Report on Aborigines

Morning Chronicle, Sydney

17 December 1845

We have received the Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council appointed to inquire into the condition of the aborigines of this Colony, and we must confess, not without some disappointment at the very meagre shape in which it is put forth.

The Report is comprised in the following paragraph: The Select Committee of the Legislative Council, appointed on the 19th of August, 1845, "to consider the condition of the Aborigines, and the best means of promoting their welfare", beg to report that they have forwarded copies of the circular annexed hereto, to every part of the Colony, but have as yet received answers to a few only.

Different members of the Committee have undertaken to produce, next year, from their several districts, intelligent aborigines able to state their own views of their condition; a species of testimony so desirable that, if with no other view than to obtain it, your Committee would have forborne to make a final Report this session; your Committee purpose, at present, to do no more than report, the evidence they have already taken, and the means by which they hope to obtain more. Richard Windeyer, Chairman, Legislative Council Chambers, Sydney, Oct. 30, 1845.

Such is the whole of the Report on this most important and pressing subject; and it appears to us, that we have ample grounds for considering it to be vague and meagre; for though the Committee were not prepared "to make a final report " we do think they might, with the evidence they had before them, have thrown out, with the greatest propriety some suggestions, or recommended some measures which would have tended to the immediate amelioration to a certain extent, of the present wretched condition of the aboriginal possessors of the soil.

We are, however, inclined to the opinion, that the committee have acted less from a sense of propriety, than from a fear to meet boldly the difficulties with which the subject is surrounded, difficulties which we admit to be great but not insuperable; and that it is from a fear of this kind that they have shuffled off for another year the consideration of the question, lest by at once grappling with it, the stern and inflexible demands of justice should compel them to go beyond what they may deem expedient.

The evidence which has been taken by the Committee, and which is published along with the Report, is extremely valuable.

Only, four witnesses were examined, viz. Mahroot, an aboriginal native, his Grace the Archbishop of Sydney, James Malcolm, Esq., and the Rev William Schmidt, but in addition to the evidence of the above witnesses, answers to the circular letter of the committee were received from thirty magistrates and benches of magistrates in various parts of the Colony; from G. A. Robinson, Esq., Chief Protector of Aborigines at Port Phillip, from Edward Parker and William Thomas, Esqrs., Assistant Protectors, and from John Walton, Esq., surgeon in charge of the western aboriginal establishment.

Many of the facts disclosed by this body of evidence are of the most appalling description, and such as cannot be contemplated without a shudder.

It is evident that the aborigines are fast being swept away from the face of their native soil, and, that unless something is done immediately to arrest the progress of destruction, the race will ere many years have passed, become extinct.

Already in some districts, the tribes have disappeared; and where a few years ago they could, be counted by hundreds, they can now only be reckoned by fifties.

We are quite aware that many very well meaning individuals are ready to express an opinion, and have really brought themselves to believe "that the blacks have disappeared before the march of civilization; and we have no doubt will at no distant period be extinct;" but the reading' of the evidence now published by the Select Committee, will show that the unfortunate aborigines instead of disappeared "before the march of civilization," have fallen victims to the most ruthless passions of the whites; and to loathsome diseases, engendered by their intercourse with men little more advanced in the stage of civilization than themselves.

It is clear beyond a doubt that barbarism and not civilization, has effected the mischief already done, and is rapidly effecting much more. Such a mass of human depravity, as this evidence discloses, it has seldom fallen to our lot to contemplate, and it is this depravity alone which is the origin of the rapid decrease which is daily taking place in the numbers of the aborigines.

The committee, we do think, might have suggested some plan to check this horrid and extensively prevailing depravity; they might, have recommended, the trial of some scheme which would at all events have had the effect of partially rescuing from utter destruction a remnant of the aboriginal race; but having failed to do this, having neglected to offer a single suggestion of any kind whatever, we feel bound to charge the committee with not having discharged faithfully the high and important duty it was called upon to perform.

We know, as we have already said, that the subject is one encompassed with difficulties, but the obstacles with which it is surrounded are not insurmountable; there is a plan, and in our opinion the only plan, by which the condition of the former lords of' the soil may be ameliorated, by which their race may be rescued from extinction, and by which they may be gradually brought within the pale of civilization and Christianity.

This plan was hinted at by two of the witnesses, or rather by one of the witnesses, his Grace the Archbishop of' Sydney, and in one of the replies to the committee's circular, that of Henry Bingham, Esq , J.P., Commissioner of Crown Lands for the district of Murrumbidgee, in answer to the 18th question of the circular letter.

His Grace the Archbishop says, "I conceive that if the Government were to take care of the aborigines, and give them tracts of land on which they might congregate, and where they would be in safety, much good might be done, even in the civilized parts of the Colony.

They might be encouraged to have little gardens, and be gradually brought into habits of civilization.

Beyond the boundaries, the only way would be to allot to them certain portions of ground, and to let them have cattle and other things for their use. Instead of protectors with large salaries, industrious, simple, indeed married men, might have the charge of them, to prevent the intrusion of the whites, and to look after their well being and concerns. The natives would soon learn that it was better to tend their cattle, and to be able to kill an ox when they required it, than to hunt the kangaroo or emu.

To natives would have confidence inspired by the fact that they would have an asylum where they would be safe from the aggressions of the whites.

Mr. Bingham observes, "I should recommend a large reserve being made for them, commanding both hunting and fishing grounds, and that a school for the children of both sexes should he formed adjacent to the reserve; in which the young girls might be taught useful domestic arts, and the boys some light employment, combined with gymnastic exercises, and the mind gradually, but not too hastily, led to higher and more important objects, as it expanded to the more ordinary details of improved social life; and when they arrive at a certain age, the young men should be permitted to take wives of those girls, if the parents wished it. I am well aware the subject is one surrounded with great difficulty, but not insurmountable with perseverance."

The plan here suggested by his Grace, and by Mr. Bingham, is one something similar to what we have entertained in our own mind for same time past.

It appears to be the only plan which can be adopted with any hope of success, and we entertain but little doubt that, if tried, it would be eminently successful.

It is, however, a matter of vast importance, and we shall avail ourselves of the first opportunity which presents itself to resume the subject, and enter more fully into the details of such a plan, and urge the Government and the Council to make a trial of it, though even upon a limited scale, convinced as we are that success would crown such an attempt.