Impacts of Law Pre 1905

After European contact there was a clash between Noongar lore and British law. This timeline highlights some of the rules and legislation that significantly impacted on Noongar people.

Law/rules Impact/Effect
May 1829
Western Australian Act 1829 (UK)
British government invaded and granted Noongar land to Europeans without Noongar consent.
June 1829
Lt Governor Captain James Stirling proclaimed that Aboriginal people were to be regarded as under the protection of British law. [i]
 Noongar people continued to practice their own lore, largely unaware of British laws and what had been imposed on them. Aunty Doolann Leisha Eatts talks about her grandmother’s story of contact with Europeans
May 1832
Yagan and his father Midgegooroo were proclaimed outlaws and outside the protection of British law.
1832: Midgegooroo was shot by military firing squad outside Perth gaol, without trial by jury or right of defence under British law. [ii]

In May 1833, Yagan was shot in an ambush by 15-year-old William Keats who claimed the 30 pound reward from the colonial government. Yagan’s biography.

In October 1834, Stirling led a punitive expedition against  Binjareb Noongar in Pinjarra, which resulted in the massacre of many Noongar people.
July 1835
Secretary of State for Colonies, Lord Glenelg, responded to Stirling’s report on Pinjarra by reminding him that Aboriginal people were British subjects and should be protected under British law.
1837: Avon Valley, York. In response to demands by settlers, Stirling led a punitive expedition against Noongars of that region.

In July 1837, the first court of Quarter Sessions trials were held in Perth: R v Durgap. Durgap was convicted in October for breaking and entering and stealing a lump of dough. He was sentenced to 7 years transportation ‘beyond the seas’.
1841
An Act to constitute the island of Rottnest a legal prison.
The prison on  Rottnest, known as Wadjamup to Noongars, marks the beginning of a long history of imprisonment, as European settlers expanded south and then north in W.A. Noongar elder, Helia, was one of the first to be sent to Rottnest for spearing another under his own lore. He eventually escaped with others. Over 100 years there have been approx 3,670 Aboriginal people sent to Rottnest [iii] (probably a conservative estimate).
 Master and Servants Act, 1842 Noongars, You-yat and War-bung-ga were summarily convicted under this Act for having ‘absconded from the service of their several employers’. You-yat was sentenced to three months and War-bung-ga to six weeks in prison.

The Perth Gazette in 1843 reported:[iv]
“Several boys belonging to the institution having lately absconded and been brought back only after considerable trouble and expense, it was judged necessary to visit the offence of these lads with such as would strike terror into their comrades, and effectually deter them from following an example so prejudicial to the interests of this meritorious establishment.”
Weewar (1842)[v] In 1841, Weewar was captured and charged with the ‘wilful murder’ of Dyung under British law. Weewar was a Binjareb-Noongar, and acting under his own lore when he speared Dyung. While he does not appear to have been allowed to speak for himself [vi],he was defended by lawyer Edward Landor who argued that (among other things), Weewar was acting under his own lore. It raised for the first time the question of whether courts had jurisdiction to try the case involving Aboriginal customary lore.Weewar was found guilty and sentenced to transportation over the seas. On the passage to Rottnest Island prison, Building Superintendent, Henry Trigg interpreted Weewar as saying:”I can not understand why the Governor is sulky or severe with me, if a white man kills a white man we never interfere. Sometime back the white man killed many of the natives and the Governor took no notice, now why should the Governor take any notice of me if I kill a fellow native that steals my wife, or kills my brother, when it is according to our law.” (The Government Gazette, 11 Feb, 1842)

View the DVD of Weewar
An Ordinance to provide for the Issue of Licences to kill Kangaroos 1853 (the Kangaroo Ordinance). The state government issued licences to kill kangaroos in attempt to prevent large numbers of kangaroos being killed. This was in response to commercial exploitation of kangaroo skins.In 1848, as many as 8,000 kangaroo skins were taken from Noongar country in one year, with up to 20,000 skins planned for export from Albany in 1849.The plight of Noongars was highlighted at the time in August, 1848 by Captain J. Lort Stokes in a letter to the Inquirer. He argued that Aboriginal people were being deprived of their food source:[vii] “Sir, While lying in this harbour, my attention has been called to the extraordinary fact, that upwards of eight thousand kangaroo-skins were exported from this colony during the past year; and it is anticipated the number will be more than doubled during the present season….Let their white brethren remember the severe laws which fence in the owner’s right to game at home, and in every other European country, where its pursuit and capture are not indispensable to existence, but are resorted to solely as relaxation and sport. Why then deprive the savage from his hunting grounds, as indisputably his birth-right as are those of the most aristocratic landholder a home, and compel him to commit depredations on those of adjacent tribes…”

References

[i] National Archives of Australia, Documenting a Democracy website:http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au. The WA Act 1829 is at: http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/scan.asp?sID=837, p1 and the Proclamation is at: http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item.asp?sdID=7

[ii] The Perth Gazette 25 May 1833. N  Contos, T Kearing, Murray District Aboriginal Corporation, L Collard, D Palmer , Pinjarra Massacre Site Research and Development Project, Pinjarra Massacre Site Research and Development Project, Pinjarra WA, 1998

[iii] N Green and S Moon, Far from Home, Aboriginal prisoners of ‘Rottnest Island 1838-1931“, UWA Press, Nedlands, 1997, p.8

[iv]The Perth Gazette 12 August, 1843

[v] R v Wewar 1842, The Perth Gazette, 8 January 1842; The Inquirer, 19 January 1842; See A Hunter, “The boundaries of Colonial Criminal Law in relation to inter-Aboriginal conflict in Western Australia in the 1830s-1840s’ in Australian Journal of Legal History, Vol 8 No 2, 2004, pp.215-236.

*Weewar has several spellings, including Wewar, but for reasons of consistency we are using “Weewar”

[vi] Reliance placed on deposition

[vii] Letter to the Editor, 8 August 1848, The Inquirer, 13 September 1848

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