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Gentle genocide: the government of aboriginal peoples in Central Australia.

Introduction: The Mystery of the Ungoverned Center

Late in 1956, Aboriginal people who were evicted from the Maralinga Lands in South Australia to make possible the testing of atomic weapons were reported to be roaming the Warburton Ranges and surrounding desert areas of the Central Australian Reserve, starving, diseased, and dying of thirst. The Aboriginal people of these lands - primarily the Ngaanyatjarra - were believed to be dying in large numbers due to the combined impact of the additional population and drought conditions. In response to these rumors, the Legislative Assembly of the Western Australian State Parliament moved that a Select Committee be appointed to "inquire into all matters appertaining to the health and general welfare of, and future plans for, the aborigines in the Laverton-Warburton Range area" (WAPR/LA, September 26, 1956). The Committee traveled by truck from the remote mining town of Laverton to the Warburton Ranges. The 470 kilometer journey took nearly three days.

When the Committee's report was debated in Parliament, the Chair summarized its findings. Despite stressing that they "went out of our way to avoid extravagant language and to submit as moderate a report as possible," the Committee unanimously had been appalled:

It seems incredible that we are living in Perth less than two hours flying time away by modern aircraft from people who are starving to death, and in addition, dying of thirst. There are natives dying and going blind through a lack of medical attention. We are inclined to read reports of starvation in other parts of the world and think that that sort of thing could not happen here; but it is actually happening in Western Australia (Grayden, 1957).

He went on to comment that just north of the area investigated, there were large numbers of nomadic "desert natives and their plight could be even worse than that of the ones we investigated." Responses were not slow in coming. The Western Australian Commissioner for Native Welfare called the report "grossly exaggerated." Yet he was in no position to know, for he had visited the area concerned only once, by air, three years previously and then only overnight. Officers of his department had visited the area only twice in the previous seven years and then had travelled only to the small Mission on its western fringe. Shortly after, the (then) Adelaide newspaper editor Rupert Murdoch, apparently seeking no formal approval to enter these reserved lands, took it upon himself to charter a plane and inspect the situation in person. Murdoch reported back in banner headlines that the reports were "hopelessly exaggerated," and that "these fine native people have never enjoyed better conditions" (The News, February 1, 1957; see also Daily News, February 2, 1957; The Sunday Times, February 3, 1957). The Select Committee retorted that Murdoch's claims were substantially false and provided a point by point refutation (Grayden, 1957). Shortly thereafter, a team of anthropologists investigated further and found that while the findings of the report were exaggerated, "there is sufficient truth in them to warrant immediate attention" (Berndt and Berndt, 1957).[1]

While these observations are alarming in many human respects, the concern of this article is with issues of government raised by this political fracas. How could it be possible, in the late 1950s in a sophisticated, administrative welfare state, for a considerable area of the country to be so completely ungoverned that this debate was possible? How could it be that the question of the health and safety of the population should be unofficially and officially dealt with by such an extraordinary rag-bag of expeditionary, almost adventurist investigations? How could it be that there was no available estimate of the population of the area - let alone records of births and deaths? Indeed, formally the area was declared to be uninhabited, at least until 1957 (Fletcher, 1992). Why was there no official knowledge of the languages - for example in the form of a grammar or lexicon? Even the handful of missionaries, who were virtually the only Europeans living in the region, had no systematic knowledge of the language (Berndt, 1957). Why was there no formed road connecting the populated area to the nearest town, other than the 500 kilometer ungraded track (reported to be no more than intermittent wheel ruts in the dust) used by the missionaries? In short, how could there be an Australian administrative terra incognita in the middle of the 20th century?

The answer most usually provided in critical circles has been that of racist "neglect" - that governmentally, no one cared at all about the fate of the Aboriginal people (cf. Rowley, 1971; 1972). Certainly, this appears to be consistent with the systematic administrative ignorance of conditions in the vast interior region of the Central Reserve. Moreover, it is consistent with the fact that the Aboriginal population did not until 1967 constitute part of the populace (in terms of census and citizenship at least). Consequently, there was neither the requirement nor necessity to govern these inhabitants of the interior.

Ironically, however, in general Aboriginal people throughout most of Australia. have been subject to an extraordinary degree of regulation, perhaps being one of the most governed people on earth. Legislation such as the Native Administration Act 1936 of Western Australia (for which parallels existed in other states) gave the Chief Protector of Aborigines direct control over Aboriginal peoples' sexual relations, social relations, marriage, geographical mobility, residence, employment, income, property ownership and management, education, custody of children - even over where they could camp and what the law referred to as their "tribal practices."

In the "settled" coastal fringe of the Australian continent, such regimes were rendered far more intrusive because the expropriation of their land for pastoral and arable farming was associated with the concentration and confinement of the dispossessed Aborigines in "settlements" (see, e.g., Haebich, 1992; Hartwig, 1979; Bird and O'Malley, 1989). In the interior, where intensive occupation of the land by Europeans never occurred and Aboriginal people were not normally expelled from their own lands, there was far less disruption of their lives - including less intervention by the state. Yet as this article will show, it is by no means the case that those living in the interior (such as the Ngaanyatjarra) were simply neglected. Such an interpretation simply does not tally with the intensity and bitterness of the struggles over the government of the Central Aboriginal Reserve that occurred in the period from 1930 through to 1950. Although it is undoubtedly the case that the Aboriginal people in the interior were ungoverned by the modern state that had engulfed their land, this ungovernment was not a subject surrounded by silence, nor was it beyond concern. Rather, it was the focus of considerable struggle over governmental rationalities. The specific nature of, and relationships between, these rationalities, I wish to argue, made ungovernment possible - or more precisely, constituted the nature of ungovernment.

The situation that prevailed, I suggest, may readily be recognized as a parallel to that discussed by Foucault (1984: 17-18) with respect to sexuality in the 19th century - that is, while sexuality was a repressed and taboo matter, at the same time it was also the site of "a veritable discursive explosion." Indeed, this explosion in a direct sense constituted what we understand as the repression of sexuality. Similarly, the ungovernment of the Central Reserve was not simply the absence or neglect of government, for government was all around this terrain. It defined it materially and discursively, and created the conditions that made ungovernment possible. Ungovernment, in other words, had a positive existence and a specific character. The fact that it was actively produced and maintained (rather than merely the outcome of neglect) should, perhaps, come as no surprise, given that almost the defining characteristic of the modern state is that its administrative reach and its territorial claims coincide (Giddens, 1985). The implication is that "ungovernment" was a specific form of state governing, of shaping the lives and conduct of the populace of this region. Its characteristic form and the techniques used to effect it, however, differ markedly from the array that we think of as associated with modern state administration - which give special prominence to, for example, the calculation and manipulation of matters relating to the population: its numbers, health and welfare, and movement and locations (Foucault, 1979; Rose, 1991).

Thus, while constitutionally not part of the population, Aboriginal people in the internal colony were without doubt a subject of government and governmentalities - although these regimes were often brutal, uncaring, or underresourced (see, e.g., Biskup, 1973). This article suggests that critiques based on visions of "neglect," "racism," or other general glosses on the government of Aboriginal peoples have served to conceal the active ways in which struggles - including the resistances of the particular Aboriginal peoples concerned - have constituted the specific forms of government characteristic of each locale, and which in the Central Reserves took the form here described as ungovernment.[2]

The foundation for this state of ungovernment was formed when the Central Aboriginal Reserve was set aside for "preservation" after World War I. Paradoxically, it was to be isolated from the impact of (non-Aboriginal) government and people on the rationale that "the uncivilized natives have a code of their own which is in away superior to ours, but which seems to disintegrate as soon as they get in touch with civilization." Such was the view of A.O. Neville, the Chief Protector for Aborigines from 1915 through 1940 and in a strong sense the voice of the Western Australian state government on Aboriginal issues (Haebich, 1992). He was hardly alone in this conception. One of the few things on which the government saw eye to eye with missionaries and anthropologists was this fragility of the indigenous order and thus of indigenous life itself. As it turned out, however, the government policy arising out of this belief collided with the interests of missionaries who sought entry to the Central Reserves and of anthropologists who constituted themselves as the experts on matters Aboriginal. Each of these three parties had a clear conception of what it was to govern Aboriginal people, of what the object of government should be, and how this should be achieved. Each had fairly specific regimes in mind; though each sought to govern the Aboriginal population, they grasped it in such different ways that we are better off recognizing three different government rationalities at work: a government of the populace, a government of souls, and a government of culture. In order to understand the nature and effects of each, it is useful first to provide a brief overview of the history of the region.

Foundations: An Outline History of the Reserve

The Gold Rush in the Eastern Goldfields and the accompanying pastoral development pushed well out from Laverton (750 kilometers northeast of Perth) into the desert country to the north and northeast, but with little result. By the end of World War I, there had been rapid contraction and even Laverton itself was in decline - its population fell rapidly from about 2,500 before the war, down to about 400 by the early 1920s. It was in this environment that the Western Australia government agreed to gazette its large (70,000 square kilometers) area of such "useless" lands as part of the Central Australian Reserve.[3] For the next decade, at least, the reserves were strenuously abandoned by the state government, and there appears to have been little white entry into the area other than the occasional prospector and a few itinerant dog trappers.

Indeed, the isolation of the Warburton Ranges' Ngaanyatjarra people in some senses increased, as people living in the 500 kilometer-wide desert lands that separated them from the Laverton district gradually were drawn into fringe dwelling and semi-permanent settlement around the town. Laverton's status as a frontier town was thus confirmed in the 1920s as fewer and fewer non-Aboriginal people ventured into the interior, and as the area to its northeast became depopulated.[4] However, the early 1930s witnessed a series of changes that bore directly on the Ngaanyatjarra people m the Central Reserves. Perhaps the main stimulus, ironically, was a series of representations from the distinguished anthropologist, A.P. Elkin, and his colleagues, who had visited the area during 1930. As a result of observations on his brief research expedition among the Ngaanyatjarra Elkin lobbied to formalize the status of the de facto buffer zone around the Central Reserve "with the object of leaving the natives entirely to themselves" (Correspondence, Neville to Schenk, May 17, 1933).

Such a development, which was consistent with Neville's own sentiments, collided dramatically with current plans by the missions to expand into the region. Indeed, the original proposal of the United Aborigines Mission (UAM) in 1920 had been to set up a station in the Reserve, but this had been deflected by Neville on the ostensible grounds that "it is the semi-civilized natives [i.e., those around towns] that are in much greater need of missionary help" (Biskup, 1973: 122). Persuaded, the missionaries set up their station at Mount Margaret, about 30 kilometers to the west of Laverton - and in the face of considerable local resistance had expanded it into a thriving concern. A decade later, immediately after the Elkin expedition, the UAM again attempted to negotiate its entry to the Reserve, but again had been resisted by Neville (Correspondence, Schenk to Neville, June 25, 1932). Driven by evangelical zeal and the conviction that they had to save the lost souls of the Ngaanyatjarra in what they referred to as "Satan's Virgin Country" (Morgan, 1986: 160) the missionaries took matters into their own hands. In 1933 and again in July and October 1934, they undertook a series of expeditionary visits to the Warburton Ranges area with a view to setting up a mission station. Fate, or as they saw it, God, proved to be on their side. Despite Neville's resistance and his threats to retaliate by canceling the Mount Margaret reserve and revoking Schenk's certificate of protectorship, Neville was forced by events to accede to the mission demands (Biskup, 1973: 139).

His problems began with a series of newspaper reports in 1932 to 1933 (see, for example, West Australian, May 17, 1932, and Daily News, June 17, 1933) about appalling conditions and "cruelty to natives" in Western Australia that led to the establishment of a Royal Commission into the Social and Economic Condition of Aboriginals (The "Moseley Commission"). This Commission briefly visited the Laverton area in 1934 and pointed out that proper administration eventually become the responsibility of the Chief Protector (WAPR, February 23, 1934). Such a development was quite out of keeping with Neville's plans to leave the area "untouched," and these pressures were undoubtedly of great concern to him.

Shortly after the visit of the Royal Commission, the missionaries under their leader Rod Schenk finally set out to establish a station without waiting for formal approval from the Chief Protector. Indeed, the final written consent was provided by Neville - and then with ill-concealed hostility - only in May 1935, by which time the mission was already under development (Annual Report of the Chief Protector of Aborigines, 1935: 187).(5)

Yet there can be little doubt that Neville saw a distinct silver lining to this cloud, for he made no move to enforce removal of the mission. Clearly, one major leverage of the mission's case, in this time of Depression, was that it would cost the state nothing to administer and provide resources that otherwise must become its responsibility. This point had also been made to the visiting Moseley Royal Commission and was noted by the Chief Protector who, in granting approval, specified that "financial responsibility would be entirely that of your Society" and that the missionaries "would refrain at all times from seeking any assistance whatever from the government" (Correspondence, Neville to Schenk, May 2, 1935). The effect of such an embargo was to place serious limits on the ability of the mission to provide rations - which (while given out for humane reasons) had the effect elsewhere in Australia of rendering the nomadic people dependent on these new supplies, and thus creating a sedentary population, more amenable to the governance of the missions (Rowley, 1972). Neville's embargo thus limited greatly the impact of the missionaries' Christianizing project, while the existence of the Mission took pressure off his government to set up its own administrative infrastructures in the region.

The scene was now set for a situation that was to last into the late 1950s, in which the government resisted and starved missionary expansion in the area, while the missionaries carried out an evangelical regime completely at odds to that preferred by the state and by anthropologists - and which in very significant ways was resisted by the Ngaanyatjarra people. The concentrations of Ngaanyatjarra population, hoped for by the missionaries, failed to materialize at Warburton - partly because of the mission's restricted resources and capacity, and partly because of the refusal of most of the Aboriginal population to be converted.

This was the foundation of ungovernment, but the account thus far covers merely the events stripped of their meaning. To understand further, we must examine the discourses and practices of each governing party and the collisions these engendered.

State Administration: Government of the Population

There can be no doubt that more or less from the start in 1915, Neville had a considerable sense of the exploitation to which Aboriginal people were exposed in Western Australia, and felt strongly that it was his duty literally to be their protector. As noted above, however, he also firmly believed that contact between the aboriginal people and whites was culturally lethal, that Aboriginal social organization was unusually fragile, and thus that the extinction of these peoples as a distinct entity was just a matter of time. There was nothing very unusual about such a belief, which has been made most famous (or infamous) in the imagery of "smoothing the dying man's pillow" (see, e.g., Haebich, 1992). What was unusual, however, was that Neville was in a singularly powerful position to translate such a belief into policy. More than that, as the 1930s progressed he backed it up with a developed theory of genetics that he linked to a sophisticated program of eugenics.

As noted above, under the Native Administration Act (No. 43, 1936) the Chief Protector (to be renamed the Commissioner for Native Affairs) became governor of the Aboriginal people of Western Australia with respect to virtually all aspects of life. In the words of one contemporary politician named Hasluck, the act reduced Aboriginal people in Western Australia to the status of imbeciles. While this may appear merely the high point of paternalism already explicit in state policies, Neville in fact was going a good deal further. At the Conference of the Commonwealth and State Aboriginal Authorities, held in Canberra during April 1937, he pointed out that the Western Ausralian:

State parliament has just enacted legislation including the grant to the Commissioner for Native Affairs of control over the marriages of half-castes. Under this law no half-caste need be allowed to marry a full-blooded aboriginal if it is possible to avoid it (Neville, 1937: 11).

The rationale here was quite explicitly one of gentle genocide through a program of enforced eugenics, understood by state officials to be a program hastening what was believed to be the fulfillment of an inevitable but distressing process. In his efforts to come to grips with the "fragility" of the Aboriginal people, Neville had grasped onto recent theorizing that suggested that the Australian Aboriginal people were not a distinctive race, but merely a variety of Caucasians whose difference in color, hair, etc., was only the effect of climatic conditions:

The aboriginal is no more black than the average European is white ... the difference in the amount of pigment in his skin and in the "white" man's skin being in all probability due to climatic influence extending over long periods of time... (Neville, 1937: 25).

He was equally of the view that it was "nonsense" to suggest that there were differences of mental ability. However, Neville was obviously acutely aware that popular beliefs about Aboriginal primitiveness created racial tensions, and he was equally concerned about the "social and national interest" that the matter raised in Australia. In a strong sense, Neville's concern with color was merely in its role as the source of social problems, although such problems of race relations were based on "mistaken" attitudes about the racial distinctiveness of Aborigines.

His conclusion was simple. Problems of race should be eliminated for the benefit of all. Since there is no "racial" difference, there could be no objection to miscegenation between whites and Aboriginal people. Further, given disparities in population size, the effect of interbreeding must be to dilute Aboriginality rapidly. It was also believed that because of the racial identity of the peoples concerned, there would be no genetic "throwbacks" to the Aboriginal race. Half-castes" could simply and quickly be bred out of existence by marriage into the white population, a process made easy by the fact that there was a rough correlation between being a "half caste" and already being partially assimilated into Anglo-Australian culture (Neville, 1937: 10).

Yet this was only half of Neville's theorization on the government of Aborigines. The other half attended to the "full bloods," who were more likely to be enmeshed in traditional ways. Left alone, he believed that these people would be "decimated by their own tribal practices" - by which he referred especially to the belief that circumcision and subincision coupled with "widespread" abortion and infanticide would prevent this population from reproducing (Ibid.: 16). As far as his policy of eugenics was concerned, there was thus every reason to preserve the culture of the "full bloods" on the reserves. More than that the alleged fragility of their social organization implied a rigorous exclusion of white intrusion into the Central Reserve in order to let these processes produce their desired effects. Finally, as marriage between "half castes" and "full bloods" would significantly slow the watering down of color, this had to be prohibited. Under section 45(1) of the Native Administration Act, Neville (Ibid.: 1) required that the Commissioner (i.e., himself or his successor) had to approve in writing any marriage of "natives": "half castes" would be allowed to marry whites or other half castes; "full bloods" would be allowed to marry only each other. Neville stated fl= the effect of his government's policy would be that Australia could "forget that there ever were any aborigines." Indeed, as he spelled out, this had been the intention of the changes effected by the Native Administration Act.

Superficially, such a policy might be thought of as having nothing in common with the vision of a government concerned with the welfare and security of its population. Of course, it could be argued that the population with which it was concerned was white, and this is simply an obscure variant of Hitler's fascism in which the security of his population demanded the dispossession and extermination of others. Yet this would be to miss the vital point that in the eyes of the Chief Protector, the Aborigines were not racially distinct. The total population to be governed included the Aboriginal peoples, even those on the Central Reserve. What Neville believed he was doing was maximizing the well-being of the whole by a program of eugenics that most effectively absorbed the disadvantaged sector into the advantaged. "Half castes" would benefit from biological (color) and cultural assimilation, and their children even more so. The "full bloods" on the Reserves would simply die out- as eventually they must have done -but at least free of exploitation by rapacious whites.

In practice, for all its explicit racism the effect of this policy was intended to be nonintervention in the lives of those living in the Central Reserves. In a sense, it was government at a distance, in which the indigenous culture preserved by Neville's policies would produce the eugenic effects he sought. Yet this policy collided with the ideas of the missionaries who, armed with a totally antithetical rationality of government, sought to save the bodies but destroy the culture - and thereby rescue the souls of the Ngaanyatjarra people from their enslavement to Satan. Two concepts of freedom and welfare were in collision.

Government of the Soul: The United Aborigines Mission

Neville's attitude toward the Missions had by no means always been hostile. When the UAM settled in Mount Margaret, he offered considerable moral and political support against hostile local whites who saw the missionaries as interfering and as making the "natives" harder to deal with. He certainly applauded the missionaries' attacks on the exploitation of Aboriginal labor as well as on the sexuality of Aboriginal women, and he joined in their condemnation of the multitude of petty and substantial cruelties that had become commonplace in this region. He also favored the assimilative practices of the missionaries, who sought to turn the "half castes" into Christian, English-speaking, and educated subjects. Yet relations became progressively more strained and hostile after 1930 as the expansionist evangelism of the UAM began to manifest itself Having successfully expanded from Mount Margaret to Warburton in 1934, the United Aborigines Mission under the leadership of Rod Schenk not only extended its evangelical policies of Christianizing the "full bloods" - "which were in direct contrast with those of the department" - it also sought to extend its domain. Of immediate relevance, in 1937 it sought leave to establish a settlement at Rutter's Soak, midway between Warburton and Mount Margaret, as a means of improving the effectiveness of its operations among the Ngaanyatjarra.

Needless to say, government approval for this project was not forthcoming. Further, the regulations appended to the Aborigines Administration Act 1936 (Regulations 134 to 138) were amended in November 1939 to ensure that no new missions could be established without ministerial approval, while new missionaries henceforth required a permit from the commissioner - thus granting Neville a grip that crippled missionary plans for expansion.(6) In January 1940, relations broke down completely when, because of his continuing "subversive propaganda" against the government, Schenk's status as a Protector of Aborigines was revoked by Neville.

The UAM's planned expansion of the Warburton Ranges mission was further curtailed in 1940 when its negotiations to lease Cosmo Newbery pastoral station, some 90 kilometers away from Laverton in the direction of Warburton, were thwarted by Neville's purchase of the land to provide a "feeding depot" for Aboriginal "indigents." This move was quite explicitly aimed at restricting the growth and even weakening the holding power of the mission at Warburton. Yet it also struck at the mission's main base at Mount Margaret, as Neville then ordered that all "indigents" and all "full blood" children at Mount Margaret were to be moved to Cosmo Newbery. In Commissioner Neville's own words, these steps were deliberately intended to interfere with the "imperialist aims" of Rod Schenk (Morgan, 1986:288).

It was not merely the "imperialisms" of the UAM under Schenk that set Neville so strongly against it. Rather, it was that this expansionism was driven by the mission's governmentality of the soul, a political rationality that was virulently hostile to preservation of Aboriginal culture and yet sought the physical recovery and growth of the "native population" without regard to "degrees of blood." These twin prongs, each set in direct opposition to Neville's program, were very pointed indeed.

1. Cultural Genocide: Satan's Virgin Country

Given their evangelical zeal and the strength of their commitment to "Christianizing the natives," Neville must long have been aware that the UAM was implacably opposed to the preservation of Aboriginal culture. Yet as long as the Mission worked among those "half caste" Aboriginal people who were now fringe dwellers or were in other ways removed from their homeland, this was of little concern for it was consistent with his own aims. When the Mission made a determined effort to carry their doctrine into the Central Reserve in the 1930s, however, it became problematic.

Although the missionaries had a long-term goal to enter the Reserve (extending back to their organized arrival in the area in 1921), their renewed zeal was fired by the anthropologist Elkin's 1932 proposal for increased protections for then Ngaanyatjarra way of life in and beyond Warburton. Schenk wrote to Neville immediately, requesting access to the Ranges, but was rebuffed. Schenk replied:

As regards the scientists' desire to keep the many natives entirely to themselves, that desire will never be carried out.... I also know that many scientists would also try and exclude missionaries from any such reserve, and thus keep these lovely souls bound by the stark and barbarous superstitions of the dark ages. But if they tried to keep these souls just for museum specimens they would find there are missionaries in Australia prepared to lose their lifeblood in carrying out the command of our Lord Jesus Christ to preach the gospel to them (Schenk to Neville, May 25,1933).

Two years later, after ejecting one of Elkin's colleagues (Phyllis Kaberry) who had visited Mount Margaret, Schenk wrote in protest to the Chief Protector that anthropologists wished:

to encourage into all kinds of superstitious rites in opposition to our teaching.... [W]e want souls to be saved from hell, but scientists and anthropologists turn them back ... they drag them back to hen (Correspondence, Neville to Schenk, September 21, 1935).

If the Western Australia administration intended for the Aboriginal population to physically disappear, the main concern of the missions was that they should culturally disappear.(7) Cultural practice, after all, is the direct representation of the state of the soul. In the evangelists' eyes, it was inconceivable that a person could be Christian, and thus saved, and yet adhere to traditional ways. Yet culture and belief - as the missionaries discovered all too soon - can be concealed. Many of their converts continued in their traditional ways and from time to time were discovered. If culture was a necessary but unreliable indicator of salvation, a second index became the body.

2. Discipline and Physical Recovery: The Bodies of the Saved

Little can be gleaned from the missionaries' overall governmentality from their activities in the Warburton Ranges, for so draconian was the impact of Neville's virtual siege of the area that - beyond handouts of food and blankets and some evangelizing to a small core of adherents - little could be effected. Yet the full program of their regime was made clear at the Mount Margaret Mission, from whence Schenk and his team originated. Much of the missionary effort was aimed at changing the Aboriginal people essentially into black Europeans. Schooled, literate, clean, clothed in English school uniforms, ties and jackets or summer dresses, disciplined, and tennis playing, they smile out of the photographs of the era (see, for example, the array of pictures proudly presented by Morgan [19861). Even as late as 1957, the anthropologist Berndt (1957) writing in the aftermath of the Grayden-Murdoch fiasco noted that in this region:

There is a widespread tendency to identify Christianity with Europeanization. Missionaries who find it hard to distinguish these seem to feel that before an Aboriginal can be viewed as a Christian he must adopt certain tangible symbols of our culture: clothing for instance, and other material equipment.

It is not difficult to understand why it should be that government of the soul also proved to be a government of the body, for the soul is invisible and may only be known through bodily manifestation. The body, its performances, and adornments became the obsession of the missionaries, who identified conversion of the inner souls with adoption of Western European (and especially English) cultural trappings. Yet such work could only be performed if the people were healthy. Souls could not be permitted to depart this earth before being dedicated to God. The government of the soul was thus a government of the body as a sign of the state of the soul.

For Neville, on the other hand, the body was the material object of a population policy. Color became the primary representation of the well-being of the population. Though the color of the individual was unchanging, by working through color Neville sought to change the color of the population saw as damaging to Aboriginal peoples and to the state of Western Australia. Conversely, since color is unchanging in the individual, it was of no relevance to the missionaries, for they sought to change the state of the individual soul, which dwelt within the singular body.

Consequently, the governmental programs of the Mission came into double collision with that of the Chief Protector. First, the mission's regime governing improvement of the health, cultural attributes, and actions of the body was anathema to him. Given the extent of their immersion in the culture of evil untouched in "Satan's Virgin Country," missionaries saw this government of the body was most necessary among the people of the Warburton Ranges. Neville could never tolerate such a regime, for his policy of self-extermination relied upon the lethal nature of "native practices" embedded in traditional culture, and his vision of humane government was to leave the people to enjoy their culture in their period of extinction. Second, as part of their civilizing project, the missionaries encouraged Christian marriage and the procreation of children (in wedlock). They cared not at all as to the color combinations of the bride and groom, and thus smiled upon the marriage of "full bloods" and "half castes," which Neville had expressly sought to eliminate in the Act of 1936. Needless to say, the Chief Protector saw this as yet another reason to further restrict the missionaries' access to Aboriginal peoples (see Neville, 1937:11) - and he backed this up by enacting section 45(3) of the Native Administration Act, which made it an offense to celebrate a marriage between "natives" without giving the commissioner prior notice.

"Law Terrorists": Aboriginal Resistance and Government of the Soul

Their unwavering hostility to Ngaanyatjarra culture set missionaries into direct and bitter conflict with (especially) the male elders of the Ngaanyatjarra people, who were charged with the preservation of the traditional knowledges and ways. The records of the Mount Margaret missionaries are littered with resentment and anguish as these Ngaanyatjarra men and women resisted and fought back. Very rarely did this take the form of overt clashes between the missionaries and the Ngaanyatjarra, at least in the sense of physical threats to missionaries or public denunciations of the UAM. Rather, resistance was manifested in the tenacity with which the Ngaanyatjarra ways were defended. In particular, such resistance becomes visible in ceremonials. For example, 1931 - a decade after the establishment of the Mission - was characterized by what the missionary Margaret Morgan (1986: 121-123) described as "some of the worst corroborees." Of course, such ceremonies do not appear as acts of resistance to outsiders, but the missionaries were under no illusions about the directness and the power of the struggle, viewing these corroborees as "a major confrontation with the gospel." Moreover, the Ngaanyatjarra made concerted efforts to undo the work wrought by Christianizing missionaries on their young people. As part of the ceremonial periods (referred to by the Ngaanyatjarra in English as "law business," after "the law" - sacred knowledges), young men especially were put under considerable pressure to participate in corroborees." Again the missionaries clearly recognized this as resistance:

Renewed death threats were made to them that they would be killed when caught out alone, or their mothers would be killed. The prayer partners were told that the "fury of the oppressor" has been so great that it seems we are looking into the jaws of a roaring lion. We pray that God will strengthen us to continue the march of faith round the corroboree evils... (Ibid.:122).

Those Ngaanyatjarra who sought to enforce traditional "law" in this way were duly dubbed "law terrorists" by the missionaries (Ibid.).

As might be anticipated, the force and success of the Ngaanyatjarra resistance were attributed not to the courage and tenacity of people fighting for their cultural survival, but rather to the actions of the devil: We are sure Satan is at the back of all these ceremonies," stated Schenk (Smith, 1933:67). Yet another enemy was also seen to be at work - the antropologists.

Anthropologists: Governing Culture and the Struggle over "Expertise"

It has already been seen that anthropologists, especially those from A.P. Elkin's team, were persona non grata to the missionaries. Their call for a "buffer zone" around the Central Reserve, to protect the culture and fives of the inhabitants, came hard on the heels of a visit by Elkin to the Laverton district. To his two-month sojourn among the Aboriginal people, the missionaries attributed the upsurge in "sorcery practices" at which, many men claimed, dances were performed that had not been seen for years (Biskup, 1973: 132; Morgan, 1986).

In the eyes of the missionaries, the anthropologists were concerned neither with the souls nor the bodies of the Aboriginal peoples, but instead wished to preserve them only as "museum specimens" to be studied like insects. In practice, of course, though there was a considerable element of truth in this accusation, matters were more complex. Elkin's answer to the self-posed (and overtly imperialist) question of "what kind of people are we to make out of Aborigines" was apparently schizoid. On the one hand was the bitter hostility to the missionaries' cultural genocide and a professional focus on "traditional" culture and social organization. On the other hand was a strongly held view that "the Aborigines must adjust to us" (Jacobs, 1990: 210). This resolved itself into a practice in which the reserves were to be a kind of cultural preserve, protected by a buffer zone of some magnitude. The bulk of Aboriginal people elsewhere would be best served by forms of social assimilation that would lead Aborigines to take up an "intelligent place" in (white) society (Biskup, 1973: 92-93). Inevitably, assimilation would eventually overtake those in the reserves, but the gradual nature of this process would render it less traumatic and more effective.(8) It is difficult not to see in such a divided policy the grounds for the missionaries' views of the anthropologists as "specimen hunters."

Bitterly hated by the missionaries, the anthropologists also became alienated from Neville. The first (and major) cause was that the anthropologists had no interest in Neville's eugenic plans for the "full bloods," since their interest in preserving the traditional culture was wedded to a humane paternalism. (Perhaps cynically, it can be observed that the culture in which the anthropologists were so interested would die out with the last "full blood.") Their stinging criticisms of what they regarded as the government's neglect of Aboriginal people on the Reserves led Neville to withdraw support for future proposals for anthropological expeditions.

This was exacerbated by a dispute over expertise. Both parties felt that their status as the "experts" on Aboriginal people qualified them to a privileged status with respect to governing these peoples. Neville resented the fact that anthropologists frequently were feted as experts and invited to address important conferences in exotic places, while the real experts were administrators like himself. This claim to superior expertise was not simply based on his day-to-day and detailed contact with the lives of Aboriginal peoples. Rather, it was because of this status that administrators had access to an immense wealth of information - proof of which was manifested in the fact that they directly provided much of the anthropologists' data (Jacobs, 1990). Moreover, Neville felt that the anthropologists took great advantage of him and his staff - and in so doing proved his superior expertise - by routinely seeking considerable support in gaining access to remote Aboriginal peoples and in organizing and provisioning field trips. On the other side, Elkin described Neville as "one of the great banes of forward work" and regarded Neville as a bureaucrat who nevertheless had become "a person who, by the light of Nature, thinks he knows all about Aborigines."

The crucial difference between Neville and Elkin, as recognized by both men, lay in the anthropologists' concern with knowledge of "traditional" culture. Neville was critical of the anthropologists because of their focus on culture and traditional organization, which in his plan was merely to be preserved for the sake of the doomed and diminishing "full bloods," rather than as a thing of value in itself. The traditional order was basically to be left to rot on the vine, and hence his view was that the proper concern of anthropologists should not have been with cultural research with "full-bloods," but with facilitating practical training for "half-blood" Aboriginal people (see, e.g., Haebich, 1992). This focus on culture divided the anthropologists from Neville and the missionaries. As with the missionaries' battle with the Chief Protector, Elkin's enmity with Neville resulted in the latter progressively denying anthropologists access and resources (funding, permission to enter reserves, placing of conditions on access, etc.) (Jacobs, 1990; Haebich, 1992). Anthropological research related to the Ngaanyatjarra people on the Central Australian Reserve, which had never amounted to more than one or two fleeting field visits, suffered a major blow and did not begin again until after the events of 1957 (Berndt and Berndt, 1957; Berndt, 1957,1959).(9)

Conclusions: Resistance and the Strategies of Government

Between 1920 and the eve of World War II, an arrangement of ungovernment was created that was to last at least until the late 1950s. In large measure, it was Neville's policy of protection and isolation that created this governmental arrangement, but it alone cannot account for this striking situation. Although the missionaries and the anthropologists were forced into partial or total inactivity by Neville's pursuit of isolation or protection, their own actions were also vital, as was the resistance of the Ngaanyatjarra. Moreover, in its central respects, Neville's policy was a failure, for the outcome of these struggles resulted in the survival of an unusually intact and vigorous "traditionally" oriented people in these lands.(10) Each of these points needs elaboration to understand ungovernment and its effects.

Neville succeeded in one respect - that of creating isolation. This was, in part, "governing at a distance," for his aim was to create the conditions under which the "free" Ngaanyatjarra would act to produce effects desired by the governmental regime. More than that, however, it was a process of actively sustaining and utilizing distance as a resource to produce the desired contours of social action. Through his interventions, the Chief Protector systematically enforced a policy that constricted and slowed administrative access to the Ngaanyatjarra people. A legacy of this "government through distance" (or as Giddens might term it, "expanded time-space distanciation"), this administered non-administration, was the fact that it took the Grayden Committee three days to reach Warburton by truck in 1956. In this sense, "remoteness" was not simply a fact of nature, but a material effect of the policy of ungovernment.

In turn, the missionaries were by no means passive in producing ungovernment. Their policy of unremitting opposition to Ngaanyatjarra culture proved to be crucial in at least two ways. First, the UAM contributed to the administrative and knowledgeable vacuum concerning the Central Reserves by refusing to investigate, record, and analyze the Ngaanyatjarra social order. With respect to the absence of official knowledge of the language, for example, Berndt (1957) reports that:

It is only recently, and in the face of some opposition, that a missionary with a certain amount of linguistic training has been able to impress on his colleagues his view that it is useful to be properly acquainted with the languages spoken by such people, and that this is a skill which cannot be acquired just haphazardly. In these circumstances it is not surprising that the missionaries in this region have made virtually no contributions to our knowledge of the Aborigines among whom they work (Ibid., emphasis added).

Second, the presence of the mission at Warburton meant that pressure was not put on the state government to create its own outstation. What would have happened had the government opened such a base? We can speculate that most likely, as had happened elsewhere in Western Australia (and as close as Cosmo Newbery in 1940), most Aboriginal people would have been attracted into residence by the provision of rations and the remainder coerced into residence in a government settlement "for their own good" (Haebich, 1992). The reach and extent of government into their lives would, with little doubt, have been greatly increased and ungovernment dissolved. Certainly, in the years since 1960 (a period of greatly increased government intervention and enormous decline for the missions) all of the area's population has moved to be resident on the dozen or so government-funded communities that fan out from Warburton (population 450) to Wingellina population 200) on the South Australian border.

A further fundamental contribution to ungovernment made by the UAM's cultural policies relates to the fierce opposition that it engendered among the Ngaanyatjarra. Even in their home base at Mount Margaret, the missionaries were effectively besieged by aggressive displays of the power of traditional order. In the Warburton Ranges, 500 kilometers further inland, there can be little doubt that the same was true to an even greater extent News of the cultural annihilation practiced by the Mount Margaret regime must have arrived in the Ranges long before the appearance of Schenk and his tiny team, for however little the whites traveled between Laverton and the Central Reserve, this was a route frequently (traditionally) traveled by Ngaanyatjarra. The ranks of the "law terrorists" at Mount Margaret would have included men from the remote areas of the western desert seeking out their own recalcitrant kin. The missionaries' policy of cultural obliteration thus contributed to their failure to draw the desert Ngaanyatjarra into their sphere of administration, and thus to the state of ungovernance.

A principal irony of this history is that while attempting to shape the very existence of the Ngaanyatjarra, each of the three governmentalities sought to create their freedom. For the missionaries, freedom was constituted by liberation from a "satanic" cultural tradition that enslaved the mind and soul through ties of superstition, and the body through "forced" marriage, initiation, and so on. For both Neville and Elkin (although with quite different long-term visions of the outcome), it was a freedom to retain tradition under protection of a superior power. So effective was this process that in all the subsequent accounts of the lives of Neville, Elkin, Schenk, and their respective administrations, their biographers and commentators focus on the assumed fragility of "native social organization" and the (passive) victim status of these peoples - views that persist to this day (cf. Palmer and Collard, 1993). Rarely, if ever, do they notice the possible contradiction between such ideas and their own accounts of the persistence of "native ceremonials" and "corroborees."

This received knowledge of the fragility of tradition was firmly in place in the minds of those white administrators and journalists who were to struggle over the status of the Ngaanyatjarra in the 1950s. On the one hand, the liberals saw the victims of neglect and cultural disruption, resorting to infanticide out of desperation, unable to cope with desert conditions in which their ancestors had survived for thousands of years. On the other hand, Rupert Murdock and the state administrators saw the same people as having been "rescue&" from the effects of drought by white medicine, rations, and bore water. Yet both visions of the fragility and dependence of the Ngaanyatjarra must be questioned. Analysis by anthropologists at the time (Berndt, 1959) suggests that the 1950s was indeed a time of drought-induced hardship among the Ngaanyatjarra. As Rowse (1990: 151) has argued, however:

the fortunes of desert people must always have varied. If we posit that they were in a relationship of dynamic equilibrium with their environment, rather than in constant harmony with it, then we must accept that it was normal for there to be times of extreme hardship, times in which the survival of foraging groups depended on infanticide and the abandonment of the old and incapacitated.

Though there is no point in romanticizing this harsh life, Ngaanyatjarra reactions to their conditions during the 1950s may therefore have been evidence of the survival of their ways rather than signs of cultural and social erosion and collapse. Twenty years before, Neville had likewise interpreted these same "survival" practices as signaling the inevitable (and convenient) self-destruction of these people. Yet the Ngaanyatjarra failed to die out The limited understandings with which the principal European contestants operated, severally and collectively convinced them that no viable regime of social organization or self-government existed in the desert, and that only white intervention could save them (a measure Neville wished to avoid). Yet as the vigorous physical, political, and cultural existence of the Ngaanyatjarra now indicates, the administration of ungovernment did not doom them to extinction. It created the vital space for a continuation of practical forms of indigenous government finely tuned to desert existence. Although the "traditional" status of these people is possibly a moot point, their cultural distance from the European culture of Australia is marked indeed. The policies of gentle genocide failed spectacularly.


(1.) For an outline of some of the consequences of this episode, see Berndt (1957, 1959). (2.) As Biskup (1973: 5-6) points out, there is a general assumption that a single model of government has been applied throughout Western Australia, whereas the reality is that its nature has been far from uniform. This observation is vital, but so, too, is the recognition that "Aboriginal" is itself an element of colonial discourse that serves to obliterate the particularity of the diverse peoples under governance of the colonial power (Palmer and Collard, 1993). Even in critical accounts such as Biskup's, variations in governMent are rarely thought out in terms of the specific impact of the resistance of the peoples concerned (Nyungar, Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara, Walbiri, etc.), who are reduced to a common category of "Aborigines" and more or less characterized as the passive subjects of government. (3.) This area abutted larger tracts of land in South Australia and Northern Territory, which made up the remainder of the Reserve. However, these were to be administratively distinct and were also occupied by distinct peoples - primarily Pitjantjatjara, Pintubi, and Walbiri. (4.) This is exemplified by the police advice to newcomers in the mid-1920s:

I wouldn't go too far into the bush. If you go too far away from the town they'll spear you as quick as look at you, so don't take chances. For my part, I wouldn't think of going among them without being armed and mounted (quoted by Morgan, 1986: 6).

(5.) The mission was actually set up a few kilometers outside the (unmarked) boundary of the Reserve, although whether this was by accident or intention is not clear. However, the state responded by extending the boundaries of the Reserve to include the mission and its surrounds. The effect of this was to prohibit the entry of any white person not having a permit from the Chief Protector. The major rationale for this probably was to extend the "protection" of the Reserve to cover those Ngaanyatjarra attracted to the new mission. (6.) Indeed, lawful entry to reserves was even more restricted. Section 14 of the act stated that:

It shall not be lawful for any person other than a native to enter or remain, or be within the boundaries of a reserve for any purpose whatsoever, unless he is a superintendent or a person acting under his direction or an inspector or a protector or a person authorised in that behalf under the regulations.

(7.) Nor is it the case that such views have passed. The bishop of Darwin, for example, as recently as June 1981 remarked that:

Support for the revival of old aboriginal customs has come from certain artistic people who see some value in it because they can get some nice films of corroborees. There is also a group of old black people who are anxious not to lose their authority. They are brought in hundreds of miles to initiate the young men into their wicked ways (Age, Melbourne, June 1981).

(8.) For a commentary on the role of antropologists in colonial relations, see Duncan (1993),who also makes the apposite point that in their focus on upholding "tradition," anthropologists fix people in a timeless dimension, in a culture that cannot be seen as actively adapting, but rather is understood to be inundated or "corrupted" by external forces. Indigenous people are thus given a polar choice (as in Elkin's vision for Western Australia) of being frozen in an image of unchanging tradition or dismissed as "shattered," and thus better off being assimilated completely. (9.) For a series of extended critiques of anthropological work on Aboriginality, and of the concept of Aboriginality itself, see the collection edited by Attwood and Arnold (1993), especially papers by Attwood, Cowlishaw, and Rowse. The work of Elkin and its policy directions is reviewed by Cowlishaw 1993), who also stresses the hopelessly over drawn nature of the distinction between"full bloods" and "half-castes" used by administrators and anthropologists. Cowlishaw and others (e.g., Rowse, 1990; 1993) have also gone to some length to point out that the anthropologists' (including Elkin's) concern with "traditional culture" reflected a false polarity between this and the ways of "half castes" - which were felt simply to reflect cultural wreckage and thus to be of no anthropological interest. (10.) This is based on direct observations during the author's fieldwork among the Ngaanyatjarra people between 1991 and 1993.


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Title Annotation:Justice and the World-System
Author:O'Malley, Pat
Publication:Social Justice
Date:Dec 22, 1994
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