In 1839, the Government Resident Grey at King George’s Sound (now Albany) wrote to the Colonial Secretary listing his concerns about foreign whaling vessels working the coast, and the sealing crews who lived on islands between King George Sound and the Recherche Archipelago.
His main concern was their lack of a ‘bond’ that domestic port visitors had to pay and find guarantors for, that bound them to behave in accordance to the colonial administration’s port regulations. The American whalers, he wrote, were enticing deserters away from the colony and creating opportunities for the sealers to smuggle in Yankee tobacco.
He also complained that the sealers brought their Aboriginal wives and workers into the settlement where the women mixed with the local Menang population and exercised a “most contaminating influence over their characters.”
Captain Grey backed up his bureaucratic grievances with allegations that some of the islanders were involved in piracy and wrecking – that old and bloody practice of misleading ships to crash into reefs and headlands in darkness so they could be plundered.
He warned the Colonial Secretary that the sealers were living with Aboriginal women who had been carried off from their families in the east of the continent. As a result, many children lived on the islands who had European fathers: Grey wrote, “this half caste breed, reared under circumstances which must eventually render them the most lawless and worthless characters, stand a fair chance of inheriting in right of birth thereon, the various Archipelagos on this Coast.”
... Bob Gimble lived on Bald Island, forty kilometres to the east of Albany in the 1840s. Gimble had three Aboriginal wives and some children. The women were his companions and his crew. During the summer months, when the sea was swollen and chopped by the easterly winds, Gimble and the women killed seals, salted their skins and tried out the oil. I am unsure whether any of the three wives were Vandemonian but, given the history of the Vandemonian women moving from east to west during that period, it is quite possible.
In 1846 an ordinance by the colony of western Australia was extended to regulate the temporary occupation of crown lands and offshore islands.  By the 1880s police regularly visited the Recherche Archipelago islands as part of their beat that covered hundreds of kilometres. Some islands around Albany were closed to unauthorised landings, and still are to this day. This act which stopped people from living without government authorisation on crown land effectively circumvented the laws of proscription, or adverse possession. This point is the crux of this paper – that the removal of human inhabitants from islands was (and still is) a state ownership issue.
One hundred and sixty years after Captain Grey wrote that letter to the Colonial Secretary, his fears of Aboriginal children inheriting the islands were realised in another state, Queensland, when Eddie Mabo demonstrated his family’s continuous working and living on the offshore Mer Islands. My point here is not to compare the Mabo decision and its Native Title ramifications, with the (non-forthcoming) claims of clandestine south coast island communities, but to assert that Grey’s anxieties proved to be historically and legally correct. His letter shows that in the 1830s, individuals within the colonial administration of West Australia were already considering continued Aboriginal occupation as a legitimate legal obstacle to state ownership of the islands.
 CSR Acc 36 Vol. 73 Folio 75. Albany, Nov. 17th, 1839.
State Law Publisher.
State Law Publisher.
 Amendment to the Occupation of Crown Land, State Law Publisher. Accessed.
 Police also visited the edge of the Nullabour to break up ‘large gatherings’.
 Robert Stephen’s letter re access to Rabbit/Mistaken Island.
 Details are available at the State Law Publisher website.