62[“My Natives and I”, The West Australian, Wednesday 04 March 1936, page 21]


No. 16.—With the Cambridge Expedition.



It was then suggested that I accompany the expedition, and the Under Secretary (Mr. F. D. North) obtained the Colonial Secretary’s consent. I was appointed a travelling protector, with a special commission to conduct inquiries into all native conditions and problems, such as employment on stations, guardianship and care of the indigent, distribution of rations, the half-caste question, the morality of native and half-caste women in towns and mining camps, and many other matters affecting their welfare from an administrative point of view. Sir Gerald Strickland, then Governor of Western Australia, showed a keen personal interest in the expedition, and his wife, Lady Edeline, supplemented my equipment with a medicine chest.


We booked our passages on the little coastal steamer Hobart, packed our equipment and supplies on board, and were so eager to be off that we embarked a few days early on a southern trip, and after an unpremediated voyage to Bunbury, had to return on the vessel, and sail north with her to Geraldton, from which we went by rail to Sandstone. The party consisted of Professor Brown, anthropologist, Mr. Grant Watson, biologist and photographer, myself as Government attache, and Louis Ohlsen, the Swedish cook. A few miles from Sandstone township, we pitched our tents among the natives gathered there, a travelling menage that consisted of a large fly for our dining and community room, furnished with folding chairs and other luxuries, the men’s tent, Louis’s portable kitchen, and my quarters. We were surrounded by nearly 100 natives, from Darlot, Barrambi. Sandstone, Laverton, Mt. Magnet and other nearby districts, and there was obvious ill-feeling and friction among the groups. I spent the afternoon making new friends, greeting old ones, and, with their assistance, digging out some honey-ants, which I preferred to the professor for supper. Grant Watson would have none of them. It took some time to convince the natives that my companions were not policemen, of whom, for their own reasons, they lived in an unholy fear at the time. After some vain endeavours at explanation. I found it easier to introduce them as my two sons! Professor Brown immediately interested himself in their string games, similar to cat’s cradle, and cross-sticks, and other small primitive handicrafts with which they occasionally pass the time.

A Police Raid. After distributing generous rations and discussing family gossip, we were just beginning to make a little headway in questioning them regarding genealogies and customs when, to our surprise, a police raid was made upon the camps at dawn, and six natives arrested as the Laverton murderers. Several shots were fired by the police, and some of the fugitives tried to hide in our tents, but no one was hurt.


AB notes:

For a more colourful account of the early-morning police raid, see Grant Watson’s book But to What Purpose.