Chapter 6 - Previous inquiries into stolen wages andaccess to records
There has not been a conscious effort by
people to access information about stolen wages from what I understand. People
access their personal family records because they want to know what happened to
their families, and they might find out this information on the way. The big
questions that are raised in the terms of reference – how much money; what was
done; the whole system, how it was done; and all of those things – we really do
not know about. We need research so that we can reconstruct the process of
removal, what happened, what management and what protected measures were in
there and so on. There is some information in the annual reports, but we
need an archived survey...
In some jurisdictions, there have been long-standing concerns about the
administration of the finances of Indigenous people under protection Acts. This
is evidenced by reports and inquiries in a number of states and territories
which have investigated, or at least commented on, the control of labour and
wages of Indigenous workers.
Current investigations into the extent of the issue of stolen wages are
reliant on governments providing access to the records that they hold on the
administration of Indigenous funds. In some states there has been a concerted
effort by government to facilitate access to these records. In other
jurisdictions access to records has been tightly controlled by government.
The first part of the chapter reviews some of the previous investigations
that have been conducted into stolen wages. The second part of the chapter
looks at the state of records that still exist in relation to the protection
Act era, and the access that governments allow affected parties to those
State and territory investigations into stolen wages
The extent and nature of previous investigations into these issues is an
area where the committee expected that the state, territory and the
Commonwealth governments would have been able to provide assistance. In particular
the committee notes that Dr Ros Kidd commented that governments may have
undertaken recent analysis on the management of Indigenous money:
is likely governments have recently undertaken analyses of their exposure to
litigation regarding controls and handling of trust monies; any such analyses
should be available to those affected by financial controls.
As most states, and the Commonwealth, did not make submissions to the
inquiry on this issue the committee is grateful to submitters who were able to
share their research and to direct the committee to investigations and
inquiries. Although some of these inquiries were not primarily about the
management of Indigenous monies, they did provide the committee with
contemporaneous observations and comments on this issue.
The committee notes that as a result of the reliance on evidence, other
than that available from governments, this section of the report detailing the
previous investigations undertaken by states and territories into the
management of Indigenous monies is necessarily limited to where others have
completed necessary research and have identified relevant material.
In particular, the committee recognises the work of Dr Ros Kidd in
relation to previous investigations undertaken in Queensland into the official
management of Indigenous monies in that state. The committee also notes that
similar evidence, in the form of audit reports, should exist for other states
and the Northern Territory.
Extensive investigations have occurred in Queensland into the official
management of Indigenous monies. From at least the early 1920s, it appears that
annual audit reports and public service reports inquired into the operation of
the trust and savings accounts in Queensland used to hold Aboriginal wages and
Reports detailing the Queensland Government's failings of the operation
and management of Indigenous monies continued throughout the 20th
century, culminating in 1991 with the Queensland Government commissioning an
independent report on matters including the operation of the Aboriginal Welfare
Fund, the Queensland Aboriginal Account and other savings accounts.
Dr Ros Kidd highlighted a number of key annual audit reports and public
service reports which highlighted the mismanagement of Indigenous monies. In
1923, a Queensland Public Service report found that almost half the deductions
made by protectors were inaccurate, and recommended that Indigenous people be
given the right to appeal against dubious handling of their accounts. This recommendation
Dr Kidd also provided evidence that an investigation undertaken in 1932
found that the 'supervision exercised by the Chief Protector over the natives'
banking transactions is totally inadequate'.
The same report found that the Aboriginal Provident Fund, which was intended to
provide relief for indigent Indigenous people, was in fact being used as an
alternative to state revenue to provide for the maintenance of Indigenous
Another report commissioned in 1932 on the operation of Aboriginal
settlements found a total of £9756 ($564,480) expended from the Aboriginal
Protection of Property Account for maintenance matters, such as funding for a
bridge and the provision of timber for a hospital. In 1941 during an
investigation into the Sub-department of Native Affairs, auditors raised the
precarious position of the Aboriginal Protection of Property Account, which was
in danger of insolvency if claims were made on it by relatives.
Throughout the 1940s, auditors' reports continued to detail negligence
in relation to the handling of Indigenous workers' savings accounts by
...dockets were presented by protectors that bore witnessing to
thumb prints where no thumbprints appeared; they reported receipts that bore
signatures of witness to both the delivery of goods and the endorsement by the
recipient although no worker’s imprint was present. Storekeepers 'consistently'
acted as the independent witnesses to workers’ endorsement on goods purchased
in their own stores; protectors likewise wrongly witnessed endorsements of
transactions organised by themselves.
Queensland Public Service and auditors' reports throughout the 1960s
continued to criticise the accounting systems in place which failed to protect
Indigenous accounts from fraud.
Audit reports also criticised the Queensland Government's operation of a large
cattle business which utilised many Aboriginal reserves. Initially a training
scheme, the business did not produce any financial statements for the 25 years
it operated from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Profits from the running of the
cattle business should have been credited to the Aboriginal Welfare Fund;
however, incompetent business practices saw this fund continue to lose money.
In 1990, the Queensland Minister for Families Services and Aboriginal
and Islander Affairs commissioned an independent report (The Consultancy Bureau
Report) from The Consultancy Bureau on matters such as the Aboriginal Welfare
Fund, the Queensland Aboriginal Account and the savings accounts.
The committee acknowledges the assistance of the Queensland Government
in providing a copy of The Consultancy Bureau Report.
The findings of The Consultancy Bureau Report relevant to this inquiry
- control systems for the savings accounts were poor and frauds on
these accounts were a fairly regular occurrence;
- record systems are poor, and changes in staff resulted in a lack
of continuity of knowledge relating to the operations and administrations of
the Department of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs (as it was then); and
- sampling confirmed that it was impossible to reconstruct the
complete financial history of any individual.
New South Wales
In relation to NSW, the Indigenous Law Centre (ILC) drew the committee's
attention to two investigations in the late 1930s which considered the official
management of Indigenous monies.
The NSW Legislative Assembly established a Select Committee in 1937 to
investigate the administration of the Aborigines Protection Board (the NSW
Board). Although the Select Committee lapsed in 1938 before it reported, the
minutes of evidence for that inquiry highlight the fact that the operation and
management of Indigenous monies by the NSW Board warranted further
The long term Secretary of the [NSW Board], Arthur Pettitt,
admitted to the Select Committee that the Board had allowed 'large sums of
money' to accumulate in the Trust account and that some of it had been diverted
to general Board expenditure, including homes owned not by Aboriginal families
but by the Board. The same committee heard other accounts of suspect and
inconsistent practices with the use of child endowment money, in particular as
an offset against rations and blankets, or towards Board owned property.
The ILC summarised the evidence before the Select Committee into the
Administration of the NSW Board in the following way:
The picture that emerges from evidence given to the Select
Committee in 1937 is of an often authoritarian atmosphere in which corruption
could occur, complaint was discouraged and whistleblowers could be punished. Several
witnesses referred to the discretionary power exercised by managers, for
example over the distribution of rations, and how that could be abused.
The ILC also referred the committee to a report of the Public Service
Board written in 1938 and published in 1940.
Some of the findings of the Public Service Board included:
- the large accumulation of family endowment funds in the hands of
the Aborigines Protection Board;
- for much of the 1930s rations for Aboriginal people were
inadequate and unsatisfactory.
In addition to the inquiries undertaken in 1937 and 1938,
Auditor-General's reports exist in relation to the accounts of both Aboriginal
stations and the NSW Board held by the State Records New South Wales:
...the Auditor-General did investigate the accounts kept on
particular Stations by managers employed by the Board, as well as audit the
accounts of the AWB. State Records NSW, the government's archive and record
management agency, holds reports of Inspectors of Public Accounts for the
period 1907 to 1930, relating to the Board and a number of specific Aboriginal
Evidence received during the inquiry also indicated the existence of a
document prepared by the NSW Department of Community Services in 1998 which
proposed the establishment of a project to investigate the issue of outstanding
Aboriginal Trust Fund balances and to consider implementing a scheme to repay
trust fund monies to Aborigines.
In relation to the Northern Territory, submissions directed the
committee to a number of previous investigations which are relevant to the
management of Indigenous monies in that jurisdiction.
Dr Ros Kidd noted that evidence given during the 1919 Royal Commission
into the Administration of the Northern Territory had revealed the ease with
which Trust Funds could be defrauded. 
Dr Thalia Anthony provided a copy of the 1940 report titled Aboriginal
Trust Fund Investigation. In that report, the Secretary of the Native
Affairs Branch observed that the Trust Account, as far as workers employed in
the Town Districts were concerned, created work of a redundant and abortive
The objects which the creators of the Account sought to achieve
in its early history are somewhat obscure. It would appear that the payment to
the Trust Fund by employers of a proportion of wages payable to Aboriginals and
half-castes was regarded as a measure to protect 'myall' and unsophisticated
employees from exploitation...
A comparison of these conditions with those existing now reveals
a marked change, which nullifies, in most part, present policy as a protective
Practically all natives, whether employed or not, who reside in
town centres are now detribalized and sophisticated. They are also keenly aware
of their economic work. In fact, they have displayed a tendency to assert
themselves in an endeavour to obtain higher wages from their employers, who, in
many cases, have acceded to their demands, to retain their services.
The committee was also directed to the work of anthropologists R M and C
H Berndt, who conducted a survey of Aboriginal labour on Northern Territory cattle
stations from 1944-1946.
Although not a report by the Commonwealth Government, which was the governing
body of the Northern Territory at the time, this report would also seem to
address the issue of the official management of Indigenous wages.
In their report, the Berndts noted that one employer considered itself
absolved from paying the five shillings per week to Aboriginal employees, provided
the cost of supporting the workers' dependants and the aged and infirm on the
station exceeded the proposed aggregate amount. This, in turn, led to the
employer inflating the number of people considered 'dependants' and
underestimating the number of workers employed by the station, a practice which
was apparently condoned by the local protector.
The Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA) noted
some investigations which specifically examined the management of
Indigenous monies. The committee understands that, in 1965 and 1966, the
Commonwealth Government and the Western Australia Government undertook
investigations into allegations that station and mission warrantees
misappropriated old age pension payments which were intended for Aboriginal
The committee also notes that there have been three Royal Commissions in
Western Australia into the treatment and conditions of Indigenous people in
Extracts and material cited from the evidence and reports of those Royal Commissions
demonstrate that those inquiries related to the broader issue of the condition
and treatment of Indigenous Australians in Western Australia.
However, to the extent that those Royal Commissions considered the employment
and payment of wages and other monies to Indigenous people, the committee
considers that those inquiries are relevant to the official management of
Indigenous monies in Western Australia. For example, the 1904 Royal Commission
gathered evidence that no workers in the north-west of Western Australia were
paid wages, despite the fact that, at the time, they comprised the overwhelming
majority of workers in the region.
South Australia and Victoria
The committee received very little evidence on
this matter in relation to South Australia and Victoria. Ms Joanna Richardson informed the committee that there have been no previous
investigations in South Australia into the official management of Indigenous monies.
Wampan Wages (the Victorian Stolen Wages Working Group) stated that it
was not aware of any previous investigations by the Victorian Government into
the official management of Indigenous wages.
The Law Institute of Victoria indicated in its submission that there had
been little or no research into the issue of withheld wages, savings or other
entitlements in Victoria.
Wampan Wages commented that it is currently preparing an application for
funding to the Victorian Government to enable it to fully investigate what it
described as a 'substantial amount of material' in the state and Commonwealth
archives which may be relevant to the issue of control of Indigenous monies in
The committee believes that substantial research is required in South
Australia and Victoria in order to review the material currently in archives
and determine the nature and extent of previous investigations, if any, into
the official management of Indigenous monies.
Disclosure of evidence and public access
Access to records and financial information is an important issue in the
context of stolen wages. Legislation placed an obligation on governments to
keep proper records and accounts and often individuals did not know that such
records were being kept. For this reason it is important that those who were
affected by the protection regimes are able to access their records and see
what information is held about them.
Professor Ann McGrath provided the committee with some general
information about the existence of archival records and sources in relation to
payments made into trusts (or other accounts) for individuals:
These are available in Commonwealth and State Archival
authorities for most of the 20th Century, and for more recent
decades, they are held by the relevant Commonwealth and state departments
administering Community Services and/or Aboriginal affairs. Some states have
Indigenous research officers/specialists who can assist with finding guides and
tools. In some cases, Data bases have been established, eg [by] the Department
of Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Programs (sic) in collaboration
with the Queensland State Archives. To cover the twentieth century, a changing
range of records from a variety of responsible state and federal departments
will require investigation.
Professor McGrath also advised the committee that other pertinent
records would be held by banks or bank archives – for example, the Commonwealth
Bank, and other banks in NSW and other states. Further, the Noel Butlin
Archives of Business and Labour (at the Australian National University),
private company records (for example, the Australian Investment Agency and the
Australian Agricultural Company), and a range of other records would provide
Professor McGrath expressed the view that adequate research into the
complex arrangements relating to account-keeping 'need to be undertaken by
qualified researchers with historical training, working in collaboration with
experts in the history of administration, in accounting, book-keeping practices
Where the answer to key process issues is not clear from the
available records, in many cases, (depending on the time period in question)
public servants involved in administering the Aboriginal departments or Trust
funds could also be consulted. They can be identified by various public lists held
in state and Commonwealth Archives.
In Queensland the issue does not appear to be the ability of the public
to access records of financial control, but rather the incomplete nature of the
records and the complexity of the files, such that individuals are unable to
access the entirety of their records.
The Queensland Government explained the work undertaken in the context
of the current reparations offer, and the previous scheme for the reparation of
underpaid award wages
to maintain records and allow appropriate access:
The Government established a Work and Savings Histories Branch
within the former Department of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Policy to
support both the under-award wages and reparations process. In addition to this
Branch, the Community and Personal Histories Branch was engaged to undertake
extensive, highly acclaimed and nationally recognised research and archivist
work to connect Indigenous people and communities to government records and to
assist in the processing of claims...The Community and Personal Histories Branch
has been at the forefront of endeavours to provide access to government records
and to educate the broader community about past government control practices.
Despite these efforts, the committee notes that a number of obstacles
remain preventing Indigenous people in Queensland from accessing records which
evidence the financial controls that were exercised over them.
The Consultancy Bureau, in its 1991 report, advised that it would be
'impossible' to reconstruct the complete financial history of any individual,
and that consequently, individual claims for wages and savings could not be
The Queensland Government commented that the problems identified in the
Consultancy Bureau Report continue today:
...very considerable effort had been put into finding, collating,
indexing and putting on microfiche any records that could be found that could
be made available. I also understand that that still did not change the
conclusion that was reached in 1990 about the extreme difficulty of putting
back together the story on a case-by-case basis that would allow the
determination on an equitable basis of what might be owed to individuals.
Two difficulties have been identified when endeavouring to put 'back together
the story on a case-by-case basis'. Firstly, records and files have been lost
or are missing; and secondly, the complexity and number of records make it
difficult to find all information in relation to an individual.
The Consultancy Bureau report made the following observation about the
completeness of financial records for the Aborigines Welfare Fund and the
Record systems are poor, and records for a period of some twenty
to thirty years from the late 1940s are often missing. Even some comparatively
modern material cannot be located.
The Queensland Government indicated that the government did not hold a
full record of the savings accounts as some of these had been lost or
Pastor John Andrews commented on missing records in relation to his
My wife's Great Grandparents lived at Tolga on the Atherton
Tablelands and grandfather was an Aboriginal Black Tracker for the Police...This
old man worked but never saw money but relied on handouts from farmers around
who knew them. Where are the records as we are told they do not exist, and
where are the wages?
My father in law worked on cattle properties as a stockman
drover and my mother in law picked beans and corn to make ends meet but also no
records exist. All aboriginal people [were] under the Protection Act but
records were few and far between.
The committee also notes that some witnesses expressed scepticism at the
Queensland Government's ability to locate records, suggesting that it was
easier for the Government to simply say the records are 'missing'.
To this end, Mr Tony Woodyatt, Co-ordinator of the Queensland Public Interest
Law Clearing House (QPILCH) pointed out the difficulties in trying to find
information about an individual in the records:
...there is a mass of records. There are millions of these very
complex documents that are these huge folios, ledgers – it was a very complicated
accounting system that was employed. In these ledgers there will be one line of
a person's name and then the amount that was deducted or whatever, referring to
other folios that had the amounts that they had earned over a period; there
were payment records and expenditure records. Imagine if people had been working
30 years or more; the records were spread across many, many volumes of books.
It is very hard to find those individual records.
Ms Thurlus Saunders explained her experience of locating records in the
archives in Brisbane:
Our family has travelled to Brisbane and spent many hours, days
and weeks in the archives searching for information about our family members.
It is a lot of work going through the paperwork and would be impossible for
people with literacy problems. Going to the archives is straightforward with
identification, but the searching is very time consuming and difficult. There
are many records to search through.
Ms Christine Howes of ANTaR Queensland also highlighted for the
committee how literacy, and misspelling of names could also be an issue in
There are also literacy issues for people who are chasing up
records. One of the profiles that I wrote in Koori Mail was that of Alf Neal
from Yarrabah. He showed me some original documentation where he was looking
for some other records extended on that. They had been looking at these records
and wondering for years why they could not find anything else on them. I
noticed that there was an 'e' on the end of the name, and 20 people might have
looked at that piece of paper before then and never noticed there was an 'e'.
There can be different spellings. Many of these elderly people did not have
Dr Ros Kidd provided an indication of the extent of the material
available in Queensland, indicating that all the material for her research had
been obtained from the files and records of the Department of Native Affairs
(and its successors):
The administrative records, which I looked through, are full of
finances, because controlling people's money was one of the major focuses of
controlling people...So all of the material in my book, if you get a chance just
to flick through the figures in it, is available on the administrative files. I
did not go into the files that are retained by Treasury, for instance, which
would have another dimension, but the finances of the department, the budgeting
of the department, is all on files that I looked at.
New South Wales
The Government has also taken steps to index and locate records of
financial controls that were exercised over Indigenous people living in NSW.
The Government has established two research services to assist with the
indexing and organisation of records and databases to assist with the
Aboriginal Trust Fund Repayment (ATFR) Scheme:
The Department of Aboriginal Affairs employs 3 indexing
officers, a senior indexing officer and the Manager of the [ATFR Scheme] and
Family Records Unit. The Department is also responsible for ongoing indexing of
the Aborigines Welfare Board records and for maintaining various databases and
searching these databases for each Trust Fund claim.
State Records contribute a research service staffed by
Aboriginal people to provide evidence from archival records in their collection
to support claims made under the [ATFR] Scheme.
The NSW Stolen Wages Working Group provided information on a number of
guides and resources published by the State Records of NSW and the NSW
Department of Indigenous Affairs to assist people in locating records and
information relevant to the stolen wages issue.
State Records of NSW has created an 'Archives in Brief' document which
outlines access arrangements to Aboriginal records.
The Brief states that most state records are open to public access once they
are 30 years old; however, records that contain sensitive information are
closed for a longer period. In order to access closed records of the Aborigines
Welfare Fund, an application needs to be made to the Department of Aboriginal
Affairs. The committee was also informed that, where a person makes a claim
under the NSW, ATFR Scheme records relevant to the assessment of monies owed
are provided to the claimant.
The committee notes the high praise given to staff at State Record New
South Wales by Dr Susan Greer who assured the committee that, if records
existed, the staff would be able to find them.
However, as in Queensland, one of the hurdles to a person accessing their
financial records in NSW is the fact that many records are missing, or may not
have been created in the first place.
Ms Charmaine Smith from Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) stated
that PIAC had noticed 'inconsistencies' in the availability of records:
We have noticed that there have been considerable
inconsistencies in the documents that are available...With the Cootamundra girls
training home, I think there are better maintained records that have survived
in that institution, but even then Valerie Linow, for example, has a number of
sisters who also went through Cootamundra and there are still quite significant
differences in the number of documents that we have received in relation to
each sister when you would think that they might have been similarly
maintained. I have noticed that the documents that have survived from Kinchela
boys training home are considerably fewer than we have for Cootamundra. I have clients
who have had employment arranged for them through the board and worked on
stations and missions who do not have documents at all.
The NSW Stolen Wages Working Group provided the committee with the
following information on where some of the 'gaps' in the records exist:
...the accounting records substantially do not exist post 1934,
after the Accountant, Chief Secretary's office took over the accounting role
from the Secretary of the Aborigines Protection Board; and the correspondence
files relate substantially to the Aborigines Welfare Board, and contain only a limited
number of pieces of correspondence that predate 1949.
The NSW Stolen Wages Working Group also identified two other issues that
hampered public access to the records:
- new material is constantly becoming available, so there is a need
to keep checking to see if additional material has been found since the
database was last revised; and
- records were not necessarily collated in a way that facilitates
the sorts of investigations that are now being made by Aboriginal people and
those conducting inquiries.
In relation to Western Australian files, Professor Anna Haebich provided
the following summary:
...there are three main sets [of records]: staff records, which
were disposed of after a couple of years and so there are not very many of them
left; the administrative records; and also the personal records. There are not
very many of them left. The records are controlled by the Department of
Indigenous Affairs. A lot are held at the State Records Office. The Department
of Indigenous Affairs has a vetting process for administrative files, so, if
you want to look at them, you apply and then maybe three weeks or even longer
after that you get to see the file. The personal files of course are restricted
to access by the family of the person the file addresses, and they have to have
written permission from that person.
Professor Haebich described the records held in Western Australia as
'more tattered and disconnected' than those in Queensland.
Access to Western Australian personal files is through application to
the Family Information Records Bureau at the Western Australian Department of
Many of the administrative archival files which are housed at the State Records
Office of WA have restricted access; however the application process is open to
general researchers and to those preparing expert evidence for native title
litigation. Access to the administrative archival files is managed by the
Department of Indigenous Affairs (DIA).
In this context, the committee notes the significant efforts of the
ALSWA during the course of this inquiry to obtain access to restricted DIA
archival files and provide them as evidence to the committee.
The ALSWA also referred to a pattern of archival destruction in WA:
Recent research into the records of the Aborigines Department
and its successors shows that of the 15,400 personal dossier files created
between 1926 and 1959 in relation to Aboriginal individuals and families...about
21% were deliberately destroyed. These records would likely have contained,
among other material, information about the Department's management of
individual trust accounts, the person's employment history and any real or
personal property the Chief Protector held in trust for the person who was the
subject of the file.
...During the same period, from 1926 to 1959, approximately 55% of
the administrative files created by the Department were destroyed. The
selection of these files suggested it was more than routine culling, since the
list of destroyed files contained 'both provocative and potentially important
titles for contemporary areas of research'.
Mr Steve Kinnane has researched the destruction of files in WA and
indicated that he did not believe that the destruction was a deliberate attempt
by the Aborigines Department (or its successors) to avoid future claims that
may be brought in relation to stolen wages, but rather was aimed at protecting
I do not personally believe that they were deliberately
destroyed on the basis that there may be future interest in a claim. I do not
think that people believed that Indigenous community members would eventually
be delving into these files or seeing what was written on them. I think,
though, that often files, particularly files dealing with cohabitation or with
complaints against employers, were destroyed.
There was a culture, if you like, that came out from reading a
large number of files...and the culture that comes across is that the department
was reluctant to pursue any complaints that Indigenous employees had against
their employers. Often, those kinds of files dealing with employment were
destroyed. I have no proof to say that they were destroyed for that reason, but
I would say that there was a culture of not wishing to rock the boat as far as
dealing with white employers went.
The committee received very few submissions in relation to the
disclosure of evidence and public access to records in South Australia.
However, it appears that while extensive archival records do exist in relation
to the management of Indigenous monies in South Australia, there are obstacles
to accessing that information.
The committee was informed that in South Australia there is one
particular series of records, GRG 52/1 –the correspondence of the Aborigines
Department, 1868-1962 (the GRG 52/1 records), which is 'the most important
record group relating to Aboriginal people in South Australia'.
The file is one of 93 record groups which relate to the running of the
Aborigines Department in South Australia.
The GRG 52/1 records contain the correspondence of the SA Aborigines
Department, including correspondence from the Crown Solicitor as well as information
on the trust funds for Indigenous monies that existed in South Australia. While
there are a number of other files which might be relevant to the number of
workers employed on Point Pearce and Point McLeay Stations, according to Dr Cameron
Raynes, the GRG 52/1 records contain 'virtually everything' the committee
would need to answer the issues in relation to South Australia in the Terms of
However, this potentially rich resource of information has been rendered
'all but useless' due to a specific referral process instigated by the
Department of Aboriginal affairs for anyone requesting access to the GRG 52/1
This department then vets the file for any material subject to
legal professional privilege, and advises their CEO accordingly. The CEO then
informs the Attorney-General and then a decision is made to either allow or
deny access to the file.
As a result, it now takes many months to access any item within
GRG 52/1. Worse still, the items can only be accessed on a one-by-one basis,
making extensive research and the ability to 'browse' through the material
Ms Joanna Richardson also outlined the difficulties in accessing records
in South Australia:
It is very difficult to access the records of the Aborigines
Protection Board and Aborigines Department held by the South Australian
Government. The difficulty is twofold: firstly, detailed indexing of the vast
materials of the Aborigines Protection Board and Aborigines Department (and
associated government departments) is not complete, therefore it is not clear
what material is available; secondly, restrictions have been placed on access to
documents by the present government, especially those which might be described
as 'sensitive' from a litigious perspective.
The committee received very few submissions in relation to the Northern
Territory on the issues of disclosure and public access to records. On this
point, the committee notes the submission of the NT Working Women's Centre:
We are unaware of...even how Indigenous women in the NT may be
able to access records showing any money owing to them.
Dr Thalia Anthony explained that there is a scarcity of records relating
to the wages of cattle station workers in the Northern Territory. The records
that do exist are predominantly station ledgers, which are held in the National
Archives in Canberra and Darwin. However, there is not a comprehensive
Commonwealth record of individuals' names with ledgers and entitlements.
Wampan Wages commented that there is a substantial volume of material
held in state and Commonwealth archives which may be relevant to the issue of
control of Indigenous wages in Victoria.
Mr Joel Wright from Wampan Wages stated:
...the Victorian Public Record Office has gone through its
records, its archives, and, through a project which was done about six years
ago called My Heart is Breaking, looked at all of the administrative records
relating to the Board for Protection of Aborigines and certainly a whole range
of correspondence and administrative records in relation to Aboriginal people
on reserves. As part of that project, the Public Record Office of Victoria has
established a specific Indigenous archive containing all of those records,
which include examples of wages paid to people for particular work performed on
reserves. That represents a huge body of documentation that we are identifying
primarily as one of the sources that needs to be researched and investigated
with respect to the terms of reference for the stolen wages.
Certainly there is an indication that there is a bulk of
evidence that exists there but we are also of the understanding that there are
elements of information and evidence that exist in the National Archives which,
within our research terms of reference, we have identified as one of the areas
that we would want to investigate.
According to Wampan Wages, there are currently no measures in place to
disclose evidence of historical financial controls to affected Indigenous
however, Mr Wright informed the committee that access to archives is available
As indicated previously, Wampan Wages is developing a proposal for funding to
enable it to research material in the archives.
The committee notes the National Archives of Australia has produced a
number of guides and fact sheets in relation to the Indigenous Records that it
The Koori Records Unit of the Public Record Office Victoria is also responsible
for improving the accessibility of Aboriginal records held by the Victorian
Until comprehensive research is done to determine the extent of the materials
held, these two repositories would probably be the starting point for an
individual wanting to access records that may exist about the financial
controls to which Victorian Aboriginal people were subjected.
The committee received some evidence in relation to access to
Commonwealth archives. Professor Ann McGrath explained that some records in the
National Archives of Australia are not available to the public:
...a lot of the [records] apparently require
some sort of conservation so they are not actually available to the public and,
because a lot of them contain personal names, they are also not open. It would
take several weeks and you would have to ask for each individual file.
Certainly, in terms of getting the facts and getting the information, it would
be very valuable to researchers to have more open access to these records, of
course taking into account the privacy that is required. There has been a lot
of blocking and gatekeeping right around Australia, both at the state and federal levels. That is one of the
reasons Australians do not have this knowledge. PhD students cannot get to the
sources. Historians do not do this research because they cannot get the
evidence. It is blocked.
In a response to a question on notice from the committee with respect to
what files and records held by the Commonwealth Government may be relevant to
investigating the stolen wages issue, FaCSIA informed the committee that:
In the time available, FaCSIA has not conducted a comprehensive
search to determine the nature and scope of any material it may hold. It is
therefore not possible to readily estimate what material, if any, is held by
the department that could possibly be relevant to the Committee's inquiry. The
department has an extensive amount of historical material, primarily held in
the National Archives. Any research into this material would require specialist
skills and a substantial diversion of resources. A comprehensive response would
require information to be sought by the Committee from all appropriate
At the Canberra hearing, a representative from FaCSIA told the committee
that it is willing to investigate substantive stolen wages claims but that a
broad investigation into the issue has not been justified to date:
We are bound as much as anyone to the requirements and regulations
that Archives operates under, but clearly we would have access, as departmental
officers, to any records which are the responsibility of our department or its
predecessors. We have always been ready to investigate any substantive claims
that have come to us about these issues where they fall within our
responsibilities. In recent years we have not had any, and, where they have
occurred in the recent past, where we have sought to go to the substance of the
matters they have not been forthcoming.
On that basis, we did not feel it was sustainable to divert
substantial resources away from Indigenous business to go spec-hunting across
the range of possible sources in that regard. Clearly, the Commonwealth had
responsibility for the Territory up until the late seventies, and there may be
some basis for looking into that history, but we have not received any claims
that warranted us seeking to investigate those particular historical
circumstances. On that basis, we have not been able to justify doing a broad investigation,
because we did not have a basis to know where to look or what to look for,
given the wealth of material that probably sits in archival sources.
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