THE NORTH-WEST BLACKS: INTERVIEW WITH MR. W. H. STRETCH. A SERIOUS STATE OF AFFAIRS. SOME SUGGESTIONS. On Friday last an alarming telegram from Mr. Frank Connor, M.L.A., to the late Premier (Mr. G. Throssell). and dated Hall's Creek, -May 22, was publish ed in the "West Australian,", and caused a good deal of consternation in various quarters. The telegram read as follows: -"The blacks of this district have,prac- tically taken charge of all the stations on the goldfields road-that is, on the road between Hall's Creek and Wyndham-in- cluding Mabel Downs, Frog Hollow, and Fletcher's Stations, killing the cattle in discriminately, including even the milkers at the homesteads. The settlers say that if better protection cannot be given by the Government they must abandon their holdings and stock. A po- lice station is urgently required in the neighbourhood of Turkey Creek. Can you give any assurance while I am here?" Yesterday morning a Fremantle re- presentative of the "West Australian" interviewed Mr. W. H. Stretch with re- ference to the matter, and Mr. Stretch fully confirmed the statements which Mr. Conner had made. Mr. Stretch is the resident partner of the Sturt's Creek and Margaret River Pastoral Company, and he has lived in the South-Eastern por- tion of the Kimberley district for the last 13 years. He was, in fact, the pioneer settler of that portion of the country. At the recent general elections Mr. Stretch unsuccessfully contested the East Kimberley seat against Mr. F. Conner, and a fortnight ago he came to Fremantle with the object of taking a lengthy holiday. When spoken to with regard to Mr. Connor's message to Mr. Throssell, Mr. Stretch said : -"From a very long ex- perience of South-East Kimberley, I am quite prepared to support every word of what Mr. Conner has telegraphed. The situation has not been exaggerated in any way, for matters have now arrived at such a pass that the blacks have prac- tically taken possession of the country. To those unacquainted with the district. this may seem a strange statement, but when I explain how matters are up in that, part of the State, I think you will, see that the, position is not so extraor- dinary, although it is certainly a very serious one-for the settlers. The East and South-East Kimberley districts- are, very extensive, stretching, as they do, from Wyndham down beyond Hall's Creek, and away out to the border of the Northern Territory, and it is not only very poorly guarded by police, but also very sparsely populated. Then, again, it is crossed by numerous ranges, gullies, ra- vines and forests, and its patches of good land are very, isolated. In conse- quence of the latter circumstance, the homesteads are few and far between. The blacks up there are a fine, healthy lot and very numerous, and they have no diffculty whatever in swooping, down on a station, and making a haul whenever -they feel inclined to do so. On several of the stations the only white man is the settler himself, and the stations are so large that the homesteads are miles- and miles apart. When a mob of 40 or 50 or even 100 blacks comes down on a sta- tion and attacks a mob of cattle, the owner of the place has no chance of de- fending his property, for the blacks are all expert spearsmen, and they know the country too well to be cornered. Be- sides, too they do not always trouble to come close in to the homesteads. The stations are very large, and they can 'rely'upon finding herds. on the out- skirts when they desire to do so." Can you give some idea of the ravages which the blacks have committed among the herds? "Well, it would be difficult to say until the mustering takes place on each sta- tion what the actual, extent of the depre- dations has been, but from the estimates that have been made from reliable data, it would be quite safe to say that the number runs into many hundreds for the past 12 months. Mr. Sam. Muggleton, of Frog Hollow Station, lost 13 out of 25. milkers alongside his camp in the end of last year, besides many others, that had been killed further out on his run. Mr. Bridge, of Mabel Downs lost 30 out of 300 head on his station., Numerous other instances could be given, but I have not the figures with me now. In a gully on one station the remains of eight head of cattle, which had been slaughtered by the blacks, were found, and all over the country evidence of indiscriminate slaughter of stock is to be seen." What is the reason for these depreda- tions? "Partly the desire of the blacks to ob- tain supplies of meat, but to a very large extent a spirit of lawlessness and wild sport, Which a long term of absence of all control has engendered in them. The police protection in the district has been inefficient and inadequate and the natives have, in consequence, been al- lowed to do pretty well as they pleased.
In fact, they have a profound contempt for the police, and they have an equally poor opinion of the Wyndham Gaol. They know that the number of police in the district is too small to allow of their being captured very easily, and they know that the Wyndham Gaol is not strong enough to hold them. They say: 'Policeman no catch me. He not plenty quick.' And when they are told that they will surely be caught and locked up in Wyndham Gaol, they laugh and say: 'Oh, him nothing; easy get away again.' The blacks spear cattle when and where they please, and in the hot weather they inflict very serious losses on the herds by preventing the cattle from coming to the watering places.' They camp around the waterholes, which are scarce in the sum- mer time, and spear the cattle as they come up to drink. In this they frighten the stock away from the water, and so alarm the beasts that not infrequently they run until they fall down exhausted. They seem to take a delight, too, in chas- ing the herds towards the homesteads, and thus compelling the overstocking of the runs in certain parts, and the waste of good feed on other portions. Very often we find fat beasts racing along over the stations with three or four spears sticking in their sides, and their tongues hanging out of their mouths, and ani- mals of that description cannot run far in hot weather without run- ning a risk of losing their lives. The police in the district are too few alto- gether for the area that has to be tra- versed, and the horses and saddles which are supplied to them are totally unsuited for the work. The police horses are, indeed, a miserable lot, and the saddles are no better. An attempt has been made to run the police service in the district too economically, and the result is that police supervision up there has become a mere farce. Take, for in- stance, the number of police in the whole of East Kimberley. There are three constables at Wyndham, two at Wild Dog, south of Ord River Station and close to the border of the Northern Terri- tory and three at Hall's Creek, making eight men in all to patrol a vast scattered area of rough country infested with law less blacks. One of the big troubles with regard to the place is that no pro- per systematic way of exercising control over the district has been undertaken. Efforts that have been made in the mat- ter have been spasmodic, and they have, in all cases, been made with a view to punishing the blacks for offences instead of aiming at preventing offences. Now, we don't want to punish the blacks. What we want is to have a proper system of police control established up there, so that the blacks will see that they cannot do as they please. At the present time we are at the mercy of the natives, and they are perfectly well aware of that fact, and do not fail to let us know it." You say that the district is a very large one, and that the police in it are few, but what is the extent of settlement there ? "Well, that, I think, can be judged fairly well by the figures denoting the number of cattle on each station. I do
not, of course, know the exact number of stock on each run, but the following can be taken as very near the mark: Ord River, 50,000 head; Victoria River, 30,000; Argyle Newry, and Auvergne, 45,000; Wave Hill; 20,000; Lissadell 15,000; Denham, 4,000; Carlton, 3,000; Rosewood, 5,000; Mable Downs, 400; Froghollow, 600; Koojuhrin, 600; Ruby Plains, 700; Mount Barrett. 800; Flora Valley. 6,000; Sturt's Creek and Mar- garet River, 8,000; Mud Springs, 800; King River, 1,000. The country can, from those figures, claim to be of con- siderable importance, and it is deserving of better police protection than it has received." What do you think should be done to get over the difficulty with the blacks? "My opinion is- and it is shared by a great many up in East Kimberley-that the country in the south-east of the district should be cut up into small divi- sions, and that one constable, with four or five native boys, should patrol each division regularly. Further, it is the general opinion that the system of ration- ing the aged and infirm blacks should be greatly extended." Does not the Aborigines' Protection Board attend to the rationing of those blacks now? "It does, to a certain extent, now; but some time ago it withdrew the sys- tem of giving free rations to the natives, on the ground that it had not the funds to pay for the work, and now it does not supply nearly enough rations for the de- crepid natives. Some time back I had the contract for supplying the aged and infirm blacks with meat, flour, and to- bacco, at 1s. per. head per day each, but about eighteen months ago the board gave me notice that it could not afford to pay for any further rations. There was a large body of blacks on the station when I ceased giving them supplies, and they took their aged and infirm away with them. They were not too gentle in their treatment of those who were un- fortunate enough to be unable to look after themselves; and in the case of one old man who could not walk they drag- ged him along by the legs, with his head dangling on the ground, until they kill- ed him. At the present time the Flora Valley. Station supplies a number, of blacks with rations, at the expense of the Aborigines' Protection Board, but the system is, badly in, need of extension. There is no getting away from the fact that something will have to be done very promptly if the whites are not to give up possession of the East Kimberley dis- trict, for, as I have already said, the blacks are roaming about and acting ac- cording as their own wild sweet will dic- tates just now."' Did you read in a contenmporary this morning a letter from Mr. F. H. Hann, ridiculing Mr. Connor's telegram? "I did, and,I consider the statements in the letter simply absurd. Mr. Hann knows absolutely nothing of the blacks in the north west of this country; nor does he know what the people there have had to suffer, and are still suffering from the depredations of the natives. Mr. Hann travelled through Kimberley. He has not lived there, and I leave it to the pub- lic to say whether he or men who have lived vears in the district should have the best knowledge of the conditions which prevail in East Kimberley. I should treat his remarks as utter nonsense, for he has nothing at all upon which to base them." In conclusion, Mr. Stretch reiterated his assertion that neither he nor any of the North-West settlers desired to have the blacks punished. What they wanted a was inrevention, which could only, be se- cured by better police protection. Mr., Stretch left. Fremantle for Mel- bourne in the. s.s. Pilbarra yesterday.