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Wednesday, 7 December 1960

Mr Beazley (FREMANTLE, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) y asked the Minister for Territories, upon notice -

1.   Has a survey ever been undertaken of the physique of aboriginal schoolchildren with respect to height, weight, nutrition, strength, eyesight, hearing, teeth and freedom from skin diseases, especially in comparison and contrast with schoolchildren of European origin?

2.   If so, what were the results of the survey?

3.   If no such survey has been made, can one be undertaken?

4.   Has an educational and social survey been made of aboriginal schoolchildren with respect to (a) the cultural level of the homes from which they come and (b) the stability of the family background?

5.   What is the strength of the staff of the Territory administration which is charged with aboriginal welfare, and in what respects is it so responsible?

Mr Hasluck (CURTIN, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Territories) - The answers to the honorable member's questions are as follows: - 1 and 2. I am able to answer in respect of the Northern Territory only. Survey work undertaken in this field included -

(a)   A specific survey of anaemia and nutritional disease in aboriginal children, including a study of the mean size and weight of children and a comparison of these factors with comparable data for children of European origin, was undertaken by Dr. J. M. Crotty in the northern part of the Northern Territory in 1958. The survey showed that there was little difference in the comparison of the mean height of the two groups of children, apart from the fact that European children in the 0 to 4 years groups appeared of greater height than aboriginal children, but this difference was overcome by the age of twelve years. With regard to mean weight, it was found that the average European child up to the age of twelve years was heavier by a figure varying between 10 per cent, and 20 per cent, in the different age groups.

(b)   Periodic surveys, including studies of growth pattern of aboriginal children and progressive changes in their dental condition after introduction of European foods, have been conducted since 1951 at selected welfare settlements by the Department of Anatomy and the Dental School of the University of Adelaide. These studies consist of observations to be carried out over a long term before final conclusions are reached.

(c)   A comprehensive investigation of the health of children at Port Keats Mission was made by Dr. Kearns in February 1958. His findings on height and weight showed a similar pattern to those of Dr. Crotty.

(d)   In 1948 the Nutrition Unit of the AmericanAustralian Scientific Expedition to Arnhem Land studied the physique of aboriginal family groups at four centres in Arnhem Land. The results have recently been published in the second volume of the records of the Expedition. The general conclusion reached was that the state of nutrition was satisfactory.

(e)   In 1957, Doctors Crotty, Ida Mann and McLean carried out investigations of Australian aborigines (including children) at Groote Eylandt, Oenpelli and Goulburn Island affected with trachoma. The type of trachoma found was mild with few or no symptoms. Attempts to isolate a virus were unsuccessful.

(f)   About half of the aboriginal population was examined in a mass chest radiography survey of the Northern Territory population conducted by the Anti-T.B. Association of New South Wales in 1959 at the request of the Commonwealth Department of Health. No separate results of aboriginal schoolchildren have been published. Generally the total incidence of active pulmonary tuberculosis was rather less than expected.

(g)   In 1951 Miss Winifred Wilson surveyed the dietary intake of aborigines living on missions and cattle stations. No assumptions about nutritional states were attempted in this survey. The result took the form of a guide to rationing which formed the basis of ration scales. Work in this field has been continued by the Senior Dietitian of the Department of Health, who regularly visits missions and welfare settlements to study nutrition and advise on problems.

(h)   General examinations of aboriginal schoolchildren including the state of nutrition, eyesight, hearing, teeth and skin condition are made at regular intervals by school medical officers in the case of children who attend schools in town areas, and by medical officers engaged in native survey duties in the case of children attending schools at missions and settlements. A programme of preventative dentistry is carried out continuously by visits by mobile dental clinics to missions and welfare settlements. No specific comparisons of the results of these examinations with comparable examinations of European children have been made.

3.   See answer to 1 and 2. The 'possibility of a comparative survey of the conditions of aboriginal and European children as disclosed by school medical examinations will be considered.

4.   Inquiries in this field have been made from time to time for the purpose of preparing curricula for the special schools conducted for aboriginal children. The staff of the Administration Welfare Branch is continually making observations in this field in the course of its work.

5.   Two hundred officers in the Northern Territory Administration are employed solely and directly in aboriginal welfare work. The servicing organization of the Northern Territory Administration also serves the needs of the officers engaged in aboriginal welfare and of the aborigines themselves. Beyond this the Department of Health, to a considerable degree, and other agencies such as the Department of Works, Agricultural Branch, Forestry and Timber Bureau, Animal Industry Branch, and Water Resources Branch all make an appreciable contribution through their work, to aboriginal welfare. The head office (Darwin) cadre of the Welfare Branch in policy development, research and programming of work, and provision of services, makes a specialized contribution in fields such as employment, education, recreation, health and hygiene and social welfare generally. District welfare officers in Darwin, Katherine, Tennant Creek and Alice Springs are responsible to see that the day to day business in aboriginal welfare in their districts is discharged effectively and efficiently and in the spirit of an active social training programme for aborigines in the Territory. Patrol officers moving through the district and resident staff on government settlements, including school teachers, nurses, farmers, carpenters, &c. maintain close personal contact with aborigines.

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