The Stolen Generation

Australia is today a vibrant multicultural society, one that is highly inclusive of most of those who are its citizens.25 Its original peoples were deemed to exist formally in the 1960s when they were first included in national statistics and electoral rolls, having failed to be written out of history by death or breeding.26 The original peoples of Australia were hunter-gatherers who traveled there from Asia at least 60,000 years ago. They have not, on the whole, fared as well from the migratory and nation- building process as have the settlers who made their homes there over the past 220 years or so. In fact, their life chances, to use a sociological term, often approximate those of people who live in far less affluent societies, especially in terms of morbidity rates, live birth rates and other health-related statistics. Light was cast on some of the systematic disciplinary mechanisms that contributed to the destruction of Indigenous cultural capital through an enquiry that commenced in 1995. The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families was established in May 1995 in response to efforts made by key Indigenous agencies and communities, and resulted in a report to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC). The report was titled Bringing them home (HREOC 1997), from which much of what follows is taken verbatim.

The practice of forced removal of Indigenous people and their placement in total institutions was established early in the colonial history of Australia. Violent battles over rights to land, food and water sources characterized race relations in the nine- teenth century. Indigenous children were kidnapped and exploited for their labor or otherwise forcibly removed from their families for two main motives. One was that they provided cheap labor (Reynolds 1990: 169), as there was no requirement to pay them beyond providing food and clothing. The second was to ‘inculcate European values and work habits in children, who would then be employed in service to the colonial settlers’ (Mason 1993: 31).

During the nineteenth century the predominant policy regime was one of social Darwinism, where the survival of the fittest was interpreted as justification enough for the superiority of the settler society and the inferiority of the hunter-gatherers that had lived off the land for at least 60,000 years.27 It was widely believed that Indigenous people, being unfit to survive in the modern world, would either die out or be so blended in as to be indistinguishable. To this end, government and missionary protectorates set up reserves to which Indigenous people were to be confined. Management of the reserves was delegated to government appointed managers or missionaries in receipt of government subsidies. Enforcement of the protectionist legislation at the local level was the responsibility of ‘protectors’ who were usually police officers. Near total control was exercised. Entry and exit from reserves was regulated, as was everyday life, the right to marry, and employment. Children were housed in dormitories and contact with their families was strictly limited to encourage conversion of the children to Christianity.

The number of children of mixed descent was increasing as a result of sexual contacts. Owing to changing definitions of what constituted Aboriginality, those with ‘European blood’ were not allowed to live on the reserves. Government offi- cials thought that by forcibly removing such children from their families and send- ing them away from their communities to work for settlers, this mixed descent population would, over time, ‘merge’ with the settler population. As Brisbane’s Telegraph newspaper reported in May 1937:

Mr. Neville [the Chief Protector of WA] holds the view that within one hundred years the pure black will be extinct. But the half-caste problem was increasing every year. Therefore their idea was to keep the pure blacks segregated and absorb the half-castes into the white population. Sixty years ago, he said, there were over 60,000 full-blooded natives in Western Australia. Today there are only 20,000. In time there would be none. Perhaps it would take one hundred years, perhaps longer, but the race was dying. The pure blooded Aboriginal was not a quick breeder. On the other hand the half-caste was. In Western Australia there were half-caste families of twenty and upwards. That showed the magnitude of the problem. (Buti 1995: 35)

Many of the familiar techniques of total institutions were used. Great ‘care was taken to ensure that [Aboriginal children] never saw their parents or families again. They were often given new names, and the greater distances involved in rural areas made it easier to prevent parents and children on separate missions from tracing each other’ (van Krieken 1992: 108). Female children were singled out for ‘special treatment’

(Kelly 1992):28 ‘Indigenous girls were targeted for removal and sent to work as domestics. Apart from satisfying a demand for cheap servants, work increasingly eschewed by non-Indigenous females, it was thought that the long hours and exhaust- ing work would curb the sexual promiscuity attributed to them.’29 It was not just the long hours and exhausting work; there was also little in the way of medical provision or treatment when calorific shortfall had its inevitable consequences.

A common feature of the settlements, missions and institutions for Indigenous families and children was that they received minimal funding … The lack of funding for settle- ments, missions and institutions meant that people forced to move to these places were constantly hungry, denied basic facilities and medical treatment and as a result were likely to die prematurely. 30

In 1937, official government policies adopted a policy of ‘absorption’ and ‘assimi- lation’ by white society of children of mixed descent. Assimilation was a highly intensive process necessitating constant surveillance of people’s lives, judged according to non-Indigenous standards. The results of these judgments were that, from the 1940s onwards, under the general child welfare law, Indigenous children were often forcibly removed from their natural families if they were found to be ‘neglected’, ‘destitute’ or ‘uncontrollable’. As Bringing them home argues, interpreta- tions of those terms assumed a non-Indigenous model of child-rearing and regarded poverty as synonymous with neglect.

The role of knowledge is evident and central in these policies, providing the arguments that animated power and moved authorities into action. The result was a continued process, utilizing the neglect procedures that removed just as many Aboriginal children from their families as before. During the 1950s and 1960s even greater numbers of Indigenous children were removed from their families to advance the cause of assimilation. Not only were they removed for alleged neglect; they were removed to attend school in distant places, to receive medical treatment, and to be adopted out at birth. As institutions could no longer cope with the increas- ing numbers, and welfare practice discouraged the use of institutions, Indigenous children were placed with non-Indigenous foster families where their identity was denied or disparaged. ‘A baby placed with white parents would obviously be more quickly assimilated than one placed with black parents. So ran the official thinking, but more importantly, so also ran the feelings of the majority of honest and con- scientious white citizens’ (Edwards and Read 1989: xx).

Not only did the placement of black babies with white families lead to a subse-quent loss of identity, and then, in those cases where the children did not pass as ‘white’, confused and absent identity, it also had significant intergenerational effects. These were experienced in terms of the displacement and dispersal of indi- viduals and family members. Contacts were lost; family and kin relations broken; clan relations disrupted; and the rights of access to and ownership of traditional lands forfeited. The loss of land was a significant loss, because under the terms of Native Title legislation, establishing land rights is based on continuous possession of the land. But the loss is more than merely a matter of legal entitlement; it is also a deep spiritual loss, a loss of meaning at the center of life as much as an economic loss of access to the land that provides for life, the reproduction of habitual ways of life, and the preservation of traditions and the identity of a culture. As the father of a professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, explained:

We bond with the universe and the land and everything that exists on the land. Everything is bonded to everything.

Ownership for the white people is something on a piece of paper. We have a different system. You can no more sell our land than sell the sky.

Our affinity with the land is like the bonding between a parent and a child. You have responsibilities and obligations to look after and care for a child. You can speak for a child. But you don’t own a child. (Behrendt 2003: 33)

Such views of the world had great difficulty surviving baptism in the religious and work ethics provided by the various total institutions to which Indigenous people were consigned. Traditional rights of access to the land, to places of religious and other cultural significance, were broken; in fact, the expropriation of the people, their alienation from the land, and the entitlement of the land passing to those white settlers who squatted on it or otherwise asserted title over it, meant the end of Aboriginal sovereignty, defined in Aboriginal terms:

Sovereignty can be demonstrated as Aboriginal people controlling all aspects of their lives and destiny. Sovereignty is independent action, it is Aborigines doing things as Aboriginal people, controlling those aspects of our existence which are Aboriginal. These include our culture, our economy, our social lives and our indigenous political insti- tutions. Wrapped up in all this is health, housing, education, legal matters and land rights, and many other things … [when] Aboriginal people are able to exercise absolute control over these essential areas without penalty being imposed by non-Aboriginal society, then our Aboriginal sovereignty will be recognized … (Behrendt 2003: 100; cited from National Aboriginal Island Health Organization, q0985, written comment, NAIHO Conference,

White society might not have intended harm although it caused great damage, injustice and wrong, which has never been formally acknowledged at a govern- mental level as a responsibility that should be assumed for past actions. As Ibarra- Colado (2004: 25) writes, the failures of modernity were not simply the price to be paid in order to achieve the universal goal of progress. The price of conquest and subjugation was a necessary way of establishing the practical and moral superior- ity of the difference represented by the colonizers over the colonized. The state and the religious institutions that enacted policy acted out of what their custodians thought was for the best in the world, and this consisted of desocializing Indigenous people through resocializing them in total institutions. Of course, this meant destroying their sovereignty but this had never been recognized anyway. The ideas of confinement in total institutions designed to resocialize continued to shape poli- cies into the 1970s, until the election of a government committed to Aboriginal self-determination shifted the policy practice.

What is noteworthy is that while the policies of institutional incarceration were being followed for Indigenous children, the influential ideas of John Bowlby (1951) were being adopted in the care of non-Indigenous children, stressing the centrality of the mother and child relationship. Although total institutionalization was often the outcome of policy, the policy itself was conceived and represented as being in the best interests of the children, despite this evident counterfactual knowledge.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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