Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897
As a result of dispersal, malnutrition, opium and diseases, it was widely believed in Queensland that Aborigines were members of a 'dying race'. Pressure from certain quarters of the community saw the Government of Queensland commissioner Archibald Meston to assess the issue. Meston made a number of recommendations, and some of these became the basis of the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897. The creators of this Act saw it as a solution to a short term problem, but the administrators of the legislation had a different idea, and from the beginning used it as a device for social engineering and control, essentially becoming the instrument with which Aboriginal people could be stripped of the most basic human rights. The Act was the first measure of separate legal control over the Aboriginal people and as Reynolds has pointed out it 'was far more restrictive than any [contemporary] legislation operating in New South Wales or Victoria, and implemented a system of tight controls and closed reserves.'
Administrators were able to gain control of Aboriginal affairs through the extensive use of Regulations which could be made lawful simply through proclamation by the Governor-in-Council. In this manner, decision-making passed from politicians to the public servants, and often the welfare of Aborigines took up a minor part in their portfolios. Not only did public servants have responsibility for a huge amount of delegated legislation, individual protectors had extensive autonomy in administering the Act and Regulations. The Act could be used to justify definitions of aboriginality, but even with the help of the Act, these were often contradictory and generally subject to interpretation or variation throughout the first decades after Federation. For example, in 1905, Queensland's Chief Protector of Aboriginals cited the Act to define a 'half-caste' as 'Any person being the offspring of an aboriginal mother and other than an aboriginal father – whether male or female, whose age, in the opinion of the Protector, does not exceed sixteen, is deemed to be an aboriginal...', then went on to describe a 'quadroon' as the ‘offspring’ of a half-caste woman, by a ‘white, &c.’ (presumably other non-Aboriginal) father.  Definitions were no clearer fifteen years later. The Queensland Aboriginals Department refers to ‘European half-caste mothers’ in its 1920 Report alongside ‘half-breeds’, ‘half-castes’ and Aboriginals: it does not expand upon how the Department made the distinction between a half-breed and half-caste, a native and an Aboriginal. Where no other information was available, white observers judged degrees of ancestry. In Queensland at least, once it had bestowed a racial category upon its charges, the Aboriginals Department treated its subjects according to their variations in skin colour. [-0-]
- A facsimile of the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897 is at National Archives Australia
- Reynolds, H. RCIADIC Appendix 1a
- Queensland Parliamentary Papers: Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals, 1905, p.13
- Queensland Parliamentary Papers: Report of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals, 1920, pp.1-5