With a sudden jerk, squealing of the brakes and a loud puff of the steam engine, the train shunted forward. Fear gripped my heart. Barry and Widdy had bewildered looks on their faces, glancing at me and then at each other. I stared out of the window as we slowly pulled out of the station. I was very confused by all the women standing on the platform watching us and wailing. Then I saw her. There was my mum in her only good blue dress standing next to my aunts with tears rolling down their cheeks too fast to wipe away. Then mum waved a white hanky and I pressed my face against the window pane as hard as I could, watching her.
Watching until her blue dress faded into a tiny dot of colour. I looked back at the station for as long as I could until she was out of sight. (Meehan, 2000, pg31) This extract from Donna Meehan’s autobiography, ‘Its no Secret,’ recounts a major event in her life. Like many aboriginal children during the 19th century, she was taken away from her family, taken away without an explanation to a so called better place, a place where she could take up a European way of life, learn to be read and write and blend into society, a place that would make her forget her Aboriginal culture, forget her family and finally forget her true identity.
This essay will outline the origins and operations of the removal policy. The practice of taking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children began as early as 1804; however the removal of aboriginal children only became legal in 1905, under the Aborigines Act in Western Australia. This legislation authorised the removal of all aboriginal children and meant that a Chief Protector was made the legal guardian of every Aboriginal and ‘half-caste’ child under the age of twenty-one. These children were then sent to missions and settlements, where it was proposed that their living standards would improve.
Chief Protector Cook assured in 1911; ‘Children are removed form the evil influence of the aboriginal camp with its lack or moral training and its risk or serious organic infectious disease. They are properly fed, clothed and educated as white children; they are subjected to constant medical supervision and in receipt to domestic and vocational training. ‘ However Xavier Herbert, and acting superintendent of the Darwin Half-Caste Home stated his experiences mentioning that ‘ the porridge was cooked the day before, already sour and covered in mould, and when doused with thin milk, gave up the corpses of the weevils by the score.
The bread was even worse, stringy grey wrapped around solid glue, the whole cased in charcoal. ‘ This recount of the living conditions of aboriginal children during the 90’s clearly shows that although it has been encouraged for us to believe that the separation of Aboriginal children from their parents, families and communities during the 19th century was in the best interests, it has simply become known to many as one of the most disturbing epochs in Australia’s history.
According to the official government report, at least 30,000 children were removed from their parents, and this figure may be substantially higher as the report notes that formal records of removals were very poorly kept. Percentage estimates state that 10-30% of all Aboriginal children born during this seventy year period were removed. During the late 19th century the educated opinion in Australia seems, to have generally been of the view that the full-blooded Aborigine represented a dying race, destined to extinction.
In the first decades of the twentieth century the emergence of mixed decent children became apparent, these children being; born to Aboriginal mothers who had had sexual encounters with European and sometimes Chinese or Pacific Islander males. Immediately these children were labelled half-caste by Australian settlers and were viewed as a growing fearful social problem. On the ‘social ladder’ in the early years Europeans held the highest rung and the Australian Aborigine held the bottom, this meant that any union made between European and an Aboriginal that resulted in progeny was looked upon with total disgust and alarm.
Statistical evidence during these years showed although the full blooded Aborigine was dying out, the number of half caste children was booming, so much so that at the time it was thought that in fifty to a hundred years Australia would be threatened by a population of several hundred thousand Aborigine-European hybrids. To stop this problem eventuating legislation was put into place to enable the removal of Aboriginal and half caste children from their families and communities. In all states and territories policeman and other agents began to locate and transfer babies of mixed decent, from their mothers into institutions.
It was thought that if these children grew up in an institution away from their family where they where taught to despise their aboriginal inheritance and forced to forget their Aboriginal culture then mixed descent and aboriginal children would blend into the industrial sector of Australia and hopefully marry white Australian settlers, have children and eventually their aboriginality would be bred out, leaving behind a ‘pure’ white Australian race, this process was known as assimilation.
It then must be asked was the removal of Aboriginal children done in the best interests of the child or was it simply done in the best interests of Australia. (Appendix one: OHT CARTOON – “WERE’ DOING THIS FOR OUR OWN GOOD. “) Although we may not know it, we have all been influenced by society in one way or another to believe that our culture and way of life are superior to all others. This attitude, commonly referred to as racism has occurred for many years amongst different generations and cultures and would have been particularly prominent in the early 19th century.
It was believed in this specific era that everything revolved around the Great Chain of Being and according to this concept everything was put into a particular order according to their importance to the rest of the world. It was thought at the time that the Aborigine (appendix two: OHT WITH HEADS ON IT), was the “lowest and most degraded of the human species,” and with this idea deeply engrained into the minds of all the early white settlers it is easy to comprehend how they at the time, assumed that a white life would be beneficial for all Australian Aboriginal children.
It is simple to see how this assumption was reached when the settlers observed the living standards of the Aboriginal people. (Video: TIMEFRAME: 1967 – CITIZENS AT LAST) Although the overall main objective was to try and breed the Australian Aboriginal out to a point of extinction in order to achieve a pure white Australia, there were many who believed that taking aboriginal children from their families was actually in their best interests.
The settlers honestly believed that a white life had so much more to offer in the means of employment, social status, living standards and opportunities and when they saw malnourished aboriginal children with weepy eyes and flies in the corners of their mouths they became convinced that their assumptions were correct. Many stolen Aboriginal children had a happy life with their white parents and gained in many ways from a European upbringing.
For instance Sally Kid who was one of the stolen children stated that she “was very fortunate when she was removed from her family as she went to very loving and caring parents and she believed that the love was mutual. ” There were many children who were treated appropriately and many white foster parents raised their aboriginal children as if they were there own, however one should stop and think of what effect this had on Aboriginal mothers who missed out on important parts of their child’s lives. (Appendix three: OHT – “MOTHER AND NO BABY”)
Apendix four: STATISTICS SHEET) The social impacts of forced removal have been measured and found to be quite severe. This study found that there have been no improvements in the social position of “removed” Aborigines as compared to “non-removed”, particularly in the areas of employment and post-secondary education. Most notably, the study indicated that removed Aboriginals were actually less likely to have completed a secondary education, three times as likely to have acquired a police record and were twice as likely to use illicit drugs.
The only notable advantage “removed” Aboriginals possessed was a higher average income, which the report noted was most likely due to the increased urbanisation of removed individuals, and hence greater access to welfare payments than for Aboriginals living in tribal communities. In the 1970’s the removal of aboriginal and half cast children began to stop and organizations were set up to return stolen aboriginal children to their rightful families. It was not until September 1994 that the first legal suit went forward in regard to the stolen generation.
Aboriginals that had been taken from their parents during the decades of the assimilation policy prepared a landmark High Court case alleging that Australian governments practiced genocide in breach of the United Nations international convention. Many legal suits have gone through the courts since that particular time, however a final resolution has not yet been reached. In conclusion I believe that there are many plausible arguments from both those of the stolen generation and those who condemned the removal.
From a maternal aspect I believe that it was immorally wrong to take aboriginal and half-caste children from their mothers and families however, it is easy to understand how looking through racist spectacles one could see their race as superior to all others, and in thinking this, assume that it would be in the best interests of the inferior race to adopt the culture of the advanced. The stolen generation is a very delicate topic which still today evokes many different kinds of emotions.
The distressing factor of this issue is that it will never be fully resolved, as some Australian aborigines are genuinely thankful for a white upbringing and then there are others who still dispute it. The removal policy was simply a well intentioned plan that went horribly wrong, however one thing can be assured, those who were removed from their families will be remembered by both Aboriginal and White Australian communities for many more generations to come.
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