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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

Welfare Ordinance of 1953 and the Register of Wards

Ernest Chinnery retired as the Director of the Native Affairs Branch in 1946 and was replaced by Francis Moy. In turn Moy resigned in May 1953 just as the Commonwealth's policy towards Aboriginal people was changing again. There was a move away from protectionism, and henceforth all Aboriginal people would be subject to the same welfare legislation as everyone else. The Native Affairs Branch of the Northern Territory Administration was replaced by the Welfare Branch, and the Director of Native Affairs was redesignated as the Director of Welfare. The new Branch was primarily concerned with health, housing and education of Aboriginal people. The first Director was Harry Giese, appointed in July 1954, who held the position until his retirement in 1972.

A new Welfare Ordinance was implemented in 1953. It reversed the criteria established under the former Aboriginals Ordinance. Rather than requiring exemption from its provisions, the legislation presumed that all people were exempt except those who, because of special needs, came under its jurisdiction. There was to be no mention of race; instead reference would be made to wards. A ward was someone who, 'by reason of his manner of living, his inability to manage his own affairs, his standard of social habit and behaviour, his personal associations...stands in need of special care'. The Director of Welfare became the guardian of all wards. Under the new policy, Aboriginal people would be committed to the care of the State solely because they were in need of special care and assistance.

The new Welfare Ordinance provided for the proclamation of individuals who fitted the definition of 'ward'. The names of all wards were then to be published in the Northern Territory Gazette. This meant that a census had to be carried out by patrol officers, which was completed in June 1956. The information collected resulted in the creation of the Register of Wards which was first published in May 1957. The register, often disparagingly referred to as the 'Stud Book', recorded district, European name, tribal or personal name, group, tribe, sex, year of birth, and sub-district.7

Image 24: A group of Aboriginal people gathered to meet the train, date unknown.

Image 24: A group of Aboriginal people gathered to meet the train, date unknown.
NAA: M1705, Photo 852
Enlarge image - View image gallery

By the 1950s the policy of removing children from their parents was again being questioned. Patrol officers, who had endured heart-rending removal scenes, often refused to take the children. The 1953 Welfare Ordinance provided that children would only be removed if they were judged to be destitute or neglected. Finally the Government accepted that separation from families did not help children gain a place in white society, and the policy was abandoned in the 1960s, although it was not until 1980 that the last of the Darwin homes were closed.8

The principal of wardship only lasted for a few years. In 1964 the Welfare Ordinance was replaced by the Social Welfare Ordinance 1964. The new Ordinance provided for the welfare of Aboriginal people in the same manner as other members of the community, and the Register of Wards was abandoned.

Selected records relating to postwar period administration of Northern Territory Aboriginal people
National Archives, Darwin
Native affairs policy, 1945–49 F1413, 2
Correspondence files – Delissaville (now Belyuen) community, 1947–64 E1415
Berrimah Aboriginal reserve, 1947–52 A452, 1952/226
Correspondence files – 'D' (Drover), 1949–52 E737
Correspondence files, 1949–52 F315
Correspondence files – unregistered series, 1950–68 E1555
Native Welfare Ordinance, 1952–54 F1, 1952/1160 parts 1 and 2
Correspondence files – general enquiries from settlements, 1954–62 E738
National Archives, Darwin
Correspondence files – 'O' (Office), 1954–62 E739
Correspondence files – 'P' (Pastoral), 1954–62 E740
Correspondence files – 'U' (Under the Ordinance), 1954–62 E743
Unregistered correspondence and historical notes, 1954–74 NTAC1976/23
Miscellaneous records (files, folders of newspaper cuttings, reports and tape recordings relating to functions of employing agency and memberships of committees and associations), 1954–77 NTAC1982/34
Correspondence files, 1955–57 E745
Welfare Ordinance, 1955–57 F1, 1955/154
Correspondence files – 'M' (Missions), 1956–62 E746
Correspondence files – 'W' (Welfare), 1956–63 E747
Correspondence files – 'ED' (Education), 1956–62 E748
Welfare Ordinance, 1957–58 F1, 1957/748
Correspondence files – Alice Springs, 1949–ongoing F133
Plans/drawings of building projects proposed by various religious groups, 1960–77 E811
Plans/drawings of Aboriginal housing designs, 1961–76 E810
Welfare Branch case files, 1963–72 D4082
Social Welfare Ordinance, 1964–70 F1, 1968/1209
Social Welfare Ordinance, 1964 F133, 1964/17
Correspondence files – 'AW' (Aboriginal Welfare), 1966–73 E765
Correspondence files of Bagot Aboriginal Settlement, Darwin, 1968–74 NTAC1977/281
Plans/drawings of building projects initiated by Aboriginal community associations, 1969–76 E808
Plans/drawings of building projects initiated by the Port Keats, Bathurst Island and Daly River Catholic Missions, 1972–77 E809


Chapter notes | All notes

7 Register of Wards, Northern Territory Gazette, 19B, 13 May 1957.

8 Rowena McDonald, Between Two Worlds: The Commonwealth Government and the Removal of Aboriginal Children of Part Descent in the Northern Territory (Alice Springs, 1995), p. 53.


Chapter 8
Aboriginal People of the Northern Territory