremunerated labour can be placed the opulence of the pastoralist today. We say that this asset of labour should belong to the Government of the State, which has to foot the heavy aborigines’ expenditure. A carefully graduated system of native labour, under State control, and payment made to the Treasury would divert the course of the squatters’ unfairly acquired wealth into the proper channel. This must be an attractive hint to the Treasury, although we do not place this matter on sordid lines alone; but we assert that such a system, properly administered, would annually produce more than sufficient to meet the State’s deficit. Nearly all stations have a manager at £100 to £200 a year, two or three experienced men at £6 per month, and the rest native labour unpaid for: in some cases as many as 200 natives on a station. Vast tracts of country are so worked. The condition of the native is worse today than before our so-called civilising influence came. Disease and vice have played their part, and their numbers are gradually being reduced. There is no doubt that the prohibition of the supply of liquor has been a move for the better, but the disease question has only been toyed with. Let not the powers that be in Perth console themselves that Bernier Island solves the difficulty. The system of examination of natives is inefficient. Firstly, no one, either doctor or police, has the legal right to cause any native to submit to examination. Again, the duty of selection and examination of diseased natives is cast on the police, and in consequence not a fraction of the cases find their way for treatment to Bernier Island. Let the question be faced fully and fairly, and inspecting medical men be given powers to go among the natives and deal with the cases and establish hospitals in the districts. Then, and then only, will the loathsome disorders be kept in check. The native is thought by some to be little better than an animal. After our experience of him, while admitting relatively he is a low type, yet we say he is receptive of good teaching, and can be made a useful member of the community. Much can be done and done well, if the right people are made to support it financially by paying a fair contribution to the Treasury for the native labour, and the money so derived applied directly to the welfare of the sons of the soil. Surely we cannot see these people, whom we have ruthlessly dispossessed (without any compensation or obligation favorable to them or theirs) die out for want of humane thought, and action? Let the fair-minded among us evolve something. We must admit the wrong: then let us right it.

AB notes:

It is difficult to reconcile Barker’s views on ‘the native question’ and his rabid White Australia zeal.