This essay tells the story of the rise, fall, and aftermath of Section 70, a highly unusual provision within the Western Australian constitution of 1890. In insisting, against settler wishes, on the inclusion of this section, the British government attempted to retain control over Aboriginal policy even while granting self-government to this sixth and last Australian colony. It had done this with no other Australian colony, all of which had gained self-government decades earlier, in the 1850s. Section 70 provided that the British-appointed Governor, and not the newly self-governing local legislature, would control Aboriginal policy and the Aborigines Protection Board that managed it, and that one per cent of the colony’s revenue would be set aside for Aboriginal welfare. Several questions immediately arise. What is the significance of this story for British history? Why did the British government seek to maintain control over this particular policy domain while effectively devolving the rest of domestic matters to the colony? How did the section operate during its brief period of existence, and why was it repealed twice, first in 1897 and then again in 1905? How has it been remembered since? Finally, why did another legal challenge to its repeal finally fail in the Australian High Court as recently as 2001?


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