Neville’s ‘ultimate solution’ was a genocidal plan that meets the terms of the UN Convention on Genocide, including the thorny issue of ‘intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, or racial or religious group’. The policy represented the culmination of over twenty years of conflict in the south.
— Anna Haebich, ‘Clearing the Wheat Belt’, 2004
Another of the unchallenged contentions in the debate is that people who were of mixed race, that is, of part-Aboriginal and part-European parentage, always identified themselves as Aborigines. The Human Rights Commission asserted the notion in Bringing Them Home with the sweeping generalization: ‘Aboriginal society regards any child of Aboriginal descent as Aboriginal.’  This assumption is another key premise of those who make the charge of genocide. On this logic, any attempt to biologically absorb part-Aborigines as a group into the white community would be like doing the same to full-blood Aborigines, and hence genocidal by definition.
The authors of Bringing Them Home offered no reference or other support for their assertion. In fact, the proposition is patently untrue. There was no such thing as an ‘Aboriginal society’ with a uniform set of prescriptions on these matters. Among different Aboriginal groups there has long been a wide range of beliefs that range from acceptance as a member of the community of any child born to an Aboriginal woman, to the notion that a half-caste baby born to the group should be put to death.
In Western Australia, Anna Haebich has claimed that in the 1930s the part-Aborigines of the south all shared the one ethnic identity and that the 1936 Act ‘threatened the southern Aborigines’ very existence as a distinct racial and ethnic community’. She made this charge in a 2004 article whose subtitle and subheadings provide some idea of her case: ‘Erasing the Indigenous Presence in the Southwest of Western Australia’, ‘Incremental Genocide’, ‘Extermination by Neglect’, ‘A Eugenic Solution?’
Some genocide. Incorporated within Haebich’s article were population statistics which revealed that during the period Neville was supposedly working to eradicate the southern half-castes, their numbers more than doubled. From a total of 1200 people in 1900, she admitted their population increased by the mid-1930s to more than 2500. To be more precise, the annual census in the 1935–36 annual report of the Chief Protector listed 2640 half-caste people in the South West Division, a 120 per cent increase in just 35 years.
Haebich offered no explanation why Neville’s ‘ultimate solution’ was so ineffectual it was accompanied by a population boom. In fact, she did not even realize these numbers posed a knockdown argument against her case. Moreover, this demographic phenomenon was by no means confined to the south-west of Western Australia. As I noted in Chapter Two, between 1915 and 1940 New South Wales experienced something similar. There the Aboriginal population grew by 65 per cent in 25 years in the face of what Peter Read claimed was a campaign of genocide by the Aborigines Protection Board. So far, this inconvenient truth appears to have escaped the notice not only of Australian historians but also of the editors and academic peer reviewers of the Journal of Genocide Research. When it finally sinks in, it might dampen the latter’s enthusiasm for the volume of articles they currently accept from Australia.
There is another problem with Haebich’s case, not quite as embarrassing but just as damaging. This is her claim that the part-Aborigines of the southwest of Western Australia constituted ‘a distinct racial and ethnic community’. There are first-hand observations from the period that show the great majority of the part-Aboriginal people discussed here did not regard themselves as members of any such community. In 1934, a young journalist on the West Australian newspaper, Paul Hasluck, investigated living conditions of what he called ‘our southern half-castes’. In the course of a long investigation he spoke to almost every Aboriginal adult in the region and a large number of part-Aboriginal youths. He found few of them had any connections to traditional Aboriginal culture or ways of thinking. They had never inhabited a society ruled by indigenous government, laws or local social systems. They had never been deprived of the traditional hunter-gatherer economy or social system because that was all gone long before their time. Most of these people were born within the farmlands of the Great Southern districts and made a living as seasonal and casual employees of white farmers. They identified more with white people than as Aborigines.
In those days [the 1930s] most of the mixed race people [in the south] were living apart from Aborigines and the popular belief among the whites and the common hope of the mixed-race people themselves was that they should live in the white community. As a body, half-caste Aborigines were rejected by the aboriginal people as not being true Aborigines at all. It seemed that they were moving in one direction away from the aboriginal side of their ancestry.
Some part-Aborigines were strongly determined not to be known as Aborigines. ‘Their main hope was to escape the notice of the Protector of Aborigines,’ Hasluck wrote, ‘and to be accepted as ordinary members of the Australian community.’ People in this state of transition did not want to draw attention to themselves and hoped to pass unnoticed by the government bureaucracy. One father with a wife and three daughters told him:
I’ve never been an abo and I’m not going to have my girls brought up with the blacks. My only aim in life is to keep out of the clutches of that man Neville and the less anyone knows about us the better. My girls are never going into the blacks’ camp.
In short, the southern half-caste population did not constitute a distinct racial community, but nor were they integrated into the mainstream white society at the time. They suffered badly from unemployment during the Great Depression, which halted what until then had been their progressive assimilation. In the 1930s, they remained suspended by economic adversity between the white and black cultural worlds. Nonetheless, their own inclinations were clear. Although their cultural movement slowed, it remained headed in the same direction, away from the Aboriginal side of their ancestry. This was not something that had been, or even could be, determined by Neville’s department. It was a product of their own decisions based on their own economic and social situation.