School of Humanities



Chris Owen


Start date

Dec 2005

Submission date

Sep 2013

Curriculum vitae

Chris Owen CV
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Updated 19 Dec 2011

Chris Owen

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‘Weather hot, flies troublesome…’ Police in the Kimberley District 1882 - 1905.


This thesis is a study of police and policing in the Kimberley District of Western Australia with a particular emphasis on the policing of the Aboriginal populations during the period 1882-1905. Following European settlement and expansion of the Kimberley district (known as the West and East Kimberley), members of the Western Australian Police force were deployed to police both the European and the Aboriginal populations. This Police force acted under the authority of the Western Australian Police Ordinance Act of 1849, which was amended in 1861, which provided that police had only civil and not military powers. Following the granting of self-government in Western Australia in 1890 police powers across the state were expanded and formalized with the Police Act 1892 which reinforced the civil status of police.

This thesis will demonstrate and explore how this police force, ostensibly following British law to protect the pastoral and mining industries became involved in periods of targeted large scale shooting operations or ‘dispersals’ in both the West and East Kimberley. This resulted in the killing of large numbers of Aboriginal men, women and children. This same police force was expected to protect Aboriginal people from the worst excesses of settlement, from labor exploitation and ‘summary justice’ dispensed by settlers who took the law into their own hands, by punishing and even killing Aboriginal people. Operating under early Aboriginal ‘Protective’ Legislation police were required to administer aid to Aboriginal people across the entire district. The Kimberley district was known as the harshest, hottest and most isolated environment for policing in all of Western Australia.

Why my research is important

Representations and histories of Kimberley police tend to view the East and West Kimberley districts as separate and discrete entities. For example, the story of Pigeon ( or Jandamarra) and the police response in pursuing him tends to dominate the West Kimberley. The reality is that there is a coherence to repressive police actions in regards policing Aboriginal people that was to protect the interest of the pastoral industry and that were directed by highest levels of Western Australian Government of both the east and west districts that has yet to be articulated.


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