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Research Guides

Commonwealth Government Records about South Australia

1. Aboriginal people

Image 3: The inauguration of Sir Douglas Nicholls as Governor of South Australia, 1977

Image 3: The inauguration of Sir Douglas Nicholls as Governor of South Australia, 1977
NAA: A6160, 5/1/77/5
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For more than half of the 20th century, the function of Aboriginal affairs was the responsibility of the Australian states. The Commonwealth had limited involvement in policy-making for Aboriginal people, except in the Northern Territory which it administered from 1911.

The Commonwealth did organise periodic conferences of Commonwealth and state Aboriginal authorities. The first of these was in Canberra in 1937, at which representatives of state governments (except Tasmania) and the Northern Territory administration were present. South Australia was represented by Mr MT McLean, Chief Protector of Aboriginals, South Australia and Professor JB Cleland, Chairman of the Advisory Council of Aborigines, South Australia. At this conference a uniform policy was agreed, the central plank of which was 'this conference believes that the destiny of the natives of aboriginal origin, but not of the full blood, lies in their ultimate absorption by the people of the Commonwealth, and it therefore recommends that all efforts be directed to that end'.

After pressure and campaigning for rights for Aboriginal people, a number of changes occurred in the 1960s. In 1962 the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 was amended to enable Aboriginal people to vote. In 1967 a federal referendum was held to remove the reference in the Constitution that precluded the Commonwealth from making laws relating to Aboriginal people (part of Section 51), and to remove section 127 which prevented Aboriginal people from being counted in reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, a state or other part of the Commonwealth.

Although the Commonwealth was not responsible for Aboriginal affairs before this referendum (except in the territories), the Archives does hold records about Aboriginal people before 1967. Aboriginal people came into contact with the Commonwealth Government in many ways, for example serving in the defence forces or working on the railways.

Records relating specifically to Aboriginal people from South Australia may be held in different Archives offices. They range from the correspondence of agencies responsible for administering Aboriginal affairs (after 1973), to photographs, index cards, employment statistics and incidental reports. The Archives also holds files of other agencies, such as railways correspondence and postal records. The level of detail about a person can vary – from a case file about an individual (for example, a defence service personnel dossier) to passing references in correspondence files.

Often items do not indicate whether people are Aboriginal so it is not easy to find, for example, all South Australian Aboriginal people who served in the defence forces – a researcher will need to know the people's names. To overcome this for World War I army records, the Archives has compiled a list from various sources of the names of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who served, with basic details including place of birth and enlistment. An Archives reference officer can assist with access to the list.

There are some records held by the Archives relating to Aboriginal people from outside South Australia who lived in the state. For example, a number of Northern Territory Aboriginal people were evacuated to South Australia during World War II. In addition a number of Northern Territorians moved to South Australia for education, health care, foster care and so on.

There are a number of series mentioned in various chapters of this guide that would outline references to South Australian Aboriginal people. These include Chapter 2 (arts, recreation and sport), Chapter 6 (defence), Chapter 17 (ASIO files of prominent Aboriginal activists, particularly if associated with the Communist Party of Australia) and Chapter 19 (war service personnel files).

Recorded by: Department of Social Services, Central Office
Correspondence files, 'B' (Child Endowment), 1951–74 A885
Recorded by: Australian News and Information Bureau, Canberra
Photographic negatives and prints, 1945–71 A1200
Recorded by: Director of Social Services, South Australia
Pension index cards, 1948–82 D53
Recorded by: Department of Labour and National Service, Branch Office/Regional Administration, South Australia
Correspondence files, 1954–97 D359
Recorded by: Postmaster-General's Department, State Administration, South Australia
Photographs of post office buildings, personnel and equipment, 1840–1990 D5440
Recorded by: Commonwealth Railways Commissioner
Correspondence files, 1913–83 B300
Historical photographs of the former Commonwealth Railways, 1901–78 D1334
Photographs, 1910–70 B3115
Photographs of Trans-Australian Railway, 1912–39 B3104
Photograph albums, 1914–60 B3114
Photographs of activities associated with Trans-Australian Railway, 1940–50 B3119
Population census Aboriginal tabulations South Australia, 1921 A9410, 30
Conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal Authorities – Canberra, April 1937 A659, 1942/1/8104
Training of Aboriginal children from Hermannsburg Mission in South Australia, 1959–60 A452, 1959/739
South Australian Aboriginal Affairs Bill, 1962–67 A452, 1962/6042
Map showing Aboriginal reserves in South Australia, 1963–65 A452, 1963/7060
North-west Aboriginal reserve – Amata, South Australia, 1968–74 A2354, 1968/124 PART 1
South Australian Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act, 1981 A1209, 1981/1538
Aboriginal Affairs – Commonwealth and interstate – South Australia, 1958–67 B357, 7
Aboriginal Affairs – Commonwealth and interstate – South Australia, 1958–67 B357, 8
Protection of Aborigines, 1914–74 B300, 7037 PART 1
Protection of Aborigines, 1914–74 B300, 7037 PART 2
Protection of Aborigines, 1914–74 B300, 7037 PART 3
Protection of Aborigines, 1914–74 B300, 7037 PART 4
Division of Import Procurement – cotton dress prints suitable for Aborigines available for distribution from Lend Lease Stocks, 1943 D1975, Z1943/1009
Parts played by Australian Aborigines in the war, 1945–46 D844, 73A/1/3
Social service benefits paid to Aborigines, 1951–54 D678, A451
Aborigines, 1957–61 D678, A1 PART 5
Aborigines, 1957–61 D678, A1 PART 6
Aborigines, 1957–61 D678, A1 PART 7
Complaints by organisations in South Australia concerning welfare of part-Aboriginal children in South Australia, 1967 F1, 1967/4619

From 1967 Commonwealth responsibility for Aboriginal matters lay with the Prime Minister (1967–71), then briefly the Department of the Vice-president of the Executive Council until the creation of the Department of Environment, Aborigines and the Arts in May 1971. A separate Commonwealth Department of Aboriginal Affairs was created in December 1972. The department was responsible for matters related to the Aboriginal people of Australia; development and administration of national policies for the advancement and welfare of Aboriginal people, including administration of welfare activities in the territories; and special laws for Aboriginal people.

In South Australia the department maintained its principal state office in Adelaide, with regional offices in Ceduna and Port Augusta. The department was superseded by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission in 1990.

Information about Aboriginal people and issues can be found in the records of the central office of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, as well as in the state office and Port Augusta area office files.

Canberra and Sydney
Recorded by: Department of Aboriginal Affairs, State Office, South Australia
Correspondence files, 1973–93 D864
General correspondence files, 1976– D4015
Project funding (grants) files, 1973–90 D4326
Planning and project funding files, 1975–91 D3756
Press cuttings, 1971–84 D1953
Newspaper clippings, 1980–2005 (Maintained by State Office until 1990) D4970
Emu conference papers on future land management, 1988 D4742
Recorded by: Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Central Office
Aboriginal Affairs photographic negatives, 1974–78 A8739
Recorded by: Australian Information Service, Canberra
Photographic transparencies, 'AK' (Aboriginal Affairs), 1980 A8598
Recorded by: Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Ceduna Branch Office
Newspaper clippings, 1980–2005 (Maintained by Ceduna Office from 1990) D4970
Correspondence files, 1973–90 D4224
Ceduna Branch Office correspondence files, 1975–90 D3973
Recorded by: Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Port Augusta Office
General correspondence files, 1973–90 D4319
Project funding (grants) files, 1973–90 D4312
Recorded by: South Australian Aborigines Department
Index cards relating to deceased and exempt Aboriginal people, 1917–57 D4770
Recorded by: Department of Labour and National Service, Branch Office, South Australia
Aboriginal survey of the Northern Territory and South Australia – country and metropolitan areas, 1972 AP849/17


Chapter 1
Aboriginal people