Skip to content | Skip to document navigation

Research Guides


Collections in Perth: A Guide to Commonwealth Government Records


16. Indigenous People

For Indigenous people, the passing of the 1967 referendum was a significant milestone because it led to the amendment of section 51(xxvi) and the repeal of section 127 of the Australian Constitution. However, the transferral of responsibility for Aboriginal affairs from State Governments to the Commonwealth actually took place over a number of years.

Some records about Indigenous people are restricted or closed because access to them would involve the unreasonable disclosure of personal information or of matters of cultural sensitivity. Special access arrangements apply to records from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The Agencies

The Western Australian Department of Native Welfare became the Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority in 1972, but it took until 29 June 1974 for certain functions and agency staff to be transferred to the Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs. For some time the WA Regional Director of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs was also the Commissioner of the WA State Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority.

  • 1928–36: Aborigines Department, WA (CA 5269)
  • 1936–53: Department of Native Affairs, WA (CA 5270)
  • 1950–72: Department of Native Welfare, WA (CA 5271)
  • 1972–74: Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority (CA 5272)
  • 1974–90: Department of Aboriginal Affairs, State Office, WA (by 1977, Department of Aboriginal Affairs, WA Region, Head Office) (CA 2604)
  • 1990–: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, State Office, WA (CA 7078)

The Records

Files containing correspondence wholly pre-dating 30 June 1974 were transferred to the State archival authorities (now the State Records Office of Western Australia) in 1987.

Few Western Australian records held by the National Archives have starting dates prior to 1974. These, and records dating from the mid-1970s and 1980s, are held in a large number of correspondence series transferred from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission offices throughout WA to the Perth Office of the Archives.

The Perth Office holds records of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody collected in WA. The items are listed on RecordSearch and you should consult Archives staff about access arrangements for these records. The National Archives research guide No. 2, Aboriginal Deaths in Custody: The Royal Commission and its Records, 1987–1991, provides detailed information about the Royal Commission.

Further records about Aboriginal matters can be found in the holdings of other Commonwealth agencies. For example, the Department of Works constructed buildings and roads on Aboriginal missions and land, and numerous details – including plans – of such work has been archived. The Postmaster-General's Department employed Aboriginal people for mail deliveries (especially in country and remote areas) and the Commonwealth Electoral Commission conducted education programs to encourage Aboriginal people to vote. These sorts of activities are commonly documented in the agencies' correspondence files.

GENERAL ADMINISTRATION, METHODS AND PRINCIPLES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1898–1960
Perth
Series: PP131/1
Quantity: 13 metres
Recorded by: 1829–1957: Colonial Secretary's Office (from 1926, the Chief Secretary's Office), WA (CA 1256); 1957–60: Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, WA (CA 1097)
Information about 'Aboriginal vocabulary', customs, and habits, 1904 PP131/1, 1904/238
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1928–
Perth
This series contains correspondence files created by agencies responsible for Aboriginal affairs. In 1972 the function became a Commonwealth rather than a State responsibility. The files contain material about the specific functions of the authorities (eg the coordination, development and operation of various Aboriginal programs, and welfare and housing policies). They also deal with general administrative and housekeeping matters.
Series: K431
Quantity: 120 metres
Recorded by: 1928–36: Aborigines Department, WA (CA 5269); 1936–53: Department of Native Affairs, WA (CA 5270); 1953–72: Department of Native Welfare, WA (CA 5271); 1972–74: Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority (CA 5272); 1974–90: Department of Aboriginal Affairs, State Office, WA (by 1977, Department of Aboriginal Affairs, WA Region, Head Office) (CA 2604); 1990–: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, State Office, WA (CA 7078)
CORRESPONDENCE FILES, ANNUAL SINGLE NUMBER SERIES, 1955–64
Perth
Series: PP396/1
Quantity: 7 metres
Recorded by: 1955–64: Department of Labour and National Service, WA (CA 1761)
Federal and State policy regarding Aboriginal assimilation and welfare, c1963–70 PP396/1, 1963/626

TOP OF PAGE