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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

John McEwen's New Deal, 1939

Image 23: Map of the Northern Territory showing the various missions that accommodated Aboriginal people.

Image 23: Map of the Northern Territory showing the various missions that accommodated Aboriginal people.
From Tracking Families, National Archives of Australia, p. 23.
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The 1930s saw the emergence of the Northern Territory Half-Caste Association. This group lobbied for an exemption system to the 1918 Ordinance whereby a person who was designated as half-caste could be declared exempt from the provisions of the Ordinance.

By the late 1930s the Commonwealth's policy with respect to Aboriginal people was changing again. First there had been Spencer's policy of protection, followed in turn by Cook's policy of biological absorption. In 1939 John McEwen, the Minister responsible for the Northern Territory, proposed what he called a new deal for Aboriginal people based on economic and social assimilation. In practical terms assimilation meant that in the course of time all persons of Aboriginal birth or mixed blood would live like white Australians. Under McEwen's new deal there would be greater government control over people of mixed descent, with the exception of those sufficiently versed in non-Aboriginal ways to apply for exemptions. Mixed descent children were to be removed to government institutions or transferred to church missions, which would promote moral values, thus further aiding assimilation.

The aim of McEwen's policy was to raise the status of Aboriginal people so that they could qualify for the privileges and responsibilities of full citizenship. In addition, he wanted to meet their immediate physical needs and deal with health issues; to supply education and training for useful community services; and to promote civic and religious instruction. The church missions would play an integral role in the policy of assimilation.4

In April 1939 a new Native Affairs Branch was created, under the charge of a Director. The former position of Chief Protector of Aboriginals was abolished. The first Director was Ernest Chinnery, who replaced Cook.

The policy of removing Aboriginal children from their families continued, but Chinnery recommended that their care and control should be handed over to church missions. Although John Bleakley had made the same suggestion in his 1928 report, his recommendation was not pursued due to Cecil Cook's antipathy towards the missions.

By 1941 the Government had decided that the care of half-caste children should be handed over to the missions. Catholic children were sent to Garden Point on Melville Island, Methodist children to Croker Island, and Church of England children to other locations. Other children were adopted out to white families in southern States. Several new institutions were also established, including the Bagot Reserve, on Bagot Road in Darwin, which was opened in 1938, and Retta Dixon (run by the Aborigines Inland Mission), which was opened in 1947. The Kahlin home was closed in 1939 and The Bungalow was closed in 1942.

There are many records in the National Archives collection that deal with the early years of the Commonwealth's administration of Aboriginal people. The following list is a selection of some of these records.

Selected records relating to the early Commonwealth administration of Aboriginal people
National Archives, Canberra
Foelsch collection – photograph albums of Northern Territory views, 1887–1900 A66
Northern Territory Aborigines – establishment of institution for adequate housing, 1910–11 A1, 1911/18824
Northern Territory Professor Spencer's report on Aboriginal people, 1911–12 A1, 1912/2991
Appointment of Baldwin Spencer as Chief Protector of Aboriginals, 1911–12 A1, 1912/10504
Alice Springs Bungalow, 1914–29 A1, 1927/2982
Northern Territory – visit of Baldwin Spencer regarding the natives at Alice Springs, 1921–24 A1, 1930/1542
Half-caste home – Darwin, 1923–40 A659, 1939/1/15580
Bleakley report – Aboriginals of North and Central Australia, 1927–31 A461, D300/1
Bleakley report – album of anthropological photographs in connection with Aboriginal enquiry – Central and North Australia, 1928 (copy also held in Darwin) A263
Half-caste home – Alice Springs, 1928–39 A659, 1939/1/996
Bleakley report on Aboriginals in North and Central Australia, 1929–30 A659, 1943/1/1451 part 1
A P Elkin – suggested policy regarding Aboriginal affairs, 1934–39 A1, 1938/31785
Government policy regarding Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory, 1938–53 A452, 1952/541
Copies of Chinnery reports – Northern Territory, 1939–40 A431, 1948/1780
National Archives, Darwin
Police Station Tarcoola/Arltunga – names of aged and infirm Aboriginal people receiving rations, 1900–41 F259
Police Station Arltunga – register of Aboriginal people employed – particulars of Aboriginal offenders – register of Aboriginal people in the Arltunga District – minute book for Courts of Summary Jurisdiction held at Arltunga, 1911–39 F246
Works – Alice Springs institution for half-caste children – school building, 1925 E1008, DA10060
Works – Alice Springs institution for half-caste children – dormitories, 1925 E1008, DA10061
Works – Alice Springs institute for half-caste children – store and layout plan, 1925 E1008, DA10065
Papers of Chief Protector of Aboriginals – Central Australia, 1927–31 F129
National Archives, Darwin
Works – Temple Bar Central Australia – institute for half-caste children, 1929 E1008, DA10047
Works – proposed institute for half-caste children at Temple Bar, 1930 E1008, DA10048
Works – Temple Bar Central Australia – institution for half-caste children, 1930 E1008, DA10044
Police Station Alice Springs – correspondence – Protector of Aboriginals, 1931–32 F396
Works – Alice Springs half-caste institute – general layout, 1932 E1008, DA10056
Works – Alice Springs half-caste plan, 1932 E1008, DA10066
Half-caste home – Alice Springs, 1932–37 F1, 1937/30
Correspondence of the Native Affairs Branch, 1933–49 F3
Establish settlements instead of compounds, and employ Aborigines, 1935–37 F1, 1937/159
Half-caste Aboriginal protection policy, 1935–41 F1, 1938/46
Copies of proclamations of Aboriginal reserves, 1936–43 F93
Correspondence files, 1937–63 F132
Half-caste institution – Alice Springs, 1938 F1, 1942/70A
Half-caste institution Alice Springs, 1938–42 F1, 1942/70B
Police Station Arltunga – Record of medicines issued, 1938–41 F263
Aboriginal and half-caste matters, 1940 F1, 1940/478
Welfare of female half-castes, 1940 F1, 1940/763
Half-caste institution – Alice Springs and Balaklava – register of admissions, 1942-44 F135
Proclamation of Aboriginal missions and reserves, 1946–55 E1067


Chapter notes | All notes

4 Australia. Commonwealth Government's Policy with respect to Aboriginals (Canberra, 1939).


Chapter 8
Aboriginal People of the Northern Territory