Week 2 – Workshop Resources

Historical Case Studies from Colonial WA

The purpose of these historical case studies is to generate thought and discussion about the responsibility that Australia bears for the mental ill-health experienced by her Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as shedding light on the appalling treatment that caused so many of the issues that our society is still grappling with today. Though they make for unsettling reading, they will hopefully help change our perspective, planting the seeds of awareness for the need for reconcilliation as a starting point for tackling the mental health crisis being experienced by our First Nations peoples.

Case Study: Recollections of Early Settlers in WA

In 1899 settlers C. Tuckey of Mandurah wrote the following letter to the chief protector of Aborigines:

“There are about 20 Natives here, but rations are only supplied to a few old women who would otherwise be in a sorry plight for means of sustenance. When His Excellency was here in October 1897 the Natives explained to him the position they were in owing to the destruction of their ‘Mimgah’ (a kind of weir in the Serpentine for catching fish) which was their main source of subsistence, and His Excellency promised that something should be done for them. The ‘Mimgah’ had several times been destroyed by white fishermen and afterwards was ordered to be abolished under the new Fisheries Regulations. Representations were made to the late Aborigines Protection Board, and also to the Honourable the Premier on behalf of the Natives, but nothing was done for them beyond the Magistrate giving an order for the supply of Rations to these old women; one of these has five children ranging in age from 12 months to almost 10 years, and she is allowed double Rations. The men get nothing though some of them are old and others in bad health. Native game is not so plentiful here as is generally supposed, and it is uncertain; their principal reliance was on the fish, and this they cannot depend on now that their ‘Mimgah’ is taken from them, so that altogether I think instead of reducing the Rations now issued some should be allowed to the old men who are not now receiving any-of course I quite agree that the young men and women should be left to shift for themselves except in case of sickness.”

Nyungar Tradition: glimpses of Aborigines of south-western Australia 1829-1914 by Lois Tilbrook. Page 22.

Thomas Muir of Deeside, acutely aware of the plight of Aborigines through the office of protector which he held, wrote:

“A Native named Bob or Christian came to me and asked if I would write to you as he was an old man if you would allow him rations supplied at Dingup. As I said before it is now rather hard times for the Natives now to get their living in the bush. Kangaroo and Oppossum are so scarce. Bob is an old man, must be about 60 years of age. I am the only one that the Natives have to ask for anything for them.”

Nyungar Tradition: glimpses of Aborigines of south-western Australia 1829-1914 by Lois Tilbrook. Page 22.

Allegations of medical neglect were often made by local residents, among them W. G. Iles who wrote to Prinsep:

“I have to bring under your notice with extreme regret the medical treatment Aboriginals receive in this town. On June the 28th one named Billy Kickett . . . a fine specimen of health and strength, was taken ill. His companions sent for the doctor to go and see him. The doctor gave them a bottle of mixture instead. The poor fellow grew worse and died yesterday, as it were, like a dog, no medical assistance. The natives are naturally very indignant at this treatment to one who has rendered such valuable services to Sir John [Forrest] and his country. Last week a black woman by name Sarah Andrew, died under the same circumstances, about 12 months ago the husband of the woman just dead died under similar circumstances but in that case they were unable to obtain even medicine without payment . . . . The two recent deaths took place within 5 minutes’ walk of the hospital.”

Nyungar Tradition: glimpses of Aborigines of south-western Australia 1829-1914 by Lois Tilbrook. Page 25.

The Aborigines Report of the Aborigines Department of 1901 reads:

“One of the special points that has engaged my attention during the past year was the condition of the half-castes. During the past year agreeing as I do with the expression frequently heard that it is a most undesirable thing for half-castes to be allowed to grow up uneducated, and in all the wandering habits of their black mothers, which can only end in their becoming not only a disgrace but a menace to our civilization, I have been doing all I can, first to ascertain their numbers, localities and general condition, and second to get the consent of their parents to their being brought into institutions for their benefit and education. Without any special authority by law much can be done by persuasion, but so far the natural affections of the black mothers have stood much in my way. One of the matters which I recommended for legislation on my last year’s report was the ‘future dealing with half-castes’. The number of half-castes reported in the recent tour of the travelling inspector, viz. the whole of the colony south of latitude 26 is roughly 86-44 males and 42 females. This however does not include those at New Norcia, Swan, Ellensbrook, and a few places in the eastern districts, and the south-western farming districts. . . . I forwarded a circular to the Resident Magistrates . . . to ascertain . . . any half-caste children . . . who could be induced to enter one of the institutions . . . I received replies from 24 different Magisterial Centres, and learned of a few only whose parents were willing to give them up.”

Nyungar Tradition: glimpses of Aborigines of south-western Australia 1829-1914 by Lois Tilbrook. Page 55.