State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 85 May 2010


Jane Miller
A Guide to Government Acts, Reports and Regulations Relating to Indigenous Victorians

THIS ARTICLE DESCRIBES a selection of key government and official material relating to the management and administration of Indigenous Victorians held in the collections of the State Library of Victoria, together with links to select digitised external resources.1 Tracing bureaucratic practice and government legislation from the beginning of European settlement in Victoria creates a detailed picture of the lives of Aboriginal people, until the Aboriginal Affairs Act of 1967 abolished the Aborigines Welfare Board and government responsibility passed to the newly created Victorian Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.

Aborigines and legislation in Victoria

The first Australian legislation dedicated to the 'protection and management' of Aboriginal people was enacted in Victoria in 1869. Only three pages long, it formalised the misconception that Aborigines were incapable of leading an autonomous life and becoming contributing members of the society with their culture intact and alive.
The language of this and subsequent acts, describes their purpose in terms of welfare and protection, but instead effected control, containment, regulation, and later encouraged assimilation. Broadly the legislative journey has moved from these beginnings to the acknowledgment, protection and honouring of indigenous practice, custom and qualified rights to land.
Prior to this, in the absence of a legislative framework, early relations between Aboriginal people and colonisers were governed by proclamations and orders, with many illustrating the tensions in government policy between the desire to do good, and respond to demands from the frontier.2 The British House of Commons Select Committee report of 1837, acknowledged that
the land has been taken from them without the assertion of any other title, than that of superior force, [and that ... Aborigines must] be considered as within the allegiance of the Queen, and as entitled to her protection ... the most recent intelligence records conflicts between the Europeans and the Aborigines in which the former acted avowedly upon the principle of enforcing belligerent rights against a public enemy.
The report recommended the establishment of a Protectorate system, its duties to include
cultivating a personal knowledge of the natives ... adequate familiarity with the native language ... claim for the maintenance of the Aborigines such lands as may
be necessary for their support ... [provide] the means of pursuing the chase without molestation ... [and] the education of the young.3
By 1836 colonisers had moved into Port Phillip and Governor Bourke appointed George Langhorne as missionary 'for the civilisation of the Aboriginal natives'.4 In his instructing letter, Langhorne is reminded that
It will be one of your most important duties to protect the Aboriginal natives of the district from any manner of wrong, and to endeavour to conciliate them by kind treatment and presents assuring that this government is most anxious to maintain a friendly intercourse with them and to improve by all practicable means their moral and social condition ... they must consider themselves subject to the laws of England.5
However, by the end of 1838, Langhorne in his resignation letter to Colonial Secretary Edward Deas Thomson, lamented
the almost uselessness of our present proceedings and respectfully offer the opinion I have ever entertained that the present, on account of its vicinity to the town, is not an eligible situation for a mission station ...6
Guided by the House of Commons 1837 report and aiming to improve from the previous low base, the Port Phillip Protectorate was established in 1838, with George Augustus Robinson as Chief Protector. In 1839 Charles La Trobe was appointed Governor of Port Phillip and his instructions from the Colonial Secretary's office in Sydney indicated the nature of the path to be taken:
I am directed in a particular manner to invite your attention to the treatment of the Aborigines, and to the prevention as far as possible of collisions between them and the Colonists.7
Both parties saw land as a solution – albeit from different perspectives: for the colonisers land as a means of separating and civilising – for Aboriginal people the source of spiritual meaning, ceremony, community and social structure through traditional boundaries; and physical sustenance. Later reserves established under legislation had self sufficiency as a key aim in order to reduce expense to government and to engender a new way of living:
Reserves of land should be made for their use and benefit in order that the best means may be taken for enabling them to pass from the hunting to the agricultural and pastoral life, and they may have spots on which to place themselves whenever they may have been induced by any means to abandon their wandering habit.8
James Dredge, Protector in Port Phillip did have, however, some sense of the meaning of land to Aboriginal people. He noted in his diary:
Within these boundaries of their own country as they proudly speak, they feel a degree of security and pleasure they can find nowhere else – here their forefathers lived and roamed and hunted and here also do their ashes rest.9
Realising that the methodology devised for managing 'the natives' was failing led

Section of the 1869 Aborigines' Protection Act


Section of the 1886 Aborigines' Protection Act

Extracts from legislation of the Parliament of the State of Victoria, Australia, are reproduced with the permission of the Crown in right of the State of Victoria, Australia. The State of Victoria accepts no responsibility for the accuracy and completeness of any legislation contained in this publication.
to a series of Select Committees in New South Wales – five over a period of twelve years. In his submission to the 1849 committee, La Trobe stated that his
further experience of the last year or 18 months has not only confirmed me in this opinion, but has further strengthened me in the conviction that the whole arrangement was a needlessly ponderous and expensive one, and that the sooner the scheme of the Protectorate in its original or even present modified form were abandoned the better.10
In closing, the report stated that 'although they are compelled to recommend the abolition of the present system, they are unable to offer any other as a substitute'.11 Thus ended the Port Phillip Protectorate. To continue some semblance of protection, William Thomas was appointed Guardian of Aborigines with the Crown Lands Commissioners acting as local guardians.12
Settler expansion continued to encroach onto Aboriginal lands, significantly hampering traditional life and food gathering. The lure of gold pushed large populations further into regional Victoria, so that by the 1861 census, over 540,000 Europeans had taken all the habitable land in Victoria. There were 1694 Aborigines counted.13 Triggered by mounting concern for the 'black denizens of the country', a Victorian Select committee released a report in 1859 highly critical of the little done, believing that 'to allow this to continue would be to tolerate and perpetuate a great moral wrong ... a vigourous effort should be made that they may be maintained in comparative plenty'.14
The report led to the establishment in 1860 of the 'Central Board to watch over the interests of the Aborigines in the colony of Victoria'. It would oversee a reserve system, established, on their own hunting grounds, with enough land for agricultural and gardening operations. Missionaries would act as managers, 'Christianisers' and educators. Material supports would be provided, but the end result was expected to be self sufficiency.15 Seven reserves were created: the church mission stations Yelta, Ebenezer, Lake Condah, Lake Tyers, Ramahyuck, with Framlingham and Coranderrk controlled directly by government.
While these reserves often moved people from their country, attempts at closing in later years drew considerable resistance.16 Twentieth century legislation acknowledged Aboriginal connections to the sites returning Framlingham and Lake Tyers to Aboriginal trusts.17
Nine years later, in 1869, the Aboriginal Natives Protection Bill was presented to Parliament, with the Hon J. McCrae lamenting the lack of legislative force given for the protection and management of 'a long neglected portion of the human family'.18 The Act gave a legislative imperative for the appointment of 'local guardians who shall protect them'.19 Greater power was given to the Board to prosecute and punish people acting in opposition to the interests of the Aborigines. The Bill was passed without debate as the Aborigines' Protection Act. Included was the provision for the 'Governor from time to
time to make regulations'.20 These, in many ways more chilling than the Acts, provided the prescriptive details that shaped so many lives. This framework remained virtually unchanged until the Aboriginal Affairs Act of 1967.


Aborigines' Protection Act 1869 (Vic) No. 349
Regulations and orders. Victoria Government Gazette 15, 24 February 1871, p. 338.
Enacted for the 'protection and management of the Aboriginal natives of Victoria',21 the Act prescribed where 'any Aboriginal or any tribe of Aborigines shall reside',22 placed restrictions on contracts, earnings and employment,23 and the care, custody and education of children.24 Bedding and clothing was 'on loan only and to remain the property of Her Majesty'.25 Any interactions between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people regarding administering of alcohol (unless as medicine); harbouring, unless ill or injured; taking or selling of any chattels required a licence.26 The new overseeing body was the Board for the Protection of Aborigines (see p. 174).
Aborigines' Protection Act 1886 (Vic) No. 912
Regulations and orders. Victoria Government Gazette 43, 16 May 1890, pp. 1787-1788.
Fearful of creating poor houses and entrenched Aboriginal possession of lands, legislators sought to redefine Aboriginality and so, access to the reserves.27 For those allowed to remain, freedom of movement, occupation, and conduct of personal life such as marriage to a partner of choice and living in community with family were restricted. Residence in the reserve system would be refused to 'half-castes' unless aged over 34, a female 'half-caste' married to an Aboriginal, a child of an Aboriginal, or any 'half-caste' licensed to live on the reserve.28 Those excluded were forbidden to live on the reserve, expected to become self supporting, absorbed into the wider community, no longer be a financial burden, and thus assimilated. Limited support (rations, clothing and blankets)29 could be given for up to seven years to those struggling outside the reserve system (see p. 175). These provisions contributed to the withdrawal of reserve lands as the resident populations fell, and significant hardship for many as they struggled to survive. The Regulations relating to the principal 1890 act remained in force.
Aborigines Act 1890 (Vic) No. 1059
Regulations and orders. Victoria Government Gazette 81, 12 September 1890, pp. 3719-3722,
Regulations and orders. Victoria Government Gazette 101, 1 December 1899, pp. 4383,
Regulations and orders. Victoria Government Gazette 113, 23 September 1908, pp. 4706-4709.
This act consolidated the previous two acts (1869, 1886), adding a section regarding the process to 'select, acquire, hold enjoy and be possessed of any such Crown lands'.30 Subsequent regulations allowed for funding of legal defence for 'destitute persons charged with capital crimes, and Aborigines charged with indictable offences'.31 An 1899 regulation stated that 'the Governor may for the better care, custody and education of any Aboriginal child order that such child be transferred to the care of the Department for Neglected Children, or the Department of Reformatory Schools'.32 Regulations from 187133 and later from 189034 included reserves as an option for the placement of children in need of care.
Aborigines Act 1910 (Vic) No. 2255
This act was to be 'read and construed as one with the Aborigines Act 1890'.35 Assistance to Aboriginal people outside the reserve system was reinstated and the distinction between 'half-caste' and 'full-blood' Aborigines removed at the Ministers discretion.36
Aborigines Act 1915 (Vic) No. 2610
Regulations and orders. Victoria Government Gazette 172, 13 September 1916, pp. 3547-3553.
The act consolidated and repealed the legislation of 1890 and 1910. The regulations published the following year reverted to the regime which distinguished between 'half-caste' and 'full blood' Aboriginal people and their respective entitlements to residence and support on stations, the manager being required to 'discourage any further introduction of half-castes'.37 These remained in force until the Aborigines Act of 1957.
The regulations provide great detail on contracts, certificates, earnings and their distribution, expectations regarding contribution and behaviour, and custody of children – including provision for the Governor in Council, for 'the better care, custody and education of any Aborigine or "half-caste" child, to order that such child be transferred to the care of the Children's Welfare Department'.38
In 1917 the Board, under the powers of the Act decided to concentrate the Victorian Aboriginal population at Lake Tyers.39
Aborigines Act 1928 (Vic) No. 3631
Regulations and orders. Victoria Government Gazette 100, 13 May 1931, pp. 1558-1560.
Regulations and orders. Victoria Government Gazette 139, 21 July 1937, p. 2076.
Again, this Act was a consolidation and repealing of previous acts. The regulations continued the control and prescription of those issued in 1916, the 1937 regulation however, repealed s. 32 of the 1931 regulations to allow ill 'half-castes' or their children to live at the station.
Aborigines Act 1957 (Vic) No. 6086
Regulations. Victoria. Statutory Rules. 1958, pp. 760-764
Regulations Victoria Government Gazette 80. 27 August 1958, pp. 2978-2981.
The act while while promoting the welfare of Aboriginal people, aspired to 'their assimilation in the general community'. Ending the discrimination of the 1931 regulations, Aboriginality was defined as 'any person of Aboriginal descent'. The act stated its purpose as 'the moral, intellectual and physical welfare of Aborigines'.40 The membership of the new Aborigines Welfare Board was broadened to include two Aborigines, and experts in anthropology and sociology as well as members appointed from ministries of education, health and housing.41
Essentially it was a continuation in terms of responsibilities, 'exercising general supervision over all matters affecting the welfare and interests of the Aborigines'.42 The Board continues to have significant power. Repealed by Aboriginal Affairs Act 1967(Vic), no. 7574.
Aborigines Act 1958 (Vic), no. 6190
Consolidation of Aborigines Act 1957. The Regulations of 1958, continued in force.
Aborigines (Houses) Act 1959 (Vic), no. 6498
This amending act empowered the Housing Commission to enter into contracts to build houses for Aborigines – an example of the increased connection between an organisation set up specifically for Aborigines and administration in the mainstream. Repealed by Aboriginal Affairs Act 1967(Vic), no. 7574.
Aboriginal Affairs Act 1967 (Vic), no. 7574.
Aboriginal affairs (General) Regulations. Victoria. Statutory rule. No. 329, 1967.
Aboriginal Affairs (Cadetships) regulations. Statutory rule no. 244 1969
This act abolished the Aborigines Welfare Board and established the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and the Aboriginal Advisory Council, ending nearly 100 years of control. The new Council's membership included three Aboriginal people.43 A detailed list of responsibilities includes support for housing, education, health, workplace, legal aid and development of projects 'for promoting the interests of the Aborigines'.44 The tenor of the Act is more supportive than controlling; its mechanisms being brought into the administrative mainstream. The regulations were concerned with the administration of the Council; a subsequent regulation covered cadetships in the Public
Service. The reserves remain the responsibility of the Ministry 'for the benefit of Aborigines',45 thus acknowledging the right of Aboriginal people to their traditional lands – shaped as they were by government actions.
Aboriginal Lands Act 1970 (Vic) no. 8044
The first Act to recognise Aboriginal people's entitlement to land in Victoria, and Australia. The deeds of reserve land at Lake Tyers and Framlingham were transferred to their communities under Trusts.

Committee Reports

Since white settlement, governments have investigated the treatment of and relations between colonisers and Aboriginal people, searching for a 'solution'.
Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Aborigines. Report, together with the proceedings, minutes of evidence and proceedings. Melbourne: Government Printer, 1859. Victorian Parliamentary Papers, 1858/9. Vol. 1, D.8.
Following on from the demise of the Protectorate, this Committee inquired into the 'best means of alleviating their [Aborigines] absolute wants'. The reduction in numbers was deemed due to 'the general occupation of the country by the white population, to vices acquired by contact with a civilised race'. Included are entries on the reserve and mission stations and illustrated anthropological surveys.
The Report recommended the setting aside of land 'in different districts, in connection with a Central Board appointed from residents in Melbourne'46. In closing it noted that
while the Aborigines are imbued with keen perceptive faculties, there is a considerable deficiency in their reflective faculties, and a certain want of steadiness or purpose in their characters, which appears the great obstacle to be overcome in reclaiming them, and bringing them within the pale of civilisation and Christianity.47
Royal Commission on the Aborigines appointed to inquire into the present conditions of the Aborigines of this colony and to advise as to the best means of caring for and dealing with them in the future. Report with minutes of evidence and appendices. Melbourne: Government Printer, 1877. Victorian Parliamentary Papers, 1877/78. Vol. 3, No. 76.
Information was gathered as a result of visits by the Commissioners and circulars sent to the stations. The report recommended the continuation of the reserve system and commented that life on the stations is preferable to life off, 'leaving them alone is in fact abandoning them to lower and lower stages of degradation'.48 Recommendations were made to: increase support with a view to self sufficiency; improve the amenity of
buildings; address proper payment of wages, training, and increase the size of the reserves. Care of Aboriginal people was seen in terms of a sacred duty, and it noted that the actions of parliament have redressed 'the last pages of history of the Aborigines of Victoria would [otherwise] have been written in characters of reproach to the colonists'.49
Report of the Board appointed to inquire into and report upon, the present condition and management of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station, together with minutes of evidence. Melbourne: Government Printer, 1882. Victorian Parliamentary Papers, 1882 Vol. 2, No. 5.
Noted in this Report were conditions on the reserve: 'clean and tidy and the Aboriginals orderly and to all appearance well fed and clad'.50 However there was discontent. The resident Aboriginal people called for the abolition of the Board, and the direct management of the reserve from the Chief Secretary's department, with John Green as overseer. Queries about lack of food led to the charge that too much time was spent on hop production, even though it generated a significant income. The Report concluded that time would be better spent growing fruit and vegetables and farming cattle for meat and dairy. A request was made for the installation of a hospital, as medical treatment requiring visits to Melbourne were traumatic and long, hindering in some cases any treatment received. 'Half-caste' and 'quadroon' girls and boys over 13 were encouraged to seek out paid work, but the Report considered it reasonable that 'full blooded blacks' be maintained in comfort. A dissenting addendum was attached from several committee members that restated dissatisfaction with the Board, inspector and manager and their lack of activity. The members of the board felt that employment off the station should be encouraged more strongly, Coranderrk however, could still be considered home. Further this group believed that the station should where possible be manned by Aboriginal people.
Report upon the operation of the Aborigines Act 1928 and regulations and orders made thereunder. Melbourne: Government Printer, 1957. Victorian Parliamentary Papers 1956/58. Vol. 2, No. 18.
This report provides a significant overview of the administration of the reserve system and Aboriginal affairs generally as administered under the 1928 Aborigines Act. The inquiry was charged with making recommendations on the future of Lake Tyers; 'the capacity of people of Aboriginal blood to live and maintain themselves and their families according to the general standards of the Victorian community'; identifying mitigating factors against 'absorption' and the form in which administration should continue.51
Comment is made in the report on the conduct of the Board and its apparent diminution of interest and some avoidance of its responsibilities over recent years.52 While recommending continuation of Lake Tyers for those aged, sick and infirm, the
progression of the assimilation policy was reinforced.
The Inquiry made recommendations regarding housing; 'improvement of home environment being fundamental in any plan for their absorption into the community';53 that education and training be encouraged and promoted with accommodation and financial support and that segregated schools be closed. The report stated that Government policy should bring about a status of equality acknowledging that that there are white citizens who present similar problems for society.
Any 'sympathetic treatment must be allied with firmness, their morale must be strengthened, and their readiness to accept the general concept of their inferiority removed'.54

Other Government publications.

The Library holds a comprehensive collection of legislation and related materials such as bills, Hansard, parliamentary papers, committee reports and government gazettes for Victoria, New South Wales and Commonwealth governments.
Acts 1851 –
18511995. Available online on PCs inside the Library.
1851–current. Available on microfilm and in hardcopy.
Travers Adamson, (ed.), Acts and ordinances in force in Victoria.
Melbourne: Government Printer, 1856.
This includes NSW and imperial acts in force in Victoria up to 1855.
Victoria Government Gazette
18361997. Available on-line at
Regulations made under the various acts, and published in the gazettes.
Regulations/Statutory Rules
1851–current included in Victoria government gazettes.
1957–current. From 1957 statutory rules were published separately.
Great Britain
Much valuable information on Victorian (and Australian) Aboriginal people can be found in relevant British Parliamentary Papers.
House of Commons Parliamentary Papers
Online access to full text of reports, papers and bills (18012004) available through the Library web site – license restrictions apply.
1803-2005. Available online at


The text published here is actually a section of a more detailed guide on sources for the study of Indigenous Victorians that I am in the process of preparing for users of the State Library of Victoria.


These can be found in Historical records of Australia. Series 1: Governors dispatches to and from England (1788-1848), [Melbourne]: Commonwealth of Australia, 1914-1925.


Great Britain. Report from the Select Committee on Aborigines (British Settlements). House of Commons Papers. Reports from Committees, no. 425, vol. 7, p. 1, (1837), pp. 82-83.


Colonial Secretary's draft memorandum, 9 December 1836. Historical records of Victoria, vol. 2A, The Aborigines of Port Phillip 1835-1839, Melbourne: Victorian Government Printer, 1982, p. 161.


Ibid, p. 162.


G. M. Langhorne to Colonial Secretary 30 November 1838. Ibid, p.233


General Instructions to the Superintendent of Port Phillip 10 September 1839. Public Record Office of Victoria: VPRS 19/p, Unit 1, File 39/3. Viewed at:


Land and Emigration Commissioners to Lord Russell. 17 July 1840. Historical records of Australia, op. cit., Series 1, vol. 20, p. 738.


James Dredge, Diary, 19 November 1837, p. 234 cited in H. N. Nelson, 'Missionaries and Aborigines in the Port Phillip district', in Historical studies of Australia and New Zealand, vol. 12, no. 45, 1965, pp. 57-67.


New South Wales. Report from the Select Committee on the Aborigines and Protectorate. Sydney: NSW Government Printer, 1849, vol. 2, p. 428.


Ibid, p. 419.


Richard Broome, Aboriginal Victorians: a history since 1800, St Leonards, NSW: Allen and Unwin, 2005, p. 120.


Victorian Year Book 1903, Melbourne: Sands and McDougall, 1903, p. 26


Victoria. Report of the Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Aborigines. Legislative Council Votes and Proceedings, 1858/9, vol. 1 D8, p. iv.


Ibid, p. v.


See, for example: Richard Broome, op.cit., pp. 235-257; Dianne Barwick, Rebellion at Coranderrk, Canberra: Aboriginal History Inc. Monograph 5, 1998.


Aboriginal Lands Act 1970 (Vic), no. 8044. For detail on legislation relating to land claims, see: The Laws of Australia, Melbourne: Law Book Co., 1993-2000, vol. 1, chapter 6, pp. 263-290.


Victoria. Parliamentary Debates, Legislative Council. Melbourne: Government Printer, 1869, pp. 1726-7, 1808.


Ibid, p. 1808.


Aborigines Protection Act 1869 (Vic), No. 349, p. 1.


Ibid, preamble.


Ibid, s. 2.1.


Ibid, s. 2. 2-3.


Ibid, s. 2.5.


Ibid, s. 5.


Ibid, s. 6.


Broome, op. cit., p. xxiv.


Aborigines Protection Act 1886 (Vic), No. 912, s. 4.1-5.


Ibid, s. 6.1-3.


Aborigines Act 1890 (Vic), no. 1059, s. 9.


Victoria Government Gazette 149, 4 October 1911, p. 4988.


Victoria Government Gazette 101, 1 December 1899, p. 4383.


Victoria Government Gazette 15, 24 February 1871, p. 338.


Victoria Government Gazette 43, 16 May 1890, pp. 1787-8.


Aborigines Act 1910 (Vic), no. 2255 s. 1.


Aborigines Act 1910 (Vic), no. 2255 s. 2.


Ibid, p. 3550, s. 25(c).


Victoria Government Gazette 172, 13 September 1916, p. 3549, s.12.


Phillip Pepper and Tess de Araugo, The Kurnai of Gippsland, Melbourne: Hyland House, 1985, p. 241.


Aborigines Act 1957 (Vic), no. 6086, s. 61.


Ibid, s. 3.1(f).


Ibid, s. 6.2(e).


Aboriginal Affairs Act 1967 (Vic), no. 7574. s. 11. 1 (g)


Ibid, s. 26.1 (a-q).


Ibid, s. 26.1 (c).


Victoria. Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, Melbourne: Government Printer, 1858/1859, vol. 2, D19, p. 183.


Victoria. Votes and Proceedings of the Legislative Council. Select Committee of the Legislative Council on the Aborigines: Report, 1858/9. Melbourne: Government Printer, 1859, D8, p. vi.


Victoria. Royal Commission on the Aborigines. Report of the Commissioners. Melbourne: Government Printer, 1877, Victorian Parliamentary Papers, 1877, vol.3, no.76, p, xiii.


Ibid p xvi.


Victoria. Report of the Board appointed to inquire into and report upon, the present condition and management of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Station, together with minutes of evidence, Melbourne: Government Printer, 1882, Victorian Parliamentary Papers, 1882, vol. 2, no. 5. p. 3.


Victoria. Report upon the operation of the Aborigines Act 1928 and regulations and orders made thereunder, Melbourne: Government Printer, 1957, Victorian Parliamentary Papers 1956/58, vol. 2, no. 18, p. 8.


Ibid, p. 13.


Ibid, p. 17.


Ibid, p. 21.