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Northern Territory - Report on Administration - Year - 1944-45

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YEAR 1944-45.

Presented by Command, 8th August, 1946 ; ordered to be printed, 21 st March, 1947.

[ C o s t 0} P a p e r .—Preparation, not given ; 613 copies ; approximate cost of printing and publishing, £10.)

P rin ted and Published for the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia by L. F. J ohnston, Commonwealth Government P rinter, Canberra. (P rin ted in A u stralia.)

N o. 13. [Group G.]—F.2464.—P rice 6d .

The figures for half-castes show a most interesting position. The first point which impresses is the high proportion of half-castes in the States which have the least native full-blood population. Thus— New South Wales with 594 full-bloods has 10,022 half-castes.

Victoria with 88 full-bloods has 687 half-castes. South Australia with 2,798 full-bloods has 2,220 half-castes. Of the States carrying the larger full-blood population, Queensland with 8,977 full-bloods has 6,451 half-castes, and Western Australia has 21,709 full-bloods and 4,407 half-castes. The Northern Territory with 13,451 full-bloods has an estimated number of 1,037 half-castes which includes half-castes out of the Northern Territory and who are possibly included in the figures for the States.

An interesting point appears to me to be that in the areas which include the largest proportion of natives in their wild and primitive state, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the proportion of half-castes is the lowest per head of native population, the lowest proportion being in the Northern Territory.

This appears to me to indicate two factors. The first is that the full-blood native in the eastern and more populated States is being steadily absorbed into the white population, and eventually will be completely absorbed. As an indication of this the Y ea r-B o o k figures quoted show that there is one full-blood in Tasmania and two in the Australian Capital Territory, but there are 285 half-castes in Tasmania and 83 in the Australian Capital Territory. It should be remembered that half-castes include persons who are not full-bloods or full white, but who have a degree of coloured native blood. Thus half-castes include quadroons and octoroons.

The second factor is also interesting. This shows that in the areas where there are most full-bloods (Western Australia and the Northern Territory) the proportion of half-castes is lowest. So far as the Northern Territory is concerned this appears to me to show the wisdom of maintaining inviolate reserves when the natives are entirely free and unmolested. I cannot speak for Western Australia, but I should imagine the same reason prevails there.

The Northern Territory has the enormous Arnhem Land Reserve where the strictest supervision regarding the unauthorized entry of whites has and will be maintained, and there is also the South-Western Reserve in Central Australia. It is interesting to study the distribution of the full-blood natives in the Northern

Territory. Taking the figures in round numbers to be 13,000 (the Y ea r-B o o k gives 13,451), experienced officers of the Native Affairs Branch who have been through the areas many times estimate that the distribution can be set out in the following manner :—

Primitive and practically inviolate natives in Arnhem Land Reserve .. 4,000 Primitive and practically inviolate natives in Central Australia .. 800

Natives in and around mission stations . . .. . . . . 3,000

Aged and infirm natives maintained by the Government at various ration depots . . . . . . . . . . .. . . 1,250

Natives in employment (stations, Army, &c.) .. .. .. 3,000

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Total . . . . · . . . . . .. 12,050

This leaves under 1,000 natives who are not included in the foregoing distribution but who may be classed as nomadic. It is impossible to get a closer estimate, but it is hoped that this will be done in the near future when it may well be that the figure is considerably less. For instance, there may be more than 4,000 natives in Arnhem Land.

In regard to missions, the Roman Catholic Missions are on Bathurst Island, at Port Keats and at Arltunga in Central Australia. The Methodist Missions have their head-quarters at Millingimbi with stations at Yirkalla and Croker Island, which are all on the Arnhem Land coast. The Church of England maintains missions on Groote Eylandt, at Oenpelli and on the Roper

River. The Lutheran Church has a mission station at Hermannsburg in Central Australia. It will, therefore, be seen that there are ten mission stations throughout the Northern Territory and it is estimated that their sphere of influence extends over 3,000 natives. In regard to the native himself, it appears to me, at the present time, that there are three sections concerned with him. One is the ethnologist who desires to record his languages, his

primitive songs and dances, his music and his carvings, and also to study bis religious and social organization. The second is the missionary who desires to christianize him and wean him from some of his ancient but horrible practices.


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The third is the Government who is charged with the responsibilities that the native is well treated by his various employers, that he has proper medical attention and supervision, and above all, that he and his lubras and children do not go hungry.

In studying the list of the responsibilities of the Government I think that these have been met in practically all aspects. The Native Affairs Branch either maintains or supervises ration depots all through the Territory. It inspects, as I have already written, natives employed on stations, their conditions and their food.

With the prospect in the near future of obtaining further skilled staff the system of maintaining full supervision of all natives through patrol officers who will have set districts to patrol can be effected. Recommendations in regard to this policy are before you at the present time.

Although the natives in Central Australia are far fewer in number than in the northern area, they present a much more difficult problem. In the north there are plenty of fish, fruit and yams and animals. In Central Australia there are vast areas of waterless spinifex deserts, devoid of shade, of animals, and, nearly always, of sustenance. Rockholes give out and water- holes dry up.

In order that this problem may be countered a programme of drilling for water has been instituted with a degree of success. Sub-artesian bores with a flow of over 1,000 gallons per hour of potable water have been put down and it is intended that small settlements will be established at these points where the aged and infirm natives will be looked after and where rations will be held. With water it will be possible to grow vegetables and certain fruits. These bores are to be for the exclusive use of the natives and they will not be disturbed.

As a matter of fact the average native wants very little. He gives his services to the best of his ability and in the case of stockmen that ability is of a high order. The pastoral lessees fully admit that they are dependent upon the native to handle their stock. It does not appear to me that there is a very difficult problem here. The Government has invariably shown itself to be interested in, and sympathetic to, the native. In its work it has the good will and co-operation of the various missions and also of the societies who have the welfare of the natives as their objective.

The native deserves well of us, particularly because the position must be faced that he is a dwindling race. Slowly, but inexorably, his numbers are going down. Previously in this Report, I have quoted Mr. Nelson T. Johnson, the former United States Minister to Australia. Mr. Johnson was a very travelled diplomat who had studied natives in many countries. Of the Australian native he wrote (S ou th W est P a cific, New Series Issue, Number Five, page 36)—

Without the Australian aboriginal these great cattle stations could not function at present, for the aboriginal (“ abo ” as more familiarly known) is the stockrider of the country, who assists the stockmen in rounding up, or “ mustering ” the herds that are to be branded, inoculated and sent to market. With an unerring knowledge of the country and an uncanny ability to follow the trail of anything that moves, he can find wandering stock or horses and survive in a waterless, foodless area where the white men would perish. He is a good rider, and a good man with stock, and his womenfolk help about the place and in the homes that the white man has built.

This Australian native is the most interesting of all of the primitive peoples. It has been said that he possesses the physical characteristics which would entitle him to be the common ancestor of most of us. He is distinctly a member of the white race, having our blood and our hair, although his skin is black. He is intelligent and highly efficient in his own environment, but the only animal he has domesticated is the dog, which is his constant companion.

His is a vanishing race. It is said that he is passing into the white race very rapidly. When he came to Australia he brought with him no cereal, and he found no cereal grains native to the land. Wherever his ancestors lived before they came to Australia, he has never learned to build a house, nor does he seem to care for one. He seems to suffer from a form of claustrophobia, for in spite of the fact that cattle station managers and missionaries have tried to build houses for him, or to teach him to build houses with materials easily available, the native still prefers to sleep on the ground behind a low shelter against the wind. He wears clothing as a concession to the prejudices and habits of the white man with whom he works, but he discards it as soon as he leaves the white man’s company.

I came away from my contact with these interesting people a little shaken in my confidence in the blessings of the civilization in which I had been reared, when I realized that nothing in our civilization has'seemed to the Australian aboriginal worth adopting. He comes to us, lives near us and works with us, only for our food, but he doesn’t seem to have taken kindly to that, as far as attempting to grow it for himself and on his own, for he gives up his free and independent life in order to obtain it.

It is the looker-on who sees most of the game and these comments by Mr. Johnson epitomize a good deal of fact and thought.


In regard to this subject, the Government approved of a building programme for half-castes and others at Alice Springs and a certain number of cottages have been erected. It is too early to comment upon the results and reaction to this, but it is a commencement and doubtless further building plans and schemes of this nature will be incorporated in the Town Plan for Darwin.

In February, 1941, when the monsoonal season was at its height in the (lull of Carpentaria, a native waded through miles of swamp and across flooded rivers with a note for Constable Heathcock from Mr. H. J. Foster, who operated salt pans on the Wearyan River. The note, stark in its simplicity, was as follows :—

“ Have shot myself accidentally. Think I am settled. Can you come out % Shot the bone in two above the knee. May bleed to death.” Mrs. Heathcock at once sent a message by the police radio to the Flying Doctor Service at Cloncurry, 600 miles away. The following day the ’plane came out but found that a landing could not be made at Wearyan River near Foster’s camp. The Flying Doctor then flew to Borroloola and informed Mrs. Heathcock. As days had passed since the accident, both the doctor and Mrs. Heathcock, who before her marriage was an Inland Mission nurse, knew that there could be very little hope for the injured man.

However, Mrs. Heathcock hastily got some medical kit together and arranged with a half-caste, his native wife and another native to take her to Foster’s camp by means of a native canoe. As you know, these canoes are hollowed out from a tree, they have no keel and are most difficult to keep right side up.

This did not deter Mrs. Heathcock and the party set off. They paddled down the flooded McArthur River for 60 miles, crossed the turbulent bar at the mouth of the river and then paddled for 20 miles across the open sea. This open sea is the Gulf of Carpentaria, at that time of the year one of the roughest sea areas on the Australian coast. They reached the Wearyan River three days and three nights after they left Borroloola and Mrs. Heathcock found Foster suffering from blood poisoning and tetanus and dying. She dressed his wound and made him as comfortable as possible, and arranged to have the landing ground cleared so that the plane could land.

On the eighth day Foster died, one hour before the ’plane landed. Mrs. Heathcock then returned to Borroloola. I consider this one of the bravest acts I have known in the Northern Territory where bravery is an everyday happening.

As I have written earlier, I only obtained the file recently. I then wrote you a full report about the affair, but I think I should record Mrs. Heathcock’s astounding courage in making this journey to relieve suffering in a Report of the Northern Territory. It may be some consolation to her in her days of widowhood to know that her bravery has not been overlooked. .


As I have written before, with peace prospects lighting up the horizon, the Northern Territory can take stock. The Territory emerges from the war with assets far outweighing the debits. It has suffered, its civilians were evacuated for long years, Darwin as a town ceased to exist and over 50 per cent, of its buildings and dwellings were destroyed. But these can be re-built.

Against this the Territory has aerodromes which rank with the best in Australia and it has hundreds of miles of broad highways. It has had secure markets for its cattle and its pastoral lessees are free of financial difficulties. Its needs have and are being carefully studied and I am certain that if the recommendations which have been made in the past few years, which include the advent of the railway, and a good progressive land policy—if these are implemented—the success of the Northern Territory is assured.

I have the honour to be, Sir, Your obedient Servant, C. L. A. ABBOTT,

Administrator of the Northern Territory.

p rin ted and Published for the G o v e r n m e n t of the Co m m o n w e a l t h of A u s t r a l ia by L. F. J o h n s t o n , Commonwealth Governmeint P rinter, Canberra.