Premier Roger Cook has apologised to Indigenous people in WA who had their wages stolen for decades, describing it as a “shameful period” of the State’s history. The State reached a settlement earlier this month that awarded $180.4 million to up to 14,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were paid little to nothing while working on institutions, cattle stations and farms between 1936 and 1972. The settlement — which equates to $16,500 for each eligible claimant — came more than three years after lead applicant Mervyn Street — a 72-year-old Gooniyandi artist from the Kimberley — lodged a statement of claim in the Federal Court. Mr Cook said Tuesday that legislation impacted where Aboriginal people were able to work, travel and live and also effected how they received wages and how much they received. “Legislation of this kind, particularly in the earlier period of WA’s colonial history, resulted in Aboriginal people working long hours without receiving any pay or an appropriate amount of pay,” he said. “Instead they were often pay in rations such as flour, sugar and tobacco. “Aboriginal men, women and children worked hard and made enormous contributions to the economic development of this State. But they received only a fraction of their worth.” The Premier said decades of mistreatment was a “blight” on successive governments: and the laws which enabled the stolen wages brought “great shame”. “For that, we are sorry,” Mr Cook said. “These workers -- men, women, and children -- worked under oppressive conditions. In many cases, there was a threat of violence.” Mr Cook said in 2008 the Stolen Wages Taskforce Report was established and it had taken “too long” to address the report and that a 2012 reparations scheme was “inadequate” and excluded many workers whose wages were stolen. “In bringing a close to this shameful part of Western Australia’s history, on behalf of the State of Western Australia, I apologise to the Aboriginal men, women and children who worked in Western Australia between 1936 and 1972, often for decades, for no pay or not enough pay,” he said. The Premier also apologised to the family members of those who had their wages stolen but had not lived to see the settlement or apology. Mr Street watched the apology in parliament and could at times be seen appearing to wipe away tears. Speaking after the apology outside parliament, he said he had watched his mother and father work hard “for nothing” on a cattle station and that as a 14-year-old he then worked without pay for years. “I used to watch my mum and dad and all others, how they used to work hard mustering, driving cattle. I never went to school, my school was being out in the cattle station,” Mr Street said. “I am really happy. I have been doing my best going through all this. People were listening to my story, it is real and I am happy that people were listening. “Mustering, riding horses, saddling, that was all I learned. My dad and mum used to work for nothing. My mum worked in the kitchen and my dad worked with the cattle and fencing.” Mr Street said he now told his story through his painting and he was “really happy” to hear the apology. The artist said he did not know what would happen next in the journey towards Reconciliation but was confident his parents would be proud of his fight. “They would be proud of me for seeing it through. We have to keep listening to families who have so many stories,” Mr Street said. Shine Lawyers head of class action Vicky Antzoulatos, whose firm represented the thousands of litigants, said the apology addressed a “historical wrongdoing”. “The Premier’s acknowledgement and apology is a significant step towards record Reconciliation for the Aboriginal men, women and children who worked in Western Australia from the 1930s to the 1970s for little or no pay, often under very difficult conditions. which in many cases were tantamount to slavery,” Ms Antzoulatos said. Kimberley MLA Davina D’Anna, a Yawuru, Nimanburr and Bardi woman, also spoke in support of the apology in parliament and praised Mr Street for his “tireless” efforts. Ms D’Anna quoted notorious ‘chief protector of Aborigines’ AO Neville who admitted that many Aboriginal workers “existed under a system of semi-slavery”. “The reality of the history of this State is that Aboriginal people have been the backbone of the cattle industry,” Ms D’Anna said. “Businesses and non-Indigenous people have gained financially off the slavery of Aboriginal people.” Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti, Opposition leader Shane Love and Liberal leader Libby Mettam spoke in favour of the apology motion, which was approved by the legislative assembly unanimously.