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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

Chief Protector of Aboriginals and the policy of protection

The Commonwealth created the position of Chief Protector of Aboriginals following the practice adopted by the States. The Chief Protector was empowered to assume the care, custody or control of any Aboriginal or half-caste if, in his opinion, it was necessary or desirable in the interests of that person for this to be done. These powers derived from the Aboriginals Ordinance 1911, the Commonwealth's first legislation dealing with Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, which remained in place until 1957.

Herbert Basedow was appointed as the first Chief Protector. He arrived in Darwin in 1911, but left after a few months, after quarrelling with the Administrator, John Gilruth. His replacement was Baldwin Spencer who agreed to a one-year term as Chief Protector and Special Commissioner. Spencer was asked to prepare a report and make policy recommendations on the 'difficult problem of control, utilization and advancement' of the Territory's Aboriginal population.

Image 21: Two Aboriginal men with dingoes, Northern Territory Administration Report Lake Mackay Expedition, June/July 1957.

Image 21: Two Aboriginal men with dingoes, Northern Territory Administration Report Lake Mackay Expedition, June/July 1957.
NAA: E1683, 1
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At the time of the Commonwealth's acquisition of the Northern Territory, many Aboriginal people lived in camps on the fringes of towns, just outside white settlements, or they worked in rural areas on cattle stations. Spencer devised a policy of protection, encouraging Aboriginal people to live on reserves, controlling their employment by the licensing of employers, the fixing of minimum wages, and by embodying conditions of employment within written agreements. He felt that town Aboriginal people should be confined. They could be released to do agricultural work and similar tasks, providing a cheap source of labour to white residents. Spencer's recommendations remained the Government's official policy until the mid 1920s.2

Spencer felt that half-caste children should be removed from the camps and placed within a series of dedicated institutions. If necessary, they should be separated from their mothers. Two government institutions were established to house and educate the children; the first was Kahlin Compound on the outskirts of Darwin, which opened in 1913, located in an area now known as Myilly Point. The second was The Bungalow located in Alice Springs, which opened in June 1914 under the direction of Ida Standley. The school at the Bungalow taught white children in the morning and half-caste children in the afternoon.

Due to overcrowding, The Bungalow was replaced with a new site at Jay Creek in 1928, about 40 kilometres south-west of Alice Springs. Jay Creek proved to only be a temporary measure and after investigating other sites (including one 12 kilometres from Alice Springs at Temple Bar Creek) the Old Telegraph Station five kilometres north of Alice Springs was occupied in 1932 and also became known as The Bungalow. During World War II all children at The Bungalow were relocated to Balaklava in South Australia.

The practice of taking children from their families and from perceived neglect had begun early in the Commonwealth era. This was the genesis of the policy that would affect many Aboriginal families both then and in later years, and create a group of people known today as the 'Stolen Generations'.

In 1918 the Aboriginals Ordinance was amended to extend the authority of the Chief Protector still further. From birth to death Aboriginal women were under his direct control, unless they were married to or living with a husband substantially of European origin. All police officers were appointed as Protectors in order to assist the Chief Protector.


Chapter notes | All notes

2 Preliminary Report on the Aboriginals of the Northern Territory, Bulletin of the Northern Territory, number 7 (Melbourne, July 1913).


Chapter 8
Aboriginal People of the Northern Territory