A. O. Neville

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Auber Octavius Neville (20 November 1875–18 May 1954) was a public servant, notably Chief Protector of Aborigines, in Western Australia.

Early career[edit]

Born in Northumberland, England, Neville immigrated to Victoria, Australia as a child. In 1897 he went from Victoria to Western Australia and joined the civil service there, quickly rising through the ranks. Neville became the state's second appointment, in 1915, to the role of the Chief Protector of Aborigines. During the next quarter-century, he presided over the controversial policy of removing Aboriginal children from their parents, children who were later termed the Stolen Generation. More than 25% of Noongah were confiscated in this way and sent to "concentration-like camps" at Mogumber at Moore River and Carrolup near Katanning.

Commissioner for Native Affairs[edit]

In 1936, Neville became the Commissioner for Native Affairs, a post he held until his retirement in 1940.[1]

Opposition to this practice was advocated at the time, but his role as Commissioner was never persistently challenged.[citation needed] In 1934, a royal commission was called to examine the current state of Aboriginal people with regard his role as commissioner. This ended up giving him more power over the lives of Western Australian Aboriginal people which, in turn, only increased their suffering. The period of misguided cultural assimilation, attempted during Neville's administration, had followed an era of direct conflict with indigenous Australians[citation needed] with regard the theft of cattle and sheep, which were used for food. The political support and funding given to Neville was slight and his capacity to improve their circumstances was restricted.[citation needed] Open hostility was still expressed, in public and parliament, and violence in more remote regions was continuing unabated. Many indigenous peoples became impoverished, especially by forced dislocation with police assistance, as the population and development of the state increased. The Commission was given responsibility for these people, who did not have political rights, and Neville sought to improve the circumstances in which they lived.[citation needed] He failed miserably and there may be evidence that he didn't really try at all. At all times he put the white society and government first before the welfare of those he had the responsibility to protect.

Neville believed that biological absorption was the key to 'uplifting the Native race.'[2] Speaking before the Moseley Royal Commission, which investigated the administration of Aboriginal people in 1934, he defended the policies of forced settlement, removing children from parents, surveillance, discipline and punishment, arguing that

"they have to be protected against themselves whether they like it or not. They cannot remain as they are. The sore spot requires the application of the surgeon's knife for the good of the patient, and probably against the patient's will."[2]

Neville also protested that children had not been removed indiscriminately, insisting that

"the children who have been removed as wards of the Chief Protector have been removed because I desired to be satisfied that the conditions surrounding their upbringing were satisfactory, which they certainly were not."[2]

He published Australia's Coloured Minority,[3] a text outlining his plan for the biological absorption of Aboriginal people into white Australia. The book contained a defence of his policy and an admission that the Aborigines had been harmed by European intervention. For this reason, he said, more must be done to assist them:

"I make no apologies for writing the book, because there are things which need to be said. So few of our own people as a whole are aware of the position [of the coloured people of Australia]. Yet we have had the coloured man amongst us for a hundred years or more. He has died in his hundreds, nay thousands, in pain, misery and squalor, and through avoidable ill-health. Innumerable little children have perished through neglect and ignorance. The position, in some vital respects, is not much better today than it was fifty years ago. Man is entitled to a measure of happiness in his life. Yet most of these people have never known real happiness. Some are never likely to know it. The causes of their condition are many. Mainly it is not their fault, it is ours, just as it lies with us to put the matter right."[4]

Following his retirement he was asked to represent Western Australia on discussions regarding Aboriginal Welfare in connection with the Woomera Test Range in 1947 prior to the establishment of the range.[5]

Neville was a notable resident of Darlington and was a regular user of the Eastern Railway which closed a few months before his death.[citation needed] He died in Perth, and was buried in Karrakatta Cemetery.[6]


Neville has been portrayed in artistic works as the public face of this policy in the 2002 film Rabbit Proof Fence (played by Kenneth Branagh), and in Jack Davis' 1985 play, No Sugar.


  1. ^ "Neville, Auber Octavius (1875 - 1954)". Australian Dictionary of Biography:Online. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 
  2. ^ a b c Zalums, E (Elmar) and Stafford. H. (1980) A bibliography of Western Australian Royal Commissions, select committees of parliament and boards of inquiry, 1870-1979 Blackwood, S. Aust. E. Zalums & H. Stafford ISBN 0-9594506-0-2
  3. ^ Neville, A.O. (1947). Australia's coloured minority : its place in the community. Sydney: Currawong Publishing Co. 
  4. ^ Neville (1947), p.21.
  5. ^ "Former public servant dies at his home.". The West Australian (Perth, Western Australia: National Library of Australia). 20 April 1954. p. 7. Retrieved 23 November 2013. 
  6. ^ "Neville, Auber Octavius (1875 - 1954)". Australian Dictionary of Biography:Online. Retrieved 2008-02-18. 

Further reading[edit]