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Relationships with Aboriginal Women

The following paragraphs taken from "A Force Apart?" detail relationships between Aboriginal Women and NT Police members in a historical context. It is important to consider this in the context of its time when such relationships were frowned upon and racist attitudes were the norm. The NT Police Museum and Historical Society does not condone racist attitudes of any kind and nothing we present is meant to be seen as derogatory toward any person. It is included to present historical information as truthfully as possible with the information that we have. If anything written on this site causes offence to any person contact the webmaster to discuss rewording or removal.

The single men clearly had to find an outlet for their sexual drive. Nothing is written about police officers cohabiting with Aboriginal women, although such liaisons occurred. Ann McGrath, whose doctoral thesis contains a chapter on inter-racial relationships, argued that European men concealed their relationships to avoid social ostracism. The birth of mixed race children in the Northern Territory is clear evidence that some cohabitation occurred. That said, it was impossible in many cases to prove who the father was and there is no proof that police were the fathers. It is unlikely, however, given the large number of police who served in the Northern Territory as single men, that none ever had a sexual encounter with Aboriginal women. Clearly, it was accepted at the time because Cecil Cook, a former Protector of Aborigines, told Ann McGrath in 1979 that a police duty was to take part Aboriginal children to the ‘half-caste homes’. The matron of one such home was apparently a realist who, according to Cook, ‘named [the children] after the policeman who brought them in, unless they could name another father, which was extremely rare’.

There is very little direct evidence of most single police officers having Aboriginal partners. Publicly, some police took a stand against this practice. Constable Mackay, acting as Sub Protector of Aborigines at Illamurta in 1912, wrote that European men employed on stations should be married and have their wives accompany them. Mackay went on ‘European men who are so lost to national and racial pride...are allowed to amuse themselves with the Black girls who with their half caste progeny they can discard at any minute...’ Some police, like Mackay, clearly wanted to prevent what they saw as an immoral practice. Others may well have succumbed.

Another inference of interracial intercourse is found in Mounted Constable William Willshire’s book A Thrilling Tale of Real Life in the Wilds of Australia in which Willshire describes how an Aboriginal woman, Chillberta, washed his clothes, cooked meals for him and undertook other domestic chores. Willshire writes of Chillberta that she ‘died as she lived. Chaste as the morning dew…’ This comment appears to be a case of Willshire protesting too much and attempting to deflect any suggestion that Chillberta had been his consort. Austin Stapleton argues that Willshire was not immoral. He bases this upon Willshire’s question in the preface to his book. ‘Is it inconsistent with morality for a man to wander through the bush in Australia with a woman for a guide? Immorality does not begin until immorality has been committed.’ Such a statement is typical of the idiosyncratic work, but is hardly credible. That Willshire raises the question at all suggests that he was trying to stem rumours of his relationship with Chillberta. Willshire also describes Chillberta as having ‘a face of unaffected simplicity; sixteen years of age budding into womanhood, the admiration of the whole tribe…’

In Land of the Dawning, Willshire writes of ‘the first impression of their virgin nature were aroused.’ It is more likely that Willshire had a sexual relationship with Chillberta. When the Hermannsburg missionaries complained to Inspector Besley about Willshire, he, in turn, advised Besley that the missionaries were only repeating lies told to them by Aborigines. Willshire asserted that the missionaries’ dislike of European men cohabiting with Aboriginal females was the motivation for many of the missionaries’ complaints. Cohabitation was a practice that Willshire saw as unbecoming but understandable. Probably Willshire’s understanding came from personal knowledge of the practice. Another early police officer who was alleged to have taken Aboriginal women into his home was Ernest Cowle at Illamurta. Mulvaney’s manuscript recounts how ‘South Australia’s Governor received anonymous allegations concerning Cowle’s immorality with Aboriginal women’. He vehemently denied these allegations and was cleared of having had any immoral relationships. Cowle had shortly before written to Spencer that, he ‘allowed no one to sleep with lubras here, black or white’. This appears to be another possible case of protesting too much. Mulvaney argues that Cowle died from an advanced form of syphilis. He concludes that Cowle can only have contracted the disease on a visit to southern states, ‘Alternatively, there was truth in the accusations of his association with Aboriginal women’.

Documented evidence of a police officer cohabiting with an Aboriginal woman relates to Robert Stott. In 1933, Don Anthony Kemp provided a statutory declaration for court purposes. In this declaration he averred ‘ I lived with my father, a policeman at Borroloola. He was at Anthony’s Lagoon when I was born. He was shifted to Borroloola. He went away and I lived at Seven Emus…My mother’s name is Flora’. There is other evidence that Stott had lived with Aboriginal women. The Return of Half Castes and Quadroons in the Northern Territory lists Harry Stott and James Stott, born in 1896 and 1886 respectively, as residing in the Northern Territory. Tony Roberts goes further, ‘Robert Stott had two sons, Jim and Harry, by an Aboriginal woman’.

Former Sergeant Gordon Birt, speaking of Aboriginal women in 1932, described one woman as ‘alas so sweet a tree as love such bitter fruit should bear’ and describes many encounters with Noelene, a part Aboriginal woman in Darwin. If such encounters were taking place in Darwin in 1932, it is much more likely that they occurred earlier. Ann McGrath has reported that the Observer in 1919 reported a case in which a police officer of Roper River had lived with several Aboriginal women and was charged with ill treatment of some of them. The case was apparently dismissed because all 15 Aboriginal witnesses were deemed by the judge to be liars. McGrath also cites the Aborigine’s Protector of 1936 for carrying the same story. Unfortunately, research has failed to confirm this event. A search of the Observer for the relevant date discloses no reference to this incident. The Northern Territory Times and Gazette also did not carry the story. The issue of the Aborigine’s Protector referred to by McGrath refers to Gordon Stott’s ill treatment of Dolly. There is no mention of a police officer living with Indigenous females, although the article does mention 15 witnesses all being considered liars. Whilst the event may well have occurred, it has not been possible to corroborate it.

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