Saturday, 2 February 2008


The Aussie Government has finally decided to offer an apology to the Stolen Generations, and it's about time.

It's a reasonable enough gesture to make. It's human and shows the sort of compassion for fellow human beings who were wronged that the Howard Government would never have It's also the right thing to do, and for a number of genuinely fair reasons.

People of varying backgrounds are removed from their parents and extended families every day, but not as a smokescreen for an assimilation policy, meant to feed a slow form of genocide. Children are removed for the wrong committed by parents, and not for the colour of skin or cultural heritage. It's true that many people in government agencies since the 1800's have genuinely had the best intentions in mind when dealing with Aboriginal people, but the best intentions can at times be the genesis of the most heinous of crimes, as history has proven on countless occasions.

My own family provides for an excellent case study in the effects felt in Aboriginal communities regarding the generations that were removed.

My great grandfather was born circa 1874 in the Upper Murray region of Victoria. In about 1883 he was taken from his family, never to see them again, to be placed on a Christian mission in S.W Victoria. At that point in time whilst the intentions were honourable to give Aboriginal people an education there really is no excuse to have destroyed a family in such a manner. For all intent and purpose my great great grandfather became an orphan, and all for the sake of an education that focused heavily on Christianity, with reading and writing as an afterthought.

By the age of 13 in 1886, three year after having been taken, my great grandfather was cut free from his rudimentary education/indoctrination and then forced into working as a farm labourer. This was standard policy for all male Aboriginal children aged 13 and older. The policy incidentally was introduced in the same year, 1886.

After being moved to another mission/concentration camp, still in S.W Victoria, my great grandfather was allowed the opportunity to finally move elsewhere in about 1901, moving back to the Murray River, and a mission near Moama. There he met the daughter of an Aboriginal man who was one of only a handful who had been allowed to purchase his own land. They married in 1902.

Things went well for a while, until conditions began to deteriorate. Children and adults alike had a high mortality rate and disease spread through the community. Of my great grandmothers 16 children, only 6 survived. Land that the people had successfully cultivated and that had allowed for the community to be self sustainable was taken away and awarded to neighbouring white farmers. The community then went into great decline and became a burden on the government.

Whilst my great grandparents then moved to greener pastures in the NSW town of Wyalong, where my grandfather and his siblings were allowed the rare opportunity of a high school education, things were not as comfortable for my great grandmother's two sisters and their children still on the dwindling mission station on the Murray.

The early 1900's saw my great aunt's four daughters stolen from her. This was despite the fact that she was an assistant school mistress, had a husband gainfully employed, that she spoke 3 languages fluently (English, French, Yorta Yorta) and also trained as a midwife and helped deliver many of the successful births in her community. In the autobiography of one of her daughters the reader is shown the terror and heart rending loss as experienced through both mother and daughters eyes and followed the mothers years of documented struggle to regain her children.

The truly saddening aspect of this small slice of history is that the occasional successes of some of the stolen children are used by some as justification, and to promote the idea that policies were ever reasonable. Such logic is based on a loose understanding of matters, discounting of history and media spin as dictated by unsympathetic.

My great aunt's children are again an excellent example. They gained their education whilst with their family and then were placed in a training camp for domestic servants, far from their parents for no viable reason. There they sure enough were taught the multiplication tables, but a number also learnt about the pains of rape and other forms of physical and mental abuses, at the hands of often unskilled workers. When old enough, those girls (like their male counterparts learning to be stockmen, regardless of being from the city or country) were then sent out to upper middle class white families as low wage domestic servants, whose wages were then kept in trust whilst only being allowed sixpence as pocket money. The majority of those people who for all intent and purpose were slaves never did see their wages that were kept in "trust." That is why reparations are an important part of any government apology.

Despite those hardships those four girls did go on to make something of themselves. But not without seeing the trauma claim one of them in a suicide and another attempted suicide. One founded a college and became an author, another an author and co creator of a television series, and another the matriarch of a family whose achievements range from sports star to playwright, academic and novelist, whilst founding an Indigenous medical service and co-founding a legal service.

Despite the pains inflicted upon those four girls and many of their cousins in varying family lines, the barbaric assimilation and destruction practices remained in vogue until the mid 1970's. Despite my fair skin I missed being removed by less than 5 years. My father only escaped removal in the 1930's to 40's by being taken by his mother to Boys Town at Engadine, where her work in the kitchens and friendship with the school's founder saw that her son would remain unmolested by government policy. Sadly, that didn't save my father's six sisters. They followed in the footsteps of my great aunts children, being forced into slavery a generation earlier. There at the camp they weren't short for the company of family. It's no surprise that those girls who were most heavily traumatised are those that have commonly passed those unresolved issues and developmental pains to their own children.

Again another generation, and their children too were in some cases removed. And again there were suicides and those who drank themselves into oblivion to forget their pains and memories.

I don't think that the average Aussie should feel guilt, but empathy is most certainly something that more should feel as they are allowed to learn more of the truth. As in my prior post regarding Australia Day, I believe the government must take responsibility, as they represent Australia's past as much as they do Australia's present and future. They are leading a nation that has benefited in no small way from the injustices committed against Aboriginal people, for well meaning and ignoble reason. Acknowledging and regretting the mistakes of the past is as important as taking pride in the strides that have been made, because examining those mistakes and understanding them is the only way forward for all.