Extract from interview with Norm Harris
a Nyoongar elder and Chairman of the Aboriginal Commission of Elders, and
former Secretary with the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (1970-90). He
served in the Royal Australian Air Force between 1944 and 1948.
Tell me about the citizenship problem on tape for me.
HARRIS: Yes, well when I got discharged
- well it was sometime after - I'd met my cousin Dave Harris who was taken
prisoner of war. He served some time in a prison camp because he was taken
prisoner in Crete. I hadn't seen him for a number of years and I arranged
to meet him at the Palace Hotel down in St George's Terrace. The Palace
Hotel in those days was a recognised meeting place particularly for country
people and we met there. At that time David was doing a watchmaker's course
and I was doing an apprenticeship at Rosenstamm's in the leather goods.
But we'd had a few drinks and then I'd met a school mate of mine, who
incidentally was a white man. He came in and joined us and late in the
afternoon Dave decided to go home and Frank and I decided that we'd go
home. So we walked over the bridge heading towards James Street and then
when we got there to the James Street, opposite there was a hotel. I don't
think it's operating now. But Frank went in to get a couple of bottles
and I stood there looking in the window and the police sergeant came along
who was following us, stood there. When Frank came out he said, "Here
you are, here's the beer." And I just looked at it and I didn't like
the brand of it and the policeman grabbed the bottle out of the hand of
Frank and said, "Oh you're under arrest for serving a native, and
you too you're under arrest," he said, "for receiving liquor."
We walked up James Street towards Roe Street towards the central lock-up
in those days. Charged me with receiving liquor under the Native Welfare
Act, and Frank my friend, for providing liquor to a native or supplying
liquor. So we were locked up - that was late in the afternoon. And of
course some of the local police who had been in the services they were
saying to me, oh they didn't know what was wrong with the sergeant arresting
me because they thought it was wrong. It took some hours before my wife
was notified and subsequently came down and paid the bail.
But I engaged a lawyer then and we, the lawyer and I, done some research
and I produced documents to show that my blood caste, although I might
have been dark in complexion compared to my two sisters and my mother,
under my blood caste I didn't come within the meaning of the Native Welfare
Act. Of course that was one avenue that I produced. By the time the case
eventually came up the magistrate dismissed the case but not on those
grounds that I didn't come under the Act, he just dismissed it immediately
as saying, "Good enough to fight for your country, good enough for
you to drink," and dismissed the case - but recommended, and asked
could he see me after.
I waited until the court closed and he took me into his office and the
lawyer and said, "Look my advice to you Mr Harris, to save any further
embarrassment would be to obtain a Citizenship Right." He rang the
then Commissioner, who was Mr Middleton, Commissioner of Native Welfare
Department. They were situated down in 176 Wellington Street, and arranged
for me to go down and talk to him. I went down there and of course I had
no problem. The only thing that I had to go across into Government Gardens
and have a photo taken and pay my ten shillings in those times and I was
provided with a Citizenship.
CF And you were No# 343.
HARRIS: Yes, yes. And I think there
was a lot of them since then.
Norm Harris, March 2000
[Battye Library, OH3010]