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"A bunch of cast-offs": Aborigines of the Southwest of Western Australia, 1900-1936

Haebich, Anna (1985) "A bunch of cast-offs": Aborigines of the Southwest of Western Australia, 1900-1936. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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During the period from 1900 to 1936 Aborigines in the southwest of Western Australia experienced profound changes in their way of life and their status in the wider community. At the turn of the century most were economically independent: living in the bush, on station land, or on their own small farming blocks they found some degree of acceptance in the wider community. By the early 1930s, however, they had been reduced to the status of second-class citizens. Most were unemployed and lived in over-crowded fringe town camps or government institutions. They were despised and discriminated against by the wider community and were forced to live under strict discriminatory laws and to submit to the rigid control of the Aborigines Department.

This study examines the inter-connected factors contributing to this process of pauperisation institutionalisation and exclusion from the wider community and the associated effects on the Aborigines' status and their way of life. A major contributory factor in this process was the introduction of the 1905 Aborigines Act which imposed severe legal restrictions over Aborigines, enabling their rigid control by the Department and for their social isolation from the wider community. Socio-economic changes in the southwest from the turn of the century also played a major role. Rapid agricultural development and white settlement broke down the Aborigines' existing social and economic adaptations. Combined with a sustained increase in the Aboriginal population these changes led to a rapid deterioration in their living conditions. Associated with this was the steady emergence of racial prejudice and discriminatory behaviour towards Aborigines. At the same time the increased presence of Aborigines in the rural towns during periods of economic hardship led to outbursts of overt racism from white town residents.

From the years of the Great War, the Aborigines Department became increasingly bureaucratically streamlined and there was greater intervention in the lives of individual Aborigines in the south, although inadequate resources continued to place limits on its activities and the nature of services it could provide to Aborigines. The Aborigines were powerless to resist these changes and Departmental intervention and continued socio-economic changes during the 1920s forced increasing numbers into centralised government institutions or fringe town camps.

The Great Depression brought further hardships for Aborigines together with outbursts of racism against them and there was growing official and public concern at the "problem" of Aborigines in the southwest. These were important factors contributing to the introduction of the Native Administration Act in 1936. This legislation applied to virtually all persons of Aboriginal descent in the southwest and it further reduced their rights and increased the powers of the Department to control their activities and to segregate them from the wider community.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Inquiry
United Nations SDGs: Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities
Notes: Author Address: PO Box 638 South Fremantle WA 6162
Supervisor(s): Reece, Robert
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