Aboriginal Records

In Western Australia, colonial and later State government agencies monitored and managed the lives of Aboriginal people from the 19th century onwards. The official records that document the control of the lives of Aboriginal people, especially after the passing of the 1905 Act, are of vital significance, particularly for those people who were removed from their families and resettled elsewhere in WA. Many of these records are now held by the State Records Office.

The records relating to Aboriginal people held by the State Records Office are an important source of information for those interested in tracing their family history, as well as being a valuable historical resource. Some of these records are restricted if they contain personal and confidential information about individuals, and the SRO works with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs' Aboriginal History Research Unit to provide appropriate access to restricted records.

Warning:  Like many other Australian libraries, archives and information services, the State Records Office (SRO) recognises that the State Archives Collection contains materials that may be potentially upsetting and offensive to Indigenous people.  Being essentially an historical collection, such materials may use racist, sexist, derogatory, abusive and/or comprise insensitive terminology. The SRO has a responsibility to preserve and make accessible this documentary heritage in all its forms to support various types of research, and to reveal the actions of the past that have impacted on Western Australia’s Aboriginal communities, families and individuals. In doing so the SRO also acknowledges that accessing some of this material can be confronting for Indigenous clients.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people people are advised that SRO's online catalogue includes the names of deceased persons.

The SRO supports the aims of the ATSILIRN Protocols for Libraries, Archives and Information Services: http://atsilirn.aiatsis.gov.au/protocols.php and is happy for feedback to assist us in their better implementation. Please email sro@sro.wa.gov.au if you wish to provide feedback.

Colonial Secretary's Office Records

Ration List forwarded by C.J. Annear of Fitzroy Crossing, Dec 1904 Chief Protector of Aborigines Files, Acc 255, Item 841/1905, Series 3005 Between 1828 and 1886 Aboriginal affairs in Western Australia were the administrative responsibility of the Colonial Secretary, who operated in accordance with policy dictated by the Home Office (UK). The Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO) continued to manage Aboriginal affairs in the Colony up until 1887, when the Aborigines Protection Board was established.

Correspondence relating to Aboriginal people may be located by searching the indexes and registers to the Colonial Secretary's Office correspondence located in the State Records Office Search Room.

References to Aboriginal people mentioned in the CSO records have been partially indexed through the Bicentennial Dictionary project (see below). Please note that the CSO continued to receive correspondence relating to Aboriginal affairs beyond 1886, as many Aboriginal related matters were referred for the Colonial Secretary's consideration by the responsible Department. The Colonial Secretary became the Chief Secretary in 1923.

The following are twentieth century examples of CSO files relating to Aboriginal matters:

  • Daisy Bates - Departmental Personal Files, 1904-1911, Acc 1023, AN 24
    This important collection of material relates to the anthropologist Daisy Bates who was renown for her work with the Aboriginal people of Western Australia.
  • Services of Native Prisoners and Trackers, 1910-1936, Acc 752, Item 2612/1921 Vols 1 & 2, AN 24
  • Aborigines Act - Section 12 - Legal opinions re natives refusing to comply with orders, 1919, Acc 752, Item 501/19, AN 24
  • Aboriginal and Half-caste Population Returns, 1924, Acc 752, Item 19/1924, AN 24

Aborigines Protection Board

In 1886 the administration of Aboriginal affairs was removed from the Colonial Secretary and entrusted to the Aboriginal Protection Board, which consisted of five members and a secretary, all of whom were nominated by the Governor. The Board was responsible for overseeing the activities of the Protectors of Aborigines, who were individuals appointed by the Governor or the Board under the Aborigines Protection Act 1886.

Protectors reported to the Board on the treatment of Aborigines, and were empowered to institute court proceedings and to enforce judgements for, or on behalf of, any Aboriginal. Persons appointed as Protectors included Resident Magistrates, Wardens, Inspectors of Police, Justices of the Peace and in some cases minsters of religion.

The Board operated between 1887 and 1897 before being replaced by the Aborigines Department, under the Chief Protector of Aborigines.

Few records have survived from the Aborigines Protection Board but the State Records Office holds what has survived.

The Aborigines Protection Board records held by the State Records Office include:

  • Minutes, 1891-1893, Series 3000, Consignment 388, Item 41
    Subjects dealt with in these records include the appointment of Aboriginal Protectors, inquests, requests from religious bodies for financial relief and reports from Resident or Police Magistrates pertaining to trials and convictions of Aboriginal people.

The records of the Aborigines Protection Board are not restricted and are available on microfilm in the State Records Office Microform Area.

Departmental Records

The Aborigines Department was established in 1898 as a consequence of the Aborigines Act 1897 (which abolished the Aborigines Protection Board) and operated as a subdepartment of the Treasury, with a small staff under the Chief Protector of Aborigines. The Aborigines Department continued until 1909 when it was amalgamated with the Fisheries Department to form the Aborigines and Fisheries Department, the first in a number of Departmental reorganisations to occur over the following years, before the agencies current incarnation as the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (DAA).

The State Records Office holds a number of collections of records relating to the Aborigines Department and its successor agencies dating back to 1898, with the most common being the general subject files of these agencies. Records prior to this period can be located through the correspondence of the Colonial Secretary's Office and the Aborigines Protection Board (see above).

NOTE: Many of the files created by the Department of Aborigines and Fisheries and its successor agencies are restricted access records. Please see the Accessing Restricted Records section for information on how to apply for access to these records.

The most significant collection of Departmental records held by the State Records Office are the General Files series which are described below:

  • Chief Protector of Aborigines Series: Aborigines Department, 1898-1908, Series 3005, Consignment 255
    The Chief Protector of Aborigines Files comprise a significant collection of unrestricted Aboriginal related material held by the State Records Office. The files deal with a wide range of topics relating to the welfare of Aboriginals and the general administration of the Aborigines Act 1897 (and later 1905), including the admission of Aboriginal children to missions, the distribution of government rations to the old and infirm, and criminal investigations and court cases concerning Aboriginals.

Examples of the types of files contained within this series include:

  • Report on relief at La Grange Bay, 1907 (file 1907/786)
  • Native settlement at Welshpool, 1902 (file 1902/36)
  • Report of Resident Magistrate Katanning regarding the marriage of half caste Charles William and Ellen Foot (alias Nelly), 1899 (file 1899/185)

An index to names mentioned in these files has also been produced by the State Records Office.

General Files, 1926-1972, Series 2030
The General Files represent the main category of records that have been transferred to the State Records Office by successive government departments responsible for the welfare of Aboriginal people. The State Records Office holds over 10,000 general subject files that have been created by these departments, which now come under the administrative control of DAA. Most of these files have subject or locality based titles. They concern places where Aboriginal people lived such as missions, pastoral properties, town reserves and institutions (eg. Moola Bulla and Moore River). Very few of these records are personal or family files, but the files can contain some personal information. To assist locating information from these files, several indexes are available for public viewing at both the State Records Office and DAA.

In addition to the General Files the State Records Office holds a number of other series of records created by the Aborigines Department and its successor agencies. The following are examples of the few non restricted series of Departmental records held by the State Records Office:

Index Cards, 1926-1959, Series 1784, Consignment 5404-5408
Index cards relating to the Aborigines Department General File series ordered mainly by subject. Please note that not all files referred to in the cards have survived.

Scrapbooks, 1905-1946, Series 1377, Consignment 985, Item 1
Newspaper cuttings relating to Aborigines compiled by the staff of the Aborigines Department. Includes articles concerning the Royal Commission of Dr Roth.

Indexes to Aboriginal Records

Names of Aborigines residing at New Norcia, 25 Aug 1899 Chief Protector of Aborigines Files, Acc 255, Item 782/1899, Series 3005

The following indexes have been created to assist in accessing the information contained within the records of the Aborigines Department and its successor agencies.

Chief Protector of Aborigines Files 1898-1908 Index
This index contains a comprehensive listing of all the names of Aboriginal persons mentioned within the Chief Protector of Aborigines Files (Series 3005, Consignment 255). References to the names and designations of settlers and officials who were directly connected to the events detailed within the files have also been listed, as have references to persons from non-English speaking nationalities. The index is available online.

Personal Names Index
This Personal Names Index was compiled by the (then) Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority and contains references to over 5,000 people of Aboriginal descent who are referred to in the departmental files held by the State Records Office, and to personal history cards held by what is now the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. The relevant file number or card number is provided against the person's name.

The personal history cards are particularly useful, containing information extracted from former Native Welfare personal files held by the Department for Family and Children's Services.

Researchers are welcome to consult the State Records Office's copy of this index at the Search Room Enquiry Desk. To obtain access to the information on these cards you will need to contact the Aboriginal History Unit at DAA.

Missions Index
This index lists the records in the main departmental file series which pertain to particular missions (eg. Beagle Bay Mission, Forrest River Mission, New Norcia Mission, etc).

Stations Index
The Stations Index lists the records in the main departmental file series which pertain to particular stations throughout the State (eg. Clifton Downs, Minderoo, etc).

The Bicentennial Dictionary of Western Australians
This multi volume publication of the University of Western Australia Press includes four volumes devoted to Aboriginal people:

  • Vol VI Albany Region 1821-1898;
  • Vol VII New Norcia 1845-1914;
  • Vol VIII Southwest Region 1829-1840, and
  • Vol X Rottnest 1838-1931.

In addition to these published volumes further indexes to names of Aboriginal people by region have been compiled by Neville Green (a member of the Dictionary's Aboriginal Committee) and Susan Moon, covering the Murchison, Pilbara, Southwest, Gascoyne, and Kimberley up until 1890. Individual entries give a person's common name, alias (or other name), locality and the source of the information (invariably nineteenth century official records and newspapers).

All of the indexes above can be consulted in the State Records Office Search Room. Staff at the Search Room Enquiry Desk are happy to assist clients with using these indexes

Other Official Records

Information relating to Aboriginal people can be located within the records of a number of other Western Australian Government agencies. The following collections contain significant records of interest to those researching Aboriginal history.

Court Records
The State Records Office holds the records of the Supreme Court of Western Australia as well as records from over 100 lower courts located throughout the metropolitan and country areas of Western Australia. These include Clerk of Courts, Police Courts, Local Courts, Licensing Courts, Warden's Courts and Coroner's Courts.

The following are selected examples of some of the court records held by the State Records Office which contain information relating to Aboriginal people:

Further information on the range of Court records held by the State Records Office can be found on the Collections page relating to court records.

Department of Community Welfare
In 1972 a departmental reorganisation resulted in the functions of the then Native Welfare Department being spilt between two newly created Departments, the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority and the Department of Community Welfare. The newly formed Department of Community Welfare assumed responsibility for the treatment of Aboriginal children and other matters previously under the jurisdiction of the Native Welfare Department. Consequently many Aboriginal records can be located through the records of the Department of Community Welfare and its successor agencies. These files also cover matters such as Aboriginal health and housing, the operation of missions and other matters concerning Aboriginal welfare.

It should be noted that many records relating to the Department, including early adoption files, are held by the Department of Community Development and are not accessible through the State Records Office.

NOTE: Many of the files relating to the Department of Community Welfare and it's successor agencies are restricted access records as they contain sensitive personal information. Permission to view these records must be obtained from the Department of Family and Children's Services. Please see the Accessing Restricted Records section for information on how to apply for access to restricted records.

Health Department
Information relating to Aboriginal health matters and the treatment of Aboriginal patients is obtainable through the records of the Health Department and its predecessor agencies. These records can generally be located through the listings of the Department's General Files (1899-1987). Subjects covered within the General Files include such things as the treatment of Aboriginal patients within certain localities, the transfer of Aboriginal patients to Perth for treatment, general reports on Aboriginal health, and policy and administration matters connected with Aboriginal Health.

Earlier records relating to public health in Western Australia, including to a lesser extent Aboriginal health, may be located in the indexes to the Colonial Secretary's Office (CSO) correspondence. Further information on accessing the records of the CSO please can be found on the Collections page relating to the Colonial Secretary's Office.

NOTE: Health records may have a restricted access period of up to 100 years in cases concerning patient information. Clients who wish to view restricted health records must obtain written permission from the Health Department. Please see the Accessing Restricted Records section for information on how to apply for access to restricted records.

Prison Records
Some historical records relating to Aboriginal people can be located through the various prison and gaol records held by the State Records Office. In particular prison records for the Rottnest Native Prison for the pre-1900 period. Other records may be located within the general prison registers for Fremantle Prison - which can provide considerable information for those undertaking family history research.

Examples of some of the more relevant prison related records include:

Further information on the range of prison and gaol records can be found on the Collections page relating to prison and gaol records.

Police Records
At the turn of the century police officers in Western Australia were required to act as inspectors for the Aborigines Department, as part of their normal duties. Even prior to the establishment of the Aborigines Department many police officers held positions as Protectors of Aborigines for the Aborigines Protection Board.

Records relating to Aboriginal people may be found amongst both the Police Department General Files and through the records of the individual Police Stations, most significantly in the Occurrence Books and Charge Books. Police Station records can include information on rationing of Aboriginal people at local stations, gathering of witnesses for trials, records relating to Aboriginal trackers, as well as various criminal matters pursued by the police. These records are often useful in tracing the names of Aboriginal people residing in specific districts.

Copies of police reports containing information on matters relating to Aboriginal people were often forwarded for the attention of the Department responsible for Aboriginal affairs. These reports can sometimes be located amongst the General Files of the Aborigines Department and it's successor agencies.

The following list contains selected examples of some specific Aboriginal related records obtainable through the records of Police Stations.

Further information on the range of police records that can be found at the State Records Office is available on the collections page relating to police records.

Royal Commissions and Committees of Inquiry
The State Records Office holds records relating to a number of Royal Commissions that have been conducted in relation to Aboriginal people in Western Australia. These investigations have covered topics such as the treatment of Aboriginal natives by the Canning Exploration Party (1908), the administration of the Aborigines Department (1904), and the condition and treatment of Aborigines (1934).

The following are selected examples of some of the Royal Commission records available:

  • Royal Commission in Relation to Condition and Treatment of Aborigines, Transcripts of Evidence, 1934, Cons 2922, AN 537

For a listing of the various Royal Commissions and Committees of Inquiry relating to Aboriginal people that have been held in Western Australia consult the following publication:

  • Royal Commissions and Inquiries: Concerning or Affecting Aboriginal People in Western Australia, 1884 to 1996 / 1996

Please Note: In most cases, there is a restriction access period that applies to Royal Commission records. Further information on accessing restricted records is to be found on the State Records Office page relating to the accessing of restricted records.

Other Miscellaneous Records

There are many other sources of information relating to Aboriginal people contained within the records held by the State Records Office. Often these sources will be located within the records of government agencies, which may not necessarily be directly connected with Aboriginal people. These records can be identified by searching for the name of the relevant agency in the catalogue.

Selected examples of other Aboriginal related records include:

  • Premier's Department, Aboriginal Mission at Morgans - General Matters, Acc 1496, Item 13/1928, AN 2
    One of many files within the Premier's Department General Files series relating to Aboriginal matters. Further information on Premier's Department records can be found on the Collections page relating to Premier, Cabinet And Parliamentary Records.
  • Resident Magistrate Esperance, Register - Passenger Lists / Native Dogs Destroyed, Acc 113, 1893-1896, AN 370
    This is primarily a register of passengers arriving in Esperance, however it also contains a brief register showing the names of Aboriginal people and details concerning the shooting of native dogs in the area.

Further Information

State Records Office staff at the Enquiry Desk can provide additional information on the range of education and school related records available from within the State Records Office collection. For more information contact us by telephone on (08) 9427 3600, by facsimile on (08) 9427 3368, via email at sro@sro.wa.gov.au or in person.