Opinion Number. 180



Key Legislation


The Minister for External Affairs

The Minister for External Affairs:

A.B.C., an Ottoman subject and a Syrian, applied for a certificate of naturalization and was informed that as he appeared to be a native of Syria he was disqualified under section 5 of the Naturalization Act-which excepts, mter alios, any person being 'an aboriginal native of Asia, Africa, or the Islands of the Pacific'.

He claims that, though a native of Syria, he is not an 'aboriginal' native, on a number of grounds of which the following only can be considered material:

  1. That the modern Syrian has no relation whatsoever to the ancient Aboriginal Syrians.
  2. That the Syrian language is not spoken by the present nation, although they are called Syrians.
  3. That the lineal line of my ancestors in particular dates back from the Crusaders, as the name of the family bears this contention out, being the literal Arabic translation of 'Crusaders'.
  4. That the modern Syrians are admitted to be of the white or Caucasian races of the world and no coloured stigma has ever been attributed to my people in any era.

The Minister for External Affairs asks to be advised whether Syrians are included in the restriction of section 5.

The question is one of construction of the Naturalization Act 1903.

No doubt, the word 'aborigines' in its primary etymological sense, means the 'original' or earliest known, inhabitants of a country; but both 'aborigines' and the derived adjective 'aboriginal' now have a secondary meaning, as referring to the native races of a non-European country, as distinguished from later European colonists or settlers. Murray's Oxford Dictionary gives the following among the meanings of the two words:

Aborigines-2. spec. The natives found in possession of a country by Europeans who have gone thither as colonists.

Aboriginal-2. Dwelling in any country before the arrival of later (European) colonists. 3. Of or pertaining to aborigines, to the earliest known inhabitants, or to native races. B. sb. An original inhabitant of any land, now usually as distinguished from subsequent European colonists.

In my opinion the words 'aboriginal native' of Asia etc. in the Naturalization Act mean 'a native belonging to a native race' of Asia etc. The word 'aboriginal' is meant, in the context, to contrast such natives of Asia etc., as are born in the home or present habitat of their race, and such natives as are not so born. It was meant to be a practical modern distinction, not a distinction depending on knowledge of the obscure beginnings of history.

In my opinion therefore a person of Syrian race born in Syria is an aboriginal native of Asia within the meaning of the Act.

[Vol. 4, p. 251 ]