It is thought the fake dates back to the 1990s
It is thought the fake dates back to the 1990s Image by Facebook

Fake shooting licence a reminder of brutal colonial history

William Summers February 13, 2023

A "Licence To Shoot Aborigines" was distributed in Australia as part of a 1965 pest control law.


False. The licence is a fake and the 1965 pest control law does not exist.

Australian social media users have reacted with disgust to a photo showing a “Licence To Shoot Aborigines” purportedly issued under pest control laws passed in 1965.

But the image (archived here) shared on Facebook is not all it seems. It relates to a pretend licence distributed as racist propaganda in the early 1990s.

Thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were massacred by Australia’s colonial settlers, but no government-endorsed licence to shoot Aborigines has ever existed.

Additionally, the pest control law mentioned on the licence is not real.

A screenshot of the Facebook post.
 Social media users have reacted with horror to the purported historical shooting licence. 

The photo in question shows a hand holding an old-looking piece of paper, purporting to be part of an historical official document titled: “LICENCE TO SHOOT ABORIGINES”.

It also includes the words: “Subject to the provisions of the Pest Eradication Act 1965. Full conditions set out below.”

A Facebook user from Melbourne posted the image on February 3, 2023, along with the comment: “And this was in 1965 so disgusting.”

Thousands of Indigenous Australians were killed by colonial settlers.

Many of those deaths have been researched through the colonial frontiers massacre mapping project, which includes data about killings in Australia between 1788 and 1930.

Th project was created by University of Newcastle emeritus professor Lyndall Ryan, who told AAP FactCheck that, to her knowledge, there was never any government-issued licence to shoot.

Prof Ryan similarly said she had not heard of any pest eradication acts intended to include the shooting of Aboriginal people.

The most recent massacre recorded in Prof Ryan’s data was the 1928 killing of 10 Indigenous people at Coniston in the Northern Territory.

Professor Lyndall Ryan with the massacre map (file image)
 University of Newcastle Professor Lyndall Ryan created the colonial frontiers massacre map. 

However, Prof Ryan said it was “impossible to determine the most recent killing of Aboriginal people in terms of colonial conflict”.

“In my view, the killings have never stopped,” she told AAP FactCheck in an email.

Professor Amanda Nettelbeck, an expert in Indigenous history and colonial violence at the Australian Catholic University, agreed that the supposed licence is “not a reflection of something real in legislation”.

“From the late 1830s the British imperial government clarified as a matter of policy that Aboriginal people in the Australian colonies were to be treated in law as British subjects,” Prof Nettelbeck said via email. “Although in practice Aboriginal people rarely received the law’s redress for violence against them. Systems of frontier policing were implicated in indiscriminate shooting of/ violence against Aboriginal people, although not officially.”

A 1991 report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission – now known as the Australian Human Rights Commission – included multiple examples of colonial violence against Indigenous people after the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 (pages 37-47).

For example, in November 1828, the British governor of Tasmania (then known as Van Diemen’s Land) introduced martial law against Aboriginal people in settled districts, effectively giving the military the power to shoot on sight any Indigenous people found there (page 39).

However, AAP FactCheck found no evidence any state or federal government produced licences that allowed people to shoot Aboriginal people.

The purported “Pest Eradication Act” mentioned on the piece of paper is not listed in any federal or state legislation register (see registers here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here).

A protesters at an Indigenous deaths in custody rally (file image)
 A protesters at an Indigenous deaths in custody rally in Sydney in June 2022. 

The “Licence To Shoot Aborigines” appears to be part of a racist leaflet distributed in the 1990s and mentioned in South Australia’s parliament in 1992 (page 4721) when state MP Ian Gilfillan claimed to have received a copy by fax.

The text of the purported licence in the Facebook photo matches Mr Gilfillan’s description of the document he received.

The Facebook photo only shows the top of the fake licence.

However, the full wording of the document mentioned by Mr Gilfillan clearly suggests the fax he received was intended as racist propaganda and not meant to be a real licence.

The Verdict

The claim that a “Licence To Shoot Aborigines” was distributed in Australia as part of a 1965 pest control law is false.

The supposed licence is a fake and can be traced back to a racist propaganda leaflet distributed in the 1990s.

Indigenous history experts confirmed no such licence ever existed. The pest control act mentioned on the licence also does not exist.

False – The claim is inaccurate.

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