Chapter 2 - Life under the protection acts
Everything that related to a concentration camp was there in [Cherbourg].
You could not move without getting a permit. Cherbourg is built right on
Bramble Creek. About 100 metres or so away from the river was the farmer's house.
We had to get a permit to go down and fish there. We had to get a permit to go
to Murgon, which was four miles away – six kilometres – and it had a time set
on it. If you came back five to ten minutes after that time expired, you would
be put in jail for, maybe, a weekend. And they brought the curfew in. All
lights had to be out at nine o'clock. If you were found out after dark or after
the lights had gone out, you were put in jail. They even put searchlights on
the vehicles – the police, the superintendent – and chased black fellas everywhere,
hither and thither, throughout the night hours.
During the mid-forties, they took away our corroborees, they
took away our culture. Our ancestors were not allowed to teach us our language;
most of us know nothing of our language.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the
governments of mainland states and the Northern Territory introduced
legislation to regulate the lives of many Indigenous people.
This legislation is commonly referred to as 'protection Acts' because its
stated intention was to 'protect' Indigenous people. These Acts were used, in
some cases until the 1980s, as a means of implementing policies of protection,
separation, absorption and assimilation of Indigenous populations, depending on
the prevailing philosophy of governments at the time.
While the policy underlying the protection Acts changed over time, in
effect, these regimes gave governments a means of controlling the lives of many
Indigenous Australians. This chapter outlines some of the common features of
the protection Act regimes, before discussing in greater detail the controls
that were placed on Indigenous workers and their wages.
The committee understands that there were other measures in place before
the introduction of protectionist legislation which aimed to control the lives
of Indigenous people. However, the committee focuses on the protection Acts as
they represent the introduction of systematic controls over employment and
Common features of the protectionist regimes
By 1911 the Northern Territory and every state except Tasmania had a
protection Act, giving the Chief Protector or Protection Board extensive power to
control Indigenous people. In some states and in the Northern Territory, the
Chief Protector was made the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children,
displacing the rights of parents.
Many protection Acts included powers to direct Indigenous people to live
on reserves. The management of the reserves was delegated to government
appointed managers or missionaries in receipt of government subsidies.
Enforcement of the protectionist legislation at the local level was the
responsibility of 'protectors' who were usually police officers.
In the name of protection, Indigenous people were subject to near-total
control. Their entry to, and exit from, reserves was regulated as was their
everyday life on the reserves, their right to marry and their employment. With
a view to encouraging the conversion of the children to Christianity and
distancing them from their Indigenous lifestyle, children were housed in
dormitories and contact with their families was strictly limited.
Governmental control of employment, conditions and wages
Each state and territory varied in the way it controlled the employment,
working conditions and wages of Indigenous workers. This section of the report
provides an overview of the governmental controls on employment and wages that
existed in each of the states and territories. The section begins with Queensland,
which has been the most studied of the regimes of controls, and then discusses
controls that were used in other states and territories.
The focus will be the legislative and administrative controls that were
put in place in relation to Aboriginal workers. The practical applications and
implications of these policies are discussed in Chapters 4 and 5.
Queensland implemented employment and wages controls on Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people from 1897. The committee received a number of
submissions setting out in detail the controls that the Queensland Government
had put in place over time.
In 1897, the Queensland Government introduced a system of employment
agreements and permits for the employment of Indigenous workers under the Aboriginals
Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld)
(the 1897 Queensland Act). Torres Strait Islanders were subject to a similar
scheme of wages control as that experienced by Aboriginal people. Prior to
1939, the Queensland protection legislation covered both Aboriginal people and
Torres Strait Islanders. After 1939, separate legislation applied to Aboriginal
people and Torres Strait Islanders, however, similar elements of control
existed for both groups of people. From 1965, the Aborigines' and Torres
Strait Islanders' Affairs Act 1965 (Qld) (the 1965 Queensland Act)
applied to both groups, however the Act was split into sections which applied
rules separately to Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. From 1971,
the two groups were again subject to separate legislation.
The committee understands that there were differences in the schemes
which applied to Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, but the
committee accepts that the fundamental element of control of wages existed in
The legislation imposing employment controls was amended and replaced
over time, however, controls continued in place for more than 85 years.
The 1897 Queensland Act set out many controls including the requirement
that an Aboriginal worker could only be employed under a permit granted by a
Permits remained in force for 12 months, or up to 12 months in later forms of
Employers were also required to enter into an agreement with their Aboriginal
employees for a period of not more than 12 months.
Agreements were to be witnessed by a Justice of the Peace or member of the
police force and were to outline:
- the nature of the services to be provided by the employee;
- the period of employment;
- the wages to be paid; and
- the nature of the accommodation to be provided to the employee.
From 1934, amendments to the 1897 Queensland Act gave protectors the
- cancel any employment agreement;
- investigate complaints by an employer or employee; and
- investigate employee complaints of ill-treatment.
The 1897 Queensland Act was replaced in 1939 by the Aboriginals
Preservation and Protection Act 1939 (the 1939 Queensland Act). The 1939
Queensland Act continued the employment controls put in place by the 1897
Dr Ros Kidd noted in her submission that, from 1897 to approximately
1970, children were indentured
to work from government settlements:
Boys were sent to farm work and pastoral stations, and girls to
fill the insatiable demand for domestic servants, often in remote areas. As in
the Northern Territory and Western Australia, however, the government
frequently left 'full-blood' boys on the stations, many less than ten years of
age, reasoning that they were already instructed in labouring and the stations
would suffer without their input.
The 1965 Queensland Act did not have provisions explicitly dealing with
the conditions of employment for Indigenous workers. However, regulations
introduced under the 1965 Queensland Act still permitted the employment of
'assisted' Indigenous persons under an agreement.
wages, savings and property
In 1901, the 1897 Queensland Act was amended and a minimum wage was
legislated for Indigenous workers who were working under permit.
For workers in the marine industry (predominantly those employed in the
pearling industry), who were covered by the legislation, the wage was set at 10
shillings. For all other workers covered by the 1897 Queensland Act the wage
was set at five shillings ($24 today), less than one-eighth of the 'white
Under the amendments introduced in 1901, protectors could instruct
employers to pay the wages of some Indigenous workers directly to the
Protectors who received wages on behalf of workers were only allowed to spend
the wages on behalf of the employee for whom they were held. The protector was
required to keep an account of money spent on behalf of these employees.
Protectors were also required to take general care, protection and management
of the property of Aboriginal people in their district, and to keep proper
records and accounts of all monies and other property dealt with under this
In 1904, regulations made under the 1897 Queensland Act were put in
place providing for the wages of Aboriginal people to be paid directly to
protectors. All money held by a protector on behalf of a worker was to be
deposited in the workers' name in the Government Bank Account. An account of
expenditure from these accounts was to be kept.
These savings accounts are discussed further in Chapter 4.
In 1919, further regulations continued the compulsory savings regime,
providing for a large percentage of the wages of Aboriginal workers to be
directed to the protector for banking. Employees were then given the remaining
wages as 'pocket money'.
The regulations also put in place a requirement for 'pocket money books' to be
kept and scrutinised regularly by local protectors.
The 1919 regulations specified more detailed minimum pay rates and
conditions of employment, but permitted local protectors to insist on award
rates or higher rates in appropriate cases.
The Department of Native Affairs (and its successors) was responsible for
fixing minimum wages for all workers until the Second World War and, for
workers in the pastoral industry and workers not covered by Awards, until 1965 when
the 1965 Queensland Act was passed.
The 1919 regulations also provided for deductions from the wages of
Indigenous workers for contribution to the 'Aboriginal Provident Fund', a fund
which was established for the 'relief of natives'.
The Aboriginal Provident Fund is discussed further in Chapter 3.
The 1939 Queensland Act continued the financial management controls for
Aboriginal workers. Protectors retained the power to direct employers to pay
the whole or part of a worker's wages to the protector. Protectors also
continued to be responsible for the protection and management of the property
of all Aboriginal people in their district, and were obliged to keep a proper
record and account of all monies dealt with.
Regulations under the 1939 Queensland Act also provided that trust funds be
established with the Commonwealth Savings Bank for the wages, property and
savings of Aboriginal people. The person on whose behalf the money was held
could, with the authorisation of a protector, withdraw from the fund money
necessary to pay their debts. A complete record and account of monies in their
accounts was required to be kept.
These savings accounts are discussed further in Chapter 4.
The 1939 Queensland Act also provided for the establishment of 'a
welfare fund for the general benefit of Aboriginals'.
Regulations made under the 1939 Queensland Act required Aboriginal workers
employed under that Act to make a contribution from their earnings to this
fund, called the 'Aborigines Welfare Fund'.
The Aborigines Welfare Fund, and the contributions made to it by Indigenous
workers, is discussed further in Chapter 4.
2.26 Following the introduction of the 1965 Queensland Act, protectors (or
district officers as they were known by then) could only manage the property of
an 'assisted' Indigenous person:
- who requested that the property be managed; or
- where the protector was satisfied it was in the best interests of
the person to require management of the property.
Where a person ceased to be an 'assisted' person, as soon as practical
all money being held in trust for that person was to be paid to them.
Legislation in 1971 and 1984 still retained provisions in respect of the
management of property of some Indigenous people.
The Consultancy Bureau noted in its report that, until 1969, workers in
Indigenous communities did not receive wages but instead were issued with
rations and pocket money. Workers were also paid 'training allowances' in lieu
of wages. Minimum wages were phased into these communities in 1983.
The extent of government control
Dr Ros Kidd gave the committee the following information in relation to
numbers of workers in Queensland whose labour was controlled by the government:
...between 4000 – 5500 pastoral workers annually [between the]
1920s-1960s; around 2500 waged workers on missions and settlements in 1979
[which] reduced to 765 in 1986; over 600 girls and women domestics in 1915,
around 588 in the late 1930s.
At the public hearing in Brisbane, Dr Kidd noted that these figures were
only a 'guesstimate', and, if anything, 'hugely understated' the number of
people under government control.
New South Wales
Like Queensland, legislation in New South Wales (NSW) gave the
government broad powers of control over the lives of Aboriginal people in that
state. Although there was legislation providing for the control of wages of all
Aboriginal workers in NSW, the controls over employment focussed on the
apprenticing (also known as indenture) of Aboriginal children.
A number of submissions provided the committee with a comprehensive
overview of the employment, wages and savings controls in NSW.
The Board for the Protection of Aborigines (the NSW Board) was
established in 1883. The stated objectives of the NSW Board were to 'provide
asylum for the aged and sick, who are dependent on others for help and support;
but also, and of at least equal importance to train and teach the young, to fit
them to take their places amongst the rest of the community'.
Although not explicit in the stated intention, the Public Interest Advocacy
Centre (PIAC) notes the NSW Board 'initially had a policy...of removing
Aboriginal children from their communities and families'.
In 1909, the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (NSW) (the 1909 NSW
Act) was introduced which formally set out the duties of the NSW Board,
- to provide for the custody, maintenance and education to the
children of Aborigines; and
- to exercise a general supervision and care over all matters
affecting the interests and welfare of Aborigines, and to protect them against
injustice, imposition, and fraud.
The NSW Board was able to contract children out as apprentices, subject
to the provisions of the Apprentices Act 1901 (NSW) (the Apprentices
From 1915 the apprenticing of Aboriginal children was no longer subject to the
Apprentices Act, and the NSW Board could apprentice children 'on such terms and
conditions as it may think under the circumstances of the case to be
The committee received submissions commenting about the institutions
established by the NSW Board to train apprentices:
In 1893 the Board had opened a dormitory for girls on Warangesda
Station and late in 1911 it established the Cootamundra Training Home for
girls. In institutions like this, children not yet old enough to be indentured
were 'trained' for domestic or other work as future child apprentices. On some
Stations, dormitories were also established as separate residences where
children would be 'clothed and fed' and, as the manager of Brewarrina
Aborigines Station told the parliamentary inquiry into the [Board] in 1938,
'when a nice position is available for them, they accept it'.
The power of the NSW Board to apprentice Aboriginal children continued
until 1969, although over time the extent and scope of children to whom the
legislation applied changed.
Outside of the apprenticeship scheme, there were limited legislative
controls over the employment of Aboriginal people in NSW. From 1936, the NSW
Board could terminate the employment of an Aboriginal person where the NSW
Board had reason to believe the employee was:
...not receiving fair and proper treatment, and [was] not being
paid a reasonable wage, or the Board [was] of the opinion that his moral or
physical well-being is likely to be impaired by continuance in such employment,
or that he is being influenced to continue in such employment.
The 1909 NSW Act which introduced the apprenticeship scheme for
Aboriginal children was repealed in 1969, and, in theory, Aboriginal children
now came under the same child welfare legislation as non-Indigenous children.
Wages, savings and property control
Although NSW legislation dealt primarily with the employment controls
for apprentices, wages and savings controls in the legislation extended to
include the wages of adult Aborigines.
Regulations set out the wages payable to Aboriginal apprentices, and
directed employers to pay a small percentage to the apprentice each week as
'pocket money'. The remainder of the wage was to go into a trust account. Trust
accounts were supposed to be paid out to the apprentice at the end of their
apprenticeship, or at another time approved by the NSW Board.
In 1910, regulations provided for wages for apprentices ranging from 1
shilling and 6 pence for first year apprentices, to 5 shillings for fourth year
apprentices. These wage rates were increased periodically by regulations.
However, until 1941, employers were able to contract out of the statutory
apprentice wage rates, which only applied where no other agreement existed.
With amendments to the 1909 NSW Act in 1936, the NSW Board was given the
power to direct employers to pay the wages of an adult Aboriginal employee to
the Secretary or other officer, where it appeared to the NSW Board it would be
in the best interests of the employee for this to occur. Wages were to be
collected and expended solely on behalf of the employee and an account was to
be kept of the expenditure.
The NSW Stolen Wages Working Group stated that it is their understanding that
there is little evidence to indicate that this extension of power was used
before being revoked in 1963.
The extent of government control
The Indigenous Law Centre (ILC) in its submission stated that the
numbers of Aboriginal children apprenticed through the NSW system can not be
determined with any certainty:
...in part because of the patchy state of government records. The
work of historians like Heather Goodall and Victoria Haskins suggests there
were many hundreds and perhaps thousands of children put into the apprenticeship
system in NSW over the course of the 20th Century.
Dr Ros Kidd provided the committee with the following figures on various
aspects of the NSW apprenticeship scheme:
...300 children sent to work from Warangesda by 1909; 570 girls
sent to work between 1916-1928; 400 boys sent to work from Kinchela to the
In 2004, a panel established by the NSW Government to consult on the
framework for a scheme to repay withheld wages, savings and entitlements stated
that it was unlikely that the number of people for whom trust accounts existed
would exceed 3,500.
In relation to Western Australia (WA), the committee received a number
of submissions giving a detailed overview of the relevant legislative and
The Aborigines Protection Act 1886 (WA) (the 1886 WA Act) introduced
employment contracts between employers and Aboriginal workers over the age of
14. As in Queensland, the contracts were to be in writing, explained to the
employee and witnessed by a Justice of the Peace or a protector.
In 1905, under the Aborigines Act 1905 (WA) (the 1905 WA Act), a permit
system was also introduced, allowing employers to take out permits to employ
Aboriginal workers. Permits could be either for a single worker, or a ‘general’
permit, which covered a number of workers.
The requirement for contracts and permits between employers and
Aboriginal workers continued until 1954, although the workers to which the
controls applied varied over time.
From 1874, Aboriginal children were also subject to the provisions of
mainstream legislation which provided for institutionalisation and indenture to
The 1886 WA Act provided a Resident Magistrate with the power to indenture
'half-caste' and Aboriginal children, from a suitable age, until they turned
Wages, savings and property control
There was no provision in the 1886 WA Act for contracts to include
wages. However, employees were to be provided with 'substantial, good and
sufficient rations', clothing and blankets.
Legislation did not provide the Aborigines Department or the protector
with the power to direct Aboriginal people to hand over their wages and
property to be held in trust. Nonetheless, this practice became widespread.
As Dr Ros Kidd noted in her submission, from 1909 people contracted through the
Aborigines Department (and its successors) and those indentured from children's
homes and missions were pressured into putting part of their wages into trust
accounts supervised by the Aborigines Department.
The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA) set out in its
submission some of the wage rates for Aboriginal domestic servants in the 1930s
and through to the early 1940s:
...the weekly wage for Aboriginal domestic servants in their first
year was 7/6 per week, of which they received 2/6 as pocket money with the rest
going to the Department. The wages increased to 12/6 after a year, but still
the majority of this went to the Department with the domestic servant allowed
5/- pocket money. Domestic servants could earn up to 25/- per week, most of
which was deposited in their trust account, and from the trust accounts the
young workers were 'permitted' to purchase clothes and shoes, and 'to receive
advances for holiday purposes'.
Dr Ros Kidd noted that limited wages and conditions were introduced in
1944 under the State Farmworkers Award, although this only applied to workers
in the south-west of WA.
From 1954, although the permit and contract system had been removed,
station managers were still required, under the Native Welfare Act 1954 (WA),
to keep records of goods sold in lieu of wages.
Extent of government control
In its first submission, the ALSWA stated that the number of Aboriginal
people who had their labour controlled by the government would have been 'substantial,
certainly more than 20,000'.
The ALSWA noted, in a later submission, that this was a theoretical figure, and
acknowledged that many people were employed outside of the controls.
Professor Anna Haebich also noted the preference of employers to employ
workers outside of legislative controls. Professor Haebich informed the committee
that in 1913 there were 59 Aboriginal people employed under permits in the
south of WA.
By 1917, 500 employment permits had been issued, covering the employment of
approximately 4,500 Aboriginal workers.
Dr Ros Kidd estimated that in 1918 the Aboriginal workforce in the Kimberley region
numbered almost 2,300.
The Northern Territory was initially under the governance of South Australia,
and subsequently under the Commonwealth. In 1910 the Northern Territory had
legislation, the Northern Territory Aboriginals Act 1910 (SA) (the 1910
NT Act), controlling the employment and wages of Aboriginal people. Controls
applied to both child and adult workers. Between 1911 and 1978, the Northern
Territory was the responsibility of the Commonwealth Government.
Information on the Northern Territory's employment, wages and savings
controls as well as the number of Northern Territory Aboriginal people under
the government's control is based on a number of detailed submissions received
by the committee which outlined the controls in the Northern Territory.
The 1910 NT Act and its successor, the Aboriginals Ordinance 1911
(Cth), implemented a system of employment licences for Aboriginal workers in
the Northern Territory. In order to get a licence an employer applied to the
protector, setting out the nature of the employment, the conditions of
employment and the proposed wages.
From the early 20th century, the administration in the Northern
Territory also pursued a policy of removing children of mixed race from their
parents and 'indenturing' them to white families. Dr Ros Kidd stated in her
submission that, from 1912, the Kahlin compound (a compound situated outside
Darwin which housed Aboriginal people) started supplying servants to Darwin
families and, in 1914, 'The Bungalow' was opened in Alice Springs to provide
training for children prior to sending them out to work.
From 1918, under the Aboriginals Ordinance 1918 (Cth) (the 1918
Commonwealth Ordinance), a person wanting to employ an Aboriginal worker in a
town district needed to enter into an employment agreement as well as obtain a
licence. Employers in country districts were only required to obtain a licence
to employ Aboriginal workers.
From 1953, the employment of Aboriginal workers was controlled through
the Welfare Ordinance 1953 (Cth) (the Welfare Ordinance) and the Wards
Employment Ordinance 1953 (Cth) (the Wards Employment Ordinance).
Although these ordinances were applicable to people who were declared 'wards',
the requirements for declaring a person to be a ward were such that, at a
practical level, only Aboriginal people could be declared wards.
Like earlier legislation, the Wards Employment Ordinance required
that an employer hold a licence to employ an Aboriginal worker. Furthermore,
Aboriginal workers could only be employed in accordance with the prescribed
conditions of employment and wages.
Wages, savings and property control
The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law (Castan Centre) noted in its
submission that, although the 1910 NT Act provided that the amount of proposed
wages be specified in an application for an employment licence for Aboriginal
workers, there was no provision in the legislation that actually required wages
to be paid.
Under the 1910 NT Act, a protector also had the power to take possession of,
retain, sell or dispose of the property of an Aboriginal or 'half-caste'
The regulations under the 1918 Commonwealth Ordinance set out the wages
for Aboriginals and 'half-caste' apprentices in town districts. Part of these
wages were to be paid directly to the worker with the remainder to be paid to a
trust account held in the Chief Protector's Office in Darwin.
Licence applications for Aboriginal employees in the country districts
required that the worker be paid wages at a rate of five shillings a week, and
be provided with food, clothing and tobacco. At the request of a protector, a
proportion of a worker's wages were to be held in trust for the worker.
From 1933, the Aboriginals Ordinance 1933 (Cth) provided the
Chief Protector with the power to authorise protectors to direct an employer to
pay a portion of Aboriginal workers' wages to the Chief Protector, who would
subsequently hold the wages in a trust account.
These legislative amendments in 1933 also allowed for employers of Aboriginal
workers in country districts to be exempt from the payment of wages where the
Chief Protector was satisfied that the employer was maintaining the relatives
and dependants of his Aboriginal employees.
Under the provisions of the Welfare Ordinance, the Director of Welfare
held the property of wards as trustee and could pay debts, judgements,
payments, allowances or other costs from the ward's property.
The 1953 legislation also provided for minimum wages and conditions for Northern
Territory pastoral workers. However, the wages were one-fifth the 'white
rate', and the rations were less than 35 per cent of the minimum requirements
for white workers.
Further, the Wards Employment Ordinance allowed for an employer to pay a ward
less than prescribed wages where it was demonstrated that the ward was 'slow,
aged or infirm'.
Following the Equal Wages decision
in 1966, new regulations were introduced providing that employers were required
to pay wards' 'wages and other monies payable to the ward at the time and in
the manner specified in an award or industrial agreement applicable in respect
of the calling or industry in which the ward is employed'.
However the 'slow worker' clause continued to allow employers to underpay
The extent of government control
Dr Ros Kidd estimated that, in 1919, there were 2,500 licensed
Aboriginal workers in the Northern Territory and 1,500 dependants.
Dr Thalia Anthony provided the following information about the number of
Northern Territory Aboriginal people registered under the Welfare Ordinance:
The Welfare Ordinance 1953 registered all but six of the
NT's 15,700 'full blood' Aboriginal people in the NT as wards. However, many
Aboriginal people on remote stations were not registered as they did not come
under the official purview.
The committee received some information on the legislative regimes in South
South Australia was one of the first states to put in place legislation
to control the employment of some Aboriginal children. From 1884 legislation
enabled a protector to be declared the guardian of any child of Aboriginal
descent whose parents were deceased or unknown. A protector could apply to
indenture the child until they were 21. Evidence provided to the committee
suggests that the practice of children being sent into service continued until
at least the 1970s.
In South Australia, there appears to have been little regulation of the
employment of adult Aboriginal workers. As Dr Cameron Raynes advised the
Generally speaking, the South Australian Government did not
control the labour of Aboriginal workers in South Australia. There was no
regulation of their employment conditions or rates of pay, and only a few
sections of the Aborigines Act 1911 [SA], and subsequent legislation,
touched on the question of labour at all.
Dr Ros Kidd noted that, in South Australia, the Aborigines Act 1911 (SA)
(the 1911 SA Act) did not include provisions for the licensing of employers of
Aboriginal workers, or for the direct payment of wages to protectors.
It appears that on the government-run stations employment controls were
exercised through other means. For example, the Graham family provided the
committee with the rules for the management and government of the Point Pearce
Station (Mission Station rules),
which included that:
Work will be provided on the Station for as many of the inmates
as practicable preference being given to married men. All able-bodied men, and
youths and girls over 14 not required for work on the station, will be required
to seek work elsewhere.
Wages, savings and property control
The 1911 SA Act provided for the Chief Protector to take control of the
property and finances of any Aboriginal or 'half-caste' and to receive property
and wages owed to any deceased person.
Under the provisions of the Aborigines Act 1934-1939, the Aboriginal
Protections Board had the power to undertake the 'general care, protection and
management of the property of any Aborigine'.
The Mission Station rules, detailed in the Graham family submission,
demonstrate the wages controls that were at work within the Point Pearce
The wages to be paid shall be at a rate to be fixed from time to
time by the Trustees, and shall be paid monthly.
All rations, stores, provisions, rent, firewood, medical
attendance, medicines, paddocking, and all other supplies and benefits, shall
be paid for, or deducted from wages, at the end of each month, and shall be
charged for at the following rates...
No credit will be allowed to any inmate employed by the Mission
beyond the amount accruing due or each month's wages...
No inmate who obtains employment outside the Station will be
allowed any credit unless and until he shall sign an order on his employer for
payment to the Mission out of his wages of the amount named in such an order,
and such employer shall have agreed in writing to accept such an order...
The Mission Station rules specified the amount of wages to be paid, and
indicated that the amount was dependent on the age of the worker and their
The extent of government control
Dr Cameron Raynes estimated that the number of people working on the
Point Pearce and Point McLeay Stations from 1915 until the 1960s was between
400 and 800.
Dr Ros Kidd noted that, in the period 1943-1972, 350 girls were processed
through Colebrook Home and into domestic service.
The committee received very little information in relation to the
control of employment and wages in Victoria.
The committee notes the view of the Victorian Stolen Wages Working Group
(Wampan Wages) that further research is required in order to ascertain the extent
of the impact of the stolen wages issue in Victoria.
From 1869 under the Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 (Vic) (the
1869 Victorian Act), the Victorian Government implemented a system of
employment control of Aboriginal workers through work certificates and
The Governor had the power to make orders prescribing the terms of any
employment contract entered into by an Aboriginal person. Each contract had to
be approved by the Board for the Protection of Aborigines (the Board), the
local guardian or an authorised agent of the Board. Approval of the contract
was in the form of a work certificate.
The Victorian employment controls continued largely in place until 1957,
when new legislation, the Aborigines Act 1957, was introduced. The power
to prescribe employment conditions was subject to applicable industrial awards
and determinations. However, from 1958, the approval of the Aboriginal Welfare
Board (as it was known at that stage) was required in order to employ a male
Aboriginal worker under 18 years of age or any female Aboriginal worker.
In terms of the indenture or apprenticing of children, the Aborigines
Protection Act 1886 (Vic) and the regulations introduced pursuant to this
Act provided that, from the age of 13 years, 'half-caste' boys were to be
apprenticed or sent to work on farms and girls were to work as servants.
Wages, savings and property control
From 1871, regulations made under the 1869 Victorian Act provided for
the wages of Aboriginal workers to be paid directly to the local 'guardian'.
The money could then be used for the benefit of the worker or any member of
their family, and had to be accounted for to the Board.
From 1890 the wages of every 'half-caste' child who was licensed, and of
all apprentices, was to be paid quarterly by the employer to the general
Inspector of the Board, who in turn was to place the money in the child's
credit into a bank. Half of the wages were to be paid to the child quarterly,
and the remainder at the end of the service or apprenticeship.
From 1931, the Board could direct that monies payable to an Aboriginal
person could be paid to the Secretary of the Board, and subsequently paid into
a trust fund set up in the worker's name.
The extent of government control
The committee did not receive any information about the number of
Indigenous people who may have had their employment and wages controlled by the
Victorian Government. However, the committee understands that the effect of the
Aborigines Protection Act 1886 was to remove 'part-Aborigines' from the
government reserves and, subsequently, from the control of the Board.
During the period 1886 to 1923, the number of Aboriginal stations
reduced from six to one, namely Lake Tyers. By 1957 there were fewer than 299
Aboriginal people under the control of the Board at Lake Tyers.
Those Indigenous people not living on the Aboriginal stations competed
in the labour force against non-Indigenous workers.
However, the committee notes that it is suggested that, once off the stations,
Indigenous people faced a hostile society and employment discrimination.
Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania
The committee received limited information on the government controls on
Aborigines living in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Tasmania. These
controls mostly related to the apprenticing of Aboriginal children.
As noted in the introduction to this Chapter, Tasmania did not enact a
protection Act. However, evidence provided in submissions noted that, in Tasmania,
Aboriginal children could be apprenticed under general child welfare
The committee notes that there is a need for further research and investigation
into what happened to the wages and savings of these children:
The income of working child wards and reserve inmates was likely
to have been controlled as it was in mainland states and territories. Those
trust funds, and government transactions upon Aboriginal money including
workers compensation and inheritances, should be investigated.
From the time the ACT was established in 1911, until 1954, the 1909 NSW
(as amended from time to time) applied in the ACT.
In 1954, the Aborigines Welfare Ordinance 1954 (Cth) was introduced and
this allowed for the control of wages of Indigenous workers by providing that
the worker's wages could be paid to a person other than the worker.
The ILC commented that, until 1968, when the responsibility for placing
Aboriginal children in the ACT was transferred to the Commonwealth Department
of Interior, Aboriginal children in the ACT were removed under the Child
Welfare Ordinance 1954 (Cth) and were placed in foster homes or NSW
institutions under the supervision of the NSW Board.
The committee was also told that NSW Aboriginal apprentices were also sent to
work as domestic servants in the ACT.
Professor Ann McGrath described the ACT as 'unique', as the ACT was
previously part of NSW and Aboriginal people from around the district often
lived in both the ACT and NSW at different times of their lives. The committee
notes the suggestion of Professor McGrath that the ACT Government might wish to
work with the NSW Government in addressing the issue of stolen wages.
Given the extremely limited evidence and information provided to the
committee on the stolen wages issue in Tasmania and the ACT, the committee has
not considered these jurisdictions further in its deliberations.
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