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Thursday, 20 April 1961


Mr THOMPSON (Port Adelaide) . - We have had a very interesting debate this afternoon on this matter. I should like to compliment the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck) upon his statement. I agree with the honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) that .the Minister is to be congratulated ,upon the wonderful work that he has done in connexion with aborigines in the Northern Territory. My remarks to-day will relate mostly to those Northern Territory aborigines, with whom we are mainly concerned. I was rather impressed by the fact that the number attending school is six times the number that attended some years ago. However, there are two or three phases of the matter that have come to my notice and that give me great concern.

During the Christmas period, two representatives of a mission near Alice -Springs took a number of aboriginal children - I think there were hardly any full-bloods among them - to Victoria and South Australia. On a Saturday afternoon 1 was asked by the president of the local branch of the Returned Servicemen's League to present to the children gifts from the league. I was pleased to go and do so.

The boys and girls were very nicely dressed. Clearly their standards of personal hygiene were good and altogether they were a very fine crowd. The younger ones were very shy. When I tried to give them a present, they could hardly take their eyes off the floor, which showed that they still had a little diffidence when coming in contact with white people in the normal way. There were three or four girls of about fourteen years of age, nicely dressed, just as any white girls would have been. I said to the man and the woman who were with them, "What is going to become of these girls now? " They said, " That is one of the tragedies that we have - the difficulty, when they reach a certain age at the mission, of placing them where they will be able to continue life in a satisfactory way ". They said: " Unfortunately, there is nothing much that we can do. Very likely, within two or three years they will marry aboriginal lads who, perhaps, have not very much future and they will drift back to the lower standard from which they have come ".

When I was in Port Darwin about three years ago I met the Director of Welfare, Mr. Giese, who is a fine man and who is doing a fine job. We visited some of the schools. The question arose of what would become of the boys - what jobs they could get - when they finished their schooling. Again, there was a difficulty. In order to give them a job in one of the large towns it would be necessary to take them away from other aboriginal children who had no: had the same opportunities and the community would lose the benefit of having in it the boys who had been educated. Yet, if they were not sent away to take positions in the towns they could not get a job commensurate with their education and the rise that had occurred in their personal standards. I think that that is one of the great difficulties which the Minister must be facing.

It might be possible to employ these boys in Port. Darwin or Alice Springs. But at

Alice Springs I found that there were a lot of natives - some half-castes and some. full-bloods - doing no. work but just drifting along. The aboriginal boys to whom I have referred have been educated to appreciate, something better than they have come from, which may have been a humpy on the bed of a creek. But what are we to do with them? There is not enough work in a place like Alice Springs to provide all of them with jobs suited to their education. I do not know the answer to this problem, but I do know that it is one of the big problems in connexion with aboriginal welfare, particularly in the Northern Territory.

The difficulty is not as great in New South Wales where an aboriginal settlement may be close to a town. There, perhaps, it is possible to lift the aborigines stage by stage until they almost reach equality with our own people. The great number of aborigines for the welfare of whom the Federal Parliament is responsible, as distinct from those in the States, are scattered about the Northern Territory. I think that Bagot is the name of a settlement at which I visited a school one Saturday afternoon. The Minister for Territories or whoever was responsible is entitled to 100 per cent, marks for that school. It was no shabby thing. lt had shiny steel furniture, just as any school in the. Australian Capital Territory might have. I picked up the book of a girl, nine years of age, who had written an essay on the human teeth - milk teeth, molars and the rest. The writing was good and it was most enlightening to read this essay, composed by a girl coming from a small aboriginal settlement where the people were occupying small huts and perhaps sleeping on bags on the verandahs.

This brings me back to the plight of the girls who were entertained by the Returned Servicemen's League. When such girls reach fourteen years of age, what are you going to do with them? The mission cannot continue to keep them. It might be possible to place odd' ones on stations to work in the homes but that would mean taking them, away from their relatives and those with whom' they have been brought up/. The relatives would lose sight of them instead of having the benefit of their company.

We are apt to say that you cannot depend on aborigines because they go walk-about. We must recognize that, for thousands of years, a system of life has been bred into their bones and it cannot be altered in five minutes. Consequently, from time to time, these people will hark back to the walkabout. But the aborigines are not the only ones who behave in this way. Sometimes British immigrants who have been here for three or four years want to go back to see what things are like at home. They want to leave their jobs here and go back to the old surroundings - to go walk-about, as it were. So the practice of walk-about is not something that you have to worry about very much. Human nature in the aboriginal is the same as human nature in the white person. If an aboriginal gets a job, has a decent home and decent surroundings, he will not be anxious to go walk-about in the bush where he will have to look for tucker.

A way of getting over the problem has been found in the bigger centres where there is a school with a lot of children, lt might be possible to establish small manufacturing industries, such as furniture making, into which boys who have been educated in the schools could be absorbed.

I happened to be in Darwin at the time the local show was held. I am not like some people who go to Melbourne about the first week in November to attend a certain sporting event there; and I did not go to Darwin specifically to visit the show. However, I had great pleasure in attending the function and I found that it was a sort of Mecca to which the folk in the Territory came. The first thing that impressed me was the very good displays of produce in the various pavilions. I saw work that had been done by native people, perhaps under white supervision, and it was really good. I was also impressed with the appearance and bearing of native people who attended the show, and particularly the womenfolk. One honorable member to-day spoke about the necessity for doing everything possible to encourage native women to become teachers. Many native women who attended the show had small children with them. It is true that in appearance and dress they may not have been up to the standard of people to be seen in the suburbs of Can berra, but it was obvious that these aboriginal women - many of them full-blooded aborigines - had the same love for their children, and the same desire to do something for them, as other womenfolk in Australia.

The native women obviously tried to dress their children in the best way they could and to provide them with the highest standard of living within their means. That illustrates that it is possible for these people to raise their standards. Some people say that they are no-hopers. Well, 1 have lived in Port Adelaide nearly all my life. If you wanted to find worse no-hopers among white people than some who have been born in that district you would have to go a long way. Generally speaking, you cannot reasonably condemn any group of people just because there are some notorious no-hopers amongst them. I may go to a town and see twenty drunk people walk out of a pub at 6 o'clock. I may be inclined to say, "What a boozy place that is ", but I would be forgetting the 20,000 sober, solid citizens in the town. One has to be careful not to judge the whole group by the behaviour of a few.

I am pleased that the Minister has recognized that we must do the best we can to help the aborigines. When the Public Accounts Committee held an inquiry in the Northern Territory, some of us took the opportunity to visit Beswick and Katherine, and we saw what was being done in those places. It seemed to me that the greatest concern of the Government was to improve the conditions of the public servants, to raise the standard of housing and schools, to construct wharfs and undertake various other public works. It is on such projects that the great bulk of our money is being spent. I am not decrying that sort of thing one little bit. I believe that it is necessary for the people to have those proper standards. Although the great bulk of the money is being spent for the benefit of the Northern Territory, it is not being spent for the benefit of the aboriginal people themselves. A large sum may be provided for their welfare, but generally speaking most of the allocation is used to promote general progress in the community.

We are most concerned now about teaching the aborigines how to use the country. The Government has made every effort to get white people to go to the Territory and successfully cultivate the land. That is a laudable object and something of which we can be proud, but at the same time I think we should recognize that, after a period of training, the aborigines themselves should be able to do a lot of that work. Even in a white community it is only a small percentage who succeed in business. It is only a small percentage of the people who go on to the land who make a success of farming. One has to be cut out for the job to make a real success of it. The same applies to the aborigines. We must provide facilities for them to do the job, and in order to provide these facilities it is necessary to supply the money that is required.

I hark back to the point I made at the commencement of my speech. What are we going to do with these people when we educate them up to a certain standard? An attempt has been made on the far west coast of South Australia to help the aborigines by setting aside a large area where they can run cattle and sheep and learn how to look after them. Something more will have to be done about that. I know that the Government has done something along those lines in the Northern Territory, and I am not telling the Minister anything new. What I am saying is that we must recognize the necessity to do more for these people than we have done in the past.

I happen to be one of those peculiar people who believe that every man, whether he be black, white or brindle, as we say, is God's creature, and is entitled to the best treatment the country can give him.


Mr Turnbull - That is not being peculiar.


Mr THOMPSON - It is not peculiar, but I am one of those people. Some say that people are peculiar because they believe that of their fellowmen. The difficulty is to get people to go the whole way. They believe in the principle but when it comes to the application of that principle there is always a " but " involved. I remember a member of Parliament in South Australia. If some proposition was put up he would say, " I think that is a really good idea, but . . .". We named him " But ". He always gave a reason why something that had been suggested could not be done. I am a person who has no " buts " about these things. I think we should go the whole hog, as it were, and see that the aboriginal people are given every opportunity. On behalf of these folk I make a plea that we be not satisfied with building schools, sending teachers to those schools, raising the aborigines up to a certain standard and then saying to them, " If you go 500 or 1,000 miles away you will be able to get the real benefit from what you have been taught ". I submit that we should do something to give these people an opportunity to do something in the areas in which they live. We talk about our unpopulated north and about how very few people there are north of the Tropic of Capricorn. It has been said that if we do not populate these areas we will not be able to keep them. We are spending large sums to bring migrants to Australia.







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