40[“The Aborigines”, The Western Mail (Perth, WA), 07 August 1909, page 38]
CRIME AMONGST THE NATIVES.
IMPRISONMENT A HOLIDAY.
Amongst the reports laid on the tabla of the Legislative Assembly last week was that of the Chief Protector of Aborigines (Mr. C. F. Gale), that being for the year ending June 30, 1908. This document should have been presented to both Houses of Parliament before the close of last session, but owing to some unfortunate delay in the auditing of the Department’s accounts, the presentation of the report was delayed.
Under date of November 1, 1908, Mr. Gale reported, inter alia, that the expenditure for the year, including the resumption of Bernier Island for hospital purposes, amounted to £17,949 2s. 7d., and that the number of natives in reach of civilisation was 12,000, whilst about 20,000 were beyond the border of civilisation. Throughout the State 65 full blooded and half-caste boys, and 116 full blooded and half-caste girls were receiving education at the five Mission Stations and Industrial Homes. During the year an average of 1,200 indigent natives had been daily receiving rations from the 112 relieving stations established throughout the State. The yearly sum which was spent in provisions for natives represented a capital value at 4. per cent of £250,000, and the sum of £1,879 also had been paid to missions and other institutions for the care and tuition of young half-castes and aborigines.
Dealing with the question of crimes, Mr. Gale said:—“Crimes committed by natives during the year have not been, with one exception, of a very serious nature. The greatest curse to the nativa race is strong drink, and protectors of the Department have been instructed that the law regarding the supplying of intoxicating liquors to aborigines is to be rigidly enforced. The Aborigines Act provides a penalty, on conviction, of £20 to any person supplying natives with liquor. Notwithstanding that the Act was passed subsequent to the Justices Act, magistrates often, under a section dealing with mitigation of punishment in the latter, reduce this fine to a nominal one. The question as to whether anyone has the power to interfere with any subsequent legislation is open to doubt. It is, I understand, held by many that the provision in the Justices Act as to reduction of fines was only intended to apply where Parliament does not subsequently legislate specifically. If the reduction of the specific penalty of £20 as provided by section 45 of the Aborigines Act is lawful, then it will be desirable to amend the Act so that the fine cannot be reduced. In nine cases out of ten, intoxicating liquors are given to natives with but one object, and the fining of an offender a nominal fine does not act as a deterrent. During the year 68 convictions were obtained for this offence throughout the State, with fines amounting to £616. The greatest number of convictions were obtained at Broome. This is accounted for
by the intermingling of the Asiatic and native races. I am pleased, however, to report that since Inspector Isdell’s visit, a great improvement has taken place. I feel certain that if magistrates would recognise the great curse drink is to the aboriginal race, and inflict the £20 penalty provided by the Act, drunkenness among them would not be as prevalent as it is.”
Cattle Killing and Imprisonment.
Continuing in his report, Mr. Gale remarked:—“During the year 156 natives were convicted from East and West Kimberley of cattle killing, or being in unlawful possession of meat. These figures represent an increase of 54 prisoners over the previous year, and somewhat point to the fact that our present system of punishment is not acting as a deterrent to this form of crime; many holding the opinion that natives look upon a term of imprisonment as more of a holiday than anything else. One has only to compare the condition of natives brought in from the bush before being committed to gaol with their healthy, fat, and sleek condition after being fed on prison rations, to realise that they fared better under civilisation than in their own country. The scale of rations per day allowed to native prisoners, as laid down by prison regulation, is as follows:—1lb. bread, 1lb. meat, 1lb. vegetables, 1oz. rice for soup, 3 pints tea, l 1/2 oz. sugar, 1/4oz. salt, 1/4oz. soap. With this plentiful supply of good food cooked for them and being made to do but light work, there is every encouragement given to natives to further commit depredations in the hope of returning to prison after their release.
From a return supplied by the Comptroller of Prisons, the cost of aboriginal native prisoners in the gaols of the State during the year amounted to £7,138 12s. 6d.; which sum includes the transport of prisoners from one gaol to another, but does not include anything paid for escorts, or for the transport of prisoners to their own country on release from gaol. These figures form another strong argument in favour of creating the station reserves. General complaints are continually being made by pastoralists in the Kimberley division ot the depredations committed by natives among the cattle herds, and I feel sure that any scheme advanced by the Government that would have a tendency to decrease this form of crime would be hailed with delight by those engaged in the industry. Two thousand five hundred blankets have been distributed among the old and helpless natives and children throughout the State during the year, and clothing has also been distributed where necessary; the expenditure in these two directions being the sum of £1,379.
“It is gratifying to note from the general tone of the reports received from district police officers and others in responsible positions throughout the State,” remarked the Chief Protector in conclusion, “that the treatment of natives, except in individual and isolated cases, has been such as to contradict many exaggerated and hysterical reports made by persons who have but a superficial knowledge of the subject on which they write.
Gale, who probably did more for the blacks than his predecessor, shared the white community view that short terms were a bit of a holiday for black prisoners.