[The report of the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines] [11 January 1888]

[Editor: This untitled article provides an example of the thinking of the time that the Australian Aborigines were a dying race, saying that “the aboriginal race is doomed, and is fated to disappear entirely within a few years”. Published in The Age, 11 January 1888.]

[The report of the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines]

The report of the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines for the past year is a somewhat meagre document. The average number of aborigines and half castes maintained on the stations at Coranderrk, Framlingham, Lake Condah, Lake Wellington, Lake Tyers and Lake Hindmarsh during the year was 453, and the gross proceeds of the products of their labor were £1968 8s. 3d. One of the problems to be solved by collecting the blacks in the stations, and protecting them as far as possible from contact with the vices of the civilised race, was whether, under such favorable circumstances, the rapid diminution of their numbers which has taken place would be arrested. The figures seem to show that if no perceptible increase takes place they do not die off rapidly, as in their natural state. Twenty-seven births and twenty-five deaths are recorded for the year; but it may, upon the whole, be taken for granted that the aboriginal race is doomed, and is fated to disappear entirely within a few years. We could have wished that the Board would have supplemented the information given by some facts showing the intellectual progress, if any, made by the inmates of the stations. It may be presumed that no great capacity for improvement has been shown, and we may be the more reconciled in that case to the disappearance of a class which, with greater vitality, would have been a permanent drag upon our civilisation and an incongruous element of the future Australian community.

It is a favorite theory in certain circles that the rapid decay of the aborigines is a result of the cruelty of the white man and of the propagation of his vices. In the early days many of the blacks were doubtless destroyed by the settlers, but it may be questioned whether many of them were wantonly killed. Conflicts were inevitable where a low race of savages were brought in contact with an exceedingly sparse population of European settlers. The temptation to plunder was almost irresponsible, murder, would generally be regarded from the savages’ point of view as a legitimate mode of making robbery easier. That there would be retaliation by the whites was to be expected, not only out of a spirit of revenge, but as a means of imparting a wholesome dread to a race inaccessible to moral influences. But the aborigines have melted away at an equally rapid rate in mere recent times, when they were shielded by a strictly administered law.

That the readily contracted vices of the Europeans would swell the mortality amongst the blacks was natural, but it seems a law of nature that where two races whose stages of progression differ greatly are brought into contact, the inferior race is doomed to wither away and disappear. The experience of the South Seas, where the only European influences brought to bear upon the natives have been of an elevating character, shows that the aborigines rapidly diminish in numbers and threaten to die out altogether almost before they have attained to a state of semi-civilisation. The process seems to be in accordance with a natural law which, however it may clash with human benevolence, is clearly beneficial to mankind at large by providing for the survival of the fittest.

Human progress has all been achieved by the spread of the progressive races and the squeezing out of the inferior ones. No one can contend that it would have been better for the world had no European set foot on this continent and the blacks had been left to the chance of reaching civilisation by a slow course of natural development. It may be doubted whether the Australian aborigine would ever have advanced much beyond the status of the neo-lithic races in which we found him, and we need not therefore lament his disappearance. All that can be expected of us is that we shall make his last days as free from misery as we can.

The people of this colony cannot be reproached with selfish indifference to the woes of the blackfellows. Parliament has voted large sums of money for the maintenance of retreats in which the aborigines have found food and shelter, medical attendance and religious instruction, without being called upon to make any adequate return in labor. Indeed, the system of benevolence was carried too far, half castes and the children of half castes sharing the national generosity with the full blooded blacks. By the Aborigines Protection Amending Act, passed in the session before last, Parliament sought to provide against the growth of a permanent pauper class by directing the gradual elimination of the half caste element from the native settlements and its absorption in the general population. The present report claims for the Board for the Protection of the Aborigines the credit of urging this judicious reform upon the country:—

“It seemed to the Board unreasonable that the State should continue to support able-bodied men who were well able to earn their own living. They were supplied at the public expense with houses, food and clothing, with all the necessaries and many of the comforts of life. Under these circumstances, no habits of self-reliance were cultivated in them, and the great body of them were quite satisfied with their dependent position.”

When this improvement in the law has had time to fully operate, there will only be a few pure blacks left under the care of the State. Fully half of the natives on the several aboriginal stations are half-castes, coming under the provisions of the act. When these have been drafted into the industrial community the stations will occupy a very different position from that they have been in heretofore. The cost to the public should be very greatly reduced, and some of the large areas reserved be made available for European occupation. For the necessities of a body of aborigines whose number does not now exceed 250, and is gradually diminishing, it cannot be necessary to maintain half a dozen different stations, each with its separate managerial staff. Economy will dictate the aggregation of the blacks on one or other of the stations, while the interests of the community at large will be promoted by the remaining reserves, no longer required for their original purpose, being made available for settlement by Europeans.

The Age (Melbourne, Vic.), Wednesday 11 January 1888, page 4 (columns 6-7)

[Editor: The original text has been separated into paragraphs.]

Speak Your Mind