The Queensland Parliament passed the first Act exclusively devoted to regulating every element of Aboriginal lives, the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act in 1897.
The Act was based on the recommendations of Archibald Meston, who had been appointed a Special Commissioner of Police in 1894. As part of his duties, Meston was commissioned to write a report on Queensland’s Aboriginal population which had declined significantly due to introduced diseases, the impact of colonisation and frontier violence.
In effect, the legislation included extensive clauses that substantially restricted the rights of Aboriginal people. Many were prevented from controlling their own finances; other sections of the Act permitted the Queensland Government to deport Aboriginal people to missions and reserves where they could be forcibly incarcerated.
The Act also gave the government the right to exercise guardianship over all Indigenous children in the colony. Under the Act, European ‘Protectors of Aboriginals’ were assigned to exercise power over Indigenous lives. Archibald Meston held the position of Southern Protector of Aboriginals for Southern Queensland from 1898 to 1903.
Its influence on the lives of Indigenous people prevailed in other Australian colonies, inspiring similar repressive and controlling legislation until it was overturned with the Community Services Act 1984.
The Protectors of Aborigines, Mr Archibald Meston (Southern Queensland) and Dr Walter E. Roth (Northern Queensland)
Queensland State Archives Item ID 435752
The Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897, published in the Queensland Government Gazette, No 146, 16 December 1897 (extract). The legislation allowed for the segregation of Indigenous peoples.
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