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Native Police Corps

Established in 1842 by Henry Edmund Pulteney Dana, the Native Police Corps was the fourth attempt at co-operative policing between settlers and Melbourne's Aboriginal inhabitants, and lasted until 1853. More than 100 men joined the Corps, recruited initially from the Boon wurrung and Woi wurrung groups, but later from all areas of the Port Phillip District. Although it did some routine European police work, the Corps was mainly seasonal, deployed on the margins of European settlement in winter when hungry Aboriginal groups were likely to take sheep. However, when the force was ordered to track and capture known Aboriginal transgressors' conflict occurred.

In the period of foundation and early Melbourne, gentility was signified by horses, guns and uniforms. The Aboriginal police were mounted, armed and uniformed, and they liked it. They also liked their commandant who called them his 'good men and true'. But they remained engaged in their own social world: being a policeman involved adding to rather than changing their cultural repertoire. This caused problems for European observers, who believed that being in the Corps should be a 'civilising' influence. Instances are recorded of an individual doffing his uniform, travelling to do his traditional business (a killing), then returning to the Corps. To Europeans this was murder. To the individual policeman, it may have been an obligation.

Plans to establish a chain of police stations staffed by European and Aboriginal police across Victoria were forestalled by Dana's death in 1852 and the Corps was disbanded in the following year. Victoria's history may have been somewhat different had this plan come to fruition.

Marie Fels

Fels, Marie Hansen, Good men and true: The Aboriginal police of the Port Phillip District, 1837-1853, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1988. Details