Wealth and Poverty



For most of the twentieth century the Queensland government controlled the lives – and the finances – of around fifty per cent of the Aboriginal population.  This ‘guardianship’ was characterised by scandalous levels of deprivation, sickness and premature death. The state government’s machinery of control was predicated on the forced labour of thousands of men, women and children, either contracted out as domestic servants and to the pastoral industry or consigned to the development and maintenance of missions and settlements. Today’s blighted communities are both an outcome, and a continuation, of state economic management that operated over many generations.

This article will investigate the internal dynamics of this massive social experiment. After introducing the historical and legal context of Aboriginal administration, there will be an analysis of contracted labour, managed wages and savings, and government-controlled Trust funds. These will be discussed in the context of living conditions provided by government for those it ‘removed’ into official care, and also of government knowledge of the incompetence and irregularity of many of the procedures it retained. Only by analysing evidence from the vast collection of official files can we begin to understand how the government operated its machinery of control, and scrutinise official practices in terms of the government’s assumed mandate to ‘care and protect’ Aboriginal families. All amounts have been relativised to today’s value.


Loss of land, loss of rights

As Europeans moved into Queensland from the early nineteenth century they colonised land and waterways that had been Aboriginal domains for thousands of years. Spears and nullas were no match for rifles and the arbitrary violence of the ‘native’ police force whose actions even the police commissioner described as so ‘evil’ as to be kept from public knowledge.1 Estimates of Aboriginal murders in rural Queensland in the 60 years to 1900 vary between 5000 and 50,000, compared with 400 white deaths in the same period.2

Police reports from the 1870s acknowledged that many attacks by Aborigines were ‘acts of revenge on account of settlers carrying off gins and small boys to be made servants’, a situation which continued into the early twentieth century when it could still be said in the north that settlers ‘trade an Aboriginal as they would a horse, or bullock … rounding up small mobs of wild natives and despoiling their women.’3 Countless families fell to starvation and disease as they were driven off fertile areas and denied access to water, even on vast areas of leased Crown lands, where – by law – they were accorded full rights to roam and hunt:4

The assumption continues to prevail that because a large area of land is held from the Crown on lease, license, or other tenure, the lessee has the legal right to prevent Aboriginals roaming or hunting over it; even living on it … the principle must be rigidly instilled that Aboriginals have as much a right to exist as the Europeans.

Yet for decades Aboriginal families continued to be ‘cleared’ from fertile land and waterholes on the pretext that they were frightening the stock or contaminating creeks and rivers.

By 1886 more than 1000 Aborigines were in permanent work around the colony, and double that number by the turn of the century. Many rural properties and outback towns would not have been developed without this labour force.  Payment was commonly in cast-off clothes, food scraps, or alcohol or opium drugs, the latter a legal drug in Queensland until 1905. Drug dependency ensured a captive, malleable workforce. The hunting skills of extended families were vital for survival. Because of blatant abuses of existing laws Aborigines continued to be exposed to violence and exploitation.

By the end of the 1890s the Queensland parliament conceded a duty ‘to compensate for the injuries’ inflicted in the process of driving Aborigines ‘from their native hunting grounds’, the home secretary describing the 1897 Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act as ‘the necessary machinery for that purpose’. Quite clearly, the government established in law a role for itself as protector and carer of Aboriginal people. The 1897 Act imposed a framework of controls over all aspects of inter-racial relations. Now any person of Aboriginal descent, except mixed-race males over 16 years and living as Europeans, could be declared a ward of state and exiled to a reserve, losing all personal and public rights. A network of police ‘protectors’ was appointed to oversee Aboriginal interests or to advocate ‘removal’ to a church mission or government settlement.  Aboriginal lives were entirely dependent on official decree.

This was a unique administrative and physical confinement of a large population group: such exclusions and limitations of rights had hitherto applied only to individuals found criminally culpable or mentally deficient. There was no due process and no right of appeal. Contracted labour, control of private finances, and arbitrary deportations, continued into the late 1960s. For all this time Aboriginal families in Queensland have been subjected, through police protectors, to an extraordinary level of surveillance. Records of their actions and conduct formed the basis of official interventions and detentions but Aboriginal people were denied any knowledge of accumulating ‘evidence’ or explanation of subsequent interventions; there was no comprehension of the rationale or the processes of institutionalisation. Only in the last few years can people gain access to these personal records.


Government ‘care and protection’

Records reveal that from the earliest days the state has quantified Aboriginal needs at a fraction of white needs. Aboriginal children committed to government care were subsidised at only one-third the maintenance for white children.  Church missions received even less financial assistance despite official acknowledgement of a ‘moral responsibility’ to the welfare of mission children.  Most missions were subsidised for less than half the running costs, insufficient to cover food and clothing for these wards of state. Indeed Mapoon started its dormitory system because the grant only covered rations for the children and they knew the adults, who were essential for building and farm work, would remain nonetheless.

By 1913 the Queensland government allocated only $40.50 per head per year on Aboriginal ‘protection’,5 a figure that included outlays for removals, schooling, medical attention and all administrative salaries and costs. At that time the Yarrabah mission near Cairns was over $72,500 in debt to its major supplier; when it was refused further shipments the mission board insisted the state was responsible for the physical welfare of the inmates. But only after the mission refused to accept further ‘removals’ did the government relieve a portion of the debt, also demanding that young girls from the dormitory be sent to domestic employment to reduce costs. Five years later the chief protector admitted missions were ‘for years starved and crippled for want of funds.’6 The same could still be argued in the late 1970s.

For all the decades of government control, internal documents reveal official knowledge that inadequate funding directly contributed to sickness and death among institutionalised Aborigines. When the government settlement opened at Barambah (later Cherbourg) in 1906 medical care for the 200 people moved from Durundur was dispensed by the untrained superintendent. In 1913 there were 59 deaths among the ‘young and apparently strong’ inmates and only 16 live births.  An investigation revealed dying pneumonia patients unattended in a filthy ‘hospital’ and the doctor funded to visit this community of 550 for only half a day each month. In 1918 families were still living in leaking bark gunyahs which iced over internally, latrine trenches were uncovered, the hospital was again described as filthy and grossly overcrowded, infectious patients were confined in an open-sided shed, and dormitory children slept on the ground on a single blanket, their meagre clothing and inferior diet the cause of endemic sickness and skin diseases.7 Such deplorable conditions would have been grounds for charges of neglect had they occurred in the general community.

When child endowment became available from 1942 the department of Native Affairs intercepted it and passed only a portion to the mothers; the remainder was a bonanza spent on basic foodstuffs, clothing and amenities which should have been a departmental expense. The department promptly cut grants to missions by the equivalent of endowment income. On the four Presbyterian missions state subsidies for rations and clothing dropped to only one-tenth the child endowment revenue, ‘barely one penny per head per day.’8 The missions were then forced to use the child endowment to meet government funding shortfalls. In 1954 the department used $166,240 from the child endowment funds of Palm Island mothers to construct a hostel at Aitkenvale on the mainland, and a further $57,970 in 1957. Soon after, Palm Island residents were excluded from the hostel.

While young men were more likely to be retained on the settlements as unpaid labour, young girls ‘between school and marriageable age’ were routinely dispatched to remote locations as domestics, some being rostered out year after year with only a week’s break between. Many were subject to physical and sexual abuse. Children under 12 were also contracted to external employment, although after 1919 this needed endorsement by the chief protector. As late as 1957 the head of the department conceded child labour was still prevalent in rural Queensland. Observing that many children suffered broken limbs through their work, he suggested ‘undersized and weedy’ children should not be put to hard labour, adding: ‘We try to look on these people as human beings.’9

Families interned on missions and settlements were locked into a cycle of work and poverty, the regime enforced through punishment and withholding of rations.  Men and women with outside employment were taxed on their earnings at the rate of 5% for single people and 10% for those with dependents, the money put towards the maintenance of these institutions. In many cases several workers in one family were each levied the full rate. People without external employment did not sit about under the trees waiting for rations while white work gangs developed and maintained their communities. Every able-bodied person worked at least 24 hours work each week (increased to 32 hours in 1945) covering all aspects of the development and running of the communities. This included building, water supply, crops, road and jetty construction, clearing, ringbarking and agriculture, saw milling, machinery and boat maintenance, teaching, nursing and domestic service to white staff. This work was unpaid except for weekly rations of half a kilo of meat, the same quantity of flour, plus one-third a stick of tobacco per day. Only a few of the most crucial employees were paid as ‘incentive’; the 1940 rate for a Palm Island ganger with a family was $12.60 a fortnight, only 3% of the basic wage. It was not until 1968 that cash economies were introduced.


Wages and savings

The key component of Aboriginal ‘protection’ was control of the Aboriginal labour force. Under the 1897 Act Aboriginal labour was contracted on 12-month work ‘agreements’ or on short term ‘permits’, and minimum wages were set at $45.55 per month for marine trade workers and half that for mainland Aborigines. The contract labour regime operated as a mechanism of population management, a disciplinary device and a revenue-producing expedient. In the 12 months to June 1900 nearly 1200 work contracts were processed; by 1937 the annual figure was almost 5,500. Aboriginal consent was a requirement; but those who refused an order to employment frequently incurred physical assault, banishment to a reserve, or jailing. This system operated until 1968.

Since the late 1890s the superintendent at Yarrabah had taken direct receipt of all wages, leaving only a fraction as ‘pocket money’ during the contract period.  Around 1905 the government adopted this practice for women’s wages, allowing workers to retain only ‘the odd threepence’. By this time, simply by writing a regulation, the government took control of all Aboriginal property, real and financial. Officials could care, protect and manage the property of all Aborigines, take possession, retain, sell or dispose of it; in short, ‘exercise in the name of an Aboriginal any power which the Aboriginal might exercise for his own benefit.’  Police protectors were designated as ‘public accountants’ under the Audit Acts and directed to keep ‘proper accounts of all moneys’. But they were untrained and underpaid and never – during the following sixty-plus years – properly supervised by the department.10 Indeed fraud on controlled savings was so common by both employers and protectors that a system of thumbprint endorsements was introduced in 1904. Evidence of cheating and non-payment by employers accumulated, yet in the whole period of wage management, the department never ensured pocket money was correctly paid.11 Aboriginal workers had no say in this control over their earnings and were, until the late 1960s, denied any knowledge of official transactions on their accounts. The results, as the department well knew, were disastrous.

In 1919 wages for Aboriginal workers in the pastoral industry – the main employer – were pegged at two-thirds the white rate. Disregarding the continued prevalence of fraudulent dealings the department now directed all male wages be paid direct to police protectors. These measures massively increased the private savings in the hands of these officers, precipitating such a rash of frauds that thumbprints were re-introduced ‘as a further safeguard’ in 1921.12 The department at that time controlled 5800 accounts containing over $2.5 million, yet protectors routinely refused permission for workers to make withdrawals from their own savings.13 The Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane accused the state of exploiting Aboriginal labour as a means of reducing official expenditure.14

Ongoing embezzlement by employers and protectors was not the only cancer eating into Aboriginal savings: unseen levies and illegal dealings by the state further diminished their wealth. In 1902 a trust account was opened in Cooktown to absorb wages of workers who were said to have deserted or died. Named the Aboriginals Protection of Property Account (APP), it was supposed to be distributed to remaining relatives or ‘for the use of Aborigines generally’. But records show that over several decades the proportion paid to families in any one year was around 25% of savings absorbed into the Account. In contrast the equivalent of $230,000 in 1920 and $859,000 in 1930 was taken from the APP for capital works or invested for revenue.

A second trust fund was started in 1919, and protectors were directed to extract an annual levy from each wage at the rate of 5% from single men’s wages and 2.5% from married men. The Aboriginals Provident Fund (APF) was supposed to operate as an emergency relief fund for those employees in times of drought or sickness but was used instead to subsidise existing ration programs, and to pay costs of compulsory removals and other departmental expenses. Of almost $124,000 taken from workers’ wages in 1922, a year of extreme drought and hardship, less than 8.5% was released to contributors to relieve family suffering.   An internal inquiry the same year15 was highly critical of misappropriation by the government from both trust funds, citing monies diverted to capital expansion and maintenance expenses on missions and settlements, as well as for departmental costs. Indeed records show the government had initiated the profitable, but unauthorised, policy of investing the ‘idle portion’ of the Property Account and the Provident Fund to generate revenue to relieve Treasury outlays.

Aboriginal savings were hostage to the aptitude and integrity of the protectors.  The 1922 inquiry revealed almost half the deductions for the APF were wrong.  Another inquiry in 1932 described pilfering on the 4555 Aboriginal savings accounts under government control as both widespread and frequent. The department was forced to admit – after 35 years of management – there were no real controls over the 95 country police charged with ‘protecting’ the interests of these wards of state. In a public exercise to ‘minimise fraud by members of the Police Force who are Protectors’,16 the department now decided to manage all accounts from Brisbane except for a small residue. In fact records show the department had already calculated the profitability of investing over $11.5 million of the almost $15 million of private Aboriginal savings it now gained, declaring this massive 85% of desperately needed money ‘surplus to needs’.

This was only the most comprehensive example of a range of arbitrary financial confiscations: savings bank interest of 2.5% was now also appropriated, a step that was subsequently noted as ‘not in accordance with Regulations.’17 Money was routinely taken from workers’ accounts to pay for fencing and improvements on country reserves; and from invalids’ accounts for medical treatment when the rest of the population enjoyed free hospitalisation. Meanwhile workers, denied ready access to the full financial return for their labour, continued to live – and die – in poverty.

During the depression years of 1929/32 the government introduced a further tax of 5% on all accounts over $2400, and simply seized over $5 million from the Trust funds to fill budget cuts, money that was never repaid. In 1942, when another Inquiry again detailed the ongoing negligence and unauthorised financial dealings, the government engineered the medical retirement of the chief protector to avoid charges of incompetence.18 Successive internal inquiries and audits slammed habitual improper outlays on items ‘which are definitely charges against consolidated revenue’ such as over half a million dollars from APF levies and investment interest diverted through the department’s operating account to cover an ‘insufficiency of departmental votes’ in 1941. Informed it would take almost a million dollars increase in the annual budget to cease unauthorised expenditure from the funds, Cabinet decided ‘to adhere to present procedures’.

In this context the Aboriginal Welfare Fund was set up in 1943, legitimating the retention of bank interest and investment revenue, and the taxes on savings. It blunted criticism of misappropriation by blurring the expenditure fields of Aboriginal requirements and departmental expenses, declaring that outlays could be made  ‘providing for the benefits to Aboriginals generally’. The Fund was intended to bankroll settlement enterprises; it absorbed the APF deductions, the ‘surplus’ remaining in the APP, profits from investments and from community enterprises such as cattle and stores, and child endowment of all children under five years of age. Capital works, grants to missions and cost of forced relocations remained government responsibilities.

Yet evidence shows the government charged against the Welfare Fund items described as ‘legitimate vote expenditure’ such as capital development costs and farm wages on two pastoral properties purchased in the 1940s, wages – including for white overseers, trucks, launches and land for the hostel near Townsville in the 1950s, and in the 1960s it was deployed for reafforestation at the Hopevale mission, sewerage at the hostel and a new store on Palm Island.  From the first years, the Welfare Fund often covered up to one-third the cost of Aboriginal administration. Brought to insolvency on many occasions, the Fund often could not meet legitimate calls on its reserves to develop the reserve communities.


Profiting from poverty

The hundreds of men who worked in essential industries on award wages during the war years, and pastoral workers with families on missions and settlements, were denied their accumulated wages. These were retained in settlement Trust funds, docked by the 10% levy for ‘settlement maintenance’, and dispensed as vouchers on settlement stores. These stores averaged a 40% profit loading, an exorbitant impost deplored by the 1932 Inquiry. As with police protectors, superintendents in charge of these finances had no accounting or record-keeping expertise, kept card files which the workers were never allowed to see, and were, on many occasions, documented as failing to operate either accurately or honestly on these Trust monies. Bulk sums from settlement Trust funds were routinely committed to revenue production and the funds were frequently bankrupted, necessitating shuffling of other Trust monies to cover deficits. The effect of these hidden dealings on the likelihood of an Aboriginal account holder succeeding in a request to withdraw his or her own money for essential needs, is not difficult to gauge. Workers were frequently told there was ‘no money left’ in their accounts.

The vast amounts of Aboriginal savings frozen in investments from the 1930s to the late 1970s must be measured against the extreme poverty endured by the wards of state whose money it was. The $11.25 million expropriated in the early 1950s had increased to over $20 million by 1957. Eager to maximise returns, the department now amended its regulations so it could offer this money for expansion projects of regional hospitals. While Aboriginal savings financed new wings and wards for white hospitals, the Palm Island ‘hospital’ was so filthy it was reported as the main source of parasitic infestation, eight people died from gastroenteritis due to cross-infection; and infant mortality was 15 times the state’s average.

So dire were conditions on the northern missions that the Bishop of Carpentaria visited London in 1962 and lobbied the Freedom From Hunger Campaign for funds to alleviate entrenched malnutrition, a circumstance he squarely blamed on inadequate funding from state and federal governments. At that time government grants to missions amounted to less than $7.50 per person per week, translating into a food allowance of only 38 cents a day, insufficient to meet the official ration scale. At Yarrabah residents agitated over dilapidated shacks housing eight persons and more but lacking bathrooms and ceilings, with leaking roofs and overflowing drains.

In the early 1960s when federal widows, old age and invalid pensions were extended to Aboriginal community residents, the department again interceded to have the bulk amounts paid to settlement managers, and only a small sum was passed on to pensioners. Documents show that even before they became available, the department was calculating how the pensions could be ‘diverted to revenue’ by simply reducing the state’s operational funding by an equivalent amount.19 Because the full pension (of around $83) was several times greater than the ‘wage’ paid to community workers, initial plans were to pass on only 12%, although people from Mapoon and Weipa demanded, and eventually received, around 33% of their pensions.

In 1969, during debate regarding the relinquishing of savings accounts to the men and women themselves – at that time totalling over $12.75 million – the department calculated the state would lose revenue from the $10 million allocated for investments and would also be exposed to an additional $28 million in relief and maintenance costs. That’s a saving to the state of $38 million in that year alone sucked out of the Aboriginal community’s earnings and savings.  Now we begin to understand why conditions were so dire. It was only in the 1970s that people could, on official request, take control of their own savings passbooks.  Many who had worked for decades found little or nothing in their accounts after years of government ‘management’.

The level of private subsidisation of state administration can be measured by the revenue slump in the Welfare Fund of almost 78% (from $613,340 in 1965 to $135,270 in 1968) after the department ceased levies on Aboriginal wages.  Retail stores than became the main component jumping almost 70% after cash economies were effected.

In addition the government hoarded more than $10 million each year by simply underpaying Aboriginal workers on its reserves. Wages for Aboriginal community workers were not introduced until 1968, and then they were set at only $130 a week, that is 20% below the dole. The Trades and Labour Council protested such rates were ‘virtually robbery’, given award rates at that time were $585 per week for carpenters and $615 for engine drivers. Store prices on communities were often double those of neighbouring towns, and families were thrown into crisis.

Epidemiological studies of this time reveal the deadly effects of entrenched deprivation on these government institutions. Half of all newborn infant deaths and 47% of all deaths under 16 years were from gastroenteritis or pneumonia, or both. Malnutrition was the key factor in the deaths of 50% of children under three and 85% of children under four years. This single, easily resolvable deficiency underlay chronic ear and chest infections, lowered resistance to disease and impaired school performance.20

By the mid-1970s, with wages at only 60% the basic wage, 75% of child outpatients at the Palm Island clinic registered as severely underweight, and children evacuated to Townsville during a deadly gastroenteritis epidemic were described as looking like ‘starving Biafrans’. In this context it is appalling to read correspondence by premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson that reveals the deliberate underpayment of Aboriginal employees was enriching Treasury by a massive $20 million per annum.

It is clear that the state government knew, since at least 1979, that such underpayment was illegal, breaching both state industrial law and federal anti-discrimination legislation. Challenged by a Yarrabah labourer, the department was forced to settle out of court; but Cabinet vowed it would not budget one cent towards the mandatory wage increases.21 By mid-1986 over 1500 workers had been sacked, bringing building and maintenance programs to such crisis that several managers warned essential services were at risk. A survey showed 22 people dependent on each wage earner at Cherbourg and 99 at Palm Island.

Despite overwhelming evidence of poverty-induced malnutrition and sickness on these communities, the department introduced a range of tactics to maximise rental revenue. In 1977 it calculated child endowment as income;22 in 1979 the director sought, and obtained, changes to the state’s Audit Act, enabling him to cash personal social security cheques to offset half against rent arrears;23 and he instructed departmental officers to ‘forget about welfare’ and intensify rent collection.

Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen had foreshadowed in 197824 that ‘massive social problems’ would result from the state’s refusal to fund wage increases; nevertheless he mercilessly prosecuted this funding attrition into the mid-1980s.  Managers warned of the impossibility of families to maintain a budget on such low wages, and the director himself forecast lower morale and increased alcoholism. By 1982 unemployment on these government institutions stood at 92.5%. Remaining workers struggled on only 72% the state’s basic wage, an underpayment illegal under both state industrial and federal race discrimination laws, as Cabinet affirmed on several occasions during the 1980s. As Aboriginal councils took over community management under the Deeds of Grant in Trust during the mid-1980s, they finally gained control of the payment of wages. Their determination that award wages would be paid, clearly stated over many preceding months, was disregarded by the government which did not budget for this legal requirement in its funding for the councils.25

Questions of improper and illegal dealings on the Welfare Fund have also been raised. An inquiry in 1991 suggested that many investments by the fund were probably economically unviable, and that ‘unwise decisions may have been made’ by the department’s chief executive officer. Certainly we now know that the cattle properties ran at a loss every year after 1975, losing $2.4 million to 1980 and a further $11 million to 1990. Money was clawed back by raising rents, particularly on federally-funded housing, attracting harsh criticism from those federal officers who affirmed that rental levels were supposed to reflect ability to pay, rather than the financial designs of the state.

Around $200 million of federal housing money was relayed through the Welfare Fund in the decade 1980/90, despite clear directives from the commonwealth that a separate housing fund be established. We know ‘surpluses’ of unspent housing funds were achieved of $7.5 million between 1980/84 and a further $11.25 million from 1985/90, no doubt benefiting the state by around 16% on the short-term money market, the interest going straight to Treasury; yet the state now claims that no register was kept of its allocation, nor of ‘the considerable asset base’ of the Fund. Investments were cashed in to maintain operations of the Welfare Fund, and the deteriorating position was also camouflaged by over $800,000 from the sale of Comalco shares in1987, notwithstanding that that money had been earmarked as a lending pool for private initiatives. The state only ceased trading on the Welfare Fund in 1993 after concerted indigenous protest. It has been estimated that perhaps $400-$500 million passed through the Fund during its 50-year operation; only $8 million now remains for distribution to the Aboriginal community.


Time for justice

In 1985 seven Palm Island workers started an action against the Queensland government in the Human Rights Commission, charging that under the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act the state government’s refusal to pay award wages was a criminal offence. It took 10 years to force the government to account publicly for its actions, and evidence to the 1996 Inquiry showed Cabinet had discussed several times the illegality of its practice.  When the Commission found in favour of the workers and proposed a settlement of $7000 for each complainant the coalition government scorned the finding. Only after threat of renewed action in the federal court did it finally make a public apology and pay the compensation, totalling only $42,000, having spent in the vicinity of $1 million of public moneys on a deceitful defence.

Last year, having defended and lost several more cases on wages, the Beattie Labor government took the cheaper option of setting up a $25 million compensation fund, declaring that any Aboriginal community worker employed between 1975 and 1986 was eligible for the $7000 payout. Most of that money has been dispensed, yet fewer than half the claims have been processed.  Cabinet decided to exclude workers on the former missions of Doomadgee, Hopevale and Wujal Wujal, yet there is absolutely no doubt that it was the state – not the church – which had ultimate responsibility for the interests of these wards of state. It was the state – not the church – which knew since 1979 that underpayment was illegal yet actively continued that practice. It is the state – not the church – which now must pay compensation for this illegality.

To date over two thousand claimants have registered in actions pending against the government for unpaid and underpaid wages, missing and misappropriated savings, and for mismanagement and improper use of the various Trust monies.  The government has put the onus on each individual to produce a full set of evidence to back his or her claim. At the same time it admits – and uses as its best defence – that government records were poorly kept and incomplete. This is consistent with the 1991 Welfare Fund Report which suggested the incompetent account keeping and consequent lack of evidence militated against the establishment of illegal practices.

There is no doubt that the government was the legal trustee for these wards of state from 1897, for as long as it controlled private savings and accumulated trust monies. It is a legal duty of trustees to keep full and detailed accounts; indeed, in countless Annual Reports the director stated his department was doing just that. The onus should therefore be on the government to prove it has kept full and accurate records. The onus should be on the government to prove it has always acted in the interests of its beneficiaries, particularly on the matter of restricted access to private savings and non- or underpayment of community workers. The onus should be on the government to prove it did not have a conflict of interest in siphoning massive amounts of private savings into interest-bearing investments to relieve Revenue. The onus should be on the government to prove it did not profit from its dealings on the trust monies of its beneficiaries and by levying savings and confiscating pensions to part-fund the running costs of settlements.

The figure in question, the amount it is calculated that Aboriginal Queenslanders have been deprived while under state care during the twentieth century, has been mooted at between $300 million and $400 million dollars. This is the immensity of the state’s enrichment; this is the depth of deliberately induced poverty, the effects of which continue to blight hundreds of Aboriginal lives today.



1           Quoted in Kennedy, E, The Black Police of Queensland, Murray, London, 1902:35.

2           Broome, R, Aboriginal Australians: Black Response to White Dominance 1788-1980, George Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1982:95 for the former figure; Loos, N, Invasion and Resistance, ANU Press, Canberra, 1982: 3-7 for the latter.

3           Annual Report, Police Department 1871, Burke district.

4           Annual Report of the Northern Protector of Aboriginals, 1904.

5           QSA A/58858 5.4.11 – Archbishop of Brisbane to home secretary.  Compared with £1.10.0 in Western Australia, £4 in New South Wales and £14 in Victoria.

6           QSA TR1227:128  22.9.19.

7           QSA A/69778 November 1918, Barambah inquiry.

8           Presbyterian Archives, Minutes of the General Assembly, 1941.

9           QSA TR1227:258  23.1.57.

10          QSA TR254 1B/63.

11          ibid.

12          Police Circular 21:3.

13          Annual Report 1920:4.

14          Anglican Archives.  Diocesan Year Book, Archbishop’s Address, 1919:21.

15          QSA TR1227:128  15.3.23 – Report on the Office of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals.

16          ibid.

17          QSA TR1227:129  20.7.26.

18          QSA A/4291  29.7.41 – Investigation into the Sub-department of Native Affairs.

19          QSA TR254 1A/467  April 1959 memo.

20          Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Annual Report 1970.

21          DAIA 01-007-006  12.6.79.

22          QSA TR254 3A/277  1.6.77.

23          DAIA 01-063-011  13.9.79.

24          ibid, 2.5.78 – Bjelke-Petersen to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

25          DAIA 01-007-006  June 1985.

Copyright Dr. Rosalind Kidd. Website development by: Ryan-Thomas Robinson