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.

Policy for access to restricted State records

May 14, 2019, 10:29 AM
Title : Policy for access to restricted State records
Introduction : Access to Restricted State Records and other Historical Material Managed by the Aboriginal History Research Unit.
Select a publication type : Policy

The department through the Aboriginal History Research Unit (AHRU) utilises Western Australian State Government records compiled by various departments that administered Aboriginal people between 1886 (The Aborigines Protection Act 1886 established the Aborigines Protection Board) and 1972 (the official end of governmental legislative control of Aboriginal people.)

The original records are held at the State Records Office of Western Australia (SROWA) where, under the State Records Act 2000 they are classified as ‘open’ to the public or ‘restricted’ and subject to assessment by the DAA.

The department also utilises other historical material in the performance of its function through legal agreements with the owners of the material.

This policy outlines and explains the department's policy regarding:

  • the link to legislative compliance requirements
  • terminology
  • access to restricted records
  • the censoring of the restricted records
  • access to restricted records for Native Title purposes
  • access to records for general researchers
  • access to other historical records managed by the department

1. Legislation

The department is required to incorporate the following legislation into the Access to Restricted Information Policy.

The Freedom of Information Act 1992 (FOI)

The FOI Act is the principal legislation governing the clauses within this Policy and the required procedures following an appeal from an applicant who has been denied access to information.

The State Records Act 2000 (SRA)

The SRA is principally designed to determine laws for government record-keeping practices; the control of State records and archives; and access to archive records where access is not determined by the FOI Act.

The Adoption Act 1994 (AA)

The Adoption Act 1994 provides laws about access to information that identifies birth parents and children legally adopted into another family. The principal component of this Act to be applied to AHRU’s operations is Part 4 (Division 4) which establishes the right for both biological parents and people who were adopted in childhood to place a veto on contact by the other party.

2. Terminology

Own information
Information that is about the applicant is defined as the oldest living lineal ancestor as well as information relating to his/her ancestry and/or any sibling in a case where both parents are deceased.
Own file
Files with an end date of 75 years or more that do not contain restricted information as well as more recent files that have been assessed and opened in accordance with this policy.
Restricted file
Files containing restricted information and those with an end date of less than 75 years that have not been opened in accordance with this policy.
Family history applicant
An applicant seeking their own information or that of an ancestor family member.
Native Title researcher applicant
An applicant for information as defined in the department's Native Title Access Policy.
General researcher applicant

Any applicant for information that is not a personal or family history applicant or Native Title researcher seeking access to restricted State records.

3. Applications

Family history applicants

  1. An applicant has the right to receive their own information.
  2. An applicant has the right to receive information about their ancestors (parents, grand-parents) if those ancestors are deceased in line with the clauses outlined in this policy.
    1. If the applicants’ parents or grandparents are alive consent must be obtained from the closest relative; and
    2. If the applicants’ ancestors are still alive but cannot be located or are unable to grant consent due to medical reasons, the Director, Community Partnerships, may grant the request.
  3. Where a person has been adopted or was the subject of a proposed adoption the applicant will be referred to the Department of Child Protection and Family Support (DCPFS).
  4. Clause (1) and (2) also apply to applicants adopted in childhood, where the applicant knows the name of his or her birth parent(s) and/or family.
  5. Where a person has been adopted during childhood and knows the name of his or her birth parent(s), consent for access to information is required from a birth parent.
  6. If the birth parent(s) of the applicant have placed a veto on contact with him/her under the Adoption act 1994, information will not be provided.

General researcher applicants

  1. General Researcher Applicants can access third party personal information with the written consent of the person who is the subject of the information.
  2. General Researchers can access third party personal information about a deceased person with the written consent from the closest relative to the deceased person. Proof of identification is required from the applicant seeking personal and family information.
  3. Individuals providing consent to a General Researcher applicant to access their personal records must provide evidence of their identity.
  4. An applicant who wishes to engage another person to receive:
    • their information on his or her behalf; or
    • information about a deceased family member for which he or she has access rights
    • must complete the consent form and nominate where the response is to be forwarded.

4. Censorship of restricted material

  1. Information that is about the applicant will not be censored.
  2. Where an applicant’s information is of a medical nature, and the Director is of the opinion that disclosure of the information to the applicant, may have a substantial adverse effect on the physical or mental health of that person, the Director will liaise with the Coordinator of Corporate Information about enacting the procedures of a Section 28 of the Freedom of Information Act 1992.
  3. The disclosure of any medical information relating to anyone other than the applicant, such as an ancestor, will be provided in accordance with the provisions of the State Records Act 2000.
  4. Information that refers to a third party in the context of his/her duties as an officer of a government agency will not be censored.
  5. AHRU officers will use their discretion in redacting material that is deemed to be of a (traditional) secret/sacred nature following consultation with the Aboriginal Representative Body.
  6. AHRU officers can use discretion to determine whether the disclosure of any other third party information is contrary to public interest in censoring the record where the information is declared to be beneficial in nature.
  7. Redactions to records are to be kept clear so that should an applicant wish to pursue access to the redacted information, he or she can do so under the Freedom of Information Act 1994.

5. Researcher

Native Title researcher

See separate Native Title Access Policy (Attachment 1).

General researchers

  1. General Researchers seeking access to restricted files will need to complete an Application Form and forward this on to the Director, Community Partnerships, for processing.
  2. A General Researcher who wishes to utilise the name(s) of any person/family that may appear within an item in a publication/public document must attach a supporting letter from that person and/or descendent of a deceased person/family and/or a community or organisation that is the subject of the proposed publication, along with the Application Form.
  3. The Director, Community Partnerships, may use his/her discretion with the respect to the need to redact information in compliance with the existing department Policy for Access to Restricted Archival Information.
  4. Any information contained within a file that is likely to breach the privacy of the information will be redacted from a copy of the file provided to the applicant.
  5. Following a review of a restricted file/s by department officers, the General Researcher will be advised that:
    1. (i) the status of the item has been changed to open (there-by allowing automatic access); or
    2. (ii) a redacted copy will be provided (information that is deemed by the Director, Community Partnerships, to be in the public interest may not automatically be redacted from a document).

     

6. Other

Historical material managed by the department

The department manage privately owned records through legal agreements with the owners of the material.

This collection includes privately owned records such as:

  1. The South Australian Museum owned Norman Tindale Collection (restrictions apply).
  2. The University of Sydney owned A.P. Elkin genealogies (restrictions apply) – only ‘next of kin’ can receive material.
  3. The Jan Goodacre Collection managed by the AHRU. (Restrictions apply).
  4. The Daisy Bates Collection owned by the National Library of Australia. (No restrictions apply).
  5. The A.R. Radcliffe Brown Collection. (Restrictions apply) – only ‘next of kin’ can receive material.
  6. The Gerhart Laves collection. (Restrictions apply.) – only ‘next of kin’ can receive material.

South Australian Museum records

All material from the South Australian Museum collection provided by applicants for information must have a statement attached to it that informs the recipient:

  1. that the accessed information is owned by the South Australian Museum;
  2. that copyright of the information is held by the South Australian Museum;
  3. that the copy of the accessed information is released for the purpose of genealogical research;
  4. that application for any other use of the information must be placed with the South Australian Museum;
  5. should the information be used for any other purpose, that no further information will be released to the applicant; and
  6. contact details of the South Australian Museum.

Tindale photographs

Applicants can receive a copy of a photograph of themselves and their direct lineal ancestors from the Tindale collection, should they exist. Tindale photographs provided to applicants must have a statement attached that informs the recipient that:

  • for copyright reasons, permission to copy photographs must be obtained from the South Australian Museum.

Tindale genealogies

An applicant has the right to receive a copy of his or her own genealogical record as well as the record of their direct lineal ancestry.

Where a South Australian Museum genealogy is provided, the document must be accompanied by the following, clearly stated information to the applicant. Example as follows:

© The Museum Board of South Australia 1952.
Board for Anthropological Research AA 346/4/20/1

Tags :
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Categories :
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Page reviewed 15 May 2019