34[“The Australian Aboriginals”, The West Australian, Monday 29 August 1904, page 7]




What may be termed the aboriginal problem has, with constant recurrence, held a prominent place in the minds of thoughtful men in Australia since the earliest days of settlement. From time to time it has been dealt with in various ways by the Governments of the several States, though, generally speaking, it must be conceded, with but indifferent success. Of all the attempts made to cope with this delicate and difficult question, perhaps that which was embodied in the “Aborigines Protection and Sale of Opium Act,” passed by the Queensland Parliament, in 1901, has gone nearest to a satisfactory solution of it. This fact it was, coupled with the knowledge that the practical application of the Act has been effected under the personal control of Dr. W. E. Roth, the Chief Protector in the Northern State, which led the late Colonial Secretary, Mr. Kingsmill, to invite Dr. Roth to visit Western Australia, with a view to investigate and report upon the best mode of dealing with the difficulty here. The many years spent by Dr. Roth among the natives in Northern Queensland, during which he has closely studied them, not only with the eyes of the scientist, but with the heart of the humanitarian, have made him an acknowledged authority upon all appertaining to them. In Queensland, Dr. Roth has also made a reputation for him self as a fearless administrator, and this last attribute is, needless to say, one of the main essentials to success.

Dr. Roth, interviewed by a “West Australian” representative at the Palace Hotel on Saturday, gave an interesting resume of the policy which is being followed in Queensland in regard to the treatment of the aboriginals.

General Administration.

“The Act of 1901,” said Dr. Roth, “is administered by a Chief Protector, and a number of Local Protectors, under the direction of the Minister in charge of the Home Department. The various petty sessions districts throughout the State are used for the purposes of the Act, the senior officer of police in each district being appointed the ‘local protector’ for that district. Each local protector is responsible for his own district, hnd can not be interfered with by any Resident Magistrate or by Justices of the Peace. The Chief Protector supervises the working of the Act, and of the regulations thereunder throughout the State, and makes an annual tour of inspection to each of the local protectors’ districts.

Labour Permits and Agreements.

“We do not allow any aboriginal man, woman or child to be employed without either a permit or an agreement, or both, The permit gives permission to employ only; and is not binding upon either the employer or employee. It simply protects the employer from being prosecuted for harbouring natives, the having of blacks upon one’s premises illegally being a punishable offence. An agreement, however, once signed, is binding upon both parties, and can be enforced in the same way as in cases under our Master and Servants Act; that is to say, that, in the case of a breach of such agreement, the guilty party, whether employer or employee, is liable to have a similar punishment meted out to him. This is much fairer than a provision which allows an employer who offends to be punished by a fine only, while a native who commits a breach of his agreement is sentenced to a term of imprisonment. Furthermore, all aborigines who are employed have to be paid, and the Act provides that, in all cases, the native employees may be paid through the medium of the protector. At present, however, we are only insisting upon the wages of females and of children being paid in this manner. Then, again, as an advance in socialistic legislation, we have a minimum wage of 5s. per month for those working on land, and 10s. per month for those employed at sea. Of course, there is a good deal of what is known as casual employment, such as cutting firewood and doing other jobs of a similar nature. In such cases, it is not worth while to nave an agreement, and only a permit is insisted upon. An other thing we see to is that the whole of the wage earned is not given to the black: but only a small proportion of it. For instance, if a native is earning 1s. 3d. per week, only 3d. per week is paid to him or her, while the remaining is is put into the bank for his or her benefit in tne event of ‘a rainy day’ coming in the future. Again, in the case of healthy, able-bodied blacks, working on a station, we try to see that certain portion of their wages goes towards the cost of rations for any crippled or feeble bodied relatives they imay have. All wages due to natives which are unclaimed, and all that are due to those who may die or desert from the boats, are paid into a special fund, called the Aboriginals’ Protection Property Account. Upon this fund the Chief Protector can draw for the benefit of the natives generally. With regard to the mainland aboriginal labour in general, we do not grant a permit to any one who may choose to ask for one. Anyone desiring to obtain a permit must apply to the nearest police station, and the police officer will then report to the local protector as to the advisableness or otherwise of granting a permit. If the applicant is known to be a bad character, or a brutal person, or if he is a suspected horse-thief or cattle duffer, the permit would he refused: but if the police report is favourable, the permit would probiably be granted. It may be considered that such restrictions upon employment will fall heavily upon blacks who have been brought up amongst Europeans, and become fairly well civilised: but in such cases we have power to exempt the aboriginals from the operations of the Act. We are, however, very wary of granting such exemption certificates.

Alborigines on Boats.

“We do not allow any aboriginal females or children under the age of puberty to be employed, or even carried, on the boats. Indeed, knowing as we do the terrible privations and abuses the blacks have been subjected to in the beche-do-mer trade, we are gradually doing all we legally can to prevent their being carried on those boats. We are now making large tracts of country on the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria into reserves for aboriginals, upon which no one without a permit from a protector is allowed to land. The treatment of the natives emnployed on these boats was so bad as to force the Government in 1901 to bring in special legislation for this kind of labour. It has been found that in many cases employers, European and Asiatic, took blacks on to the boats surreptitiously, and kept them away from their native homes for 18 months or two years, finally to strand or maroon them somewhere hundreds of miles from their homes, or perhaps knock them overboard. Having thus got rid of the natives, those in charge of the boats would come back into port, and declare to the shipping master that the poor wretches had deserted, and they would then pocket the wages remaining due to the natives. By the Act of 1901, no blacks are allowed to be carried on the boats for more than six months at a time. All those so employed have to be put on the articles at the shipping office, and the wages have to be paid whether the natives are alleged to have died or deserted, or not. The result has been that there has been a remarkable decrease in the number of alleged desertions. To enforce the law upon the boats, my department is supplied with a 25-ton ketch which controls the whole of the North Queensland coastline, from Mackay round to Burketown, for about eight months in the year. We board every beche-de-mer boat or ‘swimming-diving’ pearler, call for the articles, ascertain who is there on board, and if any breach of the Act is discovered, order the boat into the nearest port, and there take legal proceedings.

Removals and Recognisances.

“The system of requiring bonds for the removal of aboriginals out of one petty session district into another constitutes the only legal measure we possess of preventing blacks being ultimately stranded, and the cost of their return home being made a charge on the Government. Such a bond has to be signed, not only by the principal, but by two sureties, and varies in amount from £10 to £40. If for instance, an employer wants to take an aboriginal employee into another State, we always have a hold upon him to the tune of £40, and that is likely to ensure the native’s return to his home. So as to prevent any unnecessary hardship, the bond can be renewed from year to year provided, of course, that the aboriginal is willing.

Harbouring Natives.

“The section in our Acts relating to harbouring is, perhaps, the king-bolt of the whole structure. If necessary, we can prosecute anyone for having aboriginals upon his premises illegally—that is to say, without a permit. We find this most useful in the case of publicans aid opium retailers, where it is most difficult to prove the actual supplying of the liquor or drug. In such cases, we just prosecute the occupier of the house in question under the ‘harbouring’ section.

Food and Other Relief.

“The question of relief has been a source of great anxiety to me for years past. When I first took charge in January, 1898, I found that throughout the northern districts a most pernicious system was in vogue. Sums varying from £5 to £10 monthly were reoularly allowed for distribution, with the result that the local storekeepers naturally came to regard themselves as possessed of a vested interest in the blacks, while the distributors apparently came to the conclusion that because the money was available it was their duty to spend it. Another result was that able-bodied blacks were disinclined either to seek employment for themselves, to procure their own native foods, or to provide for their families and their aged dependents. We now have various distributing centres where we spend from £1 to £3 monthly, No attempt at pauperisation there, is there? The result is that throughout the entire State we art now spending probably less than £2,000 a year in rations. for natives who have no able bodied relatives to work for them, and who are too feeble to hunt for themselves. We are also curtailing the distribution of blankets in the northern portion of the State, where such ar ticles are of course unnecessary, but as a substitute for these we are making presents of tomhawks, toys, gins’ homespun dresses, tobacco, beads, wooden pipes, fish-hooks and knives. Only last year, in one district, the police reported that the blacks were too lazy to come in for their blankets, while in the neighbourhood of the Claremont lightship the blacks were cutting the blankets up for canoe sails.

Supply Liquor to Natives.


The Traffic in Opium.


Women and Children.


Mixed Marriages.


Aboriginal Crime.


Offences Against Aboriginals.


Mission Stations and Reformatories.

Scattered over the North, we have various mission stations, carried on by the Anglican, Lutheran, and Presbyterian Churches. As I have already mentioned, certain of these are proclaimed reformatories under the Industrial Schools Act. The Government subsidises these stations in proportions to the number of permanent inmates, adult and children who are being annually cared for, and also pays for the services of a teacher. It is one of my duties to visit these stations once every 12 months, and report upon their work to the Minister. The education afforded by this school is, simply that of a very elementary provisional school; indeed, we aim rather at inculcating principles of order, obedience and patience, than at doing book work, and only a small portion of the day is spent in school, the remainder being devoted to work in the fields. As time goes on, these stations will gradually become self-supporting. Only two years ago, at the Cape Grafton Mission, near Cairns, amongst other produce obtained from the station was over 30 tons of maize grown entirely by means of aboriginal labour. All these mission stations are situated on proclaimed reserves, and no one can enter them without authority. Indeed, one secret of the success of these mission station reserves lies in their complete isolation from the usual run of European and Asiatic influences. At the very same Cape Grafton Mission Station the birth-rate is now in creasing over the death-rate, and the number of inmates permanently residing there varied from 100 to 300. In addition to the schools attached to these mainland mission stations, we have over half a dozen schools scattered on the Torres Straits islands. These are both geographically and legally a portion of North Queensland but they are inhabited by Papuans, who know the value of money, can speak English fairly well, and are well able to enter into competition with Eurbpean traders. Altogether in North Queensland alone over £1,000 is spent out of the aboriginal vote in extending the benefits of a provisional school education, and over 700 chlidren are participating in it. That is a fact of which, I think, we may well feel proud.

Native Reserves.

“It is often a matter of great difficulty to decide where to proclaim a reserve, knowing as we do that isolation from Europeans and Asiatics is the one thing to make it successful. Indeed, so far as possible, our main endeavour is to proclaim reserves where the myall, or wild blacks, already are (for instance, along the Gulf of Carrpentaria coast) rather than proclaim reserves elsewhere, and populate them with blacks who are strangers to them. In the one case, the natives will remain where they are, and we can send our missionaries along to raise their standard of living; while, in the other case, it is a matter of immense difficulty to get them there, their love of home being so marked a characteristic.

Aboriginal Ethnography.

“In addition to my strictly official duties, I received special instructions in my original appointment to carry on scintific investigations into the ethnography of the aboriginals. So far I have published seven bulletins on this subject, all of them issued as Parliamentary papers.


Dr. Roth had an interview with the Premier and the Colonial Secretary on Saturday. It was decided thet Dr. Roth should be invested with the powers of a Commission to enable him to make a searching investigation in regard to the aborigines of the State. The Government wished the inquiry to be conducted on an entirely independent basis, and Dr. Roth will be empowered to take evidence on oath from any persons whose testimony may be thought to be valuable. One of his duties will be to inquire into the working of the Aborigines Department. Dr. Roth, during his tour of the State, will not be accompanied by any local official, as, it is the intention of the Government to obtain, as far as possible, an unbiassed report as to whether the allegations that have been made in regard to the treatment of the natives in this State are justified or not.