Indigenous people were prohibited from entering large swathes of Perth from 1927 to 1954. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
“Natives Gaoled: In Prohibited Area” declared the headline in The West Australian newspaper.
It was back in 1947 and a dark chapter in Western Australia’s history — a time when Indigenous people were not allowed to walk the streets of Perth without a permit, or a “Native Pass”.
If they did they could be fined or, worse, jailed — as happened to three men in 1947, whose “crimes” were published in the newspaper on May 13, 1947.
“Three Aborigines, Frederick Alwyn Ludich (30), labourer, of Midland Junction, Lionel Egan (32), labourer, of Bayswater and Don Pedro (43), labourer, were sentenced to gaol by Mr HD Moseley, PM, in the Perth Police Court yesterday when they pleaded guilty to having been found in a prohibited area without a permit.”
Ludich and Egan had been found near the Pier Street railway “smelling strongly of liquor” and were jailed for 21 days.
Pedro was locked up for 14 days for loitering in the city and drinking on a Saturday and Sunday.
AO Neville urged Indigenous ban
It’s a little-known fact of WA’s history that Perth was a prohibited area for Indigenous people between 1927 and 1954.
It came about at the urging of Auber Octavius Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines, who didn’t want Indigenous people socialising with “whites” especially at White City — an amusement park on Perth’s foreshore.
AO Neville was the Chief Protector of Aborigines and instigated the exclusion of Aboriginal people from large parts of Perth. (Supplied: State Library of Western Australia)
As a result of his lobbying, a proclamation was made on March 9, 1927 under the Aborigines Act 1905 (WA), declaring it unlawful for unemployed Indigenous people to be in the City of Perth.
Back then, the official City of Perth was four times bigger than today, stretching all the way to the coast.
Indigenous people wanting to enter the exclusion zone for any purpose required a permit.
Original documentation, correspondence and maps — some more than 90 years old — relating to the draconian policy have been published in a feature story on a new website, Culture WA, in an effort to improve people’s understanding of the state’s history.
Ban included City Beach, Floreat
Old maps reveal how vast the prohibited area was, including North Perth, Leederville, Victoria Park, Kings Park, Wembley, Floreat and City Beach.
Damien Hassan has researched the exclusion policy era at the State Records Office. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
State Records Officer senior archivist Damien Hassan said if Indigenous people were unable to produce their native pass on demand, they had to vacate the prohibited area at once.
Failure to comply could result in arrest.
“We’ve got police records which show Aboriginal people being charged simply because they didn’t have a pass on them, even sometimes when they were lawfully employed they may not have the pass with them,” Mr Hassan said.
“It was a huge problem for Aboriginal people and also police trying to enforce this, and in fact many in the police force opposed this policy, and by 1954 it was abolished completely.
“It’s important that stories like this do get told and that we understand our full history of Western Australia.”
Newspaper records document how Indigenous people were fined for entering prohibited areas of Perth. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
It is unclear how many people were arrested for being in the exclusion zone without a permit, but documentation held by the State Records Office suggests it was a significant number.
Between July 1949 and February 1950, Central Police Office records show 78 Indigenous people were charged.
‘We are like slaves’
Old newspaper articles also offer an insight into how Indigenous people felt at the time.
“We are like slaves — tied down,” Thomas Brophy of Bassendean told Perth Police Court after being charged with being in a prohibited area in 1946.
“In the war the Aborigines were good enough to fight side by side with your men. Now they are sent back to the bush again. We cannot get justice if you want to put permits over us.”
Correspondence from Neville to the Commissioner of Police in March 1928 gives an insight into his motives for supporting the prohibited area.
Allowing them entry, he wrote, “simply debases the natives and lowers the status of the whites in their eyes … and will invariably lead to the ruin of blacks.”
The aptly-named White City amusement park in Perth was whites-only precinct. (Supplied: State Library of WA)
Writer and researcher Stephen Kinnane said Neville disliked the fact that Indigenous men were beating whites in competitive events at White City.
“Aboriginal men were winning boxing competitions, buck-jumping competitions and he felt it lessened the status of whites in the eyes of Aboriginal people to see that kind of activity take place, where an Aboriginal could defeat a white person in a competition,” Mr Kinnane said.
“It was an incredible amount of surveillance of people’s lives and people were aware they were being watched.
“They were very careful about how they behaved in public because they knew being Aboriginal and being in the city was something that was curtailed and controlled through legislation.
“The Perth Prohibited Area was so well-regarded as a solution to controlling Aboriginal people and segregating them from the wider population that it was applied across the state.”
Many police opposed the prohibition policy, archivist Damien Hassan said. (ABC News: Rebecca Carmody)
Mr Kinnane, a Marda Marda man from Miriwoong country in the East Kimberley, welcomed efforts to improve understanding of Perth’s Prohibited Area because of the important lessons to be learnt.
“That that kind of race-based approach and controlling a population, it never works,” he said.
“People got around it, they still cut through the city, they still used the city.
“Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people still related to each other.
“Non-Aboriginal servicemen who served with their Aboriginal mates still walked the streets with them and a couple of them got arrested for doing that.
“That kind of approach only creates division. We need to share the space.”
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