A. O. Neville

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A.O.Neville picture in 1940 edition of The West Australian
A.O.Neville in 1935 edition of The West Australian
A.O.Neville in 1936 edition of The Daily News

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

Early life[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. In 1910 Neville was appointed as the secretary of a new department organising immigration and tourist trade and assisted in implementing the intoduction of 40,000 migrants in Western Australia over the next few years. Following the outbreak of World War I he was appointed as secretary of the War Patriotic Fund.[1]

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 families, children who came to be called the Stolen Generations. More than 69% of Noongah were removed in this way and sent to "camps" at Mogumber at Moore River and Carrolup near Katanning. In 1936, Neville became the Commissioner for Native Affairs, a post he held until his retirement in 1940.[2]

The practice of removing mixed race Aboriginal/European children from their families was advocated at the time as part of a plan to "breed out the black"[citation needed] by having the children brought up as though they were white; then marry people with light and lighter skintones over successive generations, until there would be no Aborigines in Australia at all [3], as at the time it was believed that the full-blood Aboriginal race were dying out [4]. In 1934, a royal commission was called to examine the current state of Aboriginal people with regard to the role of Chief Protector. This ended up giving the Chief Protector more authority over the lives of Western Australian Aboriginal people which, some say, only increased their suffering. In 1937 Neville declared:

Are we going to have one million blacks in the Commonwealth or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget that there were any Aborigines in Australia?[5]

Neville believed that biological absorption was the key to 'uplifting the Native race.'[6] 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

"[T]hey 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."[6]

Neville stated that children had not been removed indiscriminately, saying that

"[T]he 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."[6]

He published Australia's Coloured Minority,[7] a text outlining his plan for the biological absorption of Aboriginal people into non Aboriginal Australia. The book defends his policy but also acknowledges that 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 Aboriginal]. 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."[8]

Following his retirement he was invited to represent the State of Western Australia on discussions regarding Aboriginal Welfare in connection with the Woomera Test Range in 1947 prior to the establishment of the range.[9]

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.[2]


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. ^ "Former public servant dies at his home". The West Australian. 70, (21, 136). Western Australia. 20 April 1954. p. 7. Retrieved 10 September 2018 – via National Library of Australia.
  2. ^ a b "Neville, Auber Octavius (1875–1954)". Australian Dictionary of Biography:Online. Retrieved 2008-02-18.
  3. ^ "The Brutal Legacy of Sister Kate's". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2018-07-28.
  4. ^ Neville, A.O. (1947). Australia's coloured minority : its place in the community. Sydney: Currawong Publishing Co.
  5. ^ Anderson 2006, p. 246.
  6. ^ 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
  7. ^ Neville, A.O. (1947). Australia's coloured minority : its place in the community. Sydney: Currawong Publishing Co.
  8. ^ Neville (1947), p.21.
  9. ^ "Former public servant dies at his home". The West Australian. Perth: National Library of Australia. 20 April 1954. p. 7. Retrieved 23 November 2013.


Further reading[edit]