Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897
The Aboriginal Protection and Restrictions of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 was an Act of the Parliament of Queensland. It was the first instrument of separate legal control over Aboriginal people, and, according to Henry Reynolds, 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."
By the late nineteenth century, many in Queensland believed that the Aborigines, greatly reduced in number due to dispersal, malnutrition, opium and diseases, were a "dying race". The Government of Queensland, under pressure from aspects of the community, commissioned Archibald Meston to assess the issue. Meston made a number of recommendations, some of which underpinned the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897. Though the Act's creators considered it a solution to a short-term problem, its administrators used it as a device for social engineering and control. Public servants rather than politicians oversaw much of the decision-making, and individual protectors had substantial autonomy in how they implemented the Act.
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". The Chief Protector 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.
- Reynolds, H. RCIADIC Appendix 1a
- A facsimile of the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, 1897 is at National Archives Australia
- 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