This paper investigates the Western Australian colonial authorities' attempts at defining and categorising a "politically relevant" Aboriginal population from first settlement in 1829 until 1850. Studies of colonial enumeration allow us to understand how colonial authorities viewed the spaces and boundaries of settlement and beyond, and who would be included as part of the community inhabiting that space. Enumeration of Aboriginal people in this period mirrored the Western Australian colonial authorities' conception of their sovereignty: the territory which they could effectively control was not the entire western third of the continent, as the map dictated, but rather the surveyed country, within the "limits of settlement." While other studies of colonial census making reveal enumeration as an instrument of control, this paper identifies colonial census making about Indigenous Western Australians in this period as an instance of state incapacity to govern and control. While "control" was the colonial authorities' key objective in their enumerations, the census reports reveal their inability to know the Aboriginal population.

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