Full description Background
Police Magistrate and Protectorate to 1849
The first Police Magistrate for the Port Phillip District, William Lonsdale, was responsible to the Governor of New South Wales for the general administration of government in the District. He also undertook the normal duties of a New South Wales District Police Magistrate relating to supervision of the local constabulary, the administration of justice and liquor licensing. His civil instruction of 14 September 1836 from the New South Wales Colonial Secretary (Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 1, pp.49-54) set out his duties, including a census of the population and "protection of Aborigines":
It will be one of your most important duties to protect the Aboriginal natives of the District from any manner of wrong, and to endeavour to conciliate them by kind treatment and presents... ..and to improve by all practicable means their moral and social condition.
William Buckley was to be employed "as the medium of communication with them" (p.53).
Lonsdale's instructions included directions to investigate earlier violence and killings. As settlement encroached further into tribal land, attacks by dispossessed Aborigines, counter-attacks and killings became more frequent. Attempts by Lonsdale, his military forces and constabulary to deal with the situation were ineffective. In the meantime in Britain a House of Commons Select Committee on Aborigines (1835-1837) was established (extracts from its final report of 26 June 1837 are included in Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 2A, pp.62-69) and the British Government, advised by Sir George Arthur, devised the Protectorate Scheme. General questions about policies to be adopted towards the Aborigines were debated in London, Sydney and Melbourne, while in reality local officials were unable to deal with the appalling effects of colonisation on the Aboriginal population and the Aborigines were frequently subjected to brutal treatment by their would-be "protectors".
During the period 1836 to 1839 several abortive attempts were made to establish a Native Police Corps - from October 1837 to early 1839 under C.L.J. Villiers and in late 1839 under the Chief Protector. A Government Mission under the control of the Anglican George Langhorne was located on the south bank of the Yarra from early 1837 to October 1839. (For details see Historical Records of Victoria, Volumes 2A and 2B).
Chief Protector George Robinson and three assistants were appointed in late 1838 arriving in Port Phillip in early 1839 to establish a Protectorate there (NSW Government Gazette, 12 December 1838 (VA 512)). Lonsdale was advised that he had no authority over Robinson, who reported directly to Governor Gipps and the Colonial Secretary in Sydney, except for the exercise of control over matters of expenditure and to supply provisions (Colonial Secretary to Lonsdale, 11 December 1838, Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 2B,p.391). Robinson proceeded to allot districts to his Assistants and to issue directions relating to a census of the Aboriginal population, to a rationing and supply system, and to the maintenance of order and the control of disease (Historical Records of Victoria, Volume 2B, pp.451-452).
The Guardian of Aborigines 1849-1860
The Guardian of Aborigines (VA 513) was appointed in 1849 following a Select Committee report which recommended the abolition of the Protectorate System. The Guardian was solely responsible for providing "protection to Aborigines". Crown Land Commissioners had been appointed as honourary protectors, their duties being to visit reserves, report on the condition of Aborigines and supply Aborigines with food and clothing "in cases of extreme emergency" (see VRG 27 District Land Offices).
The Central Board 1860-1869 and the Board for the Protection of Aborigines 1869-1957
Following a report by a further Select Committee established to inquire into Aboriginal welfare, the Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines (VA 514) was established in 1860. The new Board set up "native reserves" (stations) and supply depots throughout Victoria. In 1869 the Board was renamed the Board for the Protection of Aborigines (VA 515) and received statutory authority by an Act of Parliament entitled An Act to provide for the Protection and Management of the Aboriginal Natives of Victoria 11 November 1869, (No.CCCXLIX). The provisions of the Act regulated people defined by the Act as "Aboriginal natives", "Aboriginal half-caste", and "half-caste infants". The Board at this time was said to be concerned primarily with the "protection" of Aboriginal people as defined in the Act from the "evils" of European society such as drinking, as well as with the provision of clothing and food at stations and depots, and the provision of education to Aboriginal children. Under the provisions of the Act the Board had extensive powers to control and regulate the classes of people defined in the Act.
- regulate and prescribe places where Aborigines and Aboriginal tribes could reside
- prescribe the terms under which contracts were made for and on behalf of Aborigines
- prescribe the terms under which certificates could be granted to Aborigines who could earn a living
- distribute the earnings of any Aborigine or any produce resulting from Aboriginal labour on reserves
- distribute money granted by parliament
- regulate and provide care, custody and education for Aboriginal children.
Aboriginal Affairs Legislation 1886-1957
During this period Aboriginal mortality rates increased and a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate this and allegations of mismanagement at stations. The resulting Aborigines Protection Act 1886 (No.DCCCCXII) re-defined the Board's responsibilities and functions. Aboriginal people classified as "half-caste" were increasing in number and were seen as incurring added expenditure. Therefore the Act re-classified Aboriginal people as "Aboriginal natives", "half-castes" associated and living with "Aboriginal natives" over 34 years of age, "female half-castes" either married or previously married to "Aboriginal natives" and still living with "Aboriginal natives", children of "Aboriginal natives", and any other "half-castes" holding licenses from the Board allowing them to reside where "Aboriginal natives" were living. Under this Act "half-castes" were entitled to receive limited benefits and had to be licensed in order to reside with "Aboriginal natives". The Board had the power, under direction from the Governor, to make and enforce regulations concerning "half-castes".
Aboriginal people living on stations during this time were expected to work hard, for little return, in an attempt to curb the costs associated with maintaining the stations.
In 1890 the Aborigines Act (No.1059) gave the Board further powers to license "half-caste" children, enter "half-caste" children into apprenticeships and transfer "half-caste" orphans into care.
The Aborigines Act 1910 (No.2255) gave the Board power, if it thought appropriate, to extend the regulations of the Act to cover "half-caste Aboriginals", the Chief Secretary having claimed that the costs would not greatly increase if "half-caste Aboriginals" were included.
Aborigines' Welfare Board 1957-1967
In 1957 the Board for the Protection of Aborigines was abolished under the Aborigines Act 1957 (No.6086). It was replaced by the Aborigines' Welfare Board which consisted of the Chief Secretary, the Under-Secretary, the Ministers of Education (VRG 35), Health (VRG 39) and Housing (VRG 53) and five other members, two of whom were to be Aborigines. A Superintendent of Aborigines was also appointed. The Board's functions were to "promote the moral, intellectual and physical welfare of Aborigines (including persons of Aboriginal descent) with a view to their assimilation into the general community". The powers of the Board were to:
- prescribe the distribution of money
- provide for the supply of clothing, medicine and rations
- manage and regulate Aboriginal reserves
- purchase, build or acquire buildings and land, and grant licenses to occupy land or buildings to Aborigines
- generally supervise matters concerning the interests and welfare of Aborigines.
The Act also prescribed conditions of employment and the issuing of permits to reside on reserves. In 1959 the Aborigines (Houses) Act 1959 (No.6498) provided for the Housing Commission (VA 508) to enter into contracts to build houses for Aborigines on behalf of the Board
Post 1967: Changing Focus of Aboriginal Affairs Policy
Prior to 1967, although Aborigines were recognised as Australian citizens under the Commonwealth Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 - and before that as British nationals, the special laws passed by State legislatures, including Victoria, with the expressed purpose of "protection", in effect denied Aborigines the vote, required large numbers of them to live on reservations, and gave the agencies responsible for managing their affairs considerable powers to regulate and control their children, property, earnings and employment.
From the late 1950's there was increasing concern in Australia and internationally about policies and programs relating to Aborigines and their legal status, resulting in rapid changes in related legislation, policies and administrative arrangements.
In 1967 a referendum extended voting rights to Aborigines and authorised a change to the federal Constitution (in particular sections 51 and 127 which had largely excluded Aborigines from federal jurisdiction). By the mid-1970's these changes had resulted in the Commonwealth taking over primary responsibility for policy and programs for Aborigines from the States.
In Victoria prior to 1966 responsibility for the administration of policy and programs relating to Aborigines was vested in the Chief Secretary (VRG 26). Administration of the function was undertaken by the Aborigines Welfare Board within the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475) until 1968, when a Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs (VA 2873) was established under the provisions of the Aboriginal Affairs Act 1967 (No.7571).
In 1966, under the provisions of the Aborigines (Amendment) Act 1965 (No.7267) the Minister of Housing (VRG 53) succeeded the Chief Secretary (VRG 26) as the Minister responsible for Aboriginal affairs. However the staff of the Aborigines Welfare Board remained within the Chief Secretary's Department (VA 475). The appointment of a Minister of Aboriginal Affairs in December 1967 reflected the beginning of a new policy direction in Victoria in regard to matters relating to Aborigines, and a move away from the earlier policy of assimilation, which dated from the late 1950's. The stated aim of the new policy was creation of opportunities for Aborigines to take responsibility for their own affairs. The Minister's responsibilities involved "promoting the social and economic advancement of Aborigines in Victoria".
The Minister was deemed responsible for:
- assisting Aborigines to obtain suitable housing and accommodation
- providing educational assistance, health and medical care, implements and tools of trade, employment and training, rehabilitation, legal aid and advice to Aborigines
- providing training farms and other educational institutions
- purchasing and acquiring land for use or benefit to Aboriginal people
- construction of houses and buildings for use by Aboriginal people
- making loans to enable A... truncated