The biggest broker of them all: the State of Queensland and Aboriginal labour



Rural and remote Queensland could not have developed without Aboriginal labour, frequently acknowledged as more skilled and reliable that white workers.  Every dimension of this labour was controlled by the State for most of the twentieth century, including management of earnings totalling millions of dollars.  Yet Aboriginal working and domestic lives were characterised by appalling conditions and abject poverty.

Workers recently won compensation from the Beattie Labor government totalling around $30 million for one illegal procedure and an offer last year of $55.6 million to settle claims for missing or stolen monies.  This paper will examine the State’s role as employment broker and banker.


The assumption of powers

The 1897 Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act  gave the State the right to control movement, marriages, domicile and labour of any person of Aboriginal descent, and delegated enforcement to a network of police officers named as protectors.  Signed ‘agreements’ were mandatory for all employment, and for the next 70 years to refuse contracted work was to risk exile to a mission or settlement.

Initially wages were left to the discretion of the protector and employer, a hands-off approach quickly corrected under amending legislation in 1901, which set minimum rates1 at a time when no such provision existed for white labour.  It was not uncommon for workers to be abandoned to avoid payment of wages at the end of the contract period, a ploy countered in 1902 by establishing the Aboriginal Protection of Property Account (APP) to absorb monies of deceased or missing workers for distribution to relatives or ‘for the benefit of blacks generally.’

Regulations in 1904 provided that wages could be paid direct to protectors except for a pocket money allowance payable during the work period.  This modification was intended to pre-empt employers who claimed all wages had been absorbed during the work period in food, clothing or tobacco, or that workers had been paid but cheated of their wages before reaching their home camps.  In 1905 a Trust account was set up in the Home Department to receive female wages directly.2  In the same year the protectress in Brisbane was found guilty of swindling the accounts of domestic workers and was forced to resign.

During the first World War Chief Protector John Bleakley exploited the labour shortage, increasing the minimum wage and formalising the compulsory payment of all male wages directly to protectors.  He failed to get support for a 10 per cent levy on the compulsorily banked portion of wages (generally around 50 per cent), publicly touted as a measure to increase the ‘social responsibility’ of Aborigines for their dependents.  Internal calculations reveal the tax was intended to yield around ₤2,500 ($152,900) a year, or 60 percent more than current expenditure on relief.3

Although workers were covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act Amendment Act of 1916, Annual Reports regularly acknowledge the ‘co-operation’ of the Insurance Commissioner and his department in arriving at a ‘fair settlement’, which suggests that injuries or deaths of Aboriginal workers were not assessed at the same rate as for white workers.  Anecdotal evidence suggests large sums were at times not transferred to beneficiaries.

Regulations in 1919 established the tax on workers’ earnings – 5 per cent for single workers and 2.5 per cent for married workers – which was diverted to the new Aboriginal Provident Fund (APF), ostensibly to provide relief for workers unemployed during drought or illness.  These Regulations also pegged pastoral wages at 66 per cent the white rate4 courtesy of a ‘gentlemen’s agreement’ with the pastoral industry, after the government successfully lobbied to exclude the 4000 Aboriginal workers from the McCawley Station Hands Award of 1918, contrary to Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) calls for equal wages.

Minimum conditions now specified food, accommodation and working hours, but lack of workplace inspections rendered the requirements worthless.  Aboriginal workers were responsible for maintaining their families on their fractional wages; failure to do so commonly trigged removal to a reserve.  Children under twelve were still contracted to work, although this now required the Chief Protector’s endorsement.   Bleakley later boasted that government controls of rural employment operated ‘practically without a hitch’ until the mid-1940s,5 when new regulations were issued.

Under the 1939 Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act the Chief Protector became legal guardian of every Aboriginal child under 21, and his endorsement was required for child labourers under 16 years.  New Regulations under this Act were not gazetted until 1945, leaving a six-year hiatus during which successive auditors warned there was no legal authority for a multitude of administrative transactions on Aboriginal monies.6

The 1945 Regulations continued the APF levy unchanged, although this was now absorbed into a new Trust fund (the Aboriginal Welfare Fund, see below).  Work hours were now pegged to the Station Hands’ Award although employees’ wives had to work 12 hours a week for rations.  As with general conditions, inspections were rare and people who complained about wages or conditions risked deportation to reserves.7  Provision was made for one week’s holiday per year.  Despite protectors advising that the pocket money system was a farce and a direct profit to employers, the system was retained unchanged.  Indeed auditors in the mid-1960s accused the department of never having any system in place to make sure pocket money was properly paid to workers, and head office admitted some workers had never received any pocket money even when fully thumbprinted books were tendered at the closure of the contract period.8

The 1945 Regulations for the first time set a minimum of 32 hours work weekly for ‘every Aboriginal’ confined on a mission or settlement, in return for meagre rations.  These communities were built and maintained by the labour of the inmates who had to obey all orders and could be isolated by the Director (formerly Chief Protector) within or to another reserve.  All workers with dependents based on a settlement were taxed 10 per cent of their earnings, or 5 per cent without dependents, formalising a levy that had been illegally imposed for around thirty years,9 and was frequently, if erroneously, applied more than once within particular families.

Calculations show the department failed to comply with its policy of 66 per cent parity for pastoral workers, with rates for 4500 workers slumping to only 31 per cent in 1949.   In the late 1950s, with wages at 63 per cent, the United Graziers Association (UGA) lobbied against further rises saying pastoralists had to support ‘half the tribe’ of stockworkers who were unreliable and under skilled.  Confidential discussions revealed that child labour remained common and children frequently suffered broken limbs.10  Indeed northern pastoralists lobbied strongly that children not be sent to missions for educating as this ‘ruined’ them for work.

However, following a 1956 survey of pastoral stations, the departmental inspector dismissed allegations of incompetence.  Noting that the industry was entirely dependent on Aboriginal workers, particularly in remote areas where white stockmen were rare, he deplored the entrenched mentality of paying as little as possible for Aboriginal workers and the frequent abuse of the ‘slow worker’ category (endorsed by the AWU) to undercut set rates.  In 1961, after intense lobbying, the UGA conceded a slight rise for gross wages but won a reduced hourly rate, leading the Trades and Labour Council (TLC) to declare Aboriginal workers ‘shockingly exploited’.  The Director feigned impotence, claiming rates were ‘determined by the Industrial Court’ rather than the department.11

In 1964 the UGA claimed ‘practically all Aboriginals’ were ‘slow workers’ because of their ‘lack of mental capacity’, but blocked a TLC submission that an industrial magistrate adjudicate such assessment.12  In a climate of international pressure the Queensland government admitted opposition to equal wages was not prudent.  Yet regulations in April 1966 continued the parity system, despite a recent Commonwealth Arbitration Commission decision that equal pay be in place by December 1968.  In the interim, as prime minister Robert Menzies confidentially advised the Queensland premier, all former wards and inmates of reserves could be deemed ‘trainees’ and paid at a lower rate.13

Although the 1965 Aboriginal Affairs Act defined every Aboriginal a ‘free citizen’ unless deemed in need of ‘assistance’ – a category which embraced all reserve residents, Aboriginal property and accounts could still be taken possession of, retained or sold at the director’s discretion.  Police protectors’ duties were now transferred to clerks of court, commonly the same man.  Full award rates were now mandatory except where Aboriginal workers were specifically excluded – effectively almost the whole workforce.  Only now could workers access passbooks showing transactions on their accounts, although financial control was retained by the State.

It was not until 1972 that workers could request permission to control their own accounts, unless a magistrate upheld an objection from the Director as to their capacity to do so.   Only now were all Aboriginal workers finally accorded equal wages and freedom of movement.  ‘For the first time’, reported the department’s Coen manager, ‘men did not have to go to a station if they did not want to…if they feel they have not been fairly treated, or have not been paid’.  Workers were no longer ‘owned’ by particular stations which frequently put them off in slack times in breach of long term contracts, ‘to leave their men simply sit in the reserve until they needed them’.  Elderly family members and wives who had been compelled to work for free on the stations could now also refuse exploitation: ‘Pensioners are coming in to sit down, this is hitting the stations, and most of the women will not now go out as they never got pay only food.’   Pastoralists were angry: ‘there was a lot of local tension to put it very mildly.’ 14


The State as labour contractor

The State maintained a contract labour system for 70 years on the grounds that it could better protect the industrial and financial interests of Aboriginal workers.  Under this rubric the State executed a range of interventions and confiscations.

As early as 1904 a system of thumb print authentification had to be introduced because of high levels of fraud by both employers and protectors.  From 1912 the State intercepted maternity allowances due to part-Aboriginal mothers and from around 1915 seized bank interest due on the private accounts, using it for rations, blankets and ‘Christmas cheer’, for which Aboriginal settlement residents, whose money it was, were reportedly extremely grateful.  Indeed for the next fifty years very few residents saw any cash, their earnings acquitted in vouchers on settlement stores which ran at profit margins as high as 40 per cent.

So extensive was the continuing level of police fraud on private accounts that ‘disinterested’ third party witnesses were required from 1921 to verify thumb prints.  An Inquiry the following year15 revealed errors by protectors in nearly half the levy calculations, yet the department dismissed recommendations that workers be allowed to appeal against dubious handling of their accounts.  The inspectors also condemned the total lack of departmental oversight of police conduct and of the living and working conditions of 8000 people under control in rural areas.

In 1927, when workers on Wrotham Park station refused to re-sign until outstanding wages of almost ₤200 ($9600) were paid, the police protector terrorised them and locked them in the poisons shed until they capitulated.16  Police routinely dispensed vouchers on local stores rather than give cash to workers; in the mid-1920s the Longreach protector was found to be colluding with the local storekeeper to charge ‘exorbitant amounts’ for goods sold to workers.  In his possession were several ‘witnessed’ receipts lacking signature or thumb print of the account holder.

In 1932, another internal Inquiry17 condemned common and long standing fraud and pilfering by police, and the Chief Protector again admitted there were no real controls over protectors’ transactions.  The inspectors warned that ‘the opportunity for fraud existed to a greater degree than with any other Governmental accounts’, and it was decided to centralise private funds at Head Office, a measure intended ‘to minimise fraud by members of the Police Force who are Protectors.’18  However the department refused outright the recommendation that workers be allowed to see some record of dealings on their savings.

This denial is not surprising.  Records show that the government itself was confiscating private funds.  During the depression, with Treasury approval, a 5 per cent quarterly levy was imposed on all balances over ₤20 ($984.50), and a 2.5 per cent tax, euphemistically described as an administration charge, neatly appropriated bank interest due on all rural accounts.  The department admitted this seizure ‘had not yet been resorted to in the case of the white public.’19

A 1941 Investigation20 was so critical of the department’s financial incompetence that the Chief Protector was forced to resign.  Over subsequent decades successive auditors continued to condemn negligent supervision of police dealings on Aboriginal monies, the lack of secure checks of thumb printing, and the incompetent accounting procedures at head office.

Workers had to run the gauntlet of protectors to access their earnings, and many police bitterly resented their unpaid accounting work.  Permission was required for all withdrawals and was often refused, even for people with large account balances.  Few workers complained direct to head office, fearing retribution from the protector or exile to a reserve.  A justified fear of collusion between protector and employer deterred reporting of workplace assaults which were not uncommon, particularly sexual assaults on female family members and domestics; the main deterrent was the risk of personal deportation or removal of children.  Awareness of rights was sporadic: the Coen protector reported that knowledgeable ex-mission workers were the best defence against abusive employers who still thought that ‘anything is good enough for a nigger.’21  Underlining the dilemma, this same awareness prompted many employers to demand removal of workers described as ‘too cheeky.’

Rare inspections of pastoral camps left workers commonly living in deplorable conditions; the Boulia protector described his monitoring position as ‘nominal’ and ‘a farce all along’.  Ordered to check reports of starvation at Glenormiston in 1933 he reported that the property manager refused to feed workers in the off-season or to distribute rations; workers and their families were camped without any shelter on an open flat, exposed to the rain and wind in winter.  In 1959 workers at Strathburn were housed in an open lean-to, were not provided with tables, beds or cooking utensils, lacked access to clean water, and received no pocket money.  The only return for their labour was a little tobacco and matches.  When they absconded the police were directed to hunt them down and return them.  Yet all regular workers would have had reasonable savings in their names.  Perversely, a key reason for UGA opposition to equal wages, and indeed a requisite under the Workers’ Accommodation Act into the 1960s, was that white workers should not have to live or eat with ‘coloured workers’.

Conditions on the department’s rural reserves were similarly reprehensible: dank, dusty earthen-floored shanties of tin and cast-off timber, water retrieved from creeks or waterholes a distance away and stored in open tins, children denied schooling on the grounds of ‘health risk’.  Decade after decade the department filed away such information, condemning people to conditions which should have brought charges of criminal neglect and often led to the removal and institutionalisation of children.  Without access to their savings, and refused the right to rent or buy property, workers were condemned to suffer under the ‘protection’ laws.

It was not uncommon for the department to deduct from accounts of rural workers the costs of huts, fencing or amenities on country reserves.  Thousands of dollars were taken from workers’ accounts for capital improvements on reserves such as Charters Towers, Cooktown and Normanton.   ‘Consent’ was purportedly obtained although people were pursued for years to pay their share; yet workers rarely visited the reserves which overwhelmingly were home to the unemployed and the elderly.  Money was taken from locals to buy a house in Cloncurry in the late 1940s but the place was riddled with termites and was demolished two years later.  The land, no doubt, remained a department asset.

These same ‘protection’ laws, and the parsimony and discriminatory attitudes of the government, underwrote the appalling conditions on missions and settlements.  In the 1930s medical reports from Palm Island stated that most of the ill and elderly were slowly starving to death, and that babies who were not breast fed were dying of malnutrition.  In the 1940s at Yarrabah mission, the ‘able bodied’ were too weak to work because of malnutrition, the drinking water tested unfit for human consumption and sanitation was said to be so dangerous as to ‘lead to prosecution in any other circumstances’; yet the government refused a plea for increased funding to improve conditions.  Mona Mona mission was so contaminated that 90 per cent of dormitory children suffered massive worm infestation causing anaemia and debility.  Indeed missions received only half the funding of the settlements, an equivalent in the 1950s of $8.50 per person per week, or less than 50 cents per day for food rations.

In the mid-1950s at Cherbourg many families still lived in leaking unlined shacks, some holding up to 19 people, without taps for washing or food preparation.  In the 1960s a medical survey of government settlements revealed malnutrition was the key factor in deaths of 50 per cent of children under three, and 47 per cent of deaths of children under sixteen were from gastroenteritis or pneumonia or both.  Although a 40 hour working week was mandatory for every able bodied person only key workers were paid, at around 25 per cent the basic wage.  Into the 1970s overcrowding and poverty were so severe that many families survived on bread and syrup.  Yet protest was risky because the 1965 Aboriginal Affairs Act reversed tenancy controls:  it was now necessary to have a permit to reside on a community, and these permits could be revoked or denied by the department.

Only in 1968 did the government switch from rations to a wage economy on missions and settlements.  At a time when the basic wage stood at $37 ($270.50 today) a week, Director Patrick Killoran decreed community workers be paid $16 ($117), although only a fraction of that was cash and the remainder purportedly provided by an ‘incentive’ margin and ‘benefits’ such as housing and amenities.  Workforces on the communities were immediately cut by half to keep within budget allocations.  Skilled tradesmen were paid around one-third of the award rate and the TLC condemned the pittance as ‘virtually robbery’.22  The department’s officer at Yarrabah despaired that even good financial managers could not make ends meet: families found they could not survive, food sales plummeted, school absenteeism increased as food was not available for lunches.  Over nearly 20 years managers reported essential services were at risk as gradual increases in community wages were exacted through workforce attrition.

In 1972, when the community rate was less than 58 per cent the basic wage, 200 Palm Islanders petitioned Parliament protesting they could not survive.  Few families could afford fridges, cupboards or beds in the grossly overcrowded houses averaging eight person per substandard dwelling.  Nervous of union pressure, the government gazetted new Regulations confirming adherence to full wage requirements where industrial awards applied, the unstated assumption being that reserves remained exempt from industrial purview.  In 1974 skilled tradesmen on communities were underpaid by almost two-thirds, and the gutting of workforces as wages slowly rose exacerbated chronic unemployment,23 malnutrition and shocking illness attrition in children and the elderly.  As overcrowding intensified due to lack of ability to meet rent charges the department won changes to the State’s Audit Act so it could intercept Social Security payments to reclaim rental arrears.

Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s the State continued its refusal to pay employees award rates, despite legal advice obtained at the highest level in 1979 which confirmed that award rates were due and payable on communities since passage of the federal 1975 Racial Discrimination Act.  Director Patrick Killoran threatened to sack any person who applied for award wages, warning he could withhold funding to councils forcing them to levy householders to cover essential services.24  By late 1980 wages were 72 per cent the award rate and mass sackings had lifted unemployment across the communities to 92.5 per cent.   Houses fell into decay and there was no substitute accommodation, yet derelict unrepaired housing was blamed on the occupants: average occupancy at Yarrabah was 11 persons, at Weipa 12, and at Hope Vale over 18.  Award wages were only paid from the mid 1980s as Aboriginal councils gained control over community budgets.  Councils inherited an infrastructure backlog estimated at $2.5 billion,25 yet they are commonly blamed for their ‘inability’ to redress the appalling circumstances they inherited after a century of State management.


The State as banker

Governments in Queensland have profited immeasurably through the management of Aboriginal labour and the exploitation of private savings and the associated Trust funds.

The 1922 Report found that both the Aboriginal Provident Fund (APF), established as an unemployment relief fund two years earlier, and the Aboriginal Protection of Property Account (APP) comprising deceased estates, were misappropriated to cover development and equipment on settlements, grants to missions, and costs of compulsory removals.  Only a small portion of APF levies were properly paid towards relief; Report findings that individual ‘contributions’ to the APF should only rightly be disbursed in the same protectorate were never applied.

From 1926 the State used the two Trust funds to generate income by investing ‘surplus’ holdings.  In addition, during and after the 1929-32 depression years, the State transferred ₤72,032 ($3.5 million) from the two Trust funds, ‘for departmental purposes’.  The APF was so depleted that funds had to be transferred from the settlement Trust accounts (comprising earnings of settlement workers) to keep it solvent.26  The APP was similarly compromised.  Despite a dramatic increase in the number of private accounts declared ‘inoperative’ and absorbed into it, by 1941 the Fund held only ₤3875 ($186,460) in cash and loans to meet a contingent liability of over ₤74,000 ($3.56 million), representing thousands of unclaimed balances.27

The 1941 Investigation condemned as illegal the seizure of bank interest from savings accounts, and the 5 per cent levy on accounts over ₤20 which they calculated had deprived workers of around ₤5882 ($283,000), part of an estimated ₤18,960 ($933,200) diverted from private savings in the decade 1925 to 1935.  Even into the early 1940s almost ₤20,000 ($1 million) annually was streamed from Aboriginal earnings through the Standing account despite consistent criticism by auditors that this was ‘wrong in principle’ and ‘without the authority of Parliament.’28

These improper dealings only ceased with the setting up of a new Trust fund, the Aboriginal Welfare Fund (AWF), which operated from 1943 ‘for the benefit of Aborigines generally’, an ambit wide enough to legitimise the earlier procedures of using private monies for State expenditure.  This fund absorbed the APF and settlement levies, and any profits raised from community enterprises: workers thus retain a vested interest in its operations and holdings.  As with the other Trust monies controlled by the State, use of the AWF has been controversial and professional accusations of negligent dealings common.29  Items wrongly charged against it to benefit consolidated revenue included wages, costs of relief and blankets and costs of compulsory removals.  State dealings on this Fund were frozen in 1993 and the State is anxious to distribute the current balance of around $8.6 million to the Aboriginal community.  However the community would be extremely ill advised to acquit this residue until a full accounting identifies how much should rightly be available.

Over the years the State has exploited private savings and Trust funds as a profitable source of income.  When ₤258,596 (almost $15 million) of savings was centralised in Brisbane in 1933, ₤212,000 ($12.2 million) was promptly transferred to investment, yielding interest of ₤5316 ($320,500) in that year alone,30 money which should have devolved to account holders.  By 1953 ₤389,000 ($181,866) or 76 per cent of savings was frozen in investments, as was a further ₤8000 ($167,000) of APP funds.  In 1956 the department amended its regulations so it could offer ‘surplus’ private savings for regional hospital expansion projects, and also to validate the transfer to the APP of any estates ‘unclaimed’ after a five year period.  Meanwhile those whose money it was, lived, and died, in poverty.

In 1960, with over ₤705,130 ($12.3 million) of private monies invested, the department initiated investment of the cash balance on the short term money market to reap additional interest.  In 1969 the director vigorously opposed pressure to relinquish control of over 10,450 private savings accounts, arguing that the State would not only lose investment revenue but would be exposed to an estimated $4 million (over $28 million) in additional costs for relief and maintenance currently extracted through levies.31   From the early 1970s cash balances in State hands dropped dramatically as people accessed their savings.

The underpayment of community workers – illegal after passage of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act – was an additional financial bonanza to the State.  Employment figures are on file for 1976 (2500 workers), 1980 (1463 workers), 1985 (901 workers) and 1986 (765 workers).  Comparison of the community wage with the award wage in each of those years shows an annual shortfall to workers (in today’s value) of $30.7 million in 1976, $16.8 million in 1980, $5.3 million in 1985 and $5.7 million in 1986.  Extrapolating for the intervening years reveals the State profited by almost $187 million between 1975/86, in full knowledge that this underpayment was illegal, and in full knowledge of consequential dire poverty.  Rightful payment of this money to community workers would have dramatically altered living circumstances and prospects, then and now.

In 1996 an inquiry in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found the State guilty of ‘deliberately, knowingly and intentionally’ underpaying Aboriginal employees.32  Indeed cases had been brought on this matter in the Industrial Courts since 1979, each one settled by the State to avoid the adverse finding predicted by legal counsel.  Facing mounting cases, the Beattie Labor government took the cheaper option of providing the suggested compensation payment of $7000 to any person who had worked in the 1975/86 period.  Currently the State has paid out around $30 million, a bargain price compared with the estimated $187 million wages profit during that period.  The $7000 payment is conditional on an undertaking to indemnify the State against any future claims on underpaid wages.  Most claimants, of course, are so desperately poor they cannot refuse it, and have no idea of their own financial histories nor of detailed evidence of the State’s illegal conduct.  A few, however, have spurned the ‘compensation’ and have initiated court action for full restitution.

In 1999 the Beattie government settled a case on what is now known as the Stolen Wages, namely, missing and misused private savings and Trust funds.  In May 2002, with increased public exposure to accumulating evidence and an estimated 1000 people expressing interest in taking legal action against it, the Beattie government offered a $55.6 million package to resolve grievances.33  But this amounts to only $2000 for people aged between 45 and 50, or $4000 for those older, whose working lives may have spanned thirty years of systemic impoverishment.  The government has clothed this pittance in the guise of ‘reconciliation’ and generosity, but its callous agenda is clear from the demand to be indemnified against any future action on any aspect of a century of ‘protection’ regimes.  Again there is a refusal to supply all potential claimants with their financial records so they can make an informed choice.  Government-appointed ‘independent’ lawyers will explain only the terms of the government offer.  But unless those lawyers also appraise clients of the full financial, historical and legal context claimants are likely to sign the indemnity in ignorance of their best interests.  Under such conditions, leading lawyers have suggested the indemnity might be untenable in law.34  The fight for justice continues.



For almost a century Queensland governments controlled almost every aspect of Aboriginal lives by designating thousands of people wards of State in the name of ‘protecting’ their interests.   This paper has investigated the key fields of employment and banking.

By legislative decree and regulatory regime the State devolved to itself a fiduciary duty which it has patently failed to execute.  This failure has not only been demonstrated through omission such as failure to provide standard requirements for life and wellbeing on communities and in the workplace, and failure to implement proper accounting procedures to protect workers’ earnings and savings, but also by commission.  The State knowingly failed to ensure workers’ entitlements in the pastoral industry, and knowingly refused to pay legally due award wages to its community employees.  The State also continued a range of financial confiscations despite constant warnings from auditors, public service inspectors, and frequently from its own bureaucrats, that Trust monies were being wrongly diverted to items which were the financial responsibility of the State.

Trust law in Australia holds a trustee responsible to make good any losses caused by active breaches of trust – such as intentional, negligent or dishonest acts, and by passive breaches of trust such as a failure to act to protect the interests of beneficiaries.35  The State of Queensland stands in such breach.  In an ongoing class action over similar entrenched financial mismanagement of Indian trust monies, a United States judge recently declared that such breaches should be viewed far more severely because of the involuntary nature of the trust relationship and because the plaintiffs were among ‘the poorest people in this nation.’36

In Australia this desperate and continuing poverty is the outcome of industrial exploitation and financial confiscation across generations of workers under agencies which assumed the authority to ‘protect’ their interests.  It is a national scandal.



1   Ten shillings a month for boat workers and half that for mainland workers ($45.50 and $22.75 today’s value).

2   Weekly rates for females varied between 1s3d ($5.80) for children under 12, and 2s3d ($10.50), with ‘the odd threepence’ ($1.15) paid as pocket money.

3   DNA, Annual Report, 1915, p5

4   For a 48-hour week, rates for Aboriginal adult male station hands were ₤2 per week ($94), or ₤3.5.0 ($153) for tradesmen; females cooking for up to 30 persons ₤2.5.0 ($106) or 60% of that rate if those persons were Aboriginal; adult domestic workers 14s ($33).

5   J W Bleakley, The Aborigines of Australia, Jacaranda Press, Brisbane, 1961, p 172.

6   QSA TR254 1B/12, Audit Report, 1940.

7   Weekly rates for adult stockmen in 1945 were ₤1.10.0 ($64.25), or only 36 per cent the Union rate of ₤4.4.0; domestic servants received ₤1.5.0 ($53.50).

8    QSA  TR254  1B/69, Audit Report 1964/65.

9    QSA TR254 1B/12, Audit Report 1940.

10   QSA TR 1227:258.  23.1.57.

11   QSA TR254 1A/29, 9.11.64.

12   ibid, 27.11.64.

13   ibid, 28.5.65.

14   QSA TR254 9L/57  1.5.74.

15   QSA A/69452, Report on the Office of The Chief Protector of Aboriginals.

16   Queensland Parliamentary Debates, 1927, p 308.

17   QSA A/58856, 9.11.32, Report on the Inspector of the Office of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals.

18   ibid, 15.3.33, Under Secretary to Premier and Treasurer.

19   QSA A/58915  Report on the Aboriginal Settlements Palm Island, Cherbourg, Woorabinda inspected April 1932.

20   QSA A/4291,  29.7.41, lnvestigation into the Sub-department of Native Affairs.

21   QSA A/58762, 2.6.41.

22   DAIA  01-007-006, 15.3.66.

23   Workforces were cut from 2500 in 1975 to 1463 in 1980 to 765 in 1986.

24   DAIA 01-007-006, 30.7.79.

25   Legislative Review Committee, Towards Self-Government, August 1991, p34.

26   QSA A/58856, 9.11.32, Report on the Inspector of the Office of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals.

27   QSA TR254 1B/23, Audit Report 1941.

28   QSA A/69634  3.4.41.

29   For a summary see ‘Whose Accountability’, ATSIC News.  August  2001,

30   Initially this interest went into the department’s Standing Account.  After 1943 it went into the Treasury controlled AWF: $11,552 was listed under ‘Surplus savings bank interest & dividends’ in 1990.

31   QSA TR254 1A/345 Batch 2(ii), April-May 1970.


33  Pages 1714-1717.

34   See comments by Terry O’Gorman, National Indigenous Times, 5.3.03.

35   D Chalmers, Trusts, The Law Book Company, 1988.

36   See

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