The Aborigines Welfare Board (AWB) was constituted under the Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act, 1940 (Act No. 12, 1940), which also dissolved the Board for the Protection of Aborigines (BPA). The Chief Executive was the Superintendent of Aborigines Welfare of the Board for Protection. Mr A.W.G. Lipscomb who had been appointed to this position in February 1939, when it was situated in the BPA, was confirmed in the position on 31 May 1940.
The new Board was comprised as recommended by the Public Service Board’s investigation in 1938. The Under Secretary of the Colonial Secretary's Department was appointed chairman and provision was made for ten other members appointed by the Governor. The members of the Board were as follows:
The Superintendent of Aborigines Welfare (ex officio);
An officer of the Department of Education;
An officer of the Department of Public Health;
A member of the police force belonging to the rank Inspector or higher;
An expert in agriculture;
An expert in sociology and/or anthropology; and
Three other persons appointed by the Minister. (3)
The Board was annually to elect one of its members as Chairman and could determine its own procedures. Four members constituted a quorum. (4) The Governor could appoint a Superintendent of Aborigines Welfare and other necessary employees, (5) and the Board could appoint committees with functions it prescribed. (6)
The duties of the Board were as follows:
To apportion, distribute and apply moneys voted by Parliament and other funds in its possession for the relief or benefit of Aboriginal people; or to assist them in obtaining employment; to maintain them whilst employed or otherwise to assist them to become assimilated into the general life of the community;
To distribute blankets, clothing, and relief to Aboriginal people;
To provide for the custody and maintenance of Aboriginal children;
To manage and regulate the use of reserves;
To exercise a general supervision and care over all Aboriginal people and over all matters affecting their interests and welfare, and to protect them against injustice, imposition and fraud;
To arrange for the inspection at regular intervals of each station and training school under the control of the Board, by the Superintendent of Aborigines Welfare and one or more members of the Board, or by one or more of such other members. (7)
The Board could
establish and name homes for the reception, maintenance, education and training of wards (children admitted to the control of the Board); (8)
indenture wards to apprenticeship or suitable employment. Part of the earnings would pass to the child the balance was forwarded to the Board on behalf of the ward; (9)
bring action against any employer who defaulted on payments due to a ward or who did not comply with the conditions of the indenture of apprenticeship; (10) and anyone who mistreated a ward or assisted a ward to abscond. (11)
Responsibility for the education of Aboriginal children, previously a responsibility of the Board for the Protection of Aborigines, was transferred to the Department of Education. (12)
In its first year of operation the Aboriginal Welfare Board administered 19 stations with a total of 3068 residents and fifty reserves with a combined population of 2124. (13) The Board was also responsible for the Cootamundra Girls’ Training Home, the Kinchela Boys’ Training Home and the Bomaderry Children’s Home for babies and younger children. (14)
Action was taken on several of the recommendations of the Public Service Board inquiry that had reported in August 1938. These included
Development of the agricultural potential of the various Aboriginal stations. The Board sought advice from the Department of Agriculture concerning appropriate land use in addition to encouraging the establishment of individual gardens at the private homes on the Stations (15) and
Separation of the roles of station manager and teacher although lack of staff and the remoteness of some stations created challenges for this task, and the last station was not separated until 1956. (16)
New recordkeeping systems were introduced to the agency particularly in regard to the stations. These included station registers that recorded the particulars of residents; card record systems of all plant and buildings (including new works) on Aboriginal stations; medical history; and employment records. (17) With assistance from the Government Architect’s Branch the plans and specifications for the buildings on the stations and reserves were improved. (18)
The Board was reconstituted by the Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act, 1943 (Act No.13, 1943). The Board was now to comprise eleven members, two of whom were Aboriginal people at least one of whom was full blooded. (19) The Act also increased the functions of the Board by authorising it to acquire land for the purposes of sale, lease or transfer, to erect buildings on the land, and sell or lease the land and any buildings on it to any Aboriginal person according to covenants or conditions that the Board determined. (20) The amendments also authorised the Board to issue certificates of exemption from the Aborigines Protection Act, 1909, to selected Aboriginal people, conferring rights of full citizenship on a conditional basis. (21) In addition, the Act enabled the Board to organise for Aboriginal children to be boarded out to approved foster parents as an alternative to placing the children in one of the homes controlled by the Board. (22)
Implementation of the provisions of this amending legislation was slow. Finance delayed the acquisition of land for lease or sale. The regulations relating to Exemptions from the Act and Boarding out of children were not promulgated until 21 April 1944 (23); and owing to determining procedures for, and conducting an election for the Aboriginal representatives on the Board the Act did not commence until 5 July 1945. (24) Exemption certificates were being issued by 1946 when 38 were granted from 47 applications, and Boarding out to private homes both on Aboriginal Stations or Reserves or in independent private homes. (25)
In the financial year 1947/48 the Board resolved to appoint welfare officers to assist and guide Aboriginal people, encourage participation in local and sporting events and work in co-operation with health and other community workers. For this purpose the State was divided into eight areas each of which would eventually be staffed by a welfare officer. The first welfare officer was based in Casino to serve the North Coast District. (26) Welfare officers assisted Aboriginal people to find employment; and attended court hearings with them. They visited Aboriginal Stations and Reserves and Aboriginal families living independently within their areas. (27) A female Welfare Inspector was appointed by 1950 working specifically with the problems associated with women, children and adolescent girls. (28)
By 1948 the Board commenced a program of higher quality housing on Stations and Reserves. The planned houses were to be “well constructed four or five roomed cottages, provided with a cooking stove, bathroom and laundry and with a good water supply. Projects in various stages of progress were reported at Murrin Bridge (Lake Cargelligo), Taree, Moree, Quirindi, Cabbage Tree Island (Wardell), La Perouse and Tabulum. (29) Meantime the plan to assist Aboriginal people to purchase their own homes was beset by difficulties including availability of suitable land and the high cost of construction. (30) By 1950 the Board had developed plans to establish Aboriginal housing in several towns including Cowra, Yass, Coonabarabran and Nambucca Heads. It was believed that this would give the residents improved access to medical, educational, social and employment facilities and enable them to mix with the wider community. (31) A significant move was the closure of the Roseby Park Aboriginal Station and the settlement of the families into Nowra and other South Coast Towns. (32) The Board authorised or conducted investigations into situations of prejudice and complaints about the Aboriginal community. (33)
The Board published the monthly magazine ‘Dawn’ for the Aboriginal people of New South Wales from about 1951. This contained a mixture of articles about the role, function and policies of the board, achievements of aboriginal people and other articles of general interest to readers.
From 1954 the Board made funds available for Aboriginal persons to purchase their own homes. The applicant was required to own a suitable block of land or to make a deposit of £50. The government could lend up to the full cost of purchase at an interest rate of 2½%. From the commencement of the scheme until June 1962, 26 loans for a total of £40,545 had been granted and an additional five loans had been approved and were being processed. (34)
The purpose of the Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act, 1963 (Act No.7, 1963), was to remove certain restrictions upon Aboriginal people imposed by the Aborigines Protection Act, 1909-43. Following the passage of this amending legislation Aboriginal people could no longer be moved to reserves via the legal system if found living in undesirable conditions; it was no longer an offence to entice an Aboriginal person to leave a reserve or to leave New South Wales; the restriction on the supply of alcohol to an Aboriginal person was removed; the offence of ‘wandering or lodging’ with an Aboriginal person was likewise removed; Aboriginal people could no longer be prevented from camping near a town; the Board ceased to have a role in intervention of discrimination in employment or to authorise the medical examination and treatment of Aboriginal People.
On 27 May 1967 a Federal referendum affirmed the removal of two references in the Australian Constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal people. The referendum transferred the responsibility for legislation relating to Aboriginal people to the Commonwealth, and authorised their inclusion in the Australian census.
In 1966 the Public Service Board authorised the reorganisation of field staff including the reclassification of Station Managers to become Welfare Officers. The Welfare Officers were responsible for all of the Aboriginal people in their district, not restricted to those resident on the stations or reserves. (35) The Board continued to be responsible for the erection of buildings, the number of residents, and health issues. By mid 1967 the Managers at 11 reserves were translated to Welfare Officers. The State was divided into 10 welfare areas and there were 10 Female Welfare Officers. (36)
In 1967 the AWB considered amending the Aborigines Protection Act to allow unrestricted access to Aboriginal Stations and Reserves. (37)
In its Annual Report for the year ended 30 June 1968, the Board noted that many advances had been made in Aboriginal affairs, particularly during the previous decade: "All discriminatory legislation has been removed from statutes; funds have been provided to rehouse hundreds of adversely accommodated families; Aborigines have been encouraged to become independent of Government and welfare agency assistance; progress has been such on Stations and Reserves that it has been possible in most centres to remove management; a home loan scheme to enable Aborigines to acquire homes of their own choice has been implemented ... In all of these developments the Board has played a significant role and its officers have done more for the welfare of the Aboriginal people than any other group in the community". (38)
The Board held its final meeting on 29 April 1969 and was dissolved on 2 June 1969. (39)
The Aborigines Act, 1969 (Act No.7, 1969) which received assent on 20 March 1969 (40) replaced the AWB by the Aborigines Welfare Directorate, within the Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare. The Act also constituted Aboriginal Advisory Council of ten members, all of whom were Aboriginal people, except the Director of Aboriginal Welfare, and six members elected by the Aboriginal residents of the State. (41)
(1) New South Wales Government Gazette No.84, 31 May, 1940, p.2441.
(2) New South Wales Government Gazette No.88, 14 June 1940, p.2524.
(3) Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act, 1940 s. 2 (4) (1) – (2).
(4) Ibid. s. 2(4) (6).
(5) Ibid. s. 2 -5 (1).
(6) Ibid. s. 2 – 6.
(7) Ibid. s. 7.
(8) Ibid. s.11.
(9) Ibid. s.11A.
(10) Ibid. s.11C.
(11) Ibid. s.13.
(12) Ibid. new section 7(c).
(13) Aborigines Welfare Board report for the year ended 30 June 1940 p.5 (Appendices A and B).
(14) Ibid., p.3.
(15) Aborigines Welfare Board report for the year ended 30 June 1941, pp.5, 6-7.
(16) Ibid., p.2.
(17) Ibid., p.5.
(18) Ibid., p.2.
(19) Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act, 1943 new section 4 (b) (ii) (viii).
(20) Ibid Addition to section 7.
(21) Ibid new section 18C.
(22) Ibid. new section 11E – G.
(23) NSW Government Gazette No. 37, 21 April 1944, pp.697-702.
(24) New South Wales Government Gazette No.68, 5 July 1945, p.1165.
(25) Aborigines Welfare Board annual report for the year ended 30 June 1946, p. 3.
(26) Aborigines Welfare Board annual report for the year ended 30 June 1948, p.4.
(27) Aborigines Welfare Board annual report for the year ended 30 June 1949, p.4.
(28) Aborigines Welfare Board annual report for the year ended 30 June 1950, p.7.
(29) Aborigines Welfare Board annual report for the year ended 30 June 1948, p.5.
(30) Ibid., p.4.
(31) Aborigines Welfare Board annual report for the year ended 30 June 1950, p.6.
(32) Loc. cit.
(33) Ibid., p.7.
(34) Aborigines Welfare Board annual report for the year ended 30 June 1962, p.6.
(35) Aborigines Welfare Board annual report for the year ended 30 June 1966, p.4.
(36) Aborigines Welfare Board annual report for the year ended 30 June 1967, p.4.
(38) Annual Report of the Aborigines Welfare Board, 1968, pp.14-15.
(39) New South Wales Government Gazette No.63, 30 May 1969, p.1947.
(40) New South Wales Government Gazette No.39, 28 March 1969, p.1198.
(41) Report of the Minister for Social Welfare on the working of the Aborigines Act, 1969, for the year ended 30 June 1970, p.1.