Document Type

Journal Article


This paper reveals the role of population data systems in the governmental management of Aborigines and Aboriginal communities in Australia during the colonial era, and the first several decades after federation in 1901. State control over Aboriginal affairs was paramount during this period. In varying degrees, each of the Australian states implemented policies and programmes concerning Aboriginal persons and communities in the areas of settlement and geographical mobility, employment, marriage and cohabitation, health, criminal activities, voting, and the education of children. Each of these areas of management suggests an important role of population statistics and data systems. This paper considers the colony, then state, of Victoria as the first in a series of case studies. Archival methods are used to examine records concerning Aboriginal policy and administration. In Victoria, the call for evidence and reports on the conditions of Aborigines is heard often throughout historical records of communication between colonial representatives and governors, and subsequently between state parliamentarians and Chief Protectors. The distribution of rations and blankets to Aborigines and the regulation of movement in and out of reserves similarly were monitored using demographic accounting and registration systems. The forced removal of Aborigines to reserves in some areas, and the prohibition of half-caste persons from reserves in other locales, notably Victoria, were administered by the larger reserves through population registration and the recording and tabulation of information about individuals and families. The policy to treat Aborigines of ‘pure blood’ differently from persons of mixed heritage, and hence to maintain an official classification of lineage, similarly required population registration and classification of Aboriginal persons for legal, administrative and managerial purposes. This research contributes to the growing scholarly literature on the role of population data systems in the infliction of human rights violations.