Roth Report

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Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885-1954) 4 Feb : 17. Web. 11 May 2011.






Aboriginals are employed with or with-   out contracts, and under indentures of apprenticeship. With Contracts (50 Vic.; No. 25, Part II.) -Intended for service on land only, and for aborigines of 14 years of age and upwards, the particular form of contract and attesting certificates is permissive, even the one at present in force not being strictly in accordance with that laid down in the schedule to the Act. In order to protect the interests of the native as to age, absence of coercion, .etc., the attesting certificate has to be signed by a justice of the peace, a protector of aborigines, or some proper person specially appointed by the "resident magistrate. The interests of the native are certainly not protected against the fitness or unfit ness of his or her future employer, there being nothing to prevent the greatest scoundrel unhung. European or Asiatic, putting under contract any blacks he pleases. It must be admitted that it is permissible for the Minister (61 Vic.7 No. 6, section ll) to cancel, owing to the employer's unfitness, a contract when once made, but as at the same time there is nothing to prevent an employer working a native without a contract, each a prohibition is valueless. Further- more, the contract may be entered into without the sanction or knowledge of the chief or other protector, and without the opinion of the local chiefs of police being consulted. Indeed, there are at present employers of aboriginal labour to whom, were it in their power, the police would raise objections. The protector, the person most concerned tor the native's welfare, has thus no means of satisfying himself whether the contract is a just one or not. One justice may attest a contract which another has refused, owing to the police not being consulted or advised, difficulties often arise. For instance, if a native deserts, a warrant is issued, but, until such issue, the pa - trolling police do not know whether any native they may come across is absconding from his lawful employment or not. The period of service must not exceed twelve months, and the contract has to be signed by the employer or his agent. This latter stipulation is objectionable, in that the native does not realise, his proper master, and may have objections when ho discovers what kind of an employer he is bound to. Besides rations, clothing, and blankets, the employer has to supply medicine and medical attendance when practicable and necessary, unless the illness of the aboriginal be caused by the latter's own improper act or default.

It impermissible for any justice of the Peace, on hearing of a complaint, to cancel the contract, irrespective of any other decision, order, or judgment in the case. A protector of aborigines specially charged with the aboriginal's well- being has no such power. Again, any justice, but not a protector (unless he is himself a J.P.) may cancel a contract on certain grounds. The cancellation of a contract can thus be effected without even the knowledge of a protector. Wages are not stipulated for in the con- tract, and it is only in about one case out of seven that they ar alleged to be paid. A total of 369 contracts (258 men, 111 women) is known to the chief protector," while the number in receipt of wages, according to their contract, - is 53. On the other hand, he has no means   of satisfying himself whether the wages are actually being paid. It is compulsory on no one to keep either a register or copies of the contracts, though, the clerk accountant of the Aborigines Department keeps a book of natives under contract, based on such particulars as may be forwarded to the office by courtesy.    

BREACHES OP CONTRACT are provided for, but the Act (65 Vic, No. 35) brings into prominence an un just inequality of punishment for the two contracting parties. The native may receive up to three months' imprisonment, with or without hard labour, while the employer can only be mulcted by fine. What might have been expected as the outcome of a sys- tem of contract, wherein all the advantage is on the side of the employer, has, come to light; the Chief protector knows" of no conviction of an employer .for breach of contract; but during the past three years has received information of $0 cases against natives. Similar experiences are reported by the Broome and Roebourne police. Though the Magistrate has no power to do so under ' the Act just cited, the absconding aboriginal is sometimes ordered back to his or her employment. Warrants are issued for native women absconding from service.

hi (he Roebourne ^aol hora Commissioner saw an aboriginal ' iandale-"Sally"-who had been sentenced by the acting resident magistrate jDh^ctober 20, 1904, -to two weeks' imprisonment for this offence. the sub-inspector informed him that no previous Summons had been served on the defendant, who had been arrested on warrant. Employers have benefited themselves pecuniarily by hiring the services of their aboriginal employees to others; Aborigines Department has had to issue a circular pointing out t)iis~rllcga -"'SilyVJii the case of aborigines under contract. Apparently the employer of a native under contract to someone else cannot be punished, although the aboriginal is subject to penalties for absconding.


No action can be taken against an employer for working blacks without contract, the commonest form of service. The proportion of natives under contract (already stated to be 369) to natives actually employed is one in twelve, as compared with the census taken three years ago by the police. Among the employers of the 4,000 natives tims estimated in service, there are many to whom the police would be prepared to object, but at present they are powerless to act. According to the evidence brought before your Commissioner, none of these natives throughout the North-West receive wages. There is a sort of code of honour (sic) among the pastoralists to the effect, that one station-owner, etc., does not interfere with his neighbour's blacks, the outcome of which is apparently to prevent them absconding. Being anxious to learn, if possible, what action was actually taken in order to bring such runaways back, inquiry was made from a pastoralist, who, while denying that he either flogged or whipped them, admitted that he used no force further than the command that he had «RäBT them as being their "master ; " yet this same gentleman had only a minute before stated that his reason for not putting the blacks under contract was that if they would not work of their own free will he always considered they were not worth having. Even without contracts the blacks are not free to come and go as they please. The assistance of the police is also invoked to bring such runaways back, an official acquiescence, which is, of course, quite illegal; the native is practically forced to work for his so-called master; While under such circumstances the absence of a contract does not prevent the employer securing and enforcing the services of the aboriginal, it relieves him of all responsibilities in the way of rations, clothing, and maintenance during sickness.


Acting under instructions from the Aborigines' Department, a Resident Magistrate "may bind by indenture any half-caste or aboriginal child haring attained a suitable ago as au apprentice until he shall attain the age of 21 years to any master or mistress willing to receive such child in any suitable trade, business, or employment whatsoever." That children are being indentured without permission from the Department, and certainly without its knowledge, is evident-from the fact that. While the Chief Protector has received information of about 60 cases, the Commission has obtained evidence of at least 85. There is no compulsory notification to head office, and it is apparently no one's business to keep copies or a register of these indentureships ; no regulations are in force to protect the interests of the children so bound to service. The form of indenture used is in accordance with the schedule of the Act. On the other hand, the form issued under the Indus- trial Schools Act (38 Vict.. No. ll) is different; the manager of such institution, e.g., Swan Native and Half-Caste Mission, may issue it independently of instructions from the Aborigines' Department. Indentures of apprenticeship are clearly applicable to children only of tender years; cases of boys and girls, 17 and 16 years of age, being indentured are clearly evasions of the provisions of the contract system, which, as already mentioned, is intended to cover the services of aborigines of 14 years and upwards (50 Vict., No. 25. section 19). With regard to the most suitable age at which a child can be indentured, as laid down by law, the Chief Protector considers this to be about six years; it being only permissive for a Justice or Protector to visit apprenticed children, your Commissioner is not surprised to learn that, with one exception, no-one knows of it ever being done. No education and no wages are stipulated for in tile indenture. The very spirit and principles of the Pearlshell Fishery Regulation Act of 1873, which absolutely forbids a term of aboriginal service on the boats longer than twelve months, have been stultified by recourse to the system of apprenticeship; at Broome quite one-half of the children, ranging from 10 years and upwards, are indentured to the pearling industry, and taken out on to the boats. The Chief Protector draws special attention to the fact that he cannot prevent male children being employed on the boats. One witness approves of the indenture system if under proper supervision, but objects to the clause in the Act referring to the assignment of apprentices on the death of the master; another considers it fairly useful if under proper restrictions. Several express the opinion that the term of service up to 21 years of age is too long, the limits of age being suggested varying from 14 to 18. Others object to the system altogether, One Resident Magistrate very ably expresses the present state of affaire as follows : The child is bound, and can be reached by law and punished, but the person to whom the child is bound is apparently responsible to nobody. Even the Chief Protector is obliged to admit the injustice of a system where, taking a concrete case, a child of tender years may be indentured to a mistress as domestic up to 21 years of age, and receives neither education nor payment in re- turn for the services rendered.


Witnesses are almost unanimous that services rendered by the native should be paid for, differences of opinion arising only out of the question whether the moneys should be paid direct or into a fund to recoup the Government for the, expense of granting aboriginal indigent relief. The two notable exceptions to the unanimity express views which have evidently been influenced by possible retaliatory action on the part of the pastoralists, though one of them certainly upholds the principle when he admits it to be a reasonable stipulation to make each contract conditional on one destitute aboriginal being rationed for every native lawfully employed. It is true that in the more settled districts on nearly all stations ' '? ' Vov ia to fence and erect windmill the owners to be independent of black labour, and rumours are certainly current that if too many restrictions are put upon the service of the natives they will be dispensed with. As the law stands, the pastoralists cannot rid themselves of their black employees from off their runs (62 Vict. No. S7, section 92, schedule 24), provided they want to hunt there. On the other hand, the native may be offered no encouragement to remain by depasturing the stock on all the watered portions of the run, by destroying the kangaroos, by dropping baits for the aborigines' hunting dogs, by limiting in the way of fences the areas throughout which native game can be obtained, by taking proceedings against blacks for setting fire to the grass, etc. At the same time, the evidence tends to show that in many case the squatters act with humane consideration, and that people who have always had natives as servants will not part with them. Should, however, any retaliatory measures be put into practical effect, there is nothing to prevent the Executive resuming the whole or portion of the runs 60 complained of, and proclaiming them reserves for the solo use of the natives. Your Commissioner recommends the legislation covered by sections 19 to 21 and sections 24 to 31 in the proposed Aborigines Bill. The sooner the indentures of apprenticeship are cancelled the better. In order to prevent the present abuse of maintaining the native only during a few months at a time, and then turning him adrift to ishift for himself, when if under contract, he is presented working for anyone else, provision should be made in section 31, that,if his leave of absence is extended beyond the limits mentioned therein the contract will lapse. If children of school age are in employment, and a school is available, the employers should be compelled to fulfil their duties in this respect as the legal guardians under the Education Act. The police should be instructed not to lend any assistance whatever in the way of bringing back runaway natives, except, of course, when armed with proper warrants. With a view to recouping the Government for the expense not only of granting aboriginal indigent relief, but also of benefiting the natives generally and the half caste waifs and strays in particular, your Commissioner further recommends a minimum wage of five shillings per month on land and ten shillings per month on boats, exclusive of food, accommodation, and other necessaries ; the period of leave of absence to be also paid for. By section 60 of the proposed Bill both aborigines and half-castes may, under certain circumstances, be exempted from the provisions of the Act, including the labour conditions.


A grave responsibility rests upon the Executive in pursuing a policy of allowing large areas of country to be taken up and occupied without the slightest provision being made for the natives, who are thus dispossessed of their hunting grounds. The pastoralist gets a grant of land to raise sheep and cattle, and, accordingly, the kangaroo, the native food of the aboriginal, has to be got rid of. When these animals get scarce, the blacks must kill the cattle or sheep. Another witness states that the natural herbage is eaten by stock put on the country for pastoral purposes, and the game is not so plentiful ; the kangaroo hunters also destroy the natives' pincipal food. In the Stuart's Creek district, where a large number of cattle appear to be annually speared, the blacks can only get water where the cattle are watered;-Once they are driven from these places, they have nothing to live on ; they could get food if they were allowed to stop where the cattle are, but blacks and cattle will not agree, and the blacks are driven away-; they must live somehow, so they spear cattle. In another case, the natives are not allowed about the central paddocks and, the very fact of the stock being depastured on all the watered portions of the runs quite deprives them of the chance of finding any of their natural animal food. In the north the stock -ÍB era dually obliterating the natural native game. Under these conditions, the right reserved to the aboriginal by the Government to hunt for native food over the land when taken up by Europeans is of practically little worth; it has already been pointed out (when dealing with the question of wage) what obstacles may be put in his way when attempting to exercise this right, although possibly no actively hostile action to his presence need necessarily be taken by the station owner. The climax of refined hardship and abuse has so far been reached in the recent Dog Act of 1904, section 29, where the black is not allowed to have more than one male dog unregistered, the ultimate and ill-concealed effect of such legislation being to prevent aborigines using dogs for hunting purposes, and so limiting still further the supplies of native food otherwise available. There is no reserve for natives in Western Australia that is devoted exclusively to their use and benefit. Several witnesses approve of a system of such, reserves in each district, due regard -being given to their location ; one suggests their establishment in districts whore the majority of the blacks already are, if the proposed Act causes the station-owners to throw the natives off ; another, that the reserves would have to be pretty extensive, etc.

In the same way that reserves are required for the exclusive use of the natives, so are others, e.g .township sites, required for the use of the Europeans; blacks should not be allowed to enter the latter except under lawful employment. The Commissioner recommends, the legislation dealing with reserves, as ex- pressed in sections 13 to 18 of the proposed Bill, and the proclamation of various townships, etc., in which aborigines, except in lawful employment-, are not allowed to remain, as provided for in section 41. In the far northern, unsettled districts, the whole question of reserves resolves itself into one of sacrificing many human lives, or losing a few pounds derived from rents. So long as the land can be taken up at a few shillings per.-'1.OOO acres, and no provision made for the dependent blacks, who can and are being hunted off it, there certainly will be trouble. The stockowner naturally does his best for his cattle-one cannot for a moment blame him-while the protector exerts, his utmost on behalf of the aborigines. In your Commissioner's opinion large northern reserves for hunting purposes are imperative, -not only on humanitarian grounds, but also on grounds of practical policy. The policy is not new but already adopted in Queensland, and for many years past, on a much larger scale, of course, in Canada, the United States, and elsewhere. If the natives continue to be dispossessed of the country upon which they are dependent f or their food and water supplies, by their lands being rented for grazing rights at a nominal figure-lands from which the lessees naturally desire to drive them bloodshed and retribution will be certain to ensue, and the Executive, in its efforts to restore law and order, and in the cost of rations to make up deficiencies in the natural food supplies, will he ultimately put to an expenditure considerably in excess of the total rents received. Carrying the present practice of Might against Right to a logical conclusion, it would simply mean that,- were all the land in the northern areas of the State to be thus leased, all the blacks would be hunted into the sea. The poor wretches must be allowed the wherewithal to live their main hunting grounds and water supplies. They dare not voluntarily migrate elsewhere, and such action, according, to tribal law, would constitute a trespass, punishable by death. Your Commissioner pleads again that large areas be resumed in the northern unsettled, districts for the sole benefit of the natives, the location and extent of such reserves being dependent on local conditions, i.e., islands, large promontories, mountain areas, districts where the marches of several tribes meet, etc. ; indeed where the natives already are. In the settled districts of the State, of course, much smaller areas of country would only be necessary, because here the reserves, instead of being utilised as hunting grounds, would constitute sanctuaries and asylums for the indigent, the infirm, the children, and others on whose behalf it behoves the State to make special provision. As already mentioned, one of the main objects of j section 15 of the proposed Bill is to give the Minister power to remove an aboriginal whose presence it is undesirable to continue in one particular district on account of his incorrigibility or proneness to crime, the evidence of which ; would not be sufficient lo secure conviction in the law courts. In case of tribal murder and cattle-killing SUCH a power would be both economic to the State and merciful to the individual or individuals concerned.


Your Commissioner visited the missions carried on at Beagle Bay, Broome, the Swan, and New Norcia, and had the opportunity of examining the superintendent of the Sunday Island Mission as a witness. The small home at Ellensbrook (Bunbury district) for waifs and strays, who for various reasons cannot be received into the other institutions, is carried on in a practical manner, partly as a nursery for the little ones, and as a temporary refuge against evil influences for the bigger ones. During the past three years the extent to which these institutions have been subsidised by the Department is detailed by the Chief Protector, although the executive head, this gentleman does not appear to be always consumed as to the grants allowed to the missions, one of which (Swan Native Mission) is paid on a capitation basis.


Annual subsidy £250; SI children attending school and 20 to 80 camp blacks-approximately 100 inmates, at a cost to the Department of £2 10e. each per annum. Your Commissioner, after a full review of all the circumstances, cannot recommend any increase at present in the amount of the annual subsidy. There has been a decrease in the number of inmates of almost 50 per cent, within the past four or five years. Perhaps the quality and quantity of food supplied to the natives, several of whom made separate complaints to your Commissioner, may be one of the prime factors. There are at present no Sisters in connection with the mission, but it is understood that arrangements are being made to remedy this defect. An ex-civil servant is being paid a small salary (by the Order) to act as school- teacher. Thirteen blacks are receiving Government relief at a cost of sixpence each, per day. This expenditure could be cancelled, the care of the indigent being certainly one of those acts of dimity which the public has the right to expect the mission to meet out of its own I resources. With regard to the tenure of the land at Beagle Bay. 600,000 acre were originally reserved for the use of the aborigines here. Subsequently 100,000 acres adjoining the reserve were added to the reservation, the Government at the time agreeing that, should the Trappists expend the sum of £5,000 on improvements on the total reservation, 10,000 acres would be granted in fee simple. On inquiry from Father Walter, the present official head of the mission, the improvements on which this sum of money has been expended are in the main on Dampier Location No. 6 - at any rate, certainly not on the total reservation, as required by the conditions. This location is one of the four (Nos. 5, 6, 7, 8) which the mission is anxious to obtain in fee simple, and practically the only four on the reserve where there would appear to be permanent water. Furthermore, when the Trappists first arrived in the State in 1895 they brought a little money out with them, and with this they purchased about 150 head of cattle . When the Order took its departure in 1901 and was replaced by the Pallottines, Father Nicholas, under power of attorney from his superior, only sold Bishop Gibney the cattle, which had by that time increased to 800. The price to be paid was £2,640. Father Nicholas did not feel justified in selling the buildings, fences, improvements, etc, because he considered them to be part and parcel of the trust. They had been built with the labour and assistance of the blacks, and they had been erected for the use and benefit of the natives. Your Commissioner recommends that the Lands Department, when issuing the title to the lands in question, will protect the interests of the aborigines, and take care that the property held in trust for them is not handed over to the mission.


Your Commissioner cannot do more than beg your Excellency's perusal of the minutes of evidence obtained from Father Nicholas, who for Tf)"-years, past has devoted himself entirely to the benefit of the natives - a more unselfish man it would be rare to meet. Being as anxious as ever to give up the remainder of his life to working amongst the aborigines, the Department would do well to afford him an opportunity of increasing his sphere of influence. He certainly should not be allowed to pay rent for a reserve out of his private purse. At present he is responsible for the distribution of indigent relief to the extent of a few shillings daily - an amount far from commensurate with what is absolutely required.


Annual subsidy. £100 : 23 children attending school and about 90 permanent residents - in other words, 113 inmates at a cost to the Department of a little over 17s. 8d. per head per annum. Your Commissioner strongly recommends the application of Mr. Hadley, another fine example of a man who is sacrificing self on behalf of others, for an increase of subsidy to £200 in order to pay the services of a school teacher and assistant generally. This would enable the mission to probably obtain a married couple, the help and presence of a European woman being very desirable. It is also highly necessary, as soon as the proposed Bill comes into force, that the whole of Sunday Island and portion of the western mainland coast line at Swan Point and Cygnet-Bay (nrovule-l the pearlers are not allowed there, as already suggested) be proclaimed a reserve. As au, deficiencies in the financial condition of the mission, which is free from debt, are already made up out of Mr. Hadley's private purse, it would hardly be fair to withdraw the Government relief issued to indigent natives, though probably exertions might be successfully made to considerably reduce it.


Annual subsidy, £721 8s., with an attendance of from 30 to SS children at the school and eight at the Orphanage. The subsidy varies, being made, on a capitation basis of one shilling per head " Sio**ay' .Tui?uSb this amount of over £18 per child per annum is excessive as compared with the grants in aid to other institutions, it must be remembered that the inmates here are brought up on identical lines as the Orphanage (white) children, receiving concurrently with them the same food, clothing, edu- cation, and training. It is quite evident that on this capitation basis the Aborigines Department cannot afford to pay for many more waifs and strays at the institution, unless some provision be made whereby, when they, are finally sent out into service or under apprenticeship, and until they are 21 - the age at which the guardianship of the school manager ceases - some fair proportion of their earnings is repaid to the executive in return for the heavy outlay that has been expended on their behalf. It fe apparent that, greatly to the credit of themselves and the management, the coloured children profit by the opportunities given them of reaching that stage of civilisation and advancement which ultimately helps them to hold their own in the struggle for existence. Should Borne such an arrangement be come to, your Commissioner would recommend that the manager be granted a railway pass to regularly visit and keep in touch with the inmates after they have left the institution to go intolerance. This Inspection is undoubtedly a most important branch of the work and as both white and coloured young people are visited, it would be but fair that one-half the cost of the pass be paid by the charities and the other by the Aborigines Department.


Annual subsidy, £460: over 60 children are attending school, with a total of-about 200 aboriginals and half-castes under the charge of the mission ; average cost to the Department of £2 5s. per head per annum. This, the oldest aboriginal institution in the State, is in a most flourishing condition, continues to carry on very excellent work, and is well worthy of the support extended to it by the Department. The minutes of evidence obtained at this mission will also well repay your Excellency's perusal. Taking the mission-ami aboriginal in " stltutions generally, your Commissioner recommends that :

(1) They be regularly inspected by the Chief Protector or other officer authorised by him;

(2) the standard, of the Government provisional school system should be at least maintained ;

(8) that uniform returns be forwarded to the Department.


In the settled areas of those portions Of the State along which his investigations have led him, your Commissioner is satisfied that , the natives, generally speaking, are not subject to any actual physical cruelty. On the other hand, uié wrongs and injustices taking place in these areas, and the cruelties and abuses met with in the unsettled dis- tricts cannot be longer hidden or tolerated. Fortunately they are of such a nature that they can be largely remedied by proper legislation, combined with brm departmental supervision. My earnest prayer on the eve of my departure from Western Australia, is that the next Parliamentary, session will see that the proposed Aborigines Bill of 1904, as originally introduced, supplemented with the recommendations contained in this report, will become the Aborigines Act of 1905.