Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 12

'Where is the Aboriginal Act?': Archibald Meston and the emergence of Aboriginal policy in Queensland

Memmott, P. & Richards, J.

Published online: June 2021


Memmott, P. & Richards, J.


Memmott, P. & Richards, J., 2021. ‘Where is the Aboriginal Act?’: Archibald Meston and the Emergence Of Aboriginal Policy In Queensland. Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Culture 12: 123–146. Brisbane.

Date published

June 2021



Archibald Meston, Queensland Aboriginal legislation, law and history, First Nations, Post-colonialism


Queensland Parliament passed The Aboriginals Protection and Sale of Opium Act in the last weeks of 1897, forcing Indigenous people onto reserves under strict control and stopping the sale of opium to them. The amalgamation of these two legislative elements has not been properly explained in the historical literature, and there has not been, to date, an overview of other preceding, connected Acts that imposed European values and ideologies on Indigenous people. Journalist Archibald Meston’s role is worth carefully investigating to understand the influences underlying this legislation. His co-authors William Parry-Okeden, Arthur Rutledge and Horace Tozer never publicly reflected on their part in the Act’s drafting, but Meston was to later successfully pose as the Act’s sole architect. Meston’s contribution to the Act demands critical inquiry because our research shows that his self-proclaimed “expertise” was mostly opportunistic propaganda. This paper examines the political background to the 1897 Act so as to understand the socio-economic influences that led to the creation of the first legislation that affected all Indigenous people in Queensland, and which was to become the largest and longest-lasting disrupter of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Queensland after the frontier wars – a significant longitudinal process in Queensland’s history, still reverberating into contemporary times.

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