The Curious Tale of ‘Black Face’ Minstrelsy in Tasmania & Australia’s First Professional Banjo Player, Dan Boley



In January 1856 rave reviews began filling pages of Hobart’s newspapers. The Backus minstrel show was on tour. After playing shows in Sydney and Melbourne, the ‘Black face’ troupe had arrived in Hobart. The Courier Newspaper proudly declared on 1 January:


THIS famous corps of minstrels, whose performances

have been so highly spoken of by the Press of the

Atlantic and Southern States of America, of New

South Wales and Victoria, commence a series of their

popular Entertainments in this city at the Royal Victoria

Theatre to-morrow evening-the Regatta

night. Placing the utmost reliance upon the state-

ments of some of our colonists who have been

delighted with their efforts in the neighbouring colo-

nies, we anticipate a treat of no ordinary musical

character, and have very little doubt, after the

aquatic sports, instituted in commemoration of the

discovery of the colony are over, that crowds of our

fellow-citizens will report to the Temple of Melody

upon this occasion.


The Royal Victorian Theatre (later known as the Theatre Royal) had been built in a ‘rough, foul-smelling’ part of town by convict labour and the wealth of convict-cum-entepeneur and founder of Cascades brewery Peter Degraves. Early performances at the theatre featured cockfights, boxing, amateur performance nights and of course religious meetings. Performers were regularly subjected to drunken and disruptive interactions with the locals. By the time the minstrel show arrived in town, it must have seemed quite a treat.

Minstrel shows had been popular in Australia for quite some time. Hobart even had its own amateur minstrel bands, but the Backus minstrel show was the real deal. Originating in San Francisco in the summer of 1854, they toured America delivering performances with a “degree of success unparalleled in the history of the profession”, before heading abroad for a tour of Australia.

Considering the deeply racist origins of black face minstrelsy it is unsurprising that it was received with such popularity in Australia. In many ways it allowed colonists to reinforce notions of racial superiority whilst poking fun at the colonial administration. [*] At the time that the Backus minstrel show played in Hobart, memories of the brutal frontier war which had raged across Van Diemen’s Land were still fresh.

Amongst the performers who arrived with the Backus minstrel show was a banjo player by the name of Dan F Boley. The Courier newspaper advertised on the 30th Jan 1856 that a;


Grand Banjo Solo (in which the characteristic musical

tones of this instrument will ‘ be fully developed for the

first time in the colonies) by D. F. Boley.


Boley, it seems developed a liking for Tasmania. When the Backus Minstrel show packed up after a successful series of shows and returned to San Francisco, Boley stayed. He married a wealthy widow named Matilda Watkins in Sydney and penned the song ‘We met by chance’ in her honour:


Boley went on to establish his own minstrel troop ‘Boley’s Minstrels’ and toured Australia playing regular shows in Melbourne and Tasmania. In 1858, when Backus’ newly formed San Francisco Minstrels returned to Australia, Boley joined his old friends and again they performed at the Theatre Royal in Hobart, however it seems for some reason or another, the show was not well attended. Boley’s Minstrels continued to perform after the San Francisco Minstrels returned home and in late 1861, Boley decided he would take his show on an international tour. In 1862, some months after they had left, tragic news reached home:


Most of the habitues of the concert halls of Melbourne will

remember ‘ Boley’s Minstrels,’ who about twelve months since

left Australia on a professional visit to Mauritius. After playing a

far from successful engagement at Port Louis, they embarked

on board a schooner for the Cape of Good Hope,and, we regret

to add, were wrecked off Cape St. Mary. The passengers,

including the troupe, with Mrs. Boley and children, were fourteen

in number, and have all perished, with the exception of Mr. Robson,

who with three sailors succeeded in returning to Port Louis. Two

other passengers reached the shore but died shortly afterwards of

the fever. The sufferings of the four who survived during the three

months they were on shore at Cape St. Mary were distressing,

and their pitiful appearance on arrival moved the compassion

of the wharf, the Customs, and the Post-office clerks.


Boley’s popularity and success in Tasmania highlights an interesting period in our history. The influence of ‘black face mistrelsy’ had a lasting impact on Australian music and can still be heard today. The Racist nature of the shows highlights the often dark and ongoing legacy of Australian colonial culture. ‘Black face’ minstrelsy continued as a popular form of entertainment in Tasmania well into the 20th century. Banjos, for better or worse, are here to stay.


[*] The reasons for the popularity of minstrel shows in Australia are many and varied, for an in depth look at the legacy minstrel shows had on Australian culture, look up Richard Waterhouse ‘The Minstrel show and Australian Culture’ in Journal of Popular Culture, 1990, vol 24.



A message to those who oppose fascism

So, there has been a lot of discussion in the last few days re: violence, antifa, the broader left and the movement against the UPF/RA and other associated far right groups.The arguments seem to fall into a couple of categories.

(There are assumptions and generalisations here which are simply for the point of argument, obviously characterisations of different positions are more nuanced and varied than those expressed below)

Those of the moderate (small l) liberal, progressive persuasion seem to be mostly of the opinion that the far right can only be effectively challenged and defeated if the general public is on board. The implications and assumptions here are,
– public opinion and positive media are the most important tools in challenging the far right
– there must be a broad commitment to non-violence (NV)
– there can be different tactics, but the must be a broad adherence to these positions.
– Actions which run counter this are seen to be counter productive and essentially result in positive outcomes for the far right.
Many of the antifa/anarchist/militant leftist position seem to assert that the far right can only be defeated through strict adherence to a no platform principle and direct confrontation. This involves challenging the far right at every opportunity and at every rally/instance of organisation. This position asserts that
– all forms of confrontation are legitimate
– the far right should be challenged physically as well as ideologically
– media and public opinion come as a secondary consideration
As a result those of the progressive position see the actions of antifa/militant leftists as counterproductive, damaging to the cause and liable to alienate the general public and media whose support is essential to wining the cause
Antifa et al. see the progressive left/moderates as ineffective, blind to the reality of the far-right and that these positions and the strict adherence to NV allow the far right the space/legitimacy to operate publically.
This tension is not easily resolved, so far it has seen both sides engage publically in ugly argument, accusations and name-calling. (I am not innocent of this either)The invective from both sides is entirely un-useful and damaging to the movement in general. It feeds straight into the hands of the far right and plays right into the age old notion that the biggest threat to the left is the left itself.
So how do we resolve it?
Well, when it is played out on the conditions that are outlined above, we cant. There is an ideological divide which can not be mitigated, the difference is political and those on both sides believe absolutely in their position. I personally have sympathies to arguments from both sides. What I can suggest is that the way we negate this difference be played out differently.
Lets do our best not to play out our differences in opinion in a manner that allows the far right to capitalise on our dis-unity. Lets do our best to check ourselves before name calling. Before we post, pause for a minute to think, ‘how does this comment contribute to the greater cause of fighting fascism/racism’. If it doesn’t, and only serves as a defensive reaction, suck it up and don’t post.
Further to this, I would urge everyone to accept that there are different opinions as to the efficacy of certain tactics. Accept that this divide can not be negated. Accept that people are going to act in ways which you personally consider to be counter-productive. I would ask that instead of engaging in a war with those who are opposed to fascists (but are of different tactics and political beliefs) maintain your fight against fascists. Think about ways to further your position without attacking others on the left. Organise. Stand and fight against fascism in the way you think is most appropriate. Do this without the fucking ego and without the need to legitimise your position at the expense of others. But for fucks sake, don’t just be a keyboard warrior… just accept people wont agree and that this difference in tactics is not going to go away. lets take this fight to them in as many ways as possible, get together with like minded folk and Organise!

Pilmerising the North

‘Pilmerising’ the North

Colonial Policing on the Western Australian Frontier




Nathan Harris, Bachelor of Arts

Word Count: 13902




Through a close analysis of journals, police personnel files, oral histories and newspaper reports this thesis assesses the role of Sergeant Richard Henry Pilmer within the broader context of frontier policing in the Kimberley. It provides an analysis of the impact and legacy frontier policing had on Aboriginal people in the Kimberley and the responses it provoked in the broader community. It posits that Pilmer, with the full support of the police force and colonial administration, engaged in actions that caused his name to become synonymous with police brutality and repressive police responses to Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, the legacy of which influenced the rest of his career. It is further suggested that Pilmers actions marred his reputation and stood as his impediment to his capacity to work in the working class towns of Fremantle and Collie. During this time Pilmer received the support of the Police administration who considered him to be an important asset. This is apparent in the Canning Stock Route punitive expedition, which Pilmer led at the request of the police administration.




The assistance of my supervisor Dr Kristyn Harman throughout the research and preparation of this thesis has been invaluable and I would like to express my sincere appreciation. Further thanks to Dr Chris Owen for taking the time to discuss policing in the Kimberley and for suggesting Richard Pilmer as a thesis topic. Also to Professor Tom Griffiths, Dr Carolyn Strange and Dr Malcolm Allbrook for the experience and advice I received at the Australian National University History Honours workshop. Finally, I would like to give special thanks to my parents Sally and Ray Harris for all their support throughout this project.




The nature of colonial policing in Australia varied in structure and responsibility. Policing on the colonial frontiers however shared a common factor, in every instance police were required to facilitate the dispossession of Aboriginal people.[1] Police operated in a racially turbulent environment, they were often the first line of attack and defence against Aboriginal people, whilst being beholden to cooperative Aboriginal people for knowledge of a landscape that was often difficult and alien.[2] They were guided not only by central command and regional magistrates, but also the economic and social expectations of settlers, pastoralists and miners.[3] This created an unusual set of demands for police operating on frontiers. The economic expansion into ‘unsettled’ regions was often encouraged by colonial administrations and state governments. Attractive land deals in areas like the Kimberley in Western Australia were offered in the hope of developing the region at a rapid pace. The occupation of lands in remote areas came at significant risk to those who would take the opportunity. Pastoralists and settlers in the region expected protection.


Resistance to the occupation of traditional lands varied. While rarely taking the form of direct assault, although this was the case during the mid to late 1890s in the Western Kimberley, Aboriginal people would spear stock, attack infrastructure, kill shepherds, stockmen, miners and explorers and attack crops. Settlers and Pastoralists demanded protection against what they believed to be ‘black depredations’ and outrages. The right to protection was almost always conceived on the concept of racial superiority, officially Aboriginal people were afforded equal protection of the law as British subjects, however in practice these rights were rarely observed. Pastoralists and settlers saw themselves as a civilising force, bringing a vast swathe of country and its wild inhabitants into the fold of a civilised, white world. This thinking was supported by scientific race theories prevalent at the time. Social Darwinism conceived Aboriginal people as being at the very bottom of the human evolutionary ladder.[4] Concepts of the noble savage that had been prevalent since the enlightenment and informed racial thinking earlier in the century were not so prevalent on the Western Australian frontiers. More often than not, Aboriginal people were seen as entirely uncivilised, barbaric, treacherous and deserving of brutal repression.


To better understand this process, this thesis seeks to establish the impact of an individual policeman operating in the Kimberley, Richard Henry Pilmer. It looks at the relationship between Pilmer and his superiors, settlers in the region and Aboriginal people. The thesis has used a broad range of primary source materials. Extensive research of the police files and of Pilmer’s Personnel record housed at the State Records Office of Western Australia, combined with a thorough analysis of the press reporting of the time have provided the foundations of this work. The Author has also made extensive use of Pilmer’s memoirs, Northern Patrol, published posthumously and edited by Cathie Clement and Peter Bridge.[5] The memoirs provide an invaluable insight into Pilmer’s attitudes and help to establish the human face of policing and Government policy. Secondary sources have been used to provide theoretical analysis of structural and cultural context and to draw on the broader history of the Kimberley region.


It will be asserted that the reputation Pilmer acquired during his time in the Kimberley greatly influenced his career, Pilmer was known as an authoritarian who was prepared to ‘get his hands dirty’. He proved a capacity for dealing with what was described as the ‘Aboriginal problem’ in the Kimberley and as such was a significant asset to the Western Australian police force and Government. His actions in the Kimberley provided him the support and protection of Police Commissioner Fred Hare, but also formed the basis of his negative reception in the working class areas of Fremantle and Collie. The public reaction to Pilmer highlights changing attitudes towards Aboriginal people amongst the Western Australian public. Newspaper’s editorial stance varied dependent on readership and location. The Sunday Times consistently campaigned against Pilmer, but other papers such as The Leonora Miner regularly published in his favour. This work will highlight the opportunistic solidarity with Aboriginal people displayed in publications sympathetic to working class people and assert that this was done less out of concern for Aboriginal welfare and more as a way to tarnish Pilmer’s name.


Colonial Policing in Australia has been the subject of a considerable amount of research. Historians such as Chris Cunneen, Amanda Nettlebeck, Mark Finnane, Jonathan Richards, Henry Reynolds, Raymond Evans and Robert Orsted-Jensen, amongst others have contributed significantly to the understanding of colonial policing in Australia. Cunneen has outlined the structures that allowed police to function as they did and asserts that on the pastoral frontiers, police conducted duties that were military in nature. This is juxtapositioned against notions of community policing and Cunneen suggests that the role of police on frontiers was superimposed on aggressively expanding communities, preferring to compare the police to British troops in other parts of the empire rather than community police in England.[6] Nettlebeck and Finnane have contributed significantly to understandings of the ambiguous legal status of Aboriginal people in colonial Australia and how this has related to policing.[7] Richards has extensively detailed the structure and actions of the Native Police in Queensland.[8] Reynolds has forwarded the argument that frontier conflict in Australia is best understood as warfare and detailed the significant role police played in this.[9] Evans and Orsted-Jensen have detailed the severity of the colonial impact in Queensland and significantly revised the estimated number of Aboriginal fatalities.[10]


Colonial policing in the Kimberley has received less attention than other areas of Australia. The nature of policing and the relatively recent timeframe of settlement in the region invites a more detailed analysis of the Kimberly districts history. To date, there have been three notable historians who have looked at the region in some detail, Andrew Gill, Cathie Clement and Chris Owen.


Gill traverses the complex realities of policing in the Kimberley by drawing distinction clearly between settlers, police and the colonial administration that instructed them. Acknowledging that Police were dependent on pastoralists for provisions and often horses, Gill seeks to establish whether police shared the attitudes of settlers and whether it was possible for them to separate themselves from the social position they found themselves; as guardians of white property and lives and of the continuation of ‘white conquest in the Kimberleys’. Gill also looks closely at the pastoralists and suggests that they saw themselves as opening up new country for the benefit and prosperity of the whole colony and felt entitled either to be afforded some protection by the government, or to be released from some of the laws which restricted their capacity to defend themselves and their property. Gill then explores the relationship between the colonial administration and the police and settlers in the area, recognising that while the administration was not prepared to respond in the same manner that colonial administrations had in other colonies, or to form a native police force, they were prepared to make concessions, turn a blind eye and in some cases condone or explicitly command violent police actions. Gill draws a clear distinction between policing in the Eastern and Western Kimberley’s, a point that is contested by other academics in later research.[11] This thesis will assert that police actions were consistently condoned by the administration, and that men like Pilmer received favourable treatment because of their willingness to act in subduing Aboriginal resistance.


Clement details the duties and realities of police in the Eastern Kimberley during the period between 1896 and 1908. Clement suggests that in the context of policing in the Kimberley, it is best to see police as individuals because they bring their own ideology into practice. This claim is largely unsubstantiated and ignores a good deal of documentary evidence that suggests police operated in the full knowledge of, and under direction of the central police administration in Perth. However Clement does concede that the government tacitly condoned violent action against troublesome Aborigines and that those who ‘exterminated’ Aborigines expected to do so with impunity. Outlining settler/police relations, Clement describes a scenario in which pastoralists manipulated police actions in a manner conducive to the effective management of their stations. Primarily this was done by lodging questionable accounts of cattle spearing which allowed managers at pastoral stations to use police as defacto ‘boundary riders’ in order to keep a check on their stock. Clement asserts that while there was much violence associated with the policing of Aboriginal people, this was largely owing to the fact that there was no consensus amongst the settler population as to how they wanted Aborigines to reside. This is consistent with her earlier assertion that colonisation of the Kimberley is best understood through the lens of the individual rather than as a cohesive structure which condoned and supported aggressive economic expansion at the expense of the Aboriginal population.[12] This thesis will dispute claims that policing in the Kimberley is primarily a reflection of settlers attitudes and individual police, highlighting that the colonial administration played a considerable role in the actions of police.


Owen asserts that policing in the Kimberley cannot be understood as having occurred in distinct contexts between Eastern and Western districts. Rather it is better explained as a more fluid operation which officially responded to a central command in Perth whilst also being effectively dependent on the pastoralists in the region. Owen challenges the notion that police operated as ‘independent agents of the colonial state’, whose acts of killing were independent of the colonial administration. Drawing from a large body of primary source police records in the State Records archives of Western Australia, Owen provides a nuanced context for policing in the Kimberley, one in which the police traversed a difficult line, at times attempting to uphold laws which provided for the protection of Aboriginal people whilst also defending the pastoralists engaged in aggressive expansion into Aboriginal lands.[13]

This thesis will contribute to the literature on the subject of policing in the Kimberley by analysing the career of one policeman within the context of the broader socio-political realities and by providing an analysis of public sentiment in relation to police tactics and methods in the Kimberley. The period this thesis covers charts a significant change in public attitudes towards Aboriginal people and this is highlighted in the work.


Chapter One will focus on Pilmer’s time in the Kimberley. This chapter spans from 1892 to 1897. It looks at the methods of policing Pilmer adopted and how this was situated within the broader culture of frontier policing in the region. Attention will be drawn to the manner in which Pilmer was received by pastoralists and settlers in the region. Further attention will be given to the reception Pilmer received from Aboriginal people and the legacy Pilmer’s actions have had, highlighting examples of Pilmer in oral histories located in a number of secondary sources. It will be asserted that Pilmer’s actions in the Kimberley were consistent with the wishes of the Colonial Administration, and that these actions caused Pilmer to develop as an archetypal figure which represented police violence more broadly and beyond Pilmer’s individual actions.


Chapter Two looks at Pilmer’s time in Perth and Collie. It is located in the context of class tensions and changing attitudes towards Aboriginal people. The chapter draws extensively on newspapers published at the time and asserts that Pilmer’s actions in the Kimberley tainted his name to such a degree that his ongoing viability as a police officer required the direct intervention and ongoing maintenance of the Police Commissioner. It also highlights the discomfort displayed by white Australians when they felt that the tactics employed against Aboriginal people were being turned on the broader European population.


Chapter Three looks at the Canning Stock Route punitive expedition. This was one of the last government sanctioned punitive missions against Aboriginal people in Western Australian history and was led by Pilmer. The chapter draws on newspaper reporting of the expedition and locates it in the context of the ‘Royal Commission to inquire into the treatment of natives by the Canning exploration party’. The chapter asserts that while Pilmer’s actions were contentious, and his career required the support of the Police Commissioner, his actions were condoned by the government and seen as necessary by a section of the community.



Chapter One

Policing in the Kimberley


Without Punitive measures, Sometimes drastic, Australia could never have been a white man’s country. Our methods were as merciful as we could make them, and we always proceeded according to police instruction.[1]Richard Henry Pilmer




Policing on the colonial frontiers facilitated the meeting of two vastly different worlds. Police traversed a fine line between vigilante justice and the introduction of a new legal structure. They facilitated the expansion of the political, economic and social structures of the European administration and settler society. It will be asserted that this was done, in the case of Western Australia, with full support and under direction of the Western Australian Police administration, a claim which disputes Cathie Clement’s argument that police actions should be viewed primarily as those of individuals.[2] Acknowledging that the individual played an important role in the associated mythology, this chapter will explore the role of police in the Kimberley region and the impacts policing had on Aboriginal people in the area. It will further discuss the role of the individual within this structure by focussing on the career of Richard Henry Pilmer and assert that his actions and the legacy of his policing had an ongoing impact on Aboriginal memory and the regions history and mythology. The chapter will engage in a broad survey of secondary sources relating to policing, memory and Aboriginal oral histories and a detailed look at primary source material relating to policing and Pilmer.


In 1881, the need for a police force in the Kimberley region was already being discussed. The superintendent of police Matthew Skinner Smith was aware that the rapidly expanding pastoral regions were going to need protection, a situation which settlers were keen to establish. In 1881 The Inquirer and Commercial News in Perth commented:


With regard to police protection in the outlying districts, a great deal had

been said of late. It had been said that if the settlers go to the interior

countries for their own gain they must take their own risk. Those who are extending

our settlement are brought face to face with many difficulties, and their position

be had deeply at heart. So far as funds were at his disposal he [Smith] was endeavouring

to provide a little police protection for the settlers of the Gascoyne, and also

taking steps to furnish police protection for the Kimberley district.[3]

There had been violent conflict with local Aboriginal people dating back as far as 1864.[4] The immediate need for a police presence in the newly settled region was clear and in 1883 a permanent police force was established in the Kimberley. Approved by the Governor, the Police Gazette of Western Australia announced that the police would establish stations in two areas. Operating out of Fitzroy River was Sargent Paddy Troy, he was assigned Constables Buckley and Lee, two ‘native’ trackers and six horses. At Roebuck Bay were Constables Lemon and Sherry, two ‘native’ assistants and four horses. The whole force was to be under control of Sargent Troy.[5] The Police Force in the Kimberley District was “placed under the immediate orders of the Government Resident, whose instructions are to be promptly attended to, but this will not interfere with the Sergeant in charge forwarding direct to the Superintendent of Police by every opportunity the usual Status Reports, Returns, Requisitions, &c., or attending promptly to all orders received from the Superintendent of Police, and to communications from the Detective Office.”[6] The Police presence established was small and from the outset it was recognised that policing in the region was going offer a unique set of conditions and be challenging in nature, the Superintendent noted:


The duties the Police will be called on to discharge in the Kimberley District will be somewhat different to those they may have had to perform in the more settled districts of the Colony; of the nature of these duties, the Sergeant who has been selected to take charge has had experience, and in that officer the Superintendent is prepared to place every confidence. The Superintendent of Police desires to impress on the Constables the necessity, on their part, of according a ready and cheerful obedience to all orders they may receive; of showing on all occasions civility to all persons with whom they may come in contact, and a readiness to assist them; of exercising forbearance and patience, coupled, with the aborigines of the district; and trusts, that by showing intelligence and assiduity in the discharge of their duties, they may give satisfaction to the Officer appointed as Government Resident, as well as to the settlers in the District, and thus bring credit on themselves and the Police Force, of which they are members.[7]


From the outset it was clear that the police administration in Perth was invested in police operations in the region. Distance being the primary impediment to direct control from Perth was to be mitigated through the use of local Government residents as facilitators.


The reality of policing in the Kimberley varied greatly between inland stations and costal ones. The pearling industry was quickly becoming established on the coast. The pearl luggers were crewed by mostly Malay, Chinese and Aboriginal people, many of whom were enmeshed in a system of indentured labour. On the coast, the demographics created a social situation which was unique to the region, Europeans were a small minority, in some cases accounting for only 14 percent of the population.[8] While it was the job of police to maintain order amongst the pearling crews, they were also concerned with limiting the contact between Aboriginal and Asian people and returning absconding crew members to their employers.[9] Inland, police like Pilmer were initially mostly concerned with the protection of pastoralists, infrastructure and their stock.[10]



Amid public concerns about the nature of policing on the frontiers the Roth Report was commissioned. The report of the Royal Commission into the Condition of the Natives, published in 1905 suggests that by way of comparison, in Western Australia “there was less of a tradition of ‘dispersal’, or wholesale killing of natives, which was the practice of the police in Queensland at the time.”[11] There was certainly a greater emphasis on arrest in the Western Australian context, however as Andrew Gill suggests, “relations between the police and the natives whom they arrested or attempted to arrest in the Kimberleys were based quite as much on violence and the fear of death as on anything else. The incidents described in the police journals and reports show perhaps that the nett effect of the actions of the police against the natives in attempting to ‘arrest’ them may not have been clearly distinguishable from the ‘dispersal’ of natives practised in Queensland in the 1870s and 1880s”.[12] Chris Owen goes further, suggesting that:


The distinction between police as agents of law and order and as agents of con- quest was irreconcilable, not least because of the apparent acceptance of illegal practices at the senior level of policing. Violence towards Aboriginal people of the East Kimberley was not just a local matter of Aboriginal people being caught between settlers and police. In this regard, the evidence subverts assumptions that frontier violence contravened the wishes of administrators in Perth. Killings (‘dispersal’ and its synonyms) were not only countenanced but appear to have been implicitly sanctioned by the Commissioner of Police, in deference to vested commercial interests.[13]


It is apparent that adopting a tactic of dispersals was the primary manner in which police attempted to quell Aboriginal ‘depredations’. These tactics, while seen by some in the colonial administration as distasteful, were none the less condoned as a necessary step in settling what was believed to be an important economic asset for the Western Australian state. The role of police in settling such a vast area was highly significant. With a small force and limited resources, police were required to maintain working relationships with not only their superiors, but also pastoralists, settlers and co-operative Aboriginal people in order to be effective. In the social dynamics of the region, pastoralists often saw police such as Pilmer as part of a personal force for quelling Aboriginal resistance on what they now saw as their land. For example, Neville Green notes that police “in the Fitzroy district established [themselves] as a military force and a law unto themselves”, a situation which had been welcomed and condoned by the Commissioner of Police.[14]


Police were quick to respond to Aboriginal ‘depredations’, as attacks and acts of resistance were described at the time.[15] The case files tell a familiar story of pursuit, ambush, arrest and killing. From the outset police tactics when pursuing Aboriginal offenders was clear. A police party consisting of at least two white officers and accompanied by Aboriginal assistants would pursue a party of Aboriginal people assumed guilty of stock spearing or some other crime.[16] Men such as Pilmer would ride for days, weeks or months through rough terrain following the tracks of the Aboriginal offenders. The country was harsh and supplies were limited, horses needed regular maintenance and police were often dependent on local pastoralists for fresh supplies. As they drew closer to the alleged offenders, they would set up camp a short distance from where the party had settled for the night. This information was usually established by Aboriginal trackers and often noted by campfire smoke. Moving by stealth while it was still dark the police would move to surround the camp, careful not to wake any of their targets. On first light the police party would attack, with firearms drawn they would rush the camp taking its occupants by surprise. Resistance would be met with force and those attempting to flee would often be shot down as they ran. Upon subduing the occupants, men and women would be separated. Women would often be grouped together and made to sit under a nearby tree while an Aboriginal assistant guarded them. The men who were deemed guilty would be arrested and fastened to one another by neck chains. The Police party would then march their prisoners back to the nearest town with a Magistrate present for sentencing. If found guilty the prisoners would be transported to Derby or Broome and shipped to Fremantle and then Rottnest Island to serve out their prison sentence.[17] This became the established method of dealing with pastoralist’s claims of stock killing and would often yield more casualties than it did arrests. The bodies of those killed in the raids would usually be burned on the spot or near by and records of casualties were kept only at police discretion. This makes it almost impossible to estimate the numbers of Aboriginal deaths in Western Australia at the hands of police on the basis of these records. However, recent work by Raymond Evans and Robert Orsted-Jensen has demonstrated the utility of tangential record sets in reconstructing the numbers of Aboriginal deaths.[18]


In 1895 Pilmer was transferred to Fitzroy Crossing.[19] This was just one year since Jandamarra, who was known colonists as ‘Pigeon’, had shot Constable Richardson and initiated an ongoing campaign against pastoralists and police.[20] Pilmer had been in the police force since 1892 and had spent his first two years in the Gascoyne. Establishing himself as a competent bushman with an aptitude for tackling Aboriginal resistance he was a valuable asset to the police force.[21] The new police outpost at Fitzroy Crossing was to be under Pilmer’s control, a significant promotion in recognition of his perceived value to the police administration, and would be central to the campaign against Jandamarra in the coming years. Pilmer’s first year in the police force had established his tactics and his reputation. Consistent with usual patterns of policing in the Kimberley, in 1892 while on patrol with Sergeant Paddy Troy, Pilmer and his companions identified that a group of Aboriginal men believed guilty of spearing stock were in the area. Accordingly, the party left Canarvon on 20 July with two Aboriginal assistants who were armed but instructed only to discharge their weapons under extreme circumstances. Traveling an average of 20 miles a day, the party apprehended several groups of Aboriginal men and women, some of whom were subsequently released when it was apparent they had committed no crimes, The others were chained by the neck and forced to accompany the patrol. On 23 August, Pilmer, Troy and their Aboriginal assistants launched a dawn attack on a camp of Aborigines identified by their tracks as those responsible for stock killing. In the ensuing scuffle, Pilmer discharged his revolver in to the chest of an Aboriginal man named Jenathuban killing him instantly.[22] In his memoirs Pilmer reflects on the shooting “I looked on my first dead man with a little surprise and some horror. I reflected he might have been innocent.”[23] There was no room for self defence in one of these raids. The slightest perceived provocation would be met with deadly force. The women who remained at the camp were ordered by Troy and Pilmer to burn the body of the slain man.[24] The patrol, satisfied with their work began the long march back to Derby with their prisoners.[25] This outcome is typical of police actions in the region, the long and arduous patrols inflicted high casualties and required little or no proof of guilt before engaging. The patrols were highly dependent on their Aboriginal guides and official evidence of casualties only exist where the police found it fit to record them.


The police in the Kimberley had developed a culture of ‘shoot first and ask questions later’. This is evidenced, for example, in a police journal entry from Pilmer written in 1896 that reads:


On the 18th July I surprised three natives who I had been following for nearly two days wanted on the charge of killing one cow the property of Edwin Rose of Inanbella Station upper Fitzroy. I followed these natives from St Georges Range to about 10 miles about Christmas Creek on Fitzroy River. When we saw them we galloped in pursuit but being close to the river they succeeded in getting into it before we could prevent it and swimming a large pool. we called on them to stop this they took no notice of. being unable to prevent their escape otherwise than shooting we opened fire on them killing two.[26]


Over the course of 1894 to 1897 the Kimberley establishment had been thrown in to disarray by the actions of Jandamarra. A Bunuba man with knowledge and experience of the police and pastoralists, he had worked for Constable Richardson before shooting him dead and freeing a group of captive Bunuba prisoners. Pilmer was central to the pursuit of Jandamarra over several years and features heavily in both European and Aboriginal accounts of the story. In Pilmer’s account published in his memoirs he is integral to the chase of Jandamarra and in one instance exchanges fire directly with him receiving a shot wound to the leg.[27] In Jandamarra’s War, which aired on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation in 2011, Jandamarra shoots the hat off Pilmer in a humiliating act of mercy. Pilmer then retreats only to return and cut the head of Jandamarra after his death.[28] Pilmer’s character is used to signify the brutality of frontier policing. He is portrayed as a brutal and merciless force of colonisation. Speaking of the intent and source material of the film, Eileen Torres says in the producers statement “it also plays with the known history, both the Aboriginal and the white versions, selecting, melding and blending characters and incidents. It is a work of drama with its roots in history, but tries to tell the story from a strongly Bunuba perspective. Above all, it seeks to be true to the spirit of Jandamarra and his story as it is remembered by the Bunuba people.”[29] In recalling Pilmer in the film, he is essentially remembered through the lens of Aboriginal memory. While Pilmer was certainly integral to the colonial force brought against Jandamarra, it is noted in the records that his vanity resulted in incompetence. Howard Petersen notes in Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance that Pilmer essentially bungled the police response against Jandamarra on at least one instance.[30] Sup-Inspector Ord criticised Pilmer saying “Pilmer it seems wants to be the hero that brings back Pigeon [Jandamarra] or kills him.”[31] Regardless of the accuracy of individual accounts of police action against the Bunuba and Jandamarra specifically, Pilmer has developed qualities associating him with police actions rather than individual ones. Pilmers role, whether perceived or real is one of brutal police repression. Pilmer acknowledges this in a manner when he says “Without Punitive measures, Sometimes drastic, Australia could never have been a white man’s country. Our methods were as merciful as we could make them, and we always proceeded according to police instruction.”[32]


Pilmer had a reputation as a competent bushman and a good police officer amongst his counterparts, however he quickly developed a reputation for brutality amongst Aboriginal people in the region. This has lived on in the oral histories of Aboriginal people to this date. In the book titled Encounters | Materialities | Confrontations :Archaeologies of Social Space and Interaction, Rodney Harrison looks at the oral histories of the Jaru people at Old Lamboo Station, in a chapter edited by Harrison, Aboriginal artist and elder Stan Brumby offers this account:


White man called Pilmer, he come down from Sydney. I don’t know how much people, might be 40 or 60 or more 100 hundred people get hanged. Kid bin get knocked by tree, little kid, small kid, smackem into the tree. Kid. That’s the old people bin tellin me. My granpa, my uncle, and my father. Nother father, not my own father, but my stepfather, bin tellin me kid bin smashed in the tree, right there. They had a big hole, they bin digging a big hole, right there, and bury them right there when they bin get hanged. That’s the story from old people bin tell me, and I very sorry for that place, the tree gone now, but I got a photo here, I gottem in language centre, and I gottem in the camp. We got a photo of that tree, hangman tree, in the Hangman Creek…That’s the story, I put my story. Gardiya called Pilmer bin killem my people. Pilmer. That’s the Captain Cook, he only bin sendem all the crook. Some crook bin go to Northern Territory, I don’t know what man bin go. Northern Territory, Queensland. Shoot, kill all the people, blackfella. Tried to killem, but people bin run away, in the rock country, couldn’t gettem, even my mother, even my uncle, even my granny, bin running to big rock country, stay there, till new lot of good gardiya, bin come now, white man, good white man, put up station now, and put up town, Halls Creek.[33]

There is no mention in Pilmer’s police record or memoirs of actually hanging people, although there are numerous cases of him shooting Aboriginal people, and the casual nature in which Pilmer kills as revealed in this account is also reflected in his journals. While it cannot be entirely read as ‘fact’, this oral history makes a number of important points about the impact of policing in the region and its association according to local understandings with Pilmer. While relevant here , the manner in which oral histories conflate and combine characters and events is discussed later in this chapter. Harrison notes this point saying “Other murders that occurred along the Mary River are also attributed to Pilmer, although Pilmer’s involvement in massacres in other areas of the Kimberley have tended to allow him to develop into an archetype, and the direct link between these historical characters and the massacres is uncertain”.[34]


Further Aboriginal accounts of Pilmer are found in the book Moola Boola: in the shadow of the mountain, a collection of oral histories published by the Kimberley Language Centre. Several stories recount tales of Pilmer killing people, and George Nunkarry and Ben Duncan both tell of what are understood to be his exploits:


You mean a story about our old people, like my old man when he was running wild along time ago? Only later did he come to know white people. That was in Pilmers time. you know, Pilmer who shot people along the big river around the ranges? in the early days he shot those people like dogs and burned them.[35]


Another says:


Then Pilmer came. He rode a little buggy in which he used to carry all his bullets and tucker. he had a lot of bullets and a lot of horses. he hanged a mob of Jaru people at Rawugga…Pilmer said to them there, we’ll hang you people because we havent got to many more bullets. there aren’t too many stores around here, we’ll use the horse to hang you.[36]

These accounts demonstrate how interlinked Pilmers actions in the region and policing more generally have become in Aboriginal oral histories. Other stories are peppered with tales of police violence but perhaps the most compelling is a passage from Bill Matthews recounting a story where the police were engaged tracking and killing an Aboriginal stockman accused of murder. The story, while making no specific reference to Pilmer, is titled Pilmerising Murnawinja.


The allocation of archetypal qualities to individuals in Aboriginal mythology and oral history is usefully discussed by Maria Nugent in Captain Cook Was Here. She notes that Captain Cook has come to represent different things in Aboriginal and European history and memory. Nugent asserts that “for Aboriginal people the name Captain Cook is a means of accounting for certain types of change and as a metaphor for ethical dilemmas.”[37] This is certainly reflected in the account provided by Stan Brumby in which he says “Pilmer. that’s the Captain Cook”. Clearly, evidence from several oral sources strongly indicates that memory of Pilmer’s actions in the region have caused his identity as an individual to be attributed to police violence more generally. [38] The adoption of the term ‘Pilmerising’ suggests that in this manner, it is apparent that not only have Pilmer’s actions allowed him to develop as an archetype, as Harrison suggests, but that his name has become synonymous in this region at least with ‘dispersals’ similar to the way in which Cook’s name became synonymous with changes wrought through colonisation.


Pilmer’s actions in the Kimberley were consistent with policing in the region more generally. While on occasion he was noted as being incompetent, he enjoyed the support of the police department. His reputation amongst Aboriginal people reflects his over zealous nature and willingness to engage in repressive punitive action. For these reasons, Pilmer was mythologised in Aboriginal memory and became synonymous with police repression more broadly. However his behaviour is reflective of government attitudes and was supported by, and consistent with instructions from the police administration. Pilmer’s story is reflected on other colonial frontiers. Pilmer came to represent an archetype of police brutality in the Kimberley region, similarly in Alice Springs William Willshire became well known for police brutality. Willshire had become a police officer in 1878 and was still operating when Pilmer joined the force. Willshire’s capacity for brutality and violence have defined an era of policing in Alice Springs, although Willshire was reluctantly brought to trial and found not guilty, he acted with the support of the police administration in South Australia.[39] While the realities of policing can be highlighted through a study of individual police, their actions must be viewed in the context of colonisataion and the police role in repressing Aboriginal resistance in order to exercise control over land.


Chapter 2

Fremantle, South Africa and Collie


I think the commissioner will agree after reading this resume, that i have been picked out for the rough and unpleasant work during my twelve years service.[1] – R. H. Pilmer 1904




In an application requesting leave in 1904 Constable Richard Pilmer wrote:


Joining the service in 1892 I was sent to the Thomas station Gascoyne river, when the native trouble was at its height, after having assisted in the subjugation of the native difficulty which took two years I was transferred in 1894 to the Fitzroy River West Kimberley when the early settlers were in fear of being driven out of the district and ruined through native depredations, after working laboriously and under great disadvantages and danger to my own life for nearly four years I managed to get the natives well under control and on leaving the Fitzroy in 1897 there was not a single instance of native depredations [2]


Pilmer had been in charge of the Collie police station for three years during which time he was the subject of immense public scrutiny. Ever since he had left the Kimberley district, reputation of his actions there dogged him. It was clear that by the time he left Collie, Pilmer’s character made it difficult for him to police the largely working class towns where he had been stationed. This chapter will largely focus on how Pilmer was received in Perth and Collie, and the implications his time in the Kimberly had on public perception. Further attention will be paid to the relationship between Pilmer and Police Commissioner Hare. It will be asserted that Pilmer enjoyed the full support of Hare, largely owing to Pilmer’s duties in the Kimberley and willingness to operate as a strict authoritarian figure, often ‘dirtying his hands’ in the name of law and order to fulfil local and central demands to quell Aboriginal resistance.


After the killing of Jandamarra (‘Pigeon’) in 1897, Pilmer was awarded 10 pounds by the police department. While it had previously been noted that he displayed incompetence in the affray, notes in his personnel file celebrate the “courage, skill and perseverance displayed in disposing of the notorious murderer Pigeon and his gang of accomplices”, indicating that a process of white mythologising was also at work in relation to Pilmer.[3] Pilmer then requested a transfer from the region, reflecting in his memoir “By the end of 1897 the scarcely civilised natives of the West Kimberley, and of portions of the East Kimberley, had come to a realisation that they must not interfere with settlers or their employees, white or black, and cattle killing had become a rare occurance.”[4] While his memoirs suggest that Pilmer enjoyed good relations with the pastoralists and settlers in the Kimberley, his personnel files suggest that there was also considerable tension between pastoralists and Pilmer. Mr P. D. Hutton of Nookenbah station put in a formal complaint about Pilmer claiming that he had intimidated Aboriginal workers in his employ and had behaved in a manner deemed generally offensive. Pilmer then applied for permission to prosecute Hutton on the grounds that he had interfered with police work. Sub Inspector Ord weighed in on the matter stating “Pilmer has got into a bad odour in the district owing to his over bearing manner. I do not know who is to blame in this affair. Mr Hutton is a hasty tempered man but I do not for a moment believe he made use of the language and remarks attributed to him. P. C. Pilmer has applied and is expecting to be removed, I hope you will move him.”[5] The order was given to remove Pilmer from the Fitzroy district but no further action was recorded in relation to the dispute. Pilmer was transferred to Onslow on 16 September 1897 where he worked until 1899 when he was transferred to Perth, and then to Fremantle in February 1899.[6]


Pilmer had entered the police force in the midst of frontier conflict. His entire policing career thus far was immersed in the violent and brutal reality of dispersals and after eight years of administering frontier justice, his style of policing was at odds not only with the expectations of some pastoralists in the north, but also with Europeans living in the nascent cities in the south of Western Australia. Although he was recognised by the police administration as being a competent and effective officer, his personnel files suggest that many settlers in the Kimberley were uncomfortable when his attentions were directed at them.[7] Complaints about Pilmer acting beyond his jurisdiction and being generally meddlesome in the lives of settlers are noted by his superiors and he was regularly described as being overzealous.[8] The ambivalence with which Pilmer was viewed is exemplified in a description of him as “sober, reliable and energetic and most efficient in the discharge of his duties but wanting in tact.”[9] Pilmer’s authoritarian manner and overbearing character is discussed throughout his personnel file, but when weighed against his effectiveness as an officer and celebrated history in quashing Aboriginal resistance, was deemed by police administration to be acceptable under the circumstances. The tactics he was willing to employ in the Kimberley had been an asset to the police force and recognition of this shows in the administration’s tendency to allow him the benefit of the doubt in matters of conflict that was brought to its attention. However Pilmer’s character and history were to draw a good deal of attention when he applied the same policing style that he had used in the north of the colony to the white population in Perth. Pilmer was aware that his authoritarian nature made him greatly unpopular but was also viewed as an asset to the police force generally, as can be seen in how he expressed in a letter to the commissioner that it was his strict disciplinarian nature which was responsible for his promotion to corporal.[10] The reputation earned in the Kimberley would follow Pilmer throughout his career, the first dramatic evidence of which occurred during his first posting in Perth.


Pilmer was transferred to Perth in the midst of one of the biggest union actions to date in Western Australia, the Fremantle Lumpers strike of 1899. Increased Public works and new gold finds had rapidly increased the traffic through Fremantle’s ports in the early 1890s resulting in a considerable strengthening of the Lumpers union, but by 1898 the economic conditions were sliding. The ranks of the unemployed swelled, a state government hostile to unions, assisted by stevedores and shipowners moved to restrict workers’ rights and introduce more flexible terms by which stevedores could employ workers.[11] Shipping companies advertised positions for those willing to work on the new terms they had laid out and unionists responded by calling a strike and occupation of Fremantle port. Several attempts at breaking the strike were unsuccessful and the issue came to a head when unionists took full control of the port and ran all non-union labour out. On 25 March the Karschrule arrived carrying a work force of non-union labour. Police massed in force to allow the safe offloading of the ships human cargo and unionists responded with force. Backed by a growing and supportive crowd, the Lumpers rushed police lines and were met by a considerable show of police force. Stones were thrown, blows were exchanged and blood flowed freely.[12] Amidst the chaos of the day The West Australian newspaper reported how:


A unionist named Francis Shannon, who was fined recently for interfering with the police during the jetty raid, was prominent in the rush. He was felled by a blow from a baton and handcuffed. While he was struggling on the ground he appeared to be again struck by the police, amidst angry hooting from those who witnessed the occurrence Shannon was taken on board the Karlsruhe, his face streaming with blood, which saturated his shirt. On reaching the dock he almost fainted from weakness. Constable Pilmer, who made the arrest, states, that Shannon threw the first stone which struck him, but this assertion is denied by eye witnesses, who state that the stones were thrown from the outskirts of the crowd [13]


Shannon, who received considerable injury from the incident was charged with assaulting Pilmer. A week after the incident, Shannon’s case was heard in the Fremantle court house before Mr James Cowan P.M.[14] Shannon was acquitted of the charges owing to a lack of evidence and the police case was condemned for being poorly prepared and lacking in substance. Pilmer was called as a witness and questioned in relation to the alleged assault, providing Cowan with the opportunity to draw heavily on his reputation from the Kimberley to question the tactics he had employed while serving and to challenge the nature of his character, suggesting that Pilmer had been removed from the region due to his overbearing and over-zealous nature.[15] Pilmer’s actions on the day drew considerable media attention and sparked public discussion about the tactics he had employed in the Kimberley. The event provided the first public insight into Pilmers role in police action on the Western Australian frontiers and acted as a catalyst for Pilmer to request leave to serve in the British South African (‘Boer’) war.


Pilmer’s time in the Kimberley had prepared him with the necessary experience for war is South Africa and his application for leave to serve in the Boer war reflects this: “I beg to volunteer for active service with the mounted force about to be organised in WA for service in South Africa, I have done six and a half years mounted duty in the north of this colony amongst the natives and seven and a half years police duty, which experience should well fit me for duty in an African climate.”[16] Pilmer’s experience in the Kimberley provided evidence of suitability to serve in the war and leave was granted with the condition that a position in the police force would remain open on his return.[17] Pilmer enlisted to the Third Western Australian Bushmen’s Contingent. The contingent left on 13 March 1900 with 7 officers, 109 others and 127 horses.[18] The contingent suffered minimal losses during their service and returned to Fremantle on the 28 May 1901.[19] Pilmer received a promotion to the rank of Sergeant Major, however he was deeply unpopular with his men. They found him too strict and disliked his habit of heavily punishing men for minor breaches of military discipline.[20] While this was a recurring theme throughout Pilmer’s career, the men of the Third Bushmen’s contingent felt it should not pass without recourse. When the transport ship Morayshire arrived in Fremantle on 28 May 1901, the men had a plan in action:


Sergeant Pilmer’s appearance at the head of the gangway was the signal for a storm of hisses, groans, and boos, and when about half-way down the accommodation ladder he received a perfect torrent of flour, potatoes, and dough, as well as the contents of a bottle containing about a quart or more of blueback ink. The steamer’s gangway and the decks of the Awhina were covered with and made slippery by the missiles thrown from the deck above. At the same time derisive cries were hurled at Pilmer, and he was forced to take refuge in the wheelhouse of the Awhina. There he remained until the Morayshire was left in the wake of the Awhina, when he emerged from the wheelhouse, and mixed up with the crowd on the vessel. Several of the troopers stated that they knew well what would happen on arrival at Fremantle, potatoes and flour having been saved for the occasion.[21]


The coordination between the troops and those waiting in Fremantle is no doubt related to Pilmer’s previous relations with Fremantle’s unionists. Pilmer reflected that he felt that he had “earned the ill-feeling of the working classes of Fremantle.”[22] However the reception must have been a humiliating blow.


The reception at the Fremantle port inspired considerable media attention and Pilmer’s past was again the subject of public speculation. The Sun newspaper described him as a domineering brute and as the “public flagellator who flogged natives at 10 shillings a time.” [23] The West Australian Sunday Times went even further publishing a damning article about Pilmer’s character. They claimed him to not only be a brute who relished the task of flogging Aboriginal people but also a cheat and a profiteer who made money by underfeeding Aboriginal prisoners. The paper lamented that Pilmer has never been brought to task for his “butchering cruelty of the natives” and then drew a comparison to Pilmer’s violent interaction with the unionist Shannon.[24] It is unclear whether the recapitulation of Pilmer’s past reflected genuine concern for the treatment of Aboriginal people or was simply an opportunistic chance to darken Pilmer’s reputation, but it became a recurrent theme in Pilmer’s public reception. Public sentiment had been shifting in relation to the treatment of Aboriginal people at the time as debate around the nature of slavery and freedom was being applied to the condition of Aboriginal people by humanitarian intellectuals and adherents of abolitionist principles.[25] The previous decade had seen considerable debate around section 70 of the constitution bill which allowed £5000 per annum or 1 percent of consolidated revenue in Western Australia to be spent in the interests of Aboriginal people. Premier John Forrest had initially supported section 70, but his motivations were largely political as he made repeated attempts to remove it once responsible self government was achieved.[26] By 1901 the debate had been in the publics mind for some time and with the coming of federation and statehood, the issue of the treatment of Aboriginal people was still a thorn in the side of Western Australia’s reputation and was a point which would be scrutinised by the Royal Commission into the Condition of the Natives commissioned in 1904.


On returning to active duty, Pilmer was transferred to take charge of the Collie police station. The decision was immediately unpopular and influential members of the Collie community voiced their concerns before his arrival. Mayor J C Coombs and several councillors voiced concern directly to the Superintendent of Police, stating that while Pilmer was unknown to them, they harboured concerns about his character. They expressed concern that Pilmer had been “very cruel to the Natives, that on return from South Africa he was maltreated by his comrades and that the residents of midland junction had objected to his authoritarian manner”.[27] The local newspapers followed suit with a number of articles denouncing Pilmer’s character and chastising the Commissioner of Police for his decision to send Pilmer to the region. The Southern Times described it as a “most unfortunate” decision and the West Australian Sunday Times reported “Corporal Pilmer, of North West- nigger-flogging fame, of horse racing scandals, lumper bludgeon notoriety, and the contingent hooting and flouring episode, has been promoted to take charge of the Collie police district. When the citizens of the Collie heard of the appointment they strongly protested against it”.[28] Use of the word nigger’ was common place in Western Australia at the time. It was regularly used as a derogatory reference to Aboriginal people amongst colonists and in the press. Its use was still common place as late as 1908 where it appears regularly in the Royal Commission in to the Canning Stock Route, albeit by this time it was generally used more broadly to refer to any non-white person.[29]


While Pilmer’s tenure in Collie was initially unpopular, it was just the beginning of a larger campaign by locals and newspapers to have him removed. The culmination of Pilmer’s activities in the Kimberley, his prominence in breaking the Lumpers strike and the deep unpopularity with which he was received by his fellow troops in the Boer war painted a picture of an uncompromising authoritarian and a cruel and violent man. The West Australian Sunday Times were most vocal in their admonishments of Pilmer:


Pilmer, the policeman, whose presence in Collie taints the atmosphere of that placid township, whose heart is-blacker than the coal from the Boulder leases, and whose honesty of purpose is just on a par with that of Cardiff Leases Ewing, is again laughing up his sleeve. This smirking thief-catcher has once more been boosted up by his superiors, and strutts about Throssell street with his triumphant mien- in fact, he is just about top-notcher in coalopolis. He is a leading light in the lawn tennis club is this peeler, who nearly murdered Shannon on the quay at Fremantle in 1899. Anywhere else he would be told to keep to his beat and not poke his Paul Pry nose into places where it is not wanted. He sips his wine with the Mayor and councillors, does this policeman, whose record in the Nor-West is sufficient to have secured his instant dismissal from any decent force.[30]

Pilmer’s actions in the Kimberley caused the greatest stain on his character in the minds of those who sought to defame him. It highlights the distaste felt by those who received the attention of Pilmer, that they should be treated so unfairly as the Aboriginal people he was charged with subduing and speaks to the broader public sentiment in relation to the treatment of Aboriginal people. The West Australian Sunday Times again reported in 1902:


POLICEMAN PILMER. Curse of the Collie. More than once it has been our disagreeable duty to direct public attention to the libels on the name of humanity who masquerade in police uniforms. Our object in doing this we have always endeavoured to keep clearly before our readers. It is not to hound men out of the force, or indeed to do them any personal injury from ungenerous motives, but to protect the people from unwarrantable interference and persecution. The police are not placed as blood-hounds to hunt slaves, but as an organised human force to protect the law abiding citizens from the aggressions and assaults of the unscrupulous outlaws of society. They are, strictly speaking, the servants of the people, and they should ever remember the fact. When they forget it they are as great a menace to law and order and the preservation of the peace as the most abandoned of the criminal class. The moment they prey on society and molest its peace and comfort in any way out of unmitigated officiousness or malevolent ignorance they are no longer deserving of respect.[31]

Of all the attention Pilmer received in Collie, the incident which drew the most attention from the police administration was an accusation of sexual assault levelled by Dorothy Dodd, a servant in his employ. The claim was backed by officers P. C. Richardson and P. C. Hamilton, both of whom worked under Pilmer and were prepared to testify against him. The case was heard by a closed board of enquiry chaired by the resident magistrate of Collie, James Coombes and the Inspector of Police T. C. Holmes. The closed enquiry cleared Pilmer of all charges and suggested that the two officers prepared to testify against Pilmer be immediately removed from the district.[32] The outcry was immediate. Many of those in Collie, and indeed the broader Western Australian society, felt that the case should not have been held as a closed session and that the ruling was grossly unfair. They suspected that Pilmer was being protected by the police administration. Again his past in the Kimberley was levelled as proof of his poor character and brutish nature.[33] On 10 October that year, a petition signed my many residents of the district calling for the removal of Pilmer from the Collie district was received by the police administration.[34] The Sunday Times stated: “Of Pilmer’s philanderings on the Collie coalfields the public are fully cognisant, for have they not all been exposed through the medium of the Sunday Times. But the good folks there, though long-suffering and forgiving, have had enough of Pilmer, and are petitioning for his removal”.[35] The commissioner of police Fred Hare received the petition and remarked that “Corporal Pilmer has carried out his duties to my satisfaction, I do not intend on transferring him.”[36] While Pilmer’s name was officially cleared in the Dodd case, he clearly continued to enjoy the full support of the commissioner of police, ensuring that the petition for his removal was unsuccessful. However, his presence in Collie understandably remained contentious.

On 20 October 1903 the Clerk of Courts and a number of other prominent members of Collie society privately petitioned for the removal of Pilmer from Collie. In a letter to the Police Commissioner they said Pilmer had fallen into such bad standing with the people of Collie that it “was difficult for him [Pilmer] to discharge an ordinary everyday duty without irritating a section of the people” and that they “therefore feel that in justice to the corporal that if you can see your way to a transfer that it would be calculated to promote a better feeling in the town between the people and the police.”[37] The Commissioner of Police again defended Pilmer and expressed displeasure at the action of the Clerk of Courts in bringing forth a complaint on what he called “such a trivial matter.”[38] But by now it was clear that Pilmer’s service in Collie was becoming untenable. The contempt many of the working class held for Pilmer was now being supported by many people of high standing in the community. Pilmer’s actions had been subject to an ongoing media campaign which scrutinised his character and motives. Pilmer could not shake the reputation he had earned in the Kimberley district and in fact left all mention of his time in Collie out of his memoirs. After nearly three years in Collie, Commissioner Hare finally found it fit to transfer Pilmer. Accordingly, on 5 December 1904 Pilmer’s time in Collie came to a close and he was transferred to Kalgoorlie.[39]


The immense scrutiny of Pilmer’s actions in the Kimberley during his time in Fremantle and Collie highlight that there was a sense amongst some of the public that police tactics in subduing Aboriginal resistance in the Kimberley was unjust. However, the opportunistic manner in which this information was used suggests that while there may have been genuine concern about the treatment of Aboriginal people, it was primarily used to further the agenda of the citizens and officials who wanted Pilmer removed. The police administration, and commissioner Hare in particular, were eager to defend Pilmer against all charges brought against him. Pilmer was still considered a useful asset to the police department and this was to become apparent in the coming years.

Chapter Three

The Canning Stock Route

As a soldier, sir, you have only to command.[1] – R. H. Pilmer to Police Commissioner Hare, 1911.



In 1908, as a Royal Commission into the treatment of Aboriginal people by the Canning exploration party was under way, Alfred Canning was preparing to set out again, this time with a party of thirty men to establish well heads and water troughs at 54 points along the 1850 km track stretching from Halls Creek in the Kimberley to Wiluna in the mid-west region of Western Australia. The establishment of the stock route had been one of the greatest public works undertaken in Western Australia’s early history, its construction rivalled by only that of the number one Rabbit Proof Fence and the Goldfields water pipeline.[2] The first attempts at finding an inland route between Perth and the Kimberley had occurred in 1896. The Calvert expedition left in June 1896 and after struggling through rough terrain, suffering from lack of water and losing two men, they arrived at Quanbun station near Fitzroy Crossing in November.[3] In June 1896, the Carnegie expedition left Coolgardie traveling towards Halls Creek. The party followed a path roughly parallel to the Calvert expedition and endured similar hardships. Carnegie wrote a memoir of the expedition titled Spinifex and Sand, which documents a number of abusive interactions between the exploration party and Aboriginal people on the journey. Struggling to find water sources, Carnegie rode down several Aboriginal people, chaining them by the neck and hands and fastening them to trees in the sun in the hope that excessive dehydration would encourage them to lead the party to water.[4] Neither of these explorations were successful in their search for gold or suitable water sources.


By 1902 the gold rushes were in full swing and in an effort to supply the rapidly growing population, beef was being imported from as far away as Queensland. The pastoralists in the Eastern Kimberley were eager to capitalise on the market, but the spread of cattle tick amongst stock and the lack of a viable land route to Perth or the Goldfields was hampering their efforts.[5] It was believed that an inland route would be hot and dry enough to kill cattle ticks and in 1906 Alfred Canning was employed to survey a route to make the journey possible. The exploratory survey was carried out between 1906 and 1907. On his return, expeditioner Edward Blake wrote to the Colonial Secretary making a number of claims against men in the party, including Canning.[6] The claims were widely reported in the newspapers, Blake alleged that the party had been unnecessarily cruel to many of the Aboriginal people they had encountered. The allegations were primarily directed at the actions of Hubert Trotman and Alfred Canning, they included removing Aboriginal children from their mothers, chaining Aboriginal men by the neck and fastening them to camels in a manner which was likely to endanger their lives as well as withholding necessary comforts such as blankets from those who were detained.[7] Canning acknowledged the deprivation of liberty, but claimed his actions were not cruel. In defence of chaining Aboriginal people by the neck, Canning claimed that it was consistent with the manner applied by police, and that he had been provided with the neck chains at the Wiluna police station under instruction of Police Commissioner Hare.[8] The public attention Blake’s allegations received was significant enough to illicit a response from the Western Australian Premier Newton Moore, who wrote “He makes some very serious indictments against a Mr Trotman in the manner of dealing with Aborigines, which if true, ought to be put a stop to. Perhaps it would be as well, in the first place, to ask Mr Canning for a report thereon.”[9] A Royal Commission was established to test Blake’s claims.


The Royal Commission to Enquire into the Treatment of Natives by the Canning Exploration Party ran from 15 January to 5 February 1908. The charges to be tested by the Royal Commission read as follows


1.      Forcing the natives to accompany the party.

2.      Taking forcible possession of the natives’ valuables.

3.      Chaining by the necks natives who had done nothing to deserve being deprived of their liberty when a horse guard would have been sufficient.

4.      Chaining natives to trees with too short a chain.

5.      Chaining natives to camels when travelling.

6.      Chaining natives to water-casks by the use of handcuffs attached to the ankle.

7.      Chaining a native to another by the use of handcuffs fastened through a hole in the nose.

8.      Unnecessarily depriving natives of their water supply by deepening and squaring their native wells rendering it impossible for old men, women and pica ninnies to reach the water, and causing water to be polluted by animals falling in.

9.      Hunting native women on foot and horseback, sometimes with rifles, for immoral purposes.

10.   Using threats and giving bribes to native men to induce them to direct their women to have connection with the members of the expedition.[10]

During the hearing, Blake withdrew his charges. The Royal Commission found that they had insufficient evidence to continue and exonerated the Canning party of all charges. It found that Blake had acted out of ill will towards Trotman and that the allegations were of his imagining.[11] But in 1911, Blake wrote a letter to the Minister for Justice claiming he had been pressured to withdraw his evidence, that the hearing was corrupt and that the charges should be re-investigated. He also requested that Sergeant Pilmer investigate some of the claims he had made.[12] Blake’s calls for a new commission were dismissed, and he left Western Australia for Queensland. The evidence given in the Royal Commission is compelling and much of it supports Blake’s claims. There is no doubt that the party forcefully detained Aboriginal people as guides. It is also clear that the party kept those it had detained in inhumane conditions. Much of this was not contested by the witnesses called, their main contention was that they had not used Aboriginal women for ‘immoral’ purposed while detained. This indicates that Aboriginal people in the area that the Canning Stock Route traversed had experienced brutality at the hands of Europeans from as early as 1896. All the exploration parties that had traveled through the area had detained Aboriginal people against their will and all had made the use of chains to do so. These concerns had been aired publicly in the press and had been the subject of a Royal Commission, but at the end of the day were not enough to alter the Governments desire to see a stock route functioning in the region at the earliest possible date. Construction of the stock route was completed in 1910.


In 1911 news reached Perth that two drovers travelling south on the newly constructed Canning Stock Route had been murdered. The Sunday Times reported that James Thompson and George Shoesmith who “with a native boy, were killed by natives at No. 37 Well on the Canning stock Route.”[13]  Thompson and Shoesmith had been attempting the first cattle run down the newly constructed route. Fearing that drovers would become hesitant to utilise the track, a punitive mission was organised. The response represents one of the last government sanctioned punitive missions in Western Australian history. The Western Australian government was understandably anxious to keep access to the newly constructed stock route open as it was to provide an important link to the Eastern Kimberly and considerable state resources had gone into all stages of development. The Southern Cross Times described the scene of the murder in detail:


The story which ex- P.C. Pennefather told in Cue as he was passing through to Perth on Friday last adds another to the gruesome narratives or murder by niggers in the outer back—of night surprises, skull smashing nullas and piercing blood-letting spears. Pennefather made one of the party which discovered the murdered bodies of poor Thompson and Shoesmith and their native boy at No. 37 well, on the Canning Stock Route, on June 30. The sight was one they will not soon forget. The body of Thompson lay near the well. The skull had been completely battered in, and the blood saturated pillow told all too plainly that the attack had come at night while the camp slept. The bodies of Shoesmith and the boy were 80 yards away.’ In the case of Shoesmith his head was battered; there was a deep spear wound in his neck, and his body was almost cut in two. Probably, unlike Thompson, he had not been killed outright at the first blow or two, but had been able to make a fight of it, and so had suffered more of the savagery of the niggers before death came. Scattered around were other grim evidences of the butchery. The carcases of six camels were found, and from their appearance they had been killed at different times. Indeed, one could not have been more than two days dead. From this fact, and the tracks in the vicinity, there can be no doubt that the natives stopped two months in the neighbourhood of the bodies of their victims, using the camels for playthings in riding and racing sports. The only living things found were two cattle, and they were SO far gone for want of water that a friendly bullet had to be given to each to mercifully end their sufferings. Reverently, and as well as the circumstances permitted, Thompson, Shoesmith and their boy were given burial and a fence erected around their lonely grave.[14]


A clear sense of outrage amongst all the newspapers who published detail of the murders called for a swift and harsh response. Much of the language used in the description of the murders played to established notions of racial superiority on the part of the predominately white colonists. The suggestion that Thompson’s murder had occurred while he slept plays into notions of Aboriginal ‘treachery’, reference to the butchery of the camels suggests a savage and violent nature. The language suggested the immediate need for harsh reprisals, the alleged actions of the Aboriginal people served as the justification. As Raymond Evans notes, “An appeal to the innate character of the ‘savage’ became the lynchpin for European rationalisations of conquest and colonisation.”[15]  In this case it serves as the justification for a harsh punitive response. The Commissioner of Police was quick to respond.


Pilmer recalls this conversation with the Commissioner of Police Fred Hare in his memoir: “I’m sorry, Pilmer, but I have another arduous and important undertaking for you. I hope you will not refuse it. You are the one man in the service I would care to entrust it to.”[16] Pilmer readily accepted the task which was immediately the subject of considerable media attention. This was the sort of work which had formed a significant part of the public criticism of Pilmer during his time stationed at Fremantle and Collie, and he was ready and willing to accept more. Pilmer’s understanding as to the intent of the mission was published in The East Murchison News and detailed in the following interview, “Reporter- Don’t you think the track should be protected, even if extreme measures are adopted? Mr Pilmer- I can assure you that it is the intention of the authorities that the Canning’s track shall be a main highway to the Nor’-West and that the route shall be entirely cleared of all obstacles likely to be a menace to those using that route.”[17] It is clear that the police were to use the consequences of this mission as a warning to other Aboriginal people in the future. Pilmer’s experience in the Kimberley and his reputation located him as the prime candidate for the job.


The expedition was to set off in September and run from Leonora to Halls Creek. Pilmer assembled a team of four police officers, two civilians, two native trackers and 16 camels.[18] The Police engaged were William A Douglas, David Hunter, Lawrence Pollet and John Napier.[19] They were joined by two civilians Otto Baumgarten and John Leddin both of whom were experienced bushmen and engaged as special constables for the mission.[20] The two trackers were Roger and Banjo.[21] Hare gave Pilmer assurance that the government would cover all reasonable expenses in the way of equipment and rations and stressed that the party was to leave as soon as reasonably possible.[22] The story was reported widely, newspapers jumped on the opportunity to again recall Pilmer’s past, but this time it was cast in a positive light. The Leonora Miner published an article titled ‘The Nigger Hunting Expedition’ which included the following excerpts: “Pilmer has had a very extensive experience with the Kimberley natives, and during the seven years in which he was out north he had to deal with blacks who killed no less than 13 whites. He knows the natives’ ways and country better than any man in the force, and the Government have made a very wise selection in appointing him in charge of such an important task.” And, “It was Pilmer who dispersed the notorious Pigeon and his gang; in fact, he has taken a hand in more nigger hunts than any person in Australasia, his exploits have been of an exceptionally exciting nature, but he is not boastful about his work, and it is not at all easy to get him into a communicative mood.”[23] The Sunday Times titled a less explicitly racist article, ‘Murders in the North: An Avenging Expedition.’[24]


The assembled party set off from Leonora on the 14 September. Pilmer remarks in his memoirs that the country was unusually dry and no sightings of Aboriginal people were made in the first days.[25] On 3 November, the party came to well 37 and exhumed the bodies of Thompson and Shoesmith, they examined the corpses before burying them again.[26] On 15 November the party was confronted by a large group of Aboriginal people 3 miles north of well 45.[27] Pilmer recalls in his memoirs “Each man was armed with two whackaburras, fighting sticks about two feet long. In the lead were a dozen or more of the bravest warriors, forming a shock party, while the rest, with their spears, brought up the rear. In all there were between sixty and seventy in that advance. When two of them were almost within striking distance, my men opened fire.”[28] The numbers differ significantly in Pilmer’s original report: “about 25 natives made a determined attack on the camp. Fourteen natives forming an apparent advance party came down a gravelly hill east of the camp at a run, each carrying two whackaburras. The assistants gave the alarm, and each member of the party stood to his rifle. I went just outside our camp to try and check the rush, and called upon and signed to them to stop and sit down, in their own .tongue. They still came on, and two on the right menaced myself at a few feet distance. Divining their intentions to get at close quarters, we opened fire simultaneously, killing six in the camp, and one 20 yards distant. Three escaped wounded, and the reserve of the natives who were left – about a dozen – on the gravelly hill, decamped, and were followed some distance until they were clear of our grazing camels.”[29] A telegraph sent by Pilmer to the colonial secretary reads “The natives on portions of the route were conspicuously scarce. Those met were extremely hostile. We dispersed 14 in the vicinity of the murder, all of whom were alleged to have been implicated in’ the tragedy.”[30] The party arrived at Halls Creek without further conflict five months after they set out. They had travelled 1250 miles, 500 of which was through a desert gripped by drought. The party returned to Perth via Derby on the S.S. Koombana and arrived in Fremantle on 6 February 1912.[31]


The punitive mission was met with mixed reports in Perth. Pilmer felt the expedition was successful and was quoted in the Northern Times  as saying that “So far as avenging the murders of drovers Thompson and Shoesmith and the native boy was concerned our expedition was successful. Our party traversed 1200 miles of drought and desolation before arriving at Halls Creek.”[32] Though other papers reported it as a failure. The Kalgoorlie Miner reported that the perpetrators went unpunished and that the whole expedition had been a failure.[33] The Sunday Times published a scathing article titled ‘Pilmer’s Party, A Trip That Failed’:


I met a police party that was going out to chastise a tribe for the Killing of a white man. I said to the officer in charge,” I was among those natives, and they never attempted to molest me. You will be committing worse murder than the original crime.’ He told me he bad his orders, and when I got down to Perth Í saw a telegram in the papers that his party had ‘dispersed’ 14 natives, and you know what ‘dispersed’ means – I won’t say that in this case that it is another word for ‘despatched’, because I don’t know exactly what happened, beyond the particulars given in the papers, but I do say most emphatically that it is wrong to shoot down natives, the innocent with the guilty, though, of coarse, they have got to be taught in some way that they can’t take life with impunity. The police carry out these punitive expeditions with very great reluctance, and I know it Is very difficult to deal with the natives, and I don’t want to criticise police methods, but it is time that only those absolutely proved guilty should be punished, and it does not follow that a blackfellow who happens to have something belonging to a murdered white man in his possession is the man who actually killed him.[34]

In one of the only surviving accounts of the punitive mission in Pilmer’s personnel file, Hare wrote:


15/2/12: Commended for highly satisfactory work as leader of a police expedition organised to punish native offenders responsible for the murder of the drovers Thompson and Shoesmith on the Canning Stock Route in 1911. I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of Sergeant Pilmer, the officer commanding, who brought the party through under most trying circumstances. he is deserving of great praise, and i trust that the government will recognise his work in advancing him when opportunity occurs, to a higher position than he is occupying at present, and which he is well qualified to fill.[35]


The passage has been crossed out and further mention of it appears to have been completely removed from the file. Whether police information concerning the punitive mission has been misplaced, lost, filed elsewhere or actively destroyed warrants further research.  However what is clear from the available information, is that Pilmer went on the punitive mission prepared to kill Aboriginal people without trial or sufficient evidence pertaining to their guilt. This was done on behalf of the Western Australian police department and Pilmer’s actions whilst on the punitive mission were subsequently deemed officially acceptable. Pilmer reflected that “This expedition of ours was the largest and most hazardous ever undertaken by police in Australia, and it was generally conceded that we brought it to a successful issue.”[36]


The intent and instruction of the punitive mission is indistinguishable from earlier police responses in the Kimberley. It had been fourteen years since Pilmer took part in the killing of Jandamarra. Pilmer by this point had been in the police force for nineteen years, his selection to lead the punitive mission suggests that the police administration had supported him in the knowledge that he was a useful asset. Pilmer’s experience in repressing Aboriginal resistance placed him in a unique position in the eyes of the police administration but public opinion had changed significantly in relation to Aboriginal people and the Canning Stock Route punitive expedition represents one of the last official punitive missions of its kind in Western Australian history. It was also the last patrol of this kind that Pilmer took part in. On return from the Kimberley, Pilmer worked at Southern Cross until 1914 when he was transferred to Fremantle. He received a promotion to second class sergeant in 1917 and retired from the police force on 16 October 1919.[37] Throughout his career, Pilmer had served with the support of his superiors. His time in the Kimberley marred his public image, an issue that had considerable impact on his capacity to work in Fremantle and Collie but left him uniquely capable to lead the Canning Stock Route punitive mission. Pilmer reflects on this last punitive mission in his memoir, “with this exploit ended my adventurous career in the remote wilds of Australia, but I am told the name ‘bilimur’ [Pilmer] still lives there, a legend amongst its aborigines.”[38]




Key features of colonial policing in the Kimberley are similar to policing on other frontiers in Australia. The tactics employed were designed to quash Aboriginal resistance and institute a new system of law and control. Settlers, pastoralists and the colonial administration put unique demands on police. They further had to deal with harsh climates, foreign landscapes and Aboriginal people intent on defending their traditional lands. Pilmer’s experience in the Kimberley defined him as a policeman and as an individual. His actions during his first seven years in the police force have had a legacy to this day. He is remembered in Aboriginal oral histories as a brutal force, synonymous with police repression in the region.


Throughout his career, Pilmer received the support of the police administration. When viewed as an individual, Pilmers actions in the Kimberley seem extreme, however they must be recognised in the context of an imposed colonial structure. The significant economic and social investement in the Kimberley saw the colonial administration demand a harsh response to Aboriginal resistance. Pilmer’s suitability to this work is reflected in the history and mythology of the region. His actions are not just representative of him as an individual, but also of the broader colonial project.


Pilmer’s memoirs speak of a distant era, a time when harsh police action was necessary to bring ‘civilisation’ to newly occupied areas, but the public response he received in Fremantle and Collie suggest that these actions were contentious at the time. Pilmer’s authoritarian nature put him at odds with the working class population in the south. Public scrutiny of his time in the Kimberly reflected concern about the treatment of Aboriginal people, but can also be seen as an opportunistic strategy to act against Pilmer’s interests. The degree to which the Commissioner of Police Fred Hare defended Pilmer during the peak of his public condemnation suggests that the department was grateful to Pilmer for his work in the Kimberley and eager to maintain him as an asset. The degree to which the public and certain officials campaigned for Pilmer’s removal from Collie indicates that the characteristics which made him an effective police officer in the Kimberley also made him unsuited to policing a working class white population.


The Canning Stock Route punitive expeditions highlights the persistent nature of police action against Aboriginal people who had been deemed guilty of a crime. It has been displayed throughout this thesis that for Aboriginal people on the colonial frontiers, the necessary determinates required to be deemed guilty were almost non-existent. Aboriginal people who were suspected of having committed a crime, or were simply in the company of someone who was, would be subjected to punitive measures which would often result in death. These harsh measures were in part designed to shock Aboriginal populations into submission and continued into the 20th century with the support of the police administration. This is evident in the Canning Stock Route punitive expedition.


Pilmers career provides an insight into police operations on the frontier. By looking at the impact Pilmer had on the populations he policed, we are able to assess the impact this style of policing had on the people who were involved and affected. This reality is reflected in other colonial frontiers in Australia as was highlighted in chapter one. Pilmer’s career highlights state attitudes towards Aboriginal people as much as it does individual ones. In the historical context Pilmer operated, he was considered contentious my some of the public, but nevertheless his actions were officially sanctioned. This highlights the shifting attitudes towards Aboriginal people and the racially turbulent nature of colonisation. Chapter three highlights the lengths the state administration was prepared to go in defending economic investment. The driving force behind the police tactics on display during the establishment of pastoralism in the Kimberley was still officially on display in the early 20th century. Pilmer was a conduit, through which we can view official police tactics.





[1] Chris Cunneen, Conflict, Politics and Crime: Aboriginal Communities and the Police, (Crows Nest, 2001)

[2] Henry Reynolds, The Other Side of the Frontier, (Sydney, 1981), pp. 108-109.

[3] Chris Owen, ‘The police appear to be a useless lot up there: law and order in the East Kimberley 1884–1905’, in Aboriginal History, Vol. 27. (2003), pp. 105-129.

[4] Raymond Evans, ‘A King of Brutes’ in Race Relations in Colonial Queensland (St Lucia, 1975), pp. 67-84.

[5] Richard Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, (Victoria Park, 1998)

[6] Cunneen, Conflict, Politics and Crime: Aboriginal Communities and the Police.

[7] Mark Finnane, ‘Settler Justice and Aboriginal Homicide in Late Colonial Australia’, in Australian Historical Studies, no. 42, (2011), Robert Forster, Amanda Nettlebeck, Out of the Silence: The History and Memory of South Australias Frontier Wars. (Adelaide 2012).

[8] Jonathan Richards,The Secret War, A True History of Queensland’s Native Police. (St Lucia, 2008).

[9] Henry Reynolds, Forgotten War.(Sydney 2013).

[10] Raymod Evans, Robert Orsted-Jensen, I Cannot Say the Numbers that Were Killed’: Assessing Violent Mortality on the Queensland Frontier, (2014),, accessed 10 November 2015.

[11] Andrew Gill, ‘Aborigines, Settlers and Police in the Kimberleys 1887-1905’, in Studies in Western Australian History, Vol. 1, (1977), pp. 1-28.

[12] Cathie Clement, ‘Monotony, Manhunts and Malice: Eastern Kimberley Law Enforcement, 1896-1908’ in Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, Vol. 10. No. 1, (1989), pp. 85-96.

[13] Owen, ‘The police appear to be a useless lot up there’: law and order in the East Kimberley 1884–1905’, pp. 105- 129.


Chapter 1:

[1] Richard Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, (Victoria Park, 1998) p. 18.

[2] Cathie Clement, ‘Monotony, Manhunts and Malice: Eastern Kimberley Law Enforcement, 1896-1908’ in Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, Vol. 10. No. 1, (1989), pp. 85-96.

[3] The Inquirer and Commercial News ,16 November 1881, p. 1.

[4] Expansion into the north western region of Western Australia was a fairly slow process. The Swan River colony, later to become Perth was established in 1829, however it would be a further thirty years until explorers and settlers began to expand in to the furthest northern reaches of the vast state. By the 1860s the lust for better grasslands to use for pasture saw many colonists looking north, believing the unexplored northern country would offer more rewards than the settled districts, the development of which had been hampered by heavy forest and dense scrub. In 1864 an advance party set sail from Fremantle to Roebuck bay on the southern coastal edge of the Kimberley, with the intention of establishing a settlement. The Hastings was to follow them with a cargo of 2000 sheep to stock the property. On arriving the advance party split in to two groups, one would maintain the area and prepare wells for the stock, the other would explore the country between Roebuck and Legrange bay. The exploration party of three never returned, their bodies were later found speared in their tents as they slept. Further hampering of the settlement happened when the Hastings became becalmed rounding the north west cape and half of the stock died. After revelations of the Deaths reached Perth, a search party was established and sailed north on the Clarence Packet. The Party headed east finding the bodies of several dead Aborigines before coming across the bodies of the three men dead in their tents. Taking the time to search the area for Aboriginal camps, they party were ambushed by a group of Aboriginal men, an incident which ended with the killing of 18 Aborigines. Several more were captured and marched back to Roebuck Bay. When the Clarence Packet returned to Fremantle it had on board 10 Aboriginal prisoners. With this auspicious beginning, and something of a precedent set, the early stages of settlement in the Kimberly had begun. Further details can be found in

Kay Forrest, The Challenge and the Chance, (Victoria Park, 1996).

[5] Don Pashley, Policing our State, (Cloverdale, 2000), p. 270.

[6] Police Gazette, No. 11, (1883), p. 41.

[7] Police Gazette, No. 11, (1883), p. 41.

[8] Andrew Gill, ‘Aborigines, Settlers and Police in the Kimberleys 1887-1905’, in Studies in Western Australian History, Vol. 1, (1977), p. 5.

[9] Gill, ‘Aborigines, Settlers and Police in the Kimberleys 1887-1905’, p. 5.

[10] Clement describes a scenario in which pastoralists manipulated police actions in a manner conducive to the effective management of their stations. Primarily this was done by lodging questionable accounts of cattle spearing which allowed managers at pastoral stations use police as defacto ‘boundary riders’ in order to keep a check on their stock. Clement, ‘Monotony, Manhunts and Malice: Eastern Kimberley Law Enforcement, 1896-1908’, pp. 85-96.

[11] Roth Report cited in Gill, ‘Aborigines, Settlers and Police in the Kimberleys 1887-1905’, p. 5.

[12] Gill, ‘Aborigines, Settlers and Police in the Kimberleys 1887-1905’, p. 5.

[13] Chris Owen, ‘The police appear to be a useless lot up there’: law and order in the East Kimberley 1884–1905’, in Aboriginal History, Vol. 27, (2003) p. 129.

[14] Neville Green, The Forrest River Massacres, (Fremantle 1995), p. 67.

[15] Use of the term depredations was common at the time and referred to any number of perceived indiscretions carried out by Aboriginal people. Examples of its use can be found in The West Australian 7 September 1889, The Western Mail, 28 December 1889, The Western Mail, 17 October 1891, The Western Mail, 26 December 1891.

[16] Police would often pursue a whole party of Aboriginal people when one of their number had an outstanding warrant. The manner of apprehension was no different to if they were pursuing a whole party assumed guilty of stock spearing.

[17] This manner of policing is apparent in many of the police journals from the region in the time period between 1880 and 1905. Examples can be found in Acc: 430 File 1863/1892, Acc: 430 File 2631/1897, Acc: 430, File 2704/1896.

[18] Raymond Evans, Robert Orsted-Jensen, I Cannot Say the Numbers that Were Killed: Assessing Violent Mortality on the Queensland Frontier, (2014),, accessed 10 November 2015.

[19] Pilmer offered to construct the Fitzroy Police Station, this offer was accepted by the Commissioner of Police in July 1895. R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93, Richard Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, (Victoria Park, 1998) p. 40.

[20] Howard Pederson, Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance, (Broome, 1995), pp. 92-121.

[21] This is reflected in the first entries to Pilmer’s police personnel files by his superior officers. R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93, Further details of Pilmer’s years in the Gascoyne can be found in (eds), Peter Bridge, Gail Dreezens, Bang-Em-All: Bush Life and Death on the Gascoyne, Bangemall and the Thomas River Police Station, (Victoria Park, 2013).

[22] Acc: 430, File, 1863/1892.

[23] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 16.

[24] ibid, p. 17.

[25] Acc 430, File, 1863/1892.

[26] Acc 430, File, 2706/1896

[27] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 72, Pilmer’s police journal records for this period appear to be missing from the archives.



[30] Pederson, Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance, p. 186.

[31] Ibid., Jandamarra was also known as Pigeon. It was common for Europeans to refer to Aboriginal people by their nick-names rather than their tribal ones.

[32] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 18.

[33] Rodney Harrison, ‘Materiality, ‘Ambiguity’ and the Unfamiliar in the Archaeology
of Inter-Societal Confrontations: A Case Study from Northwest Australia’, in Per Cornell and Fredrik Fahlander, eds,

Encounters | Materialities | Confrontations :Archaeologies of Social Space and Interaction, (Newcastle, 2007), p. 49.

[34] Harrison, Encounters | Materialities | Confrontations :Archaeologies of Social Space and Interaction, p. 49.

[35] Kimberley Language Resource Centre, Moola Boola: in the shadow of the mountain (Broome, 1996), p. 54.

[36] Ibid., p.38

[37] Maria Nugent, Captain Cook Was Here, (Cambridge, 2009), p. 106.

[38] Harrison, Encounters | Materialities | Confrontations :Archaeologies of Social Space and Interaction, p. 49.

[39] Amanda Nettlebeck, Robert Forster, In the Name of the Law, William Willshire and the Policing of the Australian Frontier, (Kent Town, 2007).

Chapter 2:

[1] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 1215/04

[2] Ibid.

[3] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 3342/97

[4] Richard Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, (Victoria Park, 1998) p. 105.

[5] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 2614/97

[6] Ibid., 93. Unpaginated.

[7] Ibid., Co. 4848/98, Co. 1368/96

[8] Ibid., Co. 1/1900

[9] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Unpaginated.

[10] Ibid., Co. 1215/04

[11] Vanden Driesen, ‘Confrontation and Reconciliation on the Waterfront: The Fremantle Lumpers Strike: 1899’, Labour History, No. 40, (1981), pp. 29-48.

[12] Ibid., p. 42.

[13] The West Australian, 27 March 1899, p. 5.

[14] James Cowan was the husband of Edith Cowan, The first woman Elected to an Australian Parliament and a prominent figure in the Labour movement and Western Australian society.,, accessed 18 November 2015.

[15] Court Transcript in The Daily News, 30 March 1899.

[16] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 2095/99.

[17] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 198/1900.

[18] Pembroke Murray, Official records of the Australian military contingents to the war in South Africa (Melbourne, 1911), p.408.

[19] Murray, Official Records of the Australian Military Contingents to the War in South Africa, p. 409.

[20] The Southern Cross Times, 1 June 1901. p. 3.

[21] Ibid.

[22] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 1215/04.

[23] The Sun, 2 June 1901, p. 1.

[24] The West Australian Sunday Times, 9 June 1901, p. 16.

[25] Jane Lydon, ‘H G Wells and a Shared Humanity’, History Australia, Vol. 12. No. 1. (2015), p. 79., Elizabeth Goddard, Tom Stannage, ‘John Forrest and the Aborigines’, in Studies in Western Australian History, Vol. 8. (1984), pp. 52-8.

[26] Elizabeth Goddard, Tom Stannage, ‘John Forrest and the Aborigines’, in Studies in Western Australian History, Vol. 8. (1984), pp. 52-8.

[27] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 2454/01.

[28] Southern Times, 24 August 1901, p. 3, West Australian Sunday Times, 1 September 1901, p. 6.

[29] Raymond Evans discusses the role of stereotyping in the oppression of Aboriginal people in the chapter ‘A King of Brutes’ in Race Relations in Colonial Queensland (St Lucia, 1975), pp. 67-84.

[30] West Australian Sunday Times, 16th November 1902, p. 4., ‘Peeler’ is an English term for Police. The etymology of the word relates to Sir Robert Peel who introduced the Peace of Preservation Act 1814 which established a Peace Preservation Force in Ireland and later England. Policemen were also referred to as Bobbies., ‘Paul Pry’ is a term referring to nosy people. It is based on a character from an 1825 comedy by the English playwright John Poole.

[31] Sunday Times, 5 June 1902, p. 5.

[32] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 2845/02.

[33] The Sunday Times, 10 August 1902, p. 5., The Sunday Times, 27 July 1902, p. 1.

[34] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 4256/02.

[35] Sunday Times, 19 October 1902, p. 3.

[36] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 4256/02.

[37] Ibid., Co. 640/1903.

[38] Ibid., Co. 3873/03.

[39] Ibid.,\Co. 4034/04.

Chapter 3:

[1] Richard Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, (Victoria Park, 1998), p. 130.
[2] Canning Stock Route Royal Commission, (1908), p. iv.
[3] Taking it to the edge: Land: Calvert expedition. SA Memory. State Library, South Australia. 2007-02-05. Retrieved 2015-11-20., The West Australian, 7 August 1954. p. 19., Albert Frederick Calvert (1872-1946), author, traveller and mining engineer, was born on 20 July 1872 at Kentish Town, Middlesex, England, son of John Calvert, mining engineer, and his wife Grace, née Easley. He was a widely travelled mineralogist who claimed extensive gold discoveries in Australia in the 1840s. Further information,, accessed 18 November 2015.
[4] David Carnegie, Spinifex and Sand, (Ringwood, 1898), pp. 226-245.
[5] Canning Stock Route Royal Commission, (1908), p. iv.
[6] Edward Blake was a cook on the 1906-1907 survey of the Canning Stock Route.
[7] The Daily News, 15 January 1908, p. 4.
[8] The West Australian, 6 December 1907, p. 6.
[9] Canning Stock Route Royal Commission, (1908), p. ix.
[10] Canning Stock Route Royal Commission, (1908), p. 3.
[11] Ibid., p. xvi.
[12] Ibid,, p. xvii.
[13] Sunday Times, 10 September 1911, p. 3.
[14] The Southern Cross Times, 23 September 1911, p. 5.
[15] Raymond Evans, Race Relations in Colonial Queensland, (St Lucia, 1975), p. 68.
[16] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 130.
[17] East Murchison News, 22 September 1911, p. 2.
[18] Sunday Times, 10 September 1911, p. 3., Western Mail, 16 September 1911, p. 32., The Western Mail reported that there were three trackers on the mission, all other evidence suggests there were two, Roger and Banjo.
[19] William A Douglas and David Hunter both went on to become Commissioners of Police in Western Australia, Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 134.
[20] Both were experienced bushmen who had worked with Canning during the surveying and construction of the Canning Stock Route.
[21] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 134., Roger and Banjo had previously been employed by Jerry and Patsy Durack, they had been charged with murdering the Duracks and were serving a ten year sentence when they were selected as assistants for the Canning Stock Route punitive mission. More details can be found in The Daily News, 3 April 1901, p. 3. The Western Mail, 18 May 1901, p. 64.  The Daily News, 8 May 1901, p.3.
[22] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 130.
[23] The Leonora Miner, 23 September 1911, p. 2.
[24] The Sunday Times, 10 September 1911, p. 3.
[25] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, pp. 130-144.
[26] Ibid., p. 146.
[27] Western Mail, 17 February 1912, p. 2.
[28] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 147.
[29] Western Mail, 17 February 1912, p. 2.
[30] Telegram published in Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 12 December 1911, p. 27.
[31] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 148.
[32] Northern Times, 10 February 1912, p. 2.
[33] Kalgoorlie Miner, 8 Feburary 1912, p. 2.
[34] Sunday Times, 4 February 1912, p. 4.
[35] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. Co. 4965/11.
[36] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 149.
[37] R. H. Pilmer Personnel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93. unpaginated.
[38] Pilmer, Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, p. 149.



Unpublished works:

State Record Archive of Western Australia


Acc: 430, File 1863/1892


Acc: 430, File 2631/1897


Acc: 430, File 2704/1896


Acc: 430, File, 2706/1896


  1. H. Pilmer Personel File, Consignment: 1065, Regimental file no. 93.




East Murchison News, 22 September 1911.


Kalgoorlie Western Argus, 12 December 1911.


Kalgoorlie Miner, 8 Feburary 1912.


Northern Times, 10 February 1912.


Police Gazette, 14 March 1883. No. 11.


Southern Times, 24 August 1901.


The Daily News, 30th March 1899.


The Daily News, 8 May 1901.


The Daily News, 15 January 1908.


The Inquirer and Commercial News, 16 November 1881.


The Leonora Miner, 23 September 1911.


The Southern Cross Times, 1 June 1901.


The Southern Cross Times, 23 September 1911.


The Sun, 2 June 1901.


The Sunday Times, 5 June 1902.


The Sunday Times, 27 July 1902.


The Sunday Times, 10 August 1902.


The Sunday Times, 19 October 1902.


The Sunday Times, 10 September 1911.


The Sunday Times, 4 February 1912.


The West Australian, 27 March 1899.


The West Australian, 7 September 1889.


The West Australian, 7 August 1954.


The West Australian, 6 December 1907.


The West Australian Sunday Times, 9 June 1901.


The West Australian Sunday Times, 1 September 1901.


The West Australian Sunday Times, 16th November 1902.


The Western Mail, 28 December 1889.


The Western Mail, 17 October 1891.


The Western Mail, 18 May 1901.


The Western Mail, 26 December 1891.


The Western Mail, 16 September 1911.


Western Mail, 17 February 1912.



Royal Commissions:


Bianchi, P. Bianchi, E, Bloomfield, M. Bridge, P. Teague, A., eds, Canning Stock Route Royal Commission: Royal Commission to Inquire into the Treatment of Natives by the Canning Exploration Party 15 January – 5 February 1908 (Victoria Park 2010).


Roth Report, Royal Commission on the Condition of the Natives, (1905).




Bridge, P. Dreezens, G., Bang-Em-All: Bush Life and Death on the Gascoyne, Bangemall and the Thomas River Police Station. (Victoria Park, 2013).


Carnegie, D., Spinifex and Sand, (Ringwood, 1898).

Cunneen, C., Conflict, Politics and Crime: Aboriginal Communities and the Police, (Crowns Nest, 2001).


Evans, R. Saunders, K. Cronin, K., Race Relations in Colonial Queensland, (St Lucia, 1975).


Forrest, K., The Challenge and the Chance, (Victoria Park, 1996).


Forster, R. Nettlebeck, A., In the Name of the Law, William Willshire and the Policing of the Australian Frontier, (Kent Town, 2007).


Forster, R. Nettlebeck, A., Out of the Silence: The history and memory of South Australia’s frontier wars, (Adelaide, 2012).


Green, N., The Forrest River Massacres, (Fremantle, 1995).


Kimberley Language Resource Centre., Moola Boola: in the shadow of the mountain (Broome, 1996).


Murray, P.L., Official records of the Australian military contingents to the war in South Africa, (Melbourne, 1911), p.408


Nugent, M., Captain Cook Was Here, (Cambridge, 2009).

Pashley, A. R. (Don), Policing our State, (Cloverdale, 2000).


Pederson, H., Jandamarra and the Bunuba Resistance, (Broome, 1995).


Pilmer, R.H., Northern Patrol: An Australian Saga, (Victoria Park,1998). eds. Bridge, P. Clement, C.


Reynolds, H., The Other Side of the Frontier, (Sydney, 1981).


Reynolds, H., Forgotten War, (Sydney, 2013).


Richards, J., The Secret War, A True History of Queensland’s Native Police, (St Lucia, 2008)


Book Chapters and Journal Articles:


Clement, C., ‘Monotony, Manhunts and Malice: Eastern Kimberley Law Enforcement, 1896-1908’ in Early Days: Journal and Proceedings of the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, Vol. 10. No. 1, (1989), pp. 85-96.


Driesen, V., ‘Confrontation and Reconciliation on the Waterfront: The Fremantle Lumpers Strike: 1899’, Labour History, No. 40, (1981), pp. 29-48.


Finnane, M., ‘Settler Justice and Aboriginal Homicide in Late Colonial Australia’, in Australian Historical Studies, No. 42, (2011), pp. 244-259


Gill, A., ‘Aborigines, Settlers and Police in the Kimberleys 1887-1905’, in Studies in Western Australian History, Vol. 1, (1977), pp. 1-28.


Goddard, E. Stannage, T., ‘John Forrest and the Aborigines’ in Studies in Western Australian History, Vol. 8, (1984), pp. 52-8.


Green, N., ‘From Princes to Paupers: The Struggle for Control of Aborigines in Western Australia 1887-1898’, in Early Days, Vol. 11. No. 4, (1998), pp. 447-462.


Lydon, J. ‘H G Wells and a Shared Humanity’ History Australia, Vol. 12. No. 1, (2015), pp. 75-94.


Owen, C., ‘The police appear to be a useless lot up there’: law and order in the East Kimberley 1884–1905’, in Aboriginal History, Vol. 27, (2003), pp. 105- 129.


Rodney Harrison, ‘Materiality, ‘Ambiguity’ and the Unfamiliar in the Archaeology
 of Inter-Societal Confrontations: A Case Study from Northwest Australia’, in Per Cornell and Fredrik Fahlander, eds, Encounters | Materialities | Confrontations :Archaeologies of Social Space and Interaction, (Newcastle, 2007), pp. 42-58.


Internet Resources:


Evans, R. Orsted-Jensen, R., I Cannot Say the Numbers that Were Killed’: Assessing Violent Mortality on the Queensland Frontier. (2014),, accesed 10 November 2015., accessed 7 November 2015., accessed 7 November 2015., accessed 27 October 2015., accessed 30 October 2015.








Hate is

hate speaks in many languages, but with one tongue.

it echoes across footpaths, the unified rhythm as boots hit the street.

one two

one two

Hate tells you you’re okay.

hate tells you its not you, but leaves a lingering doubt,

recourse for future change in mind.

hate lives in the words of the weak, in mouths of politicians and in the script of newsreaders.

hate is intersectional, hate is motivating, hate is pervasive

its the split skin of cracked nuckels and insignia worn with pride.

its the banner of dead tyrants, resurrected in opportune moments,

directed at those with no room to move, with no place to go, with no plan for tomorrow, with nothing today,

hate cried out in the minds of the stupid.. hate belongs, hate is belonging, belonging to hate.

hate is the glimmer in the eye of a flag worn with pride, spittle in the face of the undeserving, fists where there should be understanding… death, where it shouldn’t be.

hate leaves questions never answered and answers never questioned.

hate moves masses and laughs with the smirking grin of the guilty.

the whispers of doubt and a seed of fear.

hate whispers. dark. alone. angry… and unified.

Words Speak louder than actions… well at least in the purview of the far right

One of the realities in the contemporary world of online politics is the ability to connect with a vast array of like minded folk from a range of different places. This results in pages and movements receiving large numbers of ‘likes’ and an influx of statements of support from what may seem like a large amount of people.

The thing is, in comparison to the days of pre-internet political organising, these loud and often obnoxious exclamations of support don’t necessarily translate to boots on the ground, and in the case of the far right, this is a fine thing indeed.

The ability for radical right wing groups to operate in an online echo chamber, seems to stir them in to a righteous fervour, post by excruciating post they seem to buy into their own propaganda, and as the hate filled sentiment rolls out, their inflated sense of self worth seems to get confused with actual social or political influence (in their minds at least).

Take for example the ‘White Man March’ organised by the explicitly racist neo-nazi group National Action in England, The organisers of the march, which had more than 3000 FB likes claimed that “only bullets would stop us”. The hype surrounding the event saw racists from all over the world expressing support, if you were to believe the propaganda from these folks you could be forgiven for expecting an army, fully equipped with artillery and tanks, flying the ‘white pride’ flag,  marching on poor old Liverpool to reclaim it from the proponents of ‘white genocide’, the immigrant inspired left wing communist enemy within who have a grasp of the country. Thankfully, the reality was just a little different. The foot-soldiers of the aryan master race bravely cancelled the rally twenty minutes before it began and then promptly defended the future of white children from within the lost property depot as large numbers of anti-racist and anti-fascist counter demonstrators pelted them with humiliating jeers and rubbish.


Unfortunately for National Action, but thankfully for the rest of us, the self aggrandising and aggressive online presence of the ‘White Man March’ didn’t manage to cross the digital/physical divide.

A little closer to home, things aren’t much different. This year across Australia we have seen the rapid growth of Far Right anti-Islam protests. For all the anti-Islam rhetoric these groups spout, one could be forgiven for believing that after trawling through their FB pages their greatest enemy is themselves. However set these groups seem on cannibalism, the threat they represent does warrant some analysis. If you want to read up about the establishment and growth of these groups you can do so here or here.

The UPF who are probably the most aggressive, radical and active ‘anti-Islam’ group in Australia at the moment have a significant online following. They use their online platform to campaign against what they deem to be the ‘Islamisation of Australia’ and the ‘Traitorous Left Wing’ who are dead set determined to ruin the ‘Australian way of life’, details of which i will go into at a later date. These guys have had their fair share of humiliations too (Although you wouldn’t realise it reading through their page). Of the 10,000 odd supporters on FB, the most they have managed to mobilise in the streets would be pushing 150 at a stretch. On July 18 when they rallied in Melbourne to ‘smash the left’, they did so with the protection of 450 police who had to escort them through thousands of anti-racism protesters. After a tedious display of brown shirt cosplay and barely literate political rants, these noble campaigners dismounted their non-halal soap box and were escorted home. The rally which they deemed to be a victory,  was the result of months of planning and promotion. Countless hours spent recording and uploading emotive videos calling everyday Australians (but specifically white males) to action. Hundreds or even thousands of hours moderating comments and whipping up support through their networks. The result: well a pretty dismal display from a rag tag bunch of tattooed thugs slapping each other on the back and whispering racist insults to journalists. They certainly didn’t smash ‘Islam’ or ‘The Left’, and after they left it seemed for a little while that they were demoralised enough to slack off on the social media front.

But alas, stupid is as stupid does, the UPF are back and after a failed attempt to hold a rally at Cronulla, ‘the home of anti-Islam in Australia’ or as Sherman Burgess puts it in one of his god-awful songs “Australia’s Muslim holocaust“, they have joined in on plans to hold a world wide rally against Islam on the 10th of October, co-ordinating with groups from America, Canada and ‘all across Europe’.  If the Last rallies are indicative of the UPF’s ability to actually translate their online support into boots on the ground, it should be a fairly small ordeal, however the effects could have much broader implications. But for the time being, lets just hope the narcissistic hatefulness of these groups and the ease with which one can show online support remain without a real physical manifestation.

…oh yeah, the UPF also have a ‘Tasmanian chapter’, the active membership of which seems to consist of about 7 desperate (but potentially dangerous) souls.

You can find them here.

A Look at the Foundations and Legacies of Policing in Australia in relation to Aboriginal People


Native Mounted Police, Rockhampton 1864

The physical colonisation of Australia occurred in stages from 1788 to the last remote areas in the early 20th century. The framework for this colonisation however had been firmly established during the expansion of Britain’s colonial empire. In 1768, when captain James Cook and Sir Joseph Banks set out on the HMS Endeavour to seek evidence of ‘the unknown southern land’, the process had begun.  At every stage colonisation involved occupying and ‘settling’ land. The legal definitions and framework imported by the colonisers laid out distinct guidelines for the act of taking such land; this was to be done in a number of preferably peaceable ways, but in the case of Australia, a great myth developed from the beginning: that the land was for all practical and legal purposes uninhabited. This great ambiguity at the heart of Australian history establishes the foundations for this story. As subjects of the crown, Aboriginal people were supposed to be extended equal protection under the law, as a result, they were expected to conform to a law they knew nothing of. The absurdity of this situation seemed to be lost on the vast majority of colonisers, who armed with notions of racial superiority and the backing of empire set about laying the foundations of what was to become Australia. The imported framework for ‘civilisation’ had a predetermined social hierarchy which was to be transplanted in the new lands, one which brought its own set of legal requirements and punishments. As it is to this day, when a law is broken, the first point of contact in resolution is the police. During the colonisation of Australia, police effectively filled two roles, enforcing the imported legal structures amongst the European population and facilitating the aggressive expansions of settlers by transplanting a new legal system of the pre-existing population.  As such, it is imperative to understand the development of policing in Australia within the context of colonial expansion.

The West Australian police web site lists in its brief historical overview that the first notable episode in West Australian policing was in 1834, it simply says ‘mounted police and Pinjarra’ ( The event which this refers to is what has come to be known as the Battle of Pinjarra or the Pinjarra Massacre. A growing Nyungar resistance to the expanding demands of settlers saw an armed party of mounted police and citizens led by Governor Stirling set out with a plan to end any further native resistance. The ensuing fight saw large numbers of Aboriginals killed with only minor injuries to police and settlers. This first ‘notable episode’ in west Australian policing history is followed by what is described as ‘trouble settling the north’ and ‘Kimberly uprising’ ( These are in reference to native resistance to expanding pastoralism in the north of Western Australia and Jandamarra’s four year guerrilla war in the Kimberley. To understand the development of this kind of policing and why these events are so prevalent in all Australian colonial police forces, one must understand the duties police performed on the Australian frontiers.

Central to any colonial expansion is land. The growing demand from pastoralists and squatters for land put up a unique legal challenge for the colonies. Squatters who were taking up vast tracts of land extending out from the periphery of the colonies were doing so against the law of the time and on Aboriginal territorial land. The squatter’s occupation however was providing an economic backbone for the colonies and as a result colonial governments moved to legitimise their occupation with the introduction of pastoral leases. Cunneen notes that the pastoral leases which legally facilitated this land grab were an entirely new form of land tenure and with its establishment came a need for a new form of policing which manifested in the establishment of the border police (Cunneen 2001, 47).  The Border Police were established to facilitate the squatters land grab while offering ‘protection’ to the Aboriginal people whose land was being taken. That they operated more as a private security for those ‘outside the boundaries of settlement’ is hardly surprising, this unique form of land tenure and policing must be understood within the specific context of the colonial setting. That the police were established as a reflection not only of the needs of the official colonial establishment but also the needs of ambitious squatters who were initially operating outside of colonial sanction is indicative of their intent. The police often functioned as a first line of contact between Europeans and Aboriginals and although they were in theory supposed to represent Indigenous people equally as subjects of the British crown, the representational relationship is fundamentally skewed towards serving the interest of settlers. By supporting the radical expansion of land holds and facilitating the way in which Indigenous people were engaged, the police in colonial Australia were performing a task which had in other colonial enterprises been carried out by the military (Cunneen 2001, 49). Rather than maintaining law and order police were “extending the reach of British jurisdiction over resisting Aboriginal communities” (Cunneen 2001, 50). That the police functioned as a political and military tool, utilised to facilitate not only the acquisition of land but the establishment and enforcement of a new system of law over existing Indigenous communities, is why it is essential to understand the development of policing in Australia within a colonial context.

Punitive expeditions exemplify the attitudes of colonial police towards Aboriginal people. In fact the police in NSW effective took over the coordination of retaliatory action against Indigenous people from the military and gangs of squatters. Early in the NSW colony the threat of Indigenous resistance on the Hawkesbury was great enough to warrant the guarding of farms by the military (Connor 2010, 5). The tit for tat nature of conflict between settlers and Aborigines set the stage for a punitive model of policing. More often than not an attack on a squatter’s property or stock would warrant a severe police lead retribution. The development of the Native Police was central to colonial approaches to dealing with the perceived threat Aboriginal people posed. Possibly the most brutal police forces ever to exist in Australia, the Native Police were utilised in suppressing the independence of Indigenous groups and bringing them into the fold of colonial authority (Nettlebeck 2010, 361). Usually consisting of around ‘six to eight Aborigines led by a European officer’, they were equipped with a horse, gun and uniform (Richards 2008, 1025). The Native Police were used as a paramilitary unit which has seen them described as “the most lethal force ever used against Aboriginal people” (Cunneen2001, 56). Violence enacted against Aboriginal people by Native Police on behalf of the settlers was at the time seen by many as a necessity (Evans 1975, 28). The nature of colonial expansion and the political and scientific sentiment of the time was promoting amongst other things that the Aborigines were at the bottom of the social evolutionary scale, they had to conform to a broader European agenda or perish, as many believed they would. The effectiveness of the Native Police in quelling Aboriginal resistance is undoubtable. Competent in the bush and with a knowledge of country inaccessible to white colonists, the Native Police exacted a bloody regime on behalf of the colonial establishment. Queensland native police developed a particular reputation for brutality. The apprehension of suspects came secondary to use of lethal force, targeting not only suspects but everyone at camp (Cunneen 2001, 58). The sensibilities of the time and perhaps the hesitancy of officials and police to record much explicit evidence saw the term ‘dispersal’ come to represent the killing of Aboriginal people (Richards 2008, 1024). Dispersals became the primary tactic of the Queensland native police.

The native police served a political function in the colonies. The perceived threat posed to settlements and colonial authority from Aboriginal resistance required a mechanism of punishment and control. In this sense the Native Police were able to operate outside of the law. The ambiguous nature of Aboriginal rights under British law allowed many to turn a blind eye while the Native Police settled matters. Implicit in this arrangement was the knowledge that the native police were able to “take Aboriginal lives almost with impunity” (Slocomb 2011, 85). The members of the native police were usually sourced from areas outside of where they served, but the psychological element must have contributed to their fierce reputation.

Colonial policing adopted other models and ways not only of utilising Aboriginal people but more generally in enforcing rule of law in the settlements. Cunneen notes that centralized approaches to policing is representative of the levels of conflict between settlers and Aborigines. In the case of Tasmania, localised police constabularies existed until the end of the 19th century, Cunneen attributes this to the early conclusion of hostilities between Aborigines and settlers (Cunneen 2001, 48). The connection is important to note, the coordination of a military style police force to respond to Aboriginal threat would be much more effective from a centralised control. In the 1820s the threat posed from bush rangers and Aborigines in Van Diemen’s Land saw Governor George Arthur establish the field police.  Consisting primarily of veterans of the French Wars, the field police were established along the lines of militias organised into five administrative districts (Boyce 2008, 174). The district police magistrates answered directly to Arthur, this centralised approach highlights Cunneen’s point. While the threat remained, the police served primarily an oppressive function. Aborigines from the mainland were sent down to operate as guides and contribute to punitive missions (Harman 2009, 5). The peak of oppressive government action against Tasmanian Aborigines came in 1830 with the Black Line. The line consisted of two thousand soldiers and civilians and was intended to drive four of the nine Tasmanian tribes off their homelands, thus ending the black war (Ryan 2013, 3). While the black line was not successful in its stated intent, it served to consolidate the Tasmanian Aboriginals under the control of George Augustus Robinson. The effective combination of oppressive police and military action in Tasmania allowed the colonial police force in Tasmania to develop along a different trajectory after the conclusion of the Black Wars.

In Western Australia a different form of colonial policing developed. Aborigines were utilised as trackers and native assistants to the police, particularly in the Kimberleys.  Police working closely with squatters served as an oppressive force against local Aboriginal groups (Cunneen 2001, 58).  A greater emphasis was given in WA to the apprehension of Aborigines than was in Queensland but a great number of Aborigines were still killed by police. Rottnest Island was established as a jail for Aboriginal men caught for any number of misdemeanours and the terrible conditions on the island saw many die. Central to the police mission, as elsewhere in Australia, was to facilitate to acquisition of land. To impose a system of British law over the local Aboriginal populations while relinquishing them from their traditional lands was the police’s primary function in the Kimberleys. Central to their success was the use of Aborigines as trackers and assistants. Perhaps the best known police assistant was Jandamarra, a Bunuba man who after serving as a police assistant for years turned his gun on the police and led a war of resistance against police and squatters for four years (Shaw 1983, 9). Both of these events are referred to as the notable events on the West Australian police website mentioned earlier. As with other models of colonial policing in Australia, the ambiguity of the legal status of Aborigines was used as a justification to the brutal methods of policing that were developed.

What highlights the difference between colonial models of policing in Australia and more conservative understandings of police function is intent. The primary function of colonial police in Australia was a military one. The ambiguity stemming from Joseph Banks suggestion of Terra Nullius left Aboriginal people in a legal void. To consolidate the growing need for land in the colonies the police functioned as an oppressive force to acquire new territory and subjugate the traditional inhabitants to a new system of control. Throughout Australian history, police have been at the forefront of Aboriginal contact with the colonial system. From frontier wars and land grabs, to the stolen generations and the regulation of assimilation policies, police have been at the forefront. Often these relationships have centered around coercion and violence on behalf of the police. More recently we have seen the police and military utilised as the first line of action in the Howard governments federal intervention and as recently as the 1960s police have been central to industrial land grabs, such as the forceful eviction of residents of Mapoon in the Cape York Peninsula (Wharton 1996, 39). Police brutality and Aboriginal deaths in custody have led to riots in Redfern and Palm Island. These events in many ways are indicative of the past. Understanding police as a coercive force within the context of colonisation is an important tool in understanding police relationships to Aborigines in contemporary society. The police in many ways continue to be an extremely effective mechanism of control when it comes to relationships between Aboriginal people and the broader institutions and legal systems of Australian society.

Boyce, J. 2008, Van Diemen’s Land, Black Inc, Victoria.

Connor, J. 2010, ‘The Frontier War that Never Was’ in Stockings, C. (ed.) Zombie Myths of Australian Military History, UNSW Press, Sydney.

Cunneen, C. 2001, ‘The Nature of Colonial Policing’, Conflict, Politics and Crime: Aboriginal Communities and Police, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest.

‘ Episodes in our Policing History’, West Australian Police Website,

Evans, R. Saunders, K. Cronin, K. 1975, Race Relations in Colonial Queensland, University of Queensland Press, Queensland.

Grassby, A. Hill, M. 1988, Six Australian Battlefields, Angus & Robertson, NSW.

Harman, K. 2009, ‘”Send in the Sydney Natives!” Deploying Mainlanders Against Tasmanian Aborigines.’, Centre for Tasmanian Historical Studies, Vol. 14, pp. 5-24.

Nettlebeck, A. 2010, ‘Policing Indigenous Peoples on Two Colonial Frontiers: Australia’s Mouned Police and Canada’s North-West Mounted Police’, The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, Vol. 43, No. 2, pp. 356-75.

Richards, J. 2008, ‘The Native Police of Queensland’, History Compass, Vol. 6, No. 4, pp. 1024-36.

Ryan, L. 2013, ‘The Black Line in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), 1830’, Journal of Australian Studies, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 3-18.

Shaw, B. 1983, ‘Heroism Against White Rule: The ‘Rebel’ Major’, in Fry, E. (ed.) Rebels and Radicals, Allen & Unwin, Sydney.

Slocomb, M. 2011, ‘The Harris Case: the Murder of an Aboriginal man by the Native Police in the Burnett District 1863’, Journal of Australian Colonial History, Vol. 13, pp. 85-104.

Wharton, G. 1996, The Day They Burned Mapoon: A Study of the Closure of a Queensland Presbyterian Mission, BA Thesis, University of Queensland

A Look at the Social and Legal Responses to Prostitution in 19th Century Tasmania

The Female Factory in South Hobart

The Female Factory in South Hobart


Records of prostitution are apparent in all of the Australian colonies. In Tasmania, prostitution has been a contentious fact of life from the earliest days of the settlement. In the nineteenth century the courts never criminalised prostitution, however it relied on a number of legislative acts to police prostitutes and brothel owners. Claims that prostitution was rife in Van Diemen’s Land are common but the prevalence of women and girls working as prostitutes’ seem to vary little between the colonies. There is little evidence to suggest that Van Diemen’s Land is an exception in this case and some reports suggest that the number of the population engaged in prostitution was similar in percentage to most major European cities at the time.[1] However each colony has different circumstances and there are a myriad of conditions which contributed to the prevalence of prostitution in Van Diemen’s Land as it existed in the nineteenth century. Amongst which are gender imbalance, economic conditions and as some suggest, previous experience in relation to transported convicts. This paper aims to provide a survey of the social, economic and legal conditions pertaining to prostitution in Van Diemen’s Land in the nineteenth century. It will provide a broad survey of the conditions in the first half of the century and then focus on the industry as it existed in Hobart in the letter part of the mid nineteenth century. Specific attention will be given to the intersection between moral and legal positions within Tasmanian society. A survey of popular thought in relation to prostitution will be provided along with examples of magistrate’s rulings as well as a summary of the efficacy of numerous charitable organisations whose intent was to dissuade those participating in the industry. It will be asserted that prostitution functioned unofficially as a necessary evil which contributed more to social cohesion than it detracted, especially in the first half of the nineteenth century and that this is reflected in the legislative framework.

 The Social, Economic and Legal Conditions in Colonial Van Diemen’s Land

The conditions in VDL before the end of convict transportation and responsible self-government in 1853 and 1856 respectively are marred by economic and social stagnancy. There was very little in the way of workers movements, a middle class was very slow to develop and political life was all too often influenced entirely by the self-interest of a very small group of wealthy pastoralists. It is suggested that in the first twenty years of the colony, weak government led to social conditions which fostered a tough, flexible society in which there were ‘few restraints on individuals except those imposed by their own values”. [2] A situation which saw people doing whatever was necessary to survive. The population of VDL in 1824 was 11,967; of this population 5938 were convicts.[3] Of the overall population 15 per cent were women.[4] This puts the number of females in the colony in 1824 at approximately 1800.[5] From the 1820s onwards there was a large arrival of female convicts, However it wasn’t until transportation ended in NSW in 1840 that the largest influx of female convicts arrived. In all there were around 12,500 female convicts transported to Van Diemen’s Land. Of this number, roughly two thirds were transported after 1840.[6] Female convicts who had committed secondary offences were housed in the Cascades Female Factory between 1828 and 1856, prior to this the Macquarie Street Gaol served as a temporary facility.[7] The assignment system, in which convicts were assigned as free labour to settlers functioned from the beginning of the settlement through to 1839.[8] The economic conditions in the young colony provided limited employment opportunities and the assignment system was slated by the colonial office as a cheap and effective system of removing convicts needs from the government stores, a system which benefited settlers and convicts alike.[9] Teale suggests that it also had the added benefit of removing female convicts from sources of vice and was cheaper than “keeping her at the factory”, although it is noted that many masters received female convicts as prostitutes rather than servants.[10] Alexander however suggests that the assignment system allowed convicts to live fairly openly in the community.[11] Being that there were few opportunities to make a living, women in the assignment system often turned to prostitution as a means of survival. The probation system followed and operated until 1853 when transportation ended.[12] While the limited economic opportunity combined with the male/female population disparity created a situation in which the social and economic conditions arguably encouraged prostitution.[13] The following sections will review how prostitution was approached from a legal framework and review how it was perceived as a moral issue.

Prostitution, A Legal Issue?

Between 1824 and 1843 women arriving in Van Diemen’s Land were questioned about prostitution.[14] This suggests that while there may have been other factors associated and definitions of prostitution may have been ambiguous, the act of prostitution never the less was something which was of concern to the colonial administration. Interestingly, prostitution was not illegal in the colonies, nor was it illegal in Britain. There were no female convicts transported for prostitution although many prostitutes were transported. This is reflected in the Australian colonies too, prostitutes were targeted with a range of vagrancy and public order legislation which often resulted with prostitutes being charged with minor misdemeanours, or as it has been put ‘riotous or disorderly behaviour’.[15] The Vagrancy Act of 1824 mirrored the act of the same name introduced in the same year in England. Under the Act “every Common Prostitute wandering in the public streets or public highways, or in any place of public resort, and behaving in a riotous or indecent manner; … Shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person within the true intent and meaning if this act”. [16] Notably the act of prostitution alone was not enough to illicit a charge. The unwillingness to directly legislate against prostitution may reflect a belief that prostitution was a necessary evil, an act which while undesirable, should be tolerated in the interest of social cohesion. Kay Daniels quotes Henry Melville as saying in his 1835 History of Van Diemen’s Land, that owing to the vastly different ratio of men to women “[prostitutes] must be beneficial to the morality as well as the interests of the community”.[17] The notion here being that the availability of prostitutes would allow the men of the colony to cope in the face of a large gender disparity and thus behave better. It is a position which it could be argued is reflected in the colonial administration’s unwillingness to specifically legislate against prostitution.

Other crimes were dealt with severely in Van Diemen’s Land. The punishment for those convicted for sex offences was particularly harsh. Capital punishment remained the sentence for those convicted of carnal knowledge, rape, bestiality and sodomy long after this punishment for those crimes had been stopped in Britain.[18] The severity of these punishments, along with a hesitant approach to legislate against prostitution seems to reflect the class dynamics and gender disparity in the community. Lieutenant Governor Arthur felt it as his imperative to make a strong statement.[19] That the safety of respectable women in the community was considered paramount could explain the legislative lag in dealing with what many in the community perceived as a great moral wrong. The severe punishment for rape reflects this, the last execution for rape in Tasmania occurred in 1875, long after it had ceased to be a capital offence in Britain, this was also the case in New South Wales.[20] Castles suggests that the political will to deal severely with sex offenders may have resulted in the unfair trial and executions of many.[21] The severity of these punishments shows that the colonial administration was not shy of legislating to correct what it viewed as serious problems in the fledgling colony and provides a telling contrast when compared with measures taken against prostitution.

In Tasmania legislation to deal specifically with prostitutes was not introduced until 1879. Even then, it approached the issue from a health perspective rather than a moral one. The Contagious Diseases Act of 1879 was effective within a six mile radius of Hobart and Launceston’s city boundaries, it allowed for the routine inspection of prostitutes for venereal disease, and prescribed forced treatment in hospital for those women found to be infected.[22] Rather than being an attempt by the Tasmanian colonial administration to eradicate prostitution, the impetus for this legislation reflected the Royal Navy’s anxiety to keep their members healthy.[23] While improvements were noted after implementation there was a perception that the measures in the act weren’t effective enough. Writing in 1880, the staff surgeon of the H.M.S. Wolverine Walter Reid expressed that while he felt the legislation was ‘tentative’, if it had not been enacted then there would be considerable anxiety about keeping ships in Tasmania for longer than ‘a very short period’.[24] He further recommended that all prostitutes be registered and medically inspected once a fortnight.[25] These recommendations were not reflected in practice, and in 1888 these concerns are still apparent. A Royal Commission into charitable organisations recommended that “the officer appointed by the Governor-in Council under the Contagious Diseases Act be empowered to order any suspected prostitute to be detained for immediate examination by some medical man appointed by the Government for the purpose”.[26] Neither the vagrancy laws nor the Contagious Diseases Act sought to act from a moral perspective. The legislation, while acknowledging the moral concerns of some in relation to the issue, primarily functioned from a pragmatic position and prostitution appears as a fact of life which is unlikely to change.

Efficacy of Legislation and Law Enforcement

Examples of how vagrancy laws and the Contagious Diseases Act practically functioned in the policing of prostitution can be found in the reporting of police courts. The punishments for charges associated with prostitution vary greatly and very little consistency is shown in sentencing. Some sentences seem to have a rehabilitative air about them while others seem either unduly severe or exceedingly lenient in comparison. Below is a small selection of examples to highlight this assertion. The Mercury reported from the police court in 1863 on the case of a 16 year old girl who was picked up for vagrancy:

Tuesday, 3rd November, 1863.

Before A.B. Jones, Esq., Stipendiary Magistrate.

Vagrancy.-Mary Askins, a girl, who, in reply to the Bench, stated that she was 16 years of age, was charged with being a common prostitute and behaving in an indecent manner in a public street. Mr. Jones said that the best thing he could do with a child of the defendant’s age was to order her to be sent to one of the Reformatory Schools, gazetted under the new Act. He should, therefore, order her to be sent to the school in New Town, for a period not less than two years, but as it was just possible, that the building might not yet be in operation, he should order her in the first instance to be imprisoned and kept to hard labour for one week, and during that period to be kept strictly separate from all other prisoners.[27]

Other newspaper reports of the time offer example after example of common prostitutes picked up for anti-social behaviour, drunkenness and vagrancy. The severities of punishments vary. Some examples show leniency with only cautions given such as this example from the Launceston Examiner in 1864 “Frances Davis and Rebecca White were charged with being common prostitutes and behaving indecently on the Queen’s ‘Wharf: on last night; They were admonished and discharged, the Superintendent of Police wishing merely to caution them on this occasion”.[28] Whilst on other occasions comparable crimes attracted much more severe penalties. An apparent increase in prostitution in the 1870s seems to have made little difference to sentencing.

Vagrancy laws were used by police as a way to keep prostitutes off the streets.[29] However Alexander suggests that police used these laws not so much to crack down on prostitution but to remove it from the view of the general population.[30] The policing of prostitution reflects a managerial approach, but it is unclear whether a more prohibitive approach could have been effective. Even if the political will existed to crack down on prostitution, it is unclear whether this would have been possible. Petrow suggests that police were poorly placed to deal with prostitutes owing to their own socio-economic position, a situation which effectively rendered them “unreliable and unsuitable agents to use against prostitutes, pubs and even larrikins”.[31] Alexander further suggests that police were often in collusion with brothel owners.[32] Prostitution, when it was policed was done so in a manner which would remove nuisance elements and allow the industry as a whole to continue. A combination of socio-economic conditions which effected police and prostitutes alike and demand created a situation in which prostitution had to be tolerated.

Prostitution as a Moral Concern.

Prostitution was viewed by many as a considerable moral challenge. Although there were dissenting voices in the community, a great many saw it as a stain on society, an affront to families and decency. An enquiry into the conduct of female convicts undertaken in 1841 shows extensive concerns relating the extent and prevalence of prostitution amongst not only female convicts, but also their children. In evidence given, police magistrate John Price provides a critical account of ticket of leave convict women

Ticket of Leave women in Hobart Town and its vicinity are always brought before me whatever their offences may have been – their [page 174] prevailing offences are in drunkenness, frequenting disorderly houses where prostitutes are harboured, living in a state of prostitution with men & representing themselves to be free. They are not generally speaking a well conducted class of women.[33]

A number of people were interviewed in relation to the behaviour and conduct of female convicts and their children. One of those interviewed was Rev T J Ewing, the headmaster of the Queens’ orphan school located in Newtown.[34] Ewing suggested that it was detrimental for any of the students to have contact with their convict parents owing to their low moral character. He complained to the commission that on several occasions visiting convict parents had provided intoxicating liquor to their children and in general were a bad moral influence, one which should by all means be discouraged if not banned. Ewing lamented that the children of convicts were, upon the release of their parents, being taken from the school for the purposed of prostitution. He cited the example of a former convict, and known prostitute who, upon receiving a ticket of leave removed her daughter of fourteen from the school, who three days later was seen with three whalers. He expressed that before her removal, the girl had expressed anxiety to become a prostitute, musing that this could also be due to the fact that she has seen girls she knew to “be on the town well dressed”.[35] These comments are as much a reflection of the economic situation of the time as they are the prevalence of immoral behaviour. Teale notes that the temperance movement is closely associated with the push to influence the condition of prostitutes along with a number of other social issues.[36] But there were other voices wanting to be heard on the issue too.

While some voiced their condemnation of the prostitutes themselves, others wrote in to the newspapers calling for a range of reforms. Some suggested regulation would provide the most beneficial outcomes. The example of a regulated industry in Japan is cited as showing numerous benefits.

No one is tempted to vice by the sight of it in the busy thoroughfares. No pestilence walks at noon-day in Japan. It must be sought in the quarter reserved for it is every city of the empire, and it is not allowed to go forth in brazen bravely to offend the modest and allure the unwary.’ The question is one that should not be treated in a namby-pamby manner, but as it is one that affects the health and moral condition of society, should be taken in hand at once by the authorities, lest Tasmania degenerates into the moral condition of the continental cities of Europe.[37]

Others felt the need to tackle the issue from an educational perspective. One man writing to the Launceston Examiner in 1867 claimed the need for Juvenile Reformatories to mitigate the conditions which encourage prostitution and anti-social behaviour.

Has the time come for the establishment of reformatories? The answer by judges, magistrates, and others is “Yes.” The judge sentences youths to be imprisoned in a gaol, while acknowledging that a reformatory would be a more suitable place of reception. The magistrates dismiss youths for lesser offences, because they have no mode of dealing with the culprit except by exposing him to greater evils. Citizen on every hand deplore the increasing juvenile depravity. When we reflect upon the antecedents of the parents of these youths we cannot wonder at their moral taint. Hueso associations are with too many recollections of blasphemy, profligacy, dishonesty, and the invariable addition of intemperance. Children so cradled and educated are our Arabs–to grow up into thieves and prostitutes.[38]

The presence of differing opinion in the community is apparent. But the frustrations of those who believe that the police and courts are failing to deal with a moral scourge are summed up well in a letter to the Launceston Daily Telegraph. Written under the subheading ‘In foro conscientiae’, Latin for ‘before the tribunal of conscience’, Cabby writes

…The idea of introducing young girls for their beauty and attractions, and compelling them to listen to such language as went on frequently in bars was atrocious. Unless they were young and pretty they did not attract custom, and could not act as decoys. The idea of putting a young and pretty woman into the midst of a foul atmosphere, and- frequently blasphemous conversation, seemed to him to be monstrous.’ Trusting that the thinking portion of our community will wait upon our three -members, and request of them that they Will, in- their place in ‘The House,’ .take steps to have enquiries made into this, and. other such matters, and if our police, have not the power to take at any hour, and from any place, all girls under 18 years of age who are well known to be pursuing a life of prostitution, that the requisite steps be taken for the introduction of ‘a bill into Parliament giving them such -authority. Indifference to such matters is absolutely unnatural, absolutely inhuman in any thinking being…[39]

Cabby continues, “I will subscribe. £1′ 1s towards a fund for the reward of the policeman who shall secure a conviction, and the retaining a 1 respectable ‘ solicitor for conducting the case, against any of the keepers of the disorderly houses in town”.[40] The complexity of social attitudes towards prostitution reflects a diversity of thought. While prostitution has always been a complex and contentious issue the frustration of those who oppose prostitution on moral grounds is directed in this case not at the prostitutes themselves, but at the hesitancy of the police to effectively prosecute those who run brothels.


The survey of prostitution in Tasmania over the period of the nineteenth century provides few clear or conclusive answers. The issues which sections of the community raise are as diverse as any political thought. While some pushed for a more punitive response, others saw it as an issue of education. A survey of the social, economic and political conditions in Tasmania has revealed that conditions were conducive to prostitution. Under the assignment system, women were driven to prostitution through lack of opportunity. However the lack of evidence to suggest that prostitution decreased in the latter half of the nineteenth century suggests that while there were limited economic improvements the choice to work as a prostitute was one actively made by many women. Legislative inaction is apparent throughout the nineteenth century. The few measures which were introduced were not aimed at eradicating the industry, rather they provided a framework which at best allowed police to keep prostitution limited to certain areas. The efficacy and capacity of the police to enact these measures also seems limited. The Contagious Diseases Act, while aimed at safeguarding the health of customers rather than prostitutes themselves was poorly implemented and failed to meet the expectations of those who initially pushed for it. A summary of this evidence suggests that prostitution was never viewed by the Colonial Administration and later the Tasmanian Parliament as a serious concern and dissenting voices in the community were never strong enough to encourage legislative action.

[1] , accessed 11 May 2015.

[2] Alison Ashley, The public role of Women in Tasmania, 1803–1914, PhD thesis, UT, 1989. P.1.

[3]!OpenDocument, accessed 10 May 2015.

[4] Alison Ashley, The public role of Women in Tasmania, 1803–1914, PhD thesis, UT, 1989. P.1.

[5] Population figures vary according to different sources, 1800 is only an approximate.

[6] Dianne Snowden, ‘Female Convicts’, The Companion to Tasmanian History,, accessed 9 May 2015

[7] Lucy Frost,’Female Factories’, The Companion to Tasmanian History,, accessed 8 May 2015.

[8] Richard Tuffin,’assignment’, The Companion to Tasmanian History,, accessed 9 May 2015.

[9] Ruth Teale, Colonial Eve (Melbourne 1978), p.21.

[10] ibid

[11] Alison alexander, ‘Prostitution’, The Companion to Tasmanian History, accessed 8 May 2015.

[12] Michael Sprod,’Probation System’, The Companion to Tasmanian History ,, accessed 11 May 2015.

[13] Alison Alexander, ‘Prostitution’, The Companion to Tasmanian History ,, accessed 8 May 2015.

[14] Christine Leppard-Quinn, Tasmanian Historical Studies, vol. 18 2013.

[15] Roberta Perkins, Sex Work & Sex Workers in Australia.(Sydney 1994), p.69.

[16] An Act for the Punishment of idle and disorderly Persons, and Rogues and Vagabonds, in that Part of Great Britain called England, [21st June 1824.],, accessed 7 May 2015

[17] Kay Daniels, So Much Hard Work,(Sydney 1984), p42.

[18] Alex Castles, An Australian Legal History, (Sydney 1982), pp. 261-2.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22]   The Contagious Diseases Act 1879 (42 Vic, No 36), accessed 6 May 2015.

[23] Kay Daniels, Mary Murnane, Australia’s Women: A Documentary History, (St Lucia 1980) pp. 98-101.

[24] Kay Daniels, Mary Murnane, Australia’s Women: A Documentary History, (St Lucia 1980) p. 99.

[25] ibid.

[26] ‘Royal Commission into Charitable Organisations’, The Mercuy, 12 June 1888,*&searchLimits=l-state=Tasmania|||l-decade=188 acessed on 9 May 2015.

[27] The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954 Wednesday 4 November 1863),*&searchLimits=l-state=Tasmania|||l-decade=186, accessed on 8 May 2015.

[28] Launceston Examiner 27 Aug 1864,*&searchLimits=l-state=Tasmania|||l-decade=186, accessed 9 May 2015.

[29] Kay Daniels, So Much Hard Work, (Sydney 1984), p. 146.

[30] Alison Alexander, ‘Prostitution’, Companion to Tasmanian History,, accessed on 7 May 2015.

[31] Stefan Petrow, Alison Alexander, Growing With Strength,(Hobart 2008), p. 185.

[32] Alison Alexander, ‘Prostitution’, Companion to Tasmanian History,, accessed on 7 May 2015.

[33] Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Female Convict Discipline 1841,, accessed on 6 May 2015.

[34] The Orphan School, built by convict labour, operated from 1833 until its closure in 1879. In 1848, when Charles O’Hara Booth – formerly in charge of the Point Puer boy’s prison – was superintendent, there were 463 children at the institution, of whom 411 were the children of convicts and seven were Aboriginal. Reports indicate that conditions within the school were harsh: the buildings were sparsely furnished and cold; food was often in short supply; and many of those responsible for caring for the children treated them harshly.

[35] Report of the Committee of Inquiry into Female Convict Discipline 1841,, accessed on 6 May 2015.

[36] Ruth Teale, Colonial Eve,(Melbourne 1978), p.193.

[37] Daily Telegraph, Launceston, 2 January 1884.*%20moral&searchLimits=l-state=Tasmania|||l-decade=188, accessed on 5 May 2015.

[38] Launceston Examiner 11 June 1867,*%20moral&searchLimits=l-state=Tasmania|||l-decade=186, accessed on 11 May 2015.

[39] Daily Telegraph, 13 June 1884,*%20illegal&searchLimits=l-state=Tasmania|||l-decade=188, accessed on 11 May 2015.

[40] Ibid.