Artefacts relating to the history of the Aboriginal Native Police forces are very rare, most not having survived. This collection of uniform buttons, carbine balls and bullets, all collected from Native Police camp sites in Queensland, is therefore of great importance. The donor recovered these items from sites of Native Police camps thus giving them a precise location. All the buttons either feature the letters VR or the Victoria Crown, and all but one were made in England by the best known uniform manufacturer and supplier of the time, Hebbert and Co. One, marked 'NEW SOUTH WALES POLICE' was made in Australia by D. Jones & Co (now known as David Jones).
In the nineteenth century Aboriginal men served as troopers in various 'native police' forces. These forces, which consisted of uniformed, armed and mounted Aboriginal troopers under the command of white officers, were created to keep the peace between Aborigines and white settlers in the frontier districts. In reality, they helped to quell the resistance of the traditional owners, open the land to European settlement, and protect the settlers from the displaced local populations. Many of the troopers were men of elevated status in their local communities, possibly motivated by the prestige of a uniform, firearms and a horse, and perhaps a recognition that the white man was here to stay.
Aborigines were chosen as troopers because of their superior knowledge of the bush and their ability to track. (Aboriginal troopers were distinct from the black trackers employed by the colonial police forces.) An Aboriginal force operated in the Port Phillip district (now Victoria) for 11 years from 1842 under the command of Captain Henry Dana. It seems that units may have existed in a less established way for some years before this. In view of the perceived effectiveness of Dana's force, the governor of New South Wales Charles Fitzroy established a native police force in 1848. Records kept by the NSW authorities show that in the ten years that followed, 175 Aboriginal men were recruited. Operating in small mounted detachments that patrolled the troubled northern frontier districts, they almost immediately saw action in what is now south-east Queensland. In 1849 a bloody four hour battle against the defiant Bigambul people ended ten years of Aboriginal resistance to European occupation of the Macintyre River region.
At first the NSW native police force was under the control of officials in Sydney who were answerable to the Colonial Office. From 1856 to 1859 the force was controlled by the new government of NSW. When Queensland became a separate colony in 1859, control of this force was passed to the government in Brisbane. The Queensland native mounted police continued to patrol the fringes of European settlement until it was disbanded in 1900, although a last camp remained at Coen, in North Queensland until 1914.
Queensland Aborigines strongly resisted losing their land and livelihood. Many nervous pastoralists urged the authorities to unleash the native police on troublesome blacks. The force became known for its brutality toward local Aborigines and was implicated in several massacres. The activities of the native police in Queensland were often kept secret and their reports seldom made public. Many of the government records relating to this force after 1859 appear to have been destroyed, although many documents, and newspaper reports, Royal Commission reports etc remain, and there is now reasonable coverage on the World Wide Web. Henry Reynolds has written that 'The Queensland native police played a decisive role in crushing Aboriginal resistance' ('With the White People', Penguin, 1990, p71). The consequences of whites co-opting Aboriginal skills and knowledge in the form of native police units were disastrous for Aboriginal communities.