Neville is often charged with a callous disregard for the fate of full-blood Aborigines, who he expected to die out. This accusation is sometimes the nub of the allegation of genocide against him. Raimond Gaita and others have argued that the removal of part-Aboriginal children to ‘breed out the colour’ was genocidal because it coincided with the belief by the relevant authorities in the ‘doomed race’ theory that full-bloods would naturally die out. Hence, those who wanted an Australia free of Aborigines only needed to direct their actions against part-Aborigines. In its argument for genocide, the Human Rights Commission agreed:
A. O. Neville, Western Australia’s Chief Protector (1915–40) believed he could do nothing’ for ‘full-bloods’, who were thought to be dying out. However, he could absorb the ‘half-castes’.
In Neville’s case, the assumption behind these assertions is simply not true, as Gaita would have known had he read the full text of the 1937 Canberra conference’s proceedings, and as the members of the Human Rights Commission would have known had they read any of the original sources for themselves. Neville told the 1937 conference with some satisfaction that the birth rate to full-bloods on government-owned cattle stations in the far north, such as Moola Bulla in the Kimberley, was increasing. This was thanks to his own department’s policies designed for that very end. ‘It is interesting to note,’ he said, ‘that on the departmental cattle stations established in the far north for the preservation of these people, the number of full-blood children is increasing, because of the care the people get.’ This view was consistent with population figures Neville had earlier compiled for his 1932 annual report.
The most detailed analysis of Aboriginal demography in Western Australia from 1900 to 1940 is by Gordon Briscoe, who has demonstrated that accurate figures are hard to come by because the statistics are fraught with shifting census definitions and unreliable estimates. However, Briscoe’s case largely supported Neville’s view of the trends in the full-blood population over this period. Briscoe wrote:
Assumptions about a ‘disappearing population’ often made by [Daisy] Bates and her contemporaries eventually proved to be a fiction. This was not easy to see at the time, however. Despite claims about a disappearing Aboriginal race, the number of Aboriginal people of Western Australia — people of full and mixed descent — actually continued growing. This resulted from the Aborigines own internal population dynamics and government relief and protection policies.
The only population Neville did believe was in decline was that of full-blooded Aborigines still living in traditional society in the bush. ‘In my opinion, no matter what we do, they will die out,’ he said. He did not support the ‘doomed race’ theory but blamed ‘their own tribal practices’ of abortion and infanticide, which were routinely practised in bad seasons. Repeated abortions had rendered many tribal women sterile, he said, so few could still bear children.
Whatever anyone thinks about the reasons Neville gave for his demographic predictions, his interpretation of the statistical trends turned out to be close to the mark. More recent studies of the demography have revealed an increase in the full-blood population on government stations was matched by a decline of those living in the bush. Briscoe calculated that over the period 1924 to 1940 the total full-blood population in the state remained fairly stable around a figure of 22,000.