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Western Australia - Concept

Chief Protector of Aborigines (1898 - 1936)

Public Servant

The Chief Protector of Aborigines was an official role first held in 1898. The Aborigines Act 1897 abolished the Aborigines Protection Board, and created both the Aborigines Department and its head, the Chief Protector. The role was given legal authority by the Aborigines Act 1905. The Chief Protector was the legal guardian of every Aboriginal child in Western Australia to the age of 16 years with the power to remove Aboriginal children from their families and place them in Homes or in 'service' (work). The role Chief Protector became the Commissioner for Native Affairs in 1936.


The role of Chief Protector followed various government officials responsible for Aboriginal 'protection' in Western Australia, known variously from 1832 as the Superintendent of Natives, Protector of Aborignes, Guardian of Aborigines and Guardian of Aborigines and Protector of Settlers.

Henry Charles Prinsep was the first Chief Protector of Aborigines from 1 April 1898. This role was without any legal authority until the passage of the Aborigines Act 1905. Under the 1905 legislation, the position of the Chief Protector was formally established.

Regional protectors were to be appointed with power to grant permits for employment of Aboriginal males less than 14 years and Aboriginal females. No person was to remove any 'aboriginal', any male 'half-caste' under 16, or any female 'half-caste' without the written authority of a protector. The Act provided that regulations may be made for 'the care, custody and education of the children of aborigines and half-castes' and 'enabling any aboriginal or half-caste child to be sent to and detained in an aboriginal institution, industrial school or orphanage'.

According to the Bringing Them Home report (1997), after 1909, the removal power in relation to 'half-caste' children under eight years [was] delegated to police protectors and Justices of the Peace. By making the Chief Protector or Board their guardian, 'they were not in law guilty of wrongful imprisonment of Indigenous children' (pp.220-221).

The Chief Protector of Aborigines, with the government's assistance, utilised regional Aboriginal protectors, mainly magistrates, police and missionaries, to monitor Aboriginal people in their areas…As well as reporting on the general state of Aboriginal communities, they also informed the Chief Protector…of the presence of fair-skinned and half-caste Aboriginal children. Though families hid their children when the Aboriginal protectors or the police appeared, many were caught. These children were then removed and placed in homes, missions or settlements; they were members of the stolen generations. (Van den Berg, p.37)

Charles Frederick Gale became the second Chief Protector of Aborigines on 1 October 1908. Gale came to this position because of an amalgamation between the Fisheries and Aborigines departments (he also had the title of Chief Inspector of Fisheries). The new Department of Aborigines and Fisheries continued to administer the Aborigines Act 1905. According to the website of the State Records Office, the amalgamation of the two departments was partly due to financial constraints and partly due to the expediency of running as one the two departments whose interests lay mainly in the northern part of the State.

In 1911, with the appointment of a new Chief Inspector of Fisheries, Gale's duties were limited to that of Chief Protector of Aborigines. Gale was dismissed from office in 1915 at an age of 54, ostensibly as an 'excess officer' and was vindicated by a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into his dismissal.

Gale's successor, appointed on 7 May 1915 was Auber Octavius Neville. Neville served as Chief Protector of Aborigines from 1915-1936.

Between 1920 and 1926 the Chief Protector was reponsible for Aboriginal people north of the 25th Parallel of Western Australia, as Secretary of the Department of the North West. During these years the Fisheries Department was responsible for the welfare of Aboriginal people south of the 25th Parallel.

Neville became the Commissioner for Native Affairs from 1936. It was in this role that Neville promoted most forcefully the policies of Aboriginal assimilation and child removal.


 1898 - 1936 Chief Protector of Aborigines
       1936 - 1954 Commissioner for Native Affairs
             1954 - 1972 Commissioner of Native Welfare
                   1972 - 1985 Department for Community Welfare
                         1985 - 1992 Department for Community Services
                               1992 - 1995 Department for Community Development
                                     1995 - 2001 Department for Family and Children's Services
                                           2001 - 2007 Department for Community Development
                                                 2007 - 2013 Department for Communities
                                                 2007 - 2013 Department for Child Protection
                                                       2013 - 2017 Department of Local Government and Communities
                                                       2013 - 2017 Department for Child Protection and Family Support
                                                             2017 - Department of Communities
                                                             2017 - Department of Communities
                                                             2017 - Child Protection and Family Support
                                                             2017 - Department of Local Government, Sport and Cultural Industries

Related Legislation

Related Organisations


Book Sections

  • van den Berg, Rosemary, 'Aboriginal protectors', in Gregory, Jenny and Jan Gothard [editors] (eds), Historical Encyclopedia of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Crawley, W.A., 2009, pp. Pages 36-37. Details


  • Collection of typed copies of annual and other reports by and to the Chief Protector of Aborigines in Western Australia dated 1910 and 1911, Aborigines Department, Perth, 1910-1911. Details

Online Resources


Chief Protector Gale's Letter to Chief of Police: Removal of Aboriginal Children 1909
Chief Protector Gale's Letter to Chief of Police: Removal of Aboriginal Children 1909
The Monthly


Sources used to compile this entry: 'AU WA A64 - Department of the North West [1]', in State Records Office of Western Australia - Organisations & People, State Records Office of Western Australia, 2015,; To Remove and Protect: Aboriginal Lives Under Control [website], 2010,; Haebich, A. and Reece, R. H. W., 'Neville, Auber Octavius (1875-1954)', in Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,; van den Berg, Rosemary, 'Aboriginal protectors', in Gregory, Jenny and Jan Gothard [editors] (eds), Historical Encyclopedia of Western Australia, University of Western Australia Press, Crawley, W.A., 2009, pp. Pages 36-37.

Prepared by: Debra Rosser and Rebe Taylor