Auber Octavius Neville, former Chief Protector of Aborigines from 1915-1936, was Commissioner of Native Affairs until his retirement in 1940.
Neville was responsible for administering some of the most notorious assimaltionist policies druing this time as both Chief Protector and as Commssioner.
Following his retirement, Neville wrote Australia's Coloured Minority, which was published in 1947 and which 'set out his long standing belief in the need to breed out the coloured population', according to Haebich.
Portraits of Neville are conflicted. Dorgelo (2007) writes that Neville has been 'simultaneously represented as cruel and benevolent, paternalistic and distantly bureaucratic' and that recollections of his character and activities serve as vehicles 'for constructions of (and anxieties about) postcolonial Australia'.
In her review of Pat Jacob's Mister Neville: a biography, Isobel White (1992) wrote that a picture emerged of Neville as:
'a model family man and as a dedicated and efficient public servant, whose acute sense of duty caused him to serve the state and the Aborigines to the best of his ability and according to his strong sense of what was right and proper. In his favour he attempted to learn all he could about the Aborigines, by travelling all over the state, even exploring areas in the north that were still almost unknown. Thus he became known throughout the whole of Australia as an authority on the administration of Aboriginal minorities. When he retired at the age of sixty-five both Aborigines and non-Aborigines paid tribute to his achievements.'
White also commented on the 'removal' of Aboriginal children that happened under Neville, who:
'regarded the Aborigines as fully human. And was aware that their pitiful conditions were due to the attitudes and actions of their conquerors. He fought throughout his working life to change these attitudes, thus bringing upon himself many attacks in the state parliament and the newspapers. Many of his attempts to help the Aborigines were thwarted by a series of penny-pinching governments. Neville was particularly worried by the plight of the increasing numbers throughout the state of the part-Aborigines, and was an advocate of taking them away from their families in order that they should have the benefit of a western- type education. He genuinely believed that this would be 'for their own good', unable to realise that this was as cruel to the children and their families as it would be to take his own beloved children from their parents! '
Haebich's entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography takes up this point:
'While some Aborigines appreciated his concern, others referred to 'Mister Neville' in tones suggesting awe and even fear. His unwilling but unavoidable reliance on police as local 'protectors' contributed to a tradition of Aboriginal hostility towards police and 'the welfare'. Educated Aborigines from the south-west, whose legal and social status plummeted as a result of his measures, saw Neville as their main adversary. William Harris described the protector as one of the Aborigines' 'worst enemies'. The irony of Neville's administration was that in aggregating the power to assimilate Aborigines of part descent through economic and social (genetic) absorption, he accelerated the pauperization and segregation evident since the 1900s. Closer settlement in the south-west, competition from white workers, and the racial prejudice of rural communities worried by increase in the Aboriginal population, all helped to produce the 'Aboriginal problem' that Neville wished to solve.'
Throughout his tenure, Neville travelled widely throughout the State to see Aboriginal people and the conditions in which they lived. His many photographs are held in the Battye Library.
Neville was succeeded in the post by Francis Illingworth Bray in 1940. Bray, who had been working in Aboriginal affairs in Western Australia since 1932, was Commissioner until 1954, when the role was renamed Commissioner for Native Welfare, and was taken up by Stanley Middleton.
11 July 2014
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/wa/WE00553
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License