Australian Aboriginal Children

The Stolen Generation


The Stolen Generation

The policies that produced the Stolen   Generation brought with it thousands of Aboriginal people that were deprived   of their families, the loss of the love of the mothers as well as being   deprived of an understanding of their rich cultural heritage. The Stolen   Generation, in my humble view, remains one of the most shameful episodes in   the history of Australia and one that demands a full apology from the leaders   of this country to the Aboriginal people. Certainly, the possibility of a   meaningful reconciliation between black and white Australia seems very unlikely   to proceed in a meaningful manner until such an apology is forthcoming.

The Stolen Generation is a term used to describe the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, usually of mixed descent, who were forcefully removed from their families between approximately 1910 and (officially) 1969 by Australian Government agencies and church missions. This was done under various state acts of parliament, denying the rights of parents and making all Aboriginal children wards of the state. The policy typically involved the removal of children into internment camps, orphanages and other institutions.

Probably the origin of the practice of separating Aboriginal children from their parents lay in the desire to turn them into ‘useful’ citizens. The earliest Aboriginal institutions in Australia were church missions, where parents were at first allowed to live nearby. They were set up to teach the church virtues of obedience, thriftiness and hard work. Indeed, this was possibly the positive side of the missionaries’ work. They wanted to create an Aboriginal working class and present it to those whites of the colony who thought Aborigines were little better that animals. There was, however, a negative side which hardened when the missionaries were confronted by parents who wished to take their children away from the schools. The missionaries’ answer was to separate the children either by trickery or force.

By 1850 all the half-dozen missions which had come and gone in eastern Australia had, at one time or another, tried to raise Aboriginal children separated from their parents. Sadly, little is known about the children of these institutions other than their names and whether they physically survived the trauma of separation. Most probably, what they endured emotionally was not very different from the feelings of loss, anger bewilderment or grief experienced by their parents.

Apart from the desire to turn the Aboriginal children into “useful” citizens, the Christian missions also felt that by separating the children from their families and their traditional tribal values, then they could be more readily converted to Christianity. Thus the children were not only separated from their families but also from their ancient and traditional tribal culture.

At the governmental level, the thinking was indeed much more racial with differing motivation before and after the Second World War. Before the Second World War, the removal of the “half caste” children from their clans resulted from a perceived need to solve the Aboriginal problem once and for all. At this time, it was generally believed by those responsible for administering Aboriginal policy that the “full blood” would eventually die out while at the same time the number of ‘half castes” was, at least, in some states, starting to rise quite rapidly. Indeed, it was commonly argued that ‘half castes’ had inherited the worst human qualities of both Aborigine and Europeans. It was frequently asserted that that their presence undermined social cohesion and threatened the underlying fabric of the White Australia Policy. For these reasons, the solution of the ‘half caste’ problem was given a high priority.

The solutions proposed were certainly genocidal as they involved a complex program of eugenics involving, among other things, the effective prohibition of mating between “full bloods” and “half castes”, the systematic removal of the “half caste” children from their families and the encouragement of marriage between “half castes’ and whites. This program was referred to as ” breeding out the colour”.

After the Second World War the practice of Aboriginal child removal continued. The rationale of the policy makers had now changed, however, with reference to the idea of “breeding out the colour” no longer in vogue. The policy of the biological absorption of the ‘half caste’ was replaced by the policy of the cultural assimilation of the Aboriginal people as a whole. Certainly, while the policy of the removal of Aboriginal children remained racist, the genocidal dimension of the policy had now faded into history.


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