Aboriginal History Research Services

Helping Aboriginal families with ancestral information through professional researchers, advice for native title and general research.

Aboriginal History Research Services (AHRS) provides an invaluable and critical family history research service to the Western Australian Aboriginal community assisting families to identify important ancestral information and links. AHRU also provides expert research and advice to Native Title and general researchers.

The AHRS is a specialist service that provides access to restricted records and historical research related to Western Australian Aboriginal history.

We connect Aboriginal applicants with archives and historical information related to family history in WA. This research is completed with the highest level of cultural sensitivity and safety. We engage applicants in the research process and where applicable, link up with other community and government organisations to address further questions that may arise.

Apply for information

You can apply for information through an application. Applications are divided into three categories:

  1. Information related to you or your family can apply for a Family History Research application.
  2. If you are a general researcher seeking records related to Aboriginal history in WA, you can apply through a general researcher application.
  3. Native title researchers (as described under the Native Title Act 1993)seeking historical records related to a WA Native Title Claim, can apply through a Native title researcher application.

Available records

Archived State Government files held at the State Records Office WA

The Aboriginal History Research Services manages access to approximately 16,000 archived files created by the various government departments that managed Aboriginal Affairs from 1886 to 1972.

State Records Office WA
Department Years

Aborigines Protection Board

1886 to 1897

Aborigines Department

1897 to 1909

Aborigines and Fisheries Department

1909 to 1920

Department of the North West (Aboriginal affairs above the 26th parallel)

1920 to 1926

Department of Aborigines and Fisheries (Aboriginal affairs below the 26th parallel)

1920 to 1926

Aborigines Department (re-established)

1926 to 1936

Department of Native Affairs

1936 to 1954

Department of Native Welfare

1954 to 1972

Personal files (Archived State government held at AHRS)

The AHRS provides Aboriginal families with access to personal and family history information through the custodianship of the Personal Files created by variously named Aboriginal welfare departments. From the period from 1921 to 1972, the Native Welfare Department and its predecessor departments compiled a collection of personal files with information about Aboriginal people and their families.

Departments holding personal files
Department Years

Department of Aborigines and Fisheries (Aboriginal Affairs below the 26th parallel)

1920 to 1926

Aborigines Department

1926 to 1936

Department of Native Affairs

1936 to 1954

Department of Native Welfare

1954 to 1972

The information contained in these files was often highly intrusive, referencing applications for citizenship or exemption certificates, birth and death information, family history data, movement of individuals around the State, and general correspondence. The personal files are therefore significant in meaning to the Aboriginal community, and an important asset in Aboriginal family history research and information.

In 1972 approximately 17,000 of these personal files were moved from the State Records of Western Australia, where they were archived, to the Department of Community Welfare, which became the Department of Child Protection, to provide information on the adoption of Aboriginal children. In 2017 the custodianship of over 16000 personal files was transferred from the Department of Child Protection to AHRS.

Personal history cards

The Personal History Cards were created by the various state government departments responsible for Aboriginal people’s welfare in the period between 1918- 1972.

Departments holding personal history cards
Department Years

Aborigines Department

1926 to 1936

Department of Native Affairs

1936 to 1954

Department of Native Welfare

1954 to 1972

Each personal history card corresponds to an individual’s personal file, also created by the various state government departments. The information contained in these cards was often highly intrusive, referencing applications for citizenship or exemption certificates, birth and death information, family history data, movement of individuals around the State, and general correspondence. They may contain material and observations on Aboriginal people, particularly your ancestors that are considered offensive today.

Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell Genealogies

Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell were anthropologists who conducted fieldwork in various parts of Australia. During the 1930s and 1950s they compiled a number of genealogies of Aboriginal families in Western Australia.  These genealogies are now owned by the South Australian Museum. The AHRS manages access to copies of the Western Australian genealogies. They are provided to Aboriginal families through the Family History application process.

Under copyright laws these items cannot be used for publication or duplicated without permission from the South Australian Museum.

Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell Photographs

The photographs included in your information were taken by anthropologists Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell during fieldwork expeditions in Western Australia during the 1930s, 1950s, and 1960s.  The original photographs are now owned by the South Australian Museum. The AHRS manages access to copies of these photographs.

The number that the individual is holding corresponds to a set of data cards also completed by the anthropologists outlining basic details and a range of physical measurements and observations of the person. This number is also used to identify the person in the hand written genealogies by Tindale and Birdsell.

The Tindale and Birdsell photographs are provided under copyright from the South Australian Museum. Under copyright laws these items cannot be used for publication or duplicated without permission from the Museum.

Elkin Genealogies

The Elkin genealogies were created by anthropologist A.P. (Adolphus Peter) Elkin during fieldwork in the Kimberley region in 1928.  In 2009 the owners of the genealogies, the University of Sydney, provided copies to the AHRS for the purpose of family history research. Copies of the genealogies are available to family members through the family history application process.

The Jan Goodacre Collection

The Jan Goodacre collection includes more than 70,000 individual records, information about more than 20,000 Aboriginal families and 7600 photographs compiled by Jan Goodacre (now Jan James) over 33 years. In 2005, the Commonwealth Government purchased the collection through the Department of Health and Ageing for the primary purpose of helping Aboriginal people to connect to family members lost during the period of government policies that separated Aboriginal families. The collection is held by the Western Australian State Government through the AHRS.

Pension Receipt Cards

The Aboriginal Pension Recipient Profile Cards were created in the 1940's -1960's and record information about Aboriginal people living in the Mid-West region in receipt of a federal pension. The cards are an index to files that were presumably held by the Department of Social Security in Geraldton. The cards were created by the Commonwealth and it is not known how they came into the possession of the AHRS. Copies of the cards are available to family members through the Family History application process.

Most of these records relate to Aboriginal affairs and are State Administrative archives. They include mission, station and personal records created by various government departments dealing with Aboriginal affairs from 1886 to 1972. The online catalogue also includes some anthropological and ethnographic records from various private collections.

Please note that the accuracy of information within the records may not always be historically accurate. If you have information that may qualify the record we would like to hear from you. Simply submit an online general enquiry with the record details and upload any support documentation.

Policies

Family history research

The AHRS provides access to records for Personal and Family History Applicants under the Policy for Access to Restricted Information Managed by the Aboriginal History Research Unit (AHRU Policy). This policy is based on the legal requirements of the Freedom of Information Act 1992, the State Records Act 2000, the Adoption Act 1994 and further policies developed by AHRS. Past government policies and legislations such as the Aborigines 1905 Act (WA) subjected Aboriginal people to traumatic events. This legislation led to the large scale forced removal of Aboriginal children from their parents where they were placed in missions or other institutions (approximately 1905 -1972). This era is known as the Stolen Generations, a dark period of Australia’s history.

Native Title research

In May 1982, Eddie Mabo and four other Meriam people of the Murray Island (Mer) began action in the High Court of Australia to legally confirm their traditional Native Title rights. It was claimed that the they could prove continuous possession of the island. Although it was agreed that the Commonwealth government had settled the islands in 1879, the people of Mer argued that their rights to custodianship had not been erased by British sovereignty. On 3 June 1992, following a decade of litigation, six of the seven presiding judges found that the Meriam people were 'entitled as against the whole world to possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of (most of) the lands of the Murray Islands’. This judgement is colloquially referred to as ‘The Mabo Case.’ The Native Title Act 1993 is the legislation enacted as part of the Commonwealth Government's response to the decision. AHRS manages access to records for Native Title Applicants under AHRS’ Native Title Access Policy (NTAP).

General research

Applicants who do not fall under the above mentioned categories requesting access to restricted historical material for research purposes are governed by the AHRU Policy.

Native Title Access Policy

May 14, 2019, 11:18 AM
Title : Native Title Access Policy
Introduction : Access to information that is culturally sensitive to Aboriginal people can only do so with permission.
Select a publication type : Policy

1. Purpose of the Policy

As a general rule, persons wishing to access information held or managed by the department that is culturally sensitive to Aboriginal people (Restricted Information) can only do so with the express written permission of the person who can be identified as informants for the information (or their descendants).

The Native Title Access Policy (the policy) creates a limited exception to the general rule to enable access to certain restricted information for purposes related to the resolution of native title claims pursuant to the Native Title Act 1993 (NTA) under condition that are designed to protect the integrity of the restricted information.

2. Parties to the Policy

This policy applies to:

  1. The legal representative of an Aboriginal person or group who has filed a native title claim with the Federal Court of Australia pursuant to section 61 of the Native Title Act 1993 in circumstances where the claim has been accepted be the court and posted on the court's website.
  2. An Aboriginal person or group who has filed a native title claim with the Federal Court of Australia pursuant to section 61 of the Native Title Act 1993 in circumstances where the claim has been accepted by the court and posted on the court’s website where that person or group is not legally represented;
  3. The State of Western Australia through the State Solicitor’s Office and the Office of Native Title; and
  4. The National Native Title Tribunal

In this policy, the above-named will be referred to individually as a “Party” and together as “the Parties”. A native title application lodged pursuant to section 61 of the Native Title Act 1993 will be called a “Claim”.

The policy does not apply to other parties to native title applications under the Native Title Act 1993. Those persons and organisations must seek a subpoena from the Federal Court of Australia if they wish to access the restricted information.

3. Scope of the Policy

  1. The policy applies only to certain restricted information held or managed by the department and set out below:
    1. Information relating to Aboriginal sites held by the department in files that are classified as ‘closed’ or ‘open’ pursuant to the department ’s Aboriginal Site Register Policy and Procedures;
    2. Aboriginal Heritage Survey Reports held by the department and classified as ‘closed’ or ‘open with exceptions’ pursuant to the department ’s Aboriginal Sites Register Policy and Procedures;
    3. Archived files from former state government departments relating to the administration of Aboriginal affairs held by the Western Australian State Records Office.  This category does not include archived files that are classified as personal files held on individuals and families;
    4. Audio tapes held by the Western Australian State Records Office and containing information from the 1983 Aboriginal Land Inquiry to Find the Most Suitable Form of Title Over Land in Western Australia, Reserved for the Use and Benefit of Aboriginal People or Leased for Aboriginal Communities by Mr Paul Seaman (“the Seaman Inquiry”);
    5. Submissions made to the Seaman Inquiry held by the department and the Western Australian State Records Office;
    6. Genealogical information held by the department comprising part of the collection of anthropologist Norman Tindale 1935- 1968;
    7. Journals held by the department comprising part of the collection of anthropologist Norman Tindale 1953-1968;
    8. Sociological, anthropological and ACER data cards held by the department comprising part of the collection of anthropologists Norman Tindale and Joseph Birdsell 1953-1954;
    9. Genealogical information comprising part of the collection of anthropologist Joseph Birdsell 1953-1954;
    10. Station Files. Archived files relating to pastoral stations created by various state government departments that were responsible for Aboriginal people’s welfare; and
    11. The Goodacre Collection.  A collection of materials from various sources by researcher Jan Goodacre on Aboriginal people in Western Australia.
  2. The policy enables the Parties to access all or any of the above categories of restricted information in respect of each native title claim for which they are a party recognised by the Federal Court of Australia and identified on the courts website.
  3. In respect of the categories of restricted information set out at Clause 3 (a) (i) and (ii) above, the policy only enables the Parties to access information relating to Aboriginal sites that lie wholly or partly within a boundary that is cohesive with the boundary of the native title claim for which the information is sought.
  4. If a Party or any person or organisation wishes to access documents held within departmental corporate administration files held at the department, an application can be lodged with the department under the Freedom of Information Act 1992, together with a $30 application fee. Further information about FOI applications is available from the Corporate Information Coordinator.

4. Process for seeking restricted information under the policy

  1. Access to the restricted information the subject of the Policy will only be granted once the party has completed a Native Title Access Application Form (the Form) and lodged with the department.
  2. The Form can be lodged in person or by ordinary post to Level 1, 197 St Georges Terrace, Perth (the department Perth) or by facsimile to 9235 8088.
  3. The Form must be signed by a person with the authority to bind the Party, such as a Chief Executive Officer, Principal Legal Officer, Principle Researcher or Native Title Claims Manager. In the case of an unrepresented Aboriginal person as described in clause 2(b) above, it must be signed by that person.
  4. The department will check the information set out in the Form against information about the relevant native title claim set out on the website of the Federal Court of Australia. If the department has any concerns about the information provided it will contact the Party prior to commencing the processing of the Form.
  5. If a Party seeks restricted information of the types described in clause 3(a) (i) and (ii) above, the department will respond to the Party within 48 hours of the request being lodged. Where information is to be viewed in the consultants room located at the department, arrangements can be made for early viewing, subject only to prior appointments.
  6. If a Party seeks restricted information of the type described in clause 3(a) (iii) (iv) (v)  (vi) (vii) (viii) (ix) (x) (xi) and (xii) the Manager, Heritage & Family Information will write to the Party to make an appointment for the viewing and copying of the material.

5. Process for access to Restricted Information under the policy.

  1. Each party other than a Party who is an unrepresented Aboriginal person as described in clause 2(b) above must nominate a person or persons employed or engaged by the Party as the person or persons who will access the restricted information at the department pursuant to this Policy (the party researchers).
  2. Party Researchers can be nominated completing the Form for the Nomination of Party Researches attached to the Policy, or by writing an appropriately worded letter, and handing the form or the letter to the Manager, Heritage & Family Information in person or by ordinary post to Level 1, 197 St Georges Terrace, Perth or by facsimile to 9235 8088.
  3. The Party Researchers must be persons with tertiary qualification in the fields of Anthropology, Archaeology, History or Law, or persons with research experience that will enable them to examine and deal with culturally sensitive information in an appropriate manner.
    It is up to each Party to ensure that their nominated party researchers fulfil these requirements. This is vitally important, as the Party Researchers will be responsible for ensuring that the Party complies with the access conditions in respect of all and any restricted information obtained pursuant to the policy.

6. Conditions of access to restricted information under the policy.

Restricted information provided pursuant to the policy is provided only in accordance with the following conditions.

  1. The restricted information, or any part of it, will not be used for any purpose other than in preparation or in proceedings for the Claim.
  2. The restricted information, or any part of it, will not be passed to or communicated in any manner whatsoever to any third party.
  3. The restricted information, or any part of it, will only be copied for the purpose of the preparation or in proceedings for the Claim.
  4. The Party will ensure that any gender restrictions over all or any part of the restricted information are strictly observed, including restricting the hearing, viewing and transcribing of the material to persons of the relevant gender.
  5. The Party will seek an order from the presiding judicial officer during any proceeding for the claim protecting the confidentiality of the information as necessary (especially in relation to gender restrictions).
  6. The Party will return all restricted information obtained in accordance with the policy at the completion of all proceedings for the claim (including any appeals).
  7. The Party will pay all and any reasonable costs associated with obtaining the restricted information from the department, such as costs to include (but not limited to) the costs of photocopying the restricted information.
  8. The Party Researchers will perform all tasks related to copying the restricted information (the department will provide assistance to the Party Researchers and photocopying facilities). Each document comprising restricted information copied pursuant to the policy will be copied onto paper, which shows the words “Native Title Only”

 

Tags :
  • native title
  • policy
Categories :
  • Aboriginal history
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Page reviewed 15 May 2019