Cecil Cook and the policy of absorption
By the late 1920s the Government's policy of removal had become stricter. As the number of Aboriginal people was rising rather than falling, there were concerns that they would eventually outnumber the non-Aboriginal population of the Territory. In 1927 Cecil Cook was appointed as Chief Protector of Aboriginals and Chief Medical Officer. He was initially appointed to investigate incidents of Hansen's Disease (leprosy) in the Territory, hence he held dual posts. Cook sought to convert Aboriginal people from being unproductive nomads to productive peasants, and helped lay the basis of assimilation which became official government policy 10 years later.
Cook believed that Aboriginal people should be absorbed into the wider population. Concerned that the number of half-castes was rising, while the white population was declining, Cook developed a philosophy to 'breed the colour out'. He too favoured continued removal of children but he was opposed to involvement by church missions. His favoured method was the placement of children in institutions.
Image 22: Native congregation at Oenpelli mission in Arnhem Land, 1928.
NAA: A263, Photo album
In May 1928 John William Bleakley, Queensland's Chief Protector of Aboriginals, was appointed to investigate the condition of Aboriginal and half-caste people in the Territory. There were concerns in the southern States over their care and wellbeing.
At the time Bleakley estimated that the Aboriginal population in the Northern Territory was about 21,000 including 800 half-castes. He found that despite Baldwin Spencer's early recommendations many were not being paid wages, living conditions were poor, there was no schooling, and institutions were badly situated, inadequately financed, and insufficiently supervised. Unlike Cecil Cook, Bleakley was impressed with the work of the church missions. By 1930s there were seven missions, most located along the northern coast of the Territory. He recommended that all illegitimate half-caste children under 16 be placed in government subsidised mission homes for the purposes of education and vocational training.
Bleakley recommended the appointment of a Deputy Chief Protector in North Australia to assist the Chief Protector, and an additional Chief Protector for Central Australia. He wanted the establishment of a series of clinics which would provide regular health inspections.
He suggested that Aboriginal people working on cattle stations should be paid a definite scale of wages for their work, preferably in goods, not money. He felt that they should be provided with better living conditions, both in the camps and on the cattle stations.3