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Aboriginal People

The United Nations has determined that the term Aboriginal peoples is the correct term for Australian and Canadian Aboriginal peoples. Where possible this term has been used throughout this book. Aboriginal Australians may now find the terms “Aborigine(s)” or “Aboriginal(s)” offensive, so wherever possible the term Aboriginal person or peoples are preferred. However, if those terms are used in the name of a Department or Agency, or in a record series or item title, they have been left to preserve historic context.

The history of the administration of Aboriginal peoples in Western Australia can be roughly divided into three periods. From 1829-1886 Aboriginal affairs came under the jurisdiction of the Colonial Secretary's Office and all surviving records relating to Aboriginal administration for that period can be found in the general Colonial Secretary’s Office series held by the State Records Office (see AN 24). The second period covers the years 1887-1897 when Aboriginal affairs were under the administration of a body nominated by, and responsible to, the Governor, called the Aborigines Protection Board. The third period dates from 1897 when the functions of the Aborigines Protection Board were taken over by an Aborigines Department under a Minister responsible to Parliament.

AN 1 listed records of the Aborigines Protection Board 1875-1898 (both inherited and created) and of the Aborigines Department (and its successor agencies) 1898-1989. Any records transferred after 1989 will be found in the Series Registration System and on the State Records Office Catalogue. Many of the records contained in AN 1 are included on the catalogue.

See Agency 1200, Agency 67, Agency 66, Agency 65, Agency 64, Agency 63, Agency 47, Agency 48, Agency 49, Agency 797, and Agency 1202 for brief histories and record series created by the Aborigines Protection Board and its successor agencies – this agency list is in chronological order).

The majority of records listed are files, which can relate to a variety of subjects, such as adoption of Aboriginal children, committal of Aboriginal people to institutions, murders of and by Aboriginal people, hospital treatments, personal files of Aboriginal people. They are a valuable source of information on Aboriginal people, and it is recommended that anyone interested in Aboriginal history or genealogy check AN 1, the Series Registration System and The State Records Office Catalogue for references.

Other archival records which may be useful in tracing the names of Aboriginal people are:





Mount Wittenoom

  • ACC 754/14: Mt Wittenoom Police Station. Return of Prisoners confined in lockup 1880-1910
    Provides name, offence, district, dates of admission and discharge, how disposed of. Mainly Aboriginal people and gives Aboriginal name.


North West



  • CONS 1156/Occ25: Rottnest Prison. Commitment Book 1886-1900
    Shows registration number, name, dates of committal and arrival, crime, sentence, tribe, magistrate, when due for discharge, when discharged. For reformatory boys it shows number, name, date of commitment, offence, sentence, remarks. Also includes a register of "natives incarcerated at Rottnest Prison on 1.1.1899" and a register of "native prisoners transferred from Rottnest for purpose of completing the terms of their sentences elsewhere."

South West

Toodyay (see Newcastle)



  • CONS 7105/1-2: Personal Cards 1920-1948
    From 1920-1948, the departments responsible for Aboriginal affairs compiled personal cards relating to Aboriginal people who were removed from different areas of the State and sent to Carrolup and Moore River Native Settlements.

There are about 5,500 cards containing information from personal files (copies now held by the Department of Community Development). They contain information about parentage, employment, marital or de facto relationships, birth and death details of family members, removal of children, health and police-related information. In 2004, the original personal cards were transferred to the State Records Office and a microfilm copy provided to the Department of Indigenous Affairs and access to them is to be made through the Department of Indigenous Affairs.

There is a series of administration files of the Department of Native Welfare/Affairs which may contain information on Aboriginal people, such as personal files, adoption and delegation of guardianship, lists of holders of Australian citizenship, agreements for employment and apprenticeships and registers of inmates of missions. These series relate to the Eastern District Office ( Record Series 44 ), the North Central District Office ( Record Series 45 ), the Northern District Office (Record Series 46 ), the South West District Office ( Record Series 47 ) and the Roebourne Office ( Record Series 3974 ).

Police Station, Local Court and Supreme Court records can also contain names of Aboriginal people who have been tried or imprisoned for an offence. Check AN 5 (Police), AN 17 (Court), Agency 44 (Supreme Court), the Series Registration System and The State Records Office Catalogue under the name of the Police Station or town to see if any relevant records are contained in those series. The names of Aboriginal pearl divers may be located in Police Department Occurrence Books and Department of Fisheries and Wildlife records - see heading Pearl Divers & Pearlers for details. Also check the headings Community Services Department and Missions. Also see heading Aboriginal People in Private Archives.

Some indexes to newspaper and Colonial Secretary’s Office records relating to Aboriginal people have been compiled. These note references in the Perth Gazette 1850-1854 and 1856-1880, the Inquirer 1841-1880, Resident Magistrates' correspondence to the Colonial Secretary’s Office 1840-1884 and Guardian of Aborigines' correspondence to the Colonial Secretary’s Office 1846-1859 (see section Books Useful for Genealogical Research – Aboriginal People for details). The Department of Aboriginal Affairs has also compiled indexes to personal names and missions which are available at the State Records Office enquiry desk.