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Western Australia - Organisation

Aborigines Department (1898 - 1908)

State of Western Australia

1 April 1898
31 December 1908
Care Provider, Government Agency and Government Department

The Aborigines Department operated from 1898, It was created by the Aborigines Act 1897 that abolished the Aborigines Protection Board.The Chief Protector was head of the Department. From 1908, the Aborigines Department was taken over by the Aborigines and Fisheries Department.


The Aborigines Department was formed on 1 April 1898 as the key government organisation responsible for Aboriginal matters, including the welfare of Aboriginal children in Western Australia. It followed the Aborigines Protection Board (1886-1898). The State Records Office website provides an overview of the establishment of the Aborigines Department:

The 1897 Aborigines Act established the first Aborigines department in Western Australia. The department started to function in April 1898, as a sub-department of the Treasury, with a small staff, a permanent head called the Chief Protector of Aborigines, and a statutory grant of 5 000 pounds. In 1901, the department was assigned to the Premier's Department, a year later to the office of the Colonial Secretary, and in 1905 its control was transferred to the Minister for Commerce and Labour. About the same time, as a result of a Royal Commission appointed in 1904, it was raised to the status of a department and allocated a minimum statutory grant of 10 000 pounds.

In 1909, the Aborigines and the Fisheries Departments were amalgamated into one agency; the Aborigines and Fisheries Department. This step was due partly to a policy of financial stringency on the part of the government and partly to the expediency of running as one the two departments whose interests in that period lay mainly in the northern part of the State.

The first Chief Protector of Aborigines was Henry Charles Prinsep (who was formerly Under-Secretary for Mines). Prinsep's appointment commenced on 1 April 1898 but was without any legal authority (see the 1904 Roth Royal Commission, question 207). The Aborigines Act 1905 legalised the situation and his appointment was re-gazetted on 4 May 1906.

Charles Frederick Gale was appointed Acting Chief Protector of Aborigines during Prinsep's absence… Gale was appointed Chief Protector of Aborigines and Chief Inspector of Fisheries on 1 October 1908.

The role of Donald Edmund Pechell in the Department in the early part of the twentieth century gives an insight into its work and structure. In 1905, giving testimony to the Roth Royal Commission, Pechell was reported (Western Mail, 18 February 1905, p.12) as being a 'Clerk, Accountant, Etc.,' in the Aborigines Department. Pechell was asked about his duties and said: 'I attend to correspondence, all the accounts of the office, distribution of blankets, and all other work, with the exception of the administration, when Mr. Prinsep [the Chief Protector of Aborigines] is in Perth. When he is absent I have to attend to everything.' Tilbrook, in Nyungar Tradition, p.37) refers to Pechell as 'Acting Chief Protector' in 1908 so it is possible that Pechell's tenure extended across both Prinsep and Gale's administration.


 1887 - 1890 Aborigines Protection Board
       1890 - 1898 Aborigines Protection Board
             1898 - 1908 Aborigines Department
                   1909 - 1920 Department of Aborigines and Fisheries
                         1920 - 1926 Department of the North West
                         1920 - 1964 Fisheries Department
                               1926 - 1936 Aborigines Department
                               1926 - 1936 Aborigines Department
                                     1936 - 1954 Department of Native Affairs
                                           1955 - 1972 Department of Native Welfare
                                                 1972 - 1985 Department for Community Welfare
                                                 1972 - 1994 Aboriginal Affairs Planning Authority
                                                       1985 - 1992 Department for Community Services
                                                       1994 - 2001 Aboriginal Affairs Department
                                                             1992 - 1995 Department for Community Development
                                                             2001 - 2013 Department of Indigenous Affairs
                                                                   1995 - 2001 Department for Family and Children's Services
                                                                   2013 - 2017 Department of Aboriginal Affairs
                                                                         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

Provided 'Care' At

Related Legislation

Related Organisations


Online Resources

Sources used to compile this entry: 'AU WA A67 - Aborigines Department [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,; Tilbrook, Lois, Nyungar Tradition : glimpses of Aborigines of south-western Australia 1829-1914, Online version published by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in 2007, University of Western Australia Press, 1983,

Prepared by: Leanne Howard and Debra Rosser