For Their Own Good

Written by Karen Wyld, this short story was first published in Meanjin Spring 2018

*Content warning: This piece contains archaic terms that are now considered offensive. It refers to abusive policies from past eras, such as segregation, assimilation and the forced removal of children.

 

15 October 1918
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

As instructed, I have travelled to Jigalong depot to ascertain the number of native girls currently residing in the vicinity. I was accompanied by Mr Arthur Williams, whose business was to make delivery of livestock to the depot.

There has been an influx of vagrants seeking work at the depot. Mostly returned soldiers who are no longer fit to serve, and a few men dodging their patriotic duties. For now, these men have been put to use repairing the rabbit fence. Depot Manager Jack Grey informs me that there have been no serious disturbances.

Williams’ good wife Martha made the journey with us. Her presence proved to be invaluable, as she was able to speak directly with the native women that frequent the depot. There would appear to be four girls fitting your criteria:

Mary. Half-caste of approximately 13 years. She is not unsightly, with some intelligence. Grey informs me that she is spending too much time around the workers. I believe this would be of concern to you.

Bernadette. Quadroon. 10 years. Mother unknown. Is being looked after by what she says is her aunt, who has three children of her own. Mary being one of these.

Betsy. Full-blood. Well developed. Perhaps 16 years old. Shy.

Ruby. Half-caste of 17 years. I understand she is betrothed to a tribal man some years older. She has worked for a local pastoralist’s wife and appears to be in good health.

I await further instructions.

Yours truthfully
Sergeant Thomas McKenzie
Port Hedland Police Station

5 December 1918
Sergeant T McKenzie
Port Hedland Police Station

Sergeant McKenzie

I acknowledge receipt of your letter dated 15 October and note several concerning matters within your report.

With more men soon to return from overseas service, it is urgent that something be done about girls that run wild. Our men need to find good women, to set themselves up for the future, and not have native girls catching their eyes.

My instructions are:

The younger half-caste must be transported to the newly opened Moore River Native Settlement as soon as possible. It would appear she is suitable for training in domestic services, so will be of good use.

The quadroon must accompany her. She is still of an age where she may yet acquire the sensibilities and grace akin to the white race.

Please instruct the depot manager to keep the full-blood away from the men. He is to evict trouble-makers if need be.

Speak with the father of the older half-caste and confirm she is to be mated with the tribal man. Persuade the family to hurry the process, if need be.

I await news of my instructions having been satisfactorily completed.

A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines

27 January 1919
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

I have gone to the depot at the first available moment. The delay was due to my horse coming down lame.

I can report the older girls will not be a problem. Betsy has not been seen near the depot for some time. It is believed she accompanied her band to the north-east. And Ruby is now residing at her husband’s camp.

The younger girls will be removed as soon as I determine the best way to transport them to Moore River. May I ask the amount that will be paid to undertake your orders to remove these two?

Yours truthfully
Sergeant Thomas McKenzie
Port Hedland Station

19 February 1919
Sergeant McKenzie

Dammit man, get yourself a vehicle STOP There will be no funds allocated to transport the girls STOP Remove them immediately STOP

Chief Protector

1 March 1919
Sergeant Tom McKenzie
Port Hedland

Sarge

More men have arrived at the depot. I do not have enough work for the men already here, let alone more. Despite best attempts, I have not been able to move them all on, and some have set up camp close by.

There has been excessive drinking amongst this motley crew and some are prone to fighting. Natives are interacting with them. I fear that there will be trouble soon.

Jack Grey
Jigalong Depot

17 March 1919
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

I do not know how I will find the resources to transport the girls to Moore River, but I will undertake your instructions forthwith.

I had cause to return to the depot, following a letter from the manager (enclosed).

The troublemakers have been moved on, and I have notified other police stations in the region to keep an eye out for them.

At least two women left the native camp with these itinerants. It will be some time before it is known if any of the remaining women were left with child. I will keep you informed.

In regard to the girls Mary and Bernadette, I will ask Mrs Williams for assistance in caring for them until I can arrange their passage to Moore River.

Yours truthfully
Sergeant Thomas McKenzie
Port Hedland Police Station

6 June 1919
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

These girls have been in our care for some time, and I respectfully request to know your intent.

It is not that they are useless or bothersome. The older one, Mary, is a fair worker. Bernadette is too young to be of much help, but she is obedient. Despite this, my wife has taken a shine to the youngest and would like permission to keep her.

Your humble servant,
Mr A Williams
Juna Downs Station

20 June 1919
Sergeant Tom McKenzie

Sarge

Betsy has returned. With an infant, who is much lighter. I suspect she went with one of the men before she left the depot last year.

Jack Grey
Jigalong Depot

7 July 1919
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

I had reason to remove a babe in arms from Jigalong depot. I saw no other option but to remove him immediately.

Betsy, the mother, was in relations with the father of the child. An Irish man known to drink heavily and consort with the natives. He has been evicted from the depot. After I removed the child, Betsy left the area.

I have placed the infant with the Williams, who still have care of the two Jigalong girls.

Yours truthfully
Sergeant Thomas McKenzie
Port Hedland Police Station

19 August 1919
Sergeant McKenzie

You have acted appropriately STOP Send all three to Moore River immediately STOP My office will reimburse you for expenses STOP

Chief Protector of Aborigines

20 August 1919
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

I believe you are aware that we had the infant born of Betsy in our care. Regrettably the boy has passed away. Doctor Thomas says it was influenza. The two girls, Mary and Bernadette, have been examined by the doctor and have been given a clean bill of health.

My wife’s sister, Mrs William Lewis, has agreed to escort the children south. I will take them to her at Mauds Landing, from where they will travel by sea to Geraldton. Sister Ruth will meet them there and accompany the girls to Moore River Native Settlement.

Have you considered the prior request of allowing the youngest, Bernadette, to remain in our care? My wife has developed a great fondness for the girl and has asked me to make a plea on her behalf.

I remain your obedient and humble servant,

Mr A Williams
Juna Downs Station

4 January 1920
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Sir

I regret to inform you that Sergeant Tom McKenzie has passed away. He fell off his horse, whilst returning home from the annual New Year’s Eve dance.

I have taken on his duties at the station until a replacement is sent from Perth.

Senior Constable Alf Browne
Port Hedland Police Station

30 September 1921
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

This week past, Betsy came looking for the boy. My wife broke the news to her. The girl did not take it well at all.

She had an infant with her, of approximately 12 months of age. He is darker than the first boy, but not overly so. I enquired as to his full-blood status, and Betsy replied in the affirmative. Given the appearance of the child, I believe she is not being truthful.

Betsy was visibly unwell when she arrived here and passed out on the doorstep shortly after hearing of the death of her firstborn. When she came around, she was in so much pain I had to drive the girl to Port Hedland. She was diagnosed with acute appendicitis. She is also suffering from rheumatic heart disease, so will need to stay in Port Hedland for some time.

The boy remains in the care of my wife. Betsy has been most distressed about this, but she is clearly not fit to give proper care to the boy. Her condition is not stable, so she must remain at the hospital for at least another two months. They have her doing light domestic duties, to contribute to the cost of her care.

I humbly seek your advice as to the infant.

Your humble and obedient servant,
Mr A Williams
Juna Downs Station

27 October 1921
Snr Constable A Browne
Port Hedland Police Station

Senior Constable Browne

Why did you not see fit to inform me of that native girl’s extended stay at the Port Hedland hospital? Nor did you pass on knowledge of her child.

I trust that this will not happen again.

A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines

10 December 1921
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Sir

Betsy is no longer here. The Williams brought the child with them on a recent visit to town. Betsy saw them from the hospital verandah. The interaction, by all reports, was calm. However, when Mr Williams started up the car, Betsy snatched the boy and took off.

Mr Williams drove around town, and a short distance along the coastal roads to the south and north. Mother and child were nowhere to be seen.

Having conferred with Mr Williams, I believe she has gone inland. Mr Williams and I are of the firm opinion that it will be impossible to track the girl.

Sergeant Browne
Port Hedland Police Station

24 December 1921

Sergeant Browne

Why did you not take pursuit STOP Make use of a tracker and go fetch that child STOP No reimbursement will be paid to your station STOP Your negligence is of the greatest seriousness STOP

Chief Protector of Aborigines

10 January 1928
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

I have been asked to conduct a marriage service on two young persons. They are both over twenty-one years of age, but I believe you still require notification of these types of relations.

The woman, Ruby, grew up in the Newman region. She has been a resident in Roebourne for over four years and is a regular churchgoer. This is where she and my gardener Tommy O’Brien made their acquaintance.

They have been stepping out for a year and a half, in what I believe is a chaste relationship. They seek to be wedded here at Holy Trinity.

Ruby has a son of six years from a previous relationship. The boy is sturdy and of high intelligence. Tommy is good to the lad and is willing to raise him as his own. It is without reservation that I endorse this union.

Yours faithfully,
Rev. Samuel Bond
Holy Trinity Church
Roebourne

17 February 1928
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

I can confirm that Tommy O’Brien is indeed a half-caste. He currently holds a permit to live in the township of Roebourne. It is my recommendation that this permit be revoked.

Recently O’Brien housed his mother and older brother, both residents of Gascoyne Native Mission. We have reason to believe that the brother consumed alcohol whilst under his roof.

Senior Sergeant Richard Jones
Roebourne Police Station

20 March 1928
Reverend Samuel Bond
Holy Trinity Church
Roebourne

Reverend Bond

Permission to marry these two natives is denied. Roebourne police have been instructed to remove the child forthwith.

A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines

5 April 1928
A R Norman
Chief Protector of Aborigines
Perth

Dear Sir

I have revoked Tommy O’ Brien’s permit and he has moved back to the mission.

The woman escaped with the child before I could carry out your instructions. There has been no sighting of either woman or boy. I and my men will keep an eye out as to their whereabouts.

Senior Sergeant Richard Jones
Roebourne Police Station

22 November 1936
Sister Augustus
Moore River Native Settlement

Sister Augustus

I have a small matter that needs urgent attention, as I approach retirement. It is concerning one of your girls, by the name of Bernadette. My records show that many years ago I requested Bernadette be moved from Jigalong and sent to Moore River.

It has come to my attention that she has been caring for the children of a Patrick Walsh for several years. It is my understanding that Walsh was left a widower after his wife passed away suddenly. I believe there are three children of that union.

I seek your counsel. Bernadette has become betrothed to Walsh. Do you believe her to be of suitable quality to raise these children as their lawful mother?

Yours sincerely
A R Norman

15 December 1936
A R Norman
Perth

Dear Alton

I can assure you that Bernadette is a godly woman and will raise those poor motherless children with the word of Our Lord on her lips. It is unfortunate that she did not take up with one of her own kind, but I believe she will be a dutiful wife.

I wish you well on your retirement. You have served both state and church well. Your vision for control of the natives, helping them find the Word of God and ensuring they abide the laws of this grand nation, has been praised by many.

May you go with God,
Sister Augustus

The West Australian, 29 December 1936

Tragedy strikes on Christmas Eve

On the eve of his retirement, Mr Alton Randolph Norman passed away in unusual circumstances. A diligent public servant, Norman was working late on Christmas Eve. After many years as Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia, Norman was preparing for a well-deserved retirement.

Tragically, this was not to be the case. On Boxing Day, he was found lying amongst scattered documents, in a bloodied mess. The police and coroner are diligently piecing together Norman’s final hours, but much remains a mystery.

Whilst removing newspaper clippings from his office wall, it would appear the chair Norman had been standing on toppled over. The police believe Norman then bumped his head on a large tribal shield. This artefact had been gifted to him by the women of the Society of Good Grace and Charity, in gratitude of his services.

Norman then appears to have tripped over a pile of paper. The police say this collection of papers included records of the many native children placed in institutions and servitude during Norman’s time as Chief Protector.

When found, Norman’s face, hands and arms were covered in scratches. The coroner has suggested these could be claw marks, from some type of frenzied beast. The police will not confirm this.

The State remains in the debt of Norman. The Premier of Western Australia indicated through a spokesperson that attending Norman’s funeral service would indeed be an honour. Unfortunately, the Premier is in London for the festive season, and is thus unable to return to Australia in time.

Norman, a bachelor of high regard, leaves behind no descendants. Tibbles, Norman’s cherished companion, has not been seen since his most untimely death.

27 June 1940
Mrs Ruby O’Brien
Kalgoorlie

Dear Mother

I have enlisted. I’ve until the 7th of July to report for duty, so I won’t be here when you and father return. I think they will be shipping us out as soon as possible.

I will write. I promise. Say good-bye to father for me. And tell Dolly she can have my Ginger Meggs comics.

Love you. I never told you that enough.

Johnny

20 November 1940
Mrs William Lewis
Mauds Landing

My dear Sarah

I trust you are well. It is such trying times we live in. A war so soon after the one that our dear father died in. My Arthur was deemed unfit to serve in either. My thoughts are with your son, Bill.

Do you remember Ruby? The girl that sometimes helped us during shearing season? Her son Johnny signed up.  Light enough to pass for one of our boys, so I’m sure he’ll fit in well enough.

But Ruby is beside herself, as she has had no word since he left. I doubt young Johnny can even write his name, let alone a whole letter.

At least she has a daughter for comfort. A beautiful girl. Hazel eyes like her father’s. Tommy is a good man. Stays out of trouble now that he has nothing to do with his family. My Arthur always praises Tommy’s shearing skills—fast and no cuts. The sheep practically fall asleep in his arms.

I do hope you receive news of Bill soon. I wish all our men were safely home, but they must do their duty. And we must wait for news.

Your loving sister,
Martha

25 April 2000
Ms Marcie Martin
Broome, WA

Dear Ms Martin

My sincerest apologies for this letter out of the blue. I write because I may have items belonging to your family. These items have been in my care for many decades, and I would very much like to be able to pass them on to the right person.

It is a box of notebooks. Not just any notebooks. These are full of bird drawings of an exquisite quality. Each one accompanied with ornithological notes showing a high degree of knowledge.

I believe that you are the great-granddaughter of Mary Wallace, who was born near Jigalong in the early 1900s. I accessed historical documents at the Perth library that allowed me to piece together a snippet of her life. It wasn’t easy—her life or the piecing together—but I think I’ve finally found the right person. Namely you.

It is my understanding that you were born to Mrs Mary James in 1966, in Darwin. And your mother’s mother was Bernadette Wallace, the only child of Mary Wallace.

Your great-grandmother Mary must have been an amazing woman. After being removed from Jigalong in 1919 at the orders of A R Norman, Chief Protector for Aborigines WA, Mary was sent to Moore River Native Settlement. There she received very limited education. Like the many other Aboriginal children removed at the time, she was instructed in practical skills to enable her to become a domestic.

In 1921, at the age of 15, she was sent to work for the Wallaces at Margaret Manor, Margaret River. Henry and Florence Wallace quickly took to young Mary and requested to adopt her. This request was denied by Mr Norman, but he did allow Mary to remain in their service.

Henry Wallace noticed how bright your great-grandmother was and took it upon himself to educate her. Whilst Florence taught Mary skills such as embroidery and drawing. It was not the norm to provide such learnings to Aboriginal children in that era, but the Wallaces had enough wealth to ensure their occasional idiosyncrasies were tolerated by the community.

She was very fond of birds, so the Wallaces encouraged Mary to combine her sharp intelligence with her fine eye for drawing. With an appreciation for nature, Mr Wallace took young Mary on field trips, and Mrs Wallace sometimes accompanied them with a picnic basket.

Your great-grandmother had an idyllic life in the Wallace household, but she still pined for her family. So, the kindly couple promised to find the whereabouts of Mary’s mother.

Sadly, tragedy struck before she could be located. Mr and Mrs Wallace were involved in a car accident in 1925. Police records state that the accident may have occurred when a gaggle of geese entered the road. Mr Wallace seems to have pulled too far to the left, and into a steep ditch. He and his wife most probably died instantly.

I managed to piece this together from newspaper clippings and talking with Margaret River historians. What happened after that is much harder to find traces of.

Mary, having reached the age of 19, was too old to return to Moore River. And despite being named as the sole beneficiary in the Wallaces’ will, she was evicted from the premises. Aboriginal women in that era were not allowed to own property. A distant cousin of Henry’s was located, who swiftly sent Mary packing.

However, Mary took with her the surname Wallace, which was given to her informally by Henry and Florence. I believe she tried to find domestic work in the region, but to no avail. When an old friend of Henry’s offered Mary some unusual work, she took it immediately.

Which is how Mary came to be an illustrator for Mr Stanley Gilbert, a well-known ornithologist. And although it was odd for a man of his years to have a young woman working for him, neither of them seemed to care for convention.

Stanley Gilbert passed away in 1929. It is believed that he left Mary money in such a manner that no-one could take it from her. A few months later, your grandmother was born. I have found no record of Bernadette’s father, but I believe she was named after Mary’s cousin.

Anyway, I digress. When Mary Wallace left Margaret Manor in 1929 she took only what she could carry. Her notebooks were left behind to gather dust. I acquired them, and a few other treasures, at a deceased estate auction.

I am an old man, without anyone to leave my earthly goods to. If I can find a relative of Mary’s to hand on her notebooks, then I will rest easier. I do hope I have found the right Marcie; that you are indeed the great-granddaughter of Mary.

Please contact me, as I dearly wish for the notebooks to find their rightful home.

Yours sincerely
Mr Frederick McSweeney

Note: This is a work of fiction. It draws on historical records and government documents, but the events and characters are purely fictional.
It must be noted that some terms used in this piece (such as ‘full blood’, ‘quadroon’, ‘half-caste’ and ‘native’) are offensive. And other terms have changed (i.e. Aborigine is sometimes still used in Tasmania but Aboriginal is used on the mainland). These words are utilised here to highlight the systemic racism embedded in the policies of the past.
Many thousands of children, known as the stolen generations, were forcibly removed from loving families and communities between 1900 and 1980. This widespread removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, based on blood-quantum categories designed by non-Indigenous people, was undoubtedly an act of genocide; as were systematic attempts to deprive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women of reproduction rights and to control their relationships.
Although the generational impact of past injustices is still evident, First Peoples continue to resist settler-colonist attempts to destroy their communities, language, culture and Country.

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