The Aborigines Welfare Board was created in 1940, under the Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act 1940. It replaced the Aborigines Protection Board and was supposed to modernise Aboriginal welfare but it continued many of the Protection Board's policies towards children. It was abolished in 1969 and replaced by the Aborigines Welfare Directorate. Responsibility for Aboriginal children was then transferred to the Department of Youth and Community Services.
When the Aborigines Welfare Board was created the Under Secretary of the Colonial Secretary's Department was appointed chairman and provision was made for ten other members, of whom one was to be a full-blooded Aborigine and one either a full-blooded Aborigine or a person having an admixture of blood, as representatives for their people.
The policy of the Aborigines Welfare Board was to encourage the assimilation of Aborigines into the general community. The Board sponsored the erection of houses for leasing and provided housing loans to the Aborigines. It exercised general supervision over matters affecting the welfare of Aborigines, managed the Aboriginal stations and reserves, provided for the custody and maintenance of Aboriginal children whose parents were unable to care for them and provided scholarships, travelling expenses, uniforms, textbooks, etc. for children of necessitous Aboriginal families.
The Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act 1943 gave the Aborigines Welfare Board the power to issue Exemption Certificates. The Aborigines Welfare Board argued the certificates were a key to 'assimilation', and would enable Aboriginal people to enjoy the rights and privileges of white society so they could eventually blend in. This included the right to leave the state, receive some government benefits (including the old age pension, which was denied to people who lived on reserves or stations), live with less interference from the Board and to drink alcohol. Some Aboriginal people sought exemption certificates as a way of shielding their children from removal by the Aborigines Welfare Board.
However, people who had an exemption certificate were not allowed to enter or stay on Aboriginal reserves and stations, even if they were visiting relatives. This interfered with Aboriginal family life, as it discouraged people from seeing each other. People could also lose their certificates for misdemeanours, intoxication or even arguing with a Board representative. The need to show them to police officers was a source of humiliation, earning them the nickname 'dog tags'.
Exemption certificates were not needed after the 1967 Referendum established that Aboriginal people had full civil rights and they were abolished by the Aborigines Act 1969.
The Aborigines Welfare Board held its final meeting on 29 April 1969 and was replaced by the Aborigines Welfare Directorate. Responsibility for Aboriginal children and welfare services to Aboriginal people was transferred to the Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare (later the Aborigines Services Branch, Youth and Community Services).
Sources used to compile this entry: Dawn and New Dawn 1952-1975: A magazine for the Aboriginal people of New South Wales, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra, 2004, http://aiatsis.gov.au/collections/collections-online/digitised-collections/dawn-and-new-dawn; Goodall, Heather, Invasion to Embassy: land in Aboriginal politics in New South Wales, 1770-1972, 2nd edn, Sydney University Press (originally published Allen & Unwin, 1996), Sydney, 2008, 505 pp; Mellor, Doreen and Haebich, Anna, Many Voices: reflections on Indigenous child separation, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2002, 324 pp; New South Wales. Aborigines Welfare Board, Annual report of the Aborigines Welfare Board for the year ended 1940, Government Printer, 1941; New South Wales. Aborigines Welfare Board (ed.), Annual report of the Aborigines Welfare Board for the year ended …, Government Printer, 1949-1968; Parry, Naomi, 'Such a longing': black and white children in welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940, Department of History, University of New South Wales, 2007, 361 pp, http://hdl.handle.net/1959.4/40786; Radi, Heather, ''Ardill, George Edward (1857-1945)'', in Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, Melbourne University Press, 1979, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/ardill-george-edward-5048; Shepley, Christine Anne Taylor, 'To be seen and not heard: the story of the Kinchela Training Home for Aboriginal Boys 1923-1970', PhD thesis, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, 306 pp; Thinee, Kristy and Bradford, Tracy, Connecting Kin: Guide to Records, A guide to help people separated from their families search for their records [completed in 1998], New South Wales Department of Community Services, Sydney, New South Wales, 1998, https://clan.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/connectkin_guide.pdf.
Prepared by: Naomi Parry
Created: 21 February 2011, Last modified: 13 February 2018