Horrors of North West WA exposed: 1904 Article

Rape and Slavery of Aboriginal people in Australia

This Perth newspaper report was published in 1904, one year before a Royal Commission into the gross abuses of First Nations people in the north of the Western Australian - The Royal Commission, 'The condition of the natives' WA 1905. As with all the other Royal Commissions relating to the ongoing abuses towards the First Nations people on this continent, the government documented the inhuman details then left the reports on the shelves in their archives to rot.


Statement by William Harris
Published in the Sunday Times (Perth WA) Sunday 24 April 1904, Page 5
View actual Newspaper Report
Source: TROVE Newspapers


Trove Article

Sunday Times (WA)
Sun 24 Apr 1904 Page 5
View actual Newspaper Report
Source: TROVE Newspapers

In accordance with the promise we made to our readers last week we publish to-day the statement of Mr William Harris. This gentleman, as we have already informed our readers is an educated half-caste, whose large heart is full of sympathy for the colored race, the original proprietors of Australian soil, and who are vanishing so rapidly before the advancement of the whites.

We publish his statement as he gave it, taken down at the time by a reporter. One thing was manifest as he proceeded with his narrative - he was anxious to inform us that it would be wrong to class all the Nor'-West squatters in one group.

He stopped occasionally to explain that in the Ashburton district respect for law and morals was far more evident than it was in the Gascoyne.

He was emphatic that in all the districts good benevolent men, who would, treat the blacks As Human Beings ought to be treated, were to be found. On the flogging cruelty of the Andersons, only about seven years ago, he was particularly severe.

He manifestly shuddered with horror at the thought of it, though he himself had personally seen other floggings, Elsewhere we publish a full report of the Anderson trial, and repeat here, what we have said in effect in another column, that the leniency shown by the Government to this man, who in cold blood helped to murder three blacks by administering a brutal flogging with a knotted rope upon the help- less creatures, who were mercilessly bound with cords before the murderous castigation was inflicted, goes far to secure credit for the statement of Mr Harris.

We invite Mr Kingsmill and Mr Princep to read this statement, carefully, and, if they can we invite them to reply to it, and we assure them they shall have all the space they re- quire in the SUNDAY TIMES for such a pur- pose. Our object is the truth, and we will gag no man who has the truth to tell on such an important subject. However, the reader is anxious to know what Mr Harris has to say and we at once introduce His Statement.

"I have read the cables about Mr Walter Malcolmson's letter to the London Times, and the comments in the newspapers, and from my own experience of the Nor'-West squatters and the blacks can say his statements are absolutely justified. If they have any fault it is that they don't go far enough.

Mr Malcolmson only knows a little of what transpires in the Nor'-West; it stands to reason he hasn't seen much of it. He couldn't possibly have seen much. If he had worked with pearlers and squatters, like I have, and had hunted the poor black men like you hunt kangaroo (as I have done to my shame) and seen scores of natives bullied into signing away their freedom, and yet been in close touch with the natives themselves, he would be able to write with more effect of matters that would make the blood of decent white men boil in their veins.
The whole truth about the treatment of blacks in the Nor- west hasn't been written. It may never be written. Only a book written by a man who knows both peoples could express and number. The Horrible Cruelties inflicted by savage, brutish dogs in the shape of white men on the helpless men and women and children in their power.

Only a book could do justice to the legalised slavery called the "indenture system," the hunting of men like wild beasts, the barbarous flogging of the slaves, the chaining of untried prisoners, and the brutal lust which respects not mother nor wife nor daughter.

I know the Nor'-West intimately, particularly the Gascoyne and Ashburton districts of it. I have worked in the ports and on the stations and with the pearlers, and as for the blacks I don't think there is anyone knows them better.

They are naturally a kindly and affectionate race, the natives. You will hear people run them down and call them treacherous and revengeful, but this is not the case with them as a people. They are mild, Good-hearted Folk at bottom, and properly treated by the whites they will show it.

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Illustration from source article

In the Nor'-West, except in isolated instances, they don't get a chance to show it. They have been so mercilessly despised and oppressed by their white owners and rulers that their feeling towards the whites is that of an enslaved people. Take the Anderson case. The none Help blacks haven't forgotten the circumstances of that awful affair-how could they?

Even at this distance they recall it with horror. Here is another case - a typical instance of cruelty. A station-manager on the Minilya used to flog his blacks with a handsaw. The ordinary handle was taken off and a straight one substituted so that the man using it could give weight to his blows, and with this cruel instrument of torture men, women and children were flogged indiscriminately.

Once two of the white station hands took the thing and threw it in the river, but some Picaninnies Found lt. and fetched it back to the woolshed, and the manager again used it to beat his blacks with.

These particulars are absolutely true, and I could bring dozens to prove them. The manager's name is P. H. Mansfield, and he now runs a station on the Upper Yanarie. There is also the affair of two JP's on the Ashburton, who were struck off the roll for cruelty to the natives. One of them had a woman chained to a verandah post, when the police came up. There are numerous cases of this sort if the truth could only be got at.

On the Gascoyne I once saw 54 natives chained in two strings. They were in chains all day to my knowledge, and I was told they slept in them, too. The police in that district make a practise of chaining any natives they may arrest. On one occasion they arrested several blackfellows about 200 miles from Carnarvon, chained them with their right arms up to their necks, and kept them Chained Night and Day during the tramp to the township, where they were to be tried.

The police, when they went out to arrest natives, used never to be in a hurry to get back. They got a daily allowance of money from the Government for every native they arrested, and the allowance lasted between the time they made the arrest and the time they returned to the police station. The natives could be fed very cheaply by shooting game, so that these expeditions were very often profitable to the police.

At Roebourne I have seen scores of native prisoners lying in a fierce summer sun chained to wheelbarrows. So much for personal cruelty.

With regard to sexual relations, many whites in the Norwest, act as if the native women lived only to minister to their lust They keep women openly. If a white man desires a native woman, no matter whether she is girl or Wife or Mother, he can say - "I want you tonight; you stay in camp"- and she dare not refuse.

The white squatter is absolute master of the blacks on his station, and he generally acts like it. If he is a bad specimen of his class, his lust knows no bounds. Of course there are good and bad whites, as there are blacks, and these remarks do not apply to them. Many of these I know and respect, and the blacks respect them. I am only speaking of the wicked whites in the Nor'-West.

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Illustration from source article

In general I may say that if the whites want to have their will of a native woman they have it. They don't recognise any barrier of white law or native custom. A white man desiring a blackfellow's wife doesn't pay any attention to the blackfellow. If he resists he risks a flogging. If she resists she risks a flogging. A black man is therefore powerless to prevent his wife being dishonored or his daughter defiled if a brutal employer is inclined to act that way.

Can you wonder none Help then, why the blacks don't love the whites? And now I will come to the indenture system, the cause of nearly all the natives' miseries and the devilish legal instrument which enables savage, lustful squatters and their henchmen to practice all their abominable cruelties and enslavements and lusts. It is nothing but legalised slavery. I don't see how it could be called anything else. Under it the squatter gets all and the native nothing-except tucker and brutality. It gives the squatter the right to force a native to work for an indefinite period and denies the black the advantage of competition. It makes the white absolute master of the black for a term of years, and if the white cares to be unscrupulous, he can extend the license to what is practically slavery for life.

The supervision supposed to be exercised by the Aborigines Department amounts to nothing. There is not one case of this sort in a hundred where the native understands what he is doing. I have never known an interpreter to be employed to translate the assignment to the black. It is either read over in English (to a black who perhaps doesn't understand English, or knows a few words at most) or it isn't read at all.

In most cases the native told gruffly to "Come Over Here and make your mark!" The squatters or station-managers, being mostly J's.P., can sign a man over to slavery and go after him if he escapes without any interference from the authorities. A more complete system of slavery there couldn't be. What chance has the native got under this cruel law?

If the assignment system didn't exist the native could go to work where it best suited him, as every white worker can. The indenture prevents that. Once it is signed the squatter knows his slave can't be taken from him by any offer of better treatment and better tucker. He may escape for a while - and the blacks rarely manage to get clean away. But he can't go to any neighbouring squatter. And that is just the beauty of the indenture system to the Nor'- west squatter.

It may easily be seen what the method of procuring blacks for slave purposes is like. It is mostly compulsion, pure and simple, Two women were once taken from a Gascoyne tribe and brought down to slavery on an Ashburton station. One of them afterwards cleared out and tried to make back to her native district. She Was Murdered by a native on Forrest and Burt's station.

The pearlers used to send out parties into the bush to bring in natives for their luggers. These man-hunts were quite a regular thing, and were done without any secrecy. I took part in two of them myself - to my shame, I say it. There were eight in the party - six whites and two natives and thirteen or fourteen horses. We went into the bush and captured as many natives as we could take with us. The whites just took whatever natives they pleased and the latter were too frightened to resist.

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Illustration from source article

The camp at night was a curious spectacle. The packs were arranged in a kind of semi-circle - the horses would be away feeding - and on the inside of this were the captive natives, lying flat and close together, with their heads against the packs. A long blanket, made of rugs tied together, was underneath them, and another one was above, and a white man lay on each end of the upper covering, rendering it Tight and Stiff.

If any movement were made by a native the men at the ends would feel it and give the alarm, if need were. There was another precaution against escape. A white man, armed to the teeth and carrying a heavy waddy walked up and down the row of blacks the whole night long, and if any poor blackfellow made, an attempt to stir from his prostrate position - it might be merely to change his position - down would come the stick with a whack on his unfortunate body.

At the first sign of light the camp would get up, put away a hasty breakfast, and go on the track again; for with all their watchfulness blacks would sometimes get away in the night, and, as the whites well knew, they were perfectly safe in the daytime. These natives always got good tucker, that being given to make them contented, but if they resisted capture or got obstinate on the track they would be beaten until they were half dead.

This is the way the pearlers used to get their black slaves, and the squatters Follow Similar Methods in the pastoral districts today. If they want a native they get him, by persuasion, if possible; if not, then by force. But the whites are not the only enemies of the Nor'- west blacks - those who have come in contact with the white race, I mean. There are a dozen or so black bushrangers, each with several murders to his account, who terrorise the other natives and rob and murder with impunity. The latter can't take vengeance upon them, because if they did the white man's law would hang them for it - or at least they think so. And the white authorities either can't or won't give them any protection.

You can see the injustice of this to the blacks. If they were allowed to exercise their tribal mode of punishment they wouldn't allow the murderers to live a week, but being under the white man's law, and believing, whether rightly or wrongly, that one native who kills another will be hanged in the white man's prison their hands are stayed; they are at the mercy of these black bushrangers.

These facts have been clearly pointed out to Mr Prinsep, The So-called Protector of Aborigines, but he has done and will do nothing. For all the protection it gives the Nor-West blacks, the Department might as well not exist. It seems to be run more as a blanket to cover the unknown deeds of inhuman whites than as an instrument to make the lot of the poor natives any better.

So long as it exists in its present form no improvement can be expected in the treatment of the natives.

These are some of the facts of the condition of the Nor'-West blacks under white rule, and they are God's truth. The natives are a slave race, nothing else. There are exceptions, of course; some of them are kindly treated, for there are some good squatters, though there are many bad ones. But under the iniquitous indenture system the mass of them are real slaves. Neglected by the Aborigines' Department, ill-treated (not protected) by the police, flogged and ravished by brutal whites, enslaved by the indenture system this is the situation of the poor natives in the Nor'-West to-day, as it has been for years; and that it should be so is a foul stain on the boasted civilisation of the white race."

Postscript added by the newspaper editor:

We have only to add to Mr Harris' statement that if one tithe of what he has said be Fix this text true, and we have no clear reason for doubting his word, then a Royal Commission should be appointed to sift out the truth and put terror into the hearts of the wrong doers. For Mr Harris we may vouch that he is ready when called upon to go before any tribunal for such a purpose in this State appointed, and there to swear to and bring evidence to prove the truth of his statement.

If you are interested in a more comprehensive view of the abuses in the North of WA we recommend the following links:-
       Treatment of Aboriginal Prisoners, Charges against the Police 1905
       Royal Commission 'The condition of the natives' Perth WA 1905