Between 1910-1970, many Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families as a result of various government policies. The generations of children removed under these policies became known as the Stolen Generations. The policies of child removal left a legacy of trauma and loss that continues to affect Aboriginal communities, families and individuals.
The forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families was part of the policy of Assimilation. Assimilation was based on the assumption of black inferiority and white superiority, which proposed that Aboriginal people should be allowed to “die out” through a process of natural elimination, or, where possible, should be assimilated into the white community.
The impact on the Aboriginal children and their parents and wider families who were caught up in this genocide was devastating. Families were ruptured. The effects are inter-generational, as even the children of the stolen generations often struggle to find their place in society and are over-represented, in comparison with other Aboriginal people, in deaths by suicide and in the prison population.
The effects of this policy of assimilation are still very much with us. This attempt by the Australian State and Federal Governments to weaken and debilitate Aboriginal society can be deemed successful. However aboriginal families are fighting back and working hard to heal their society by stressing the importance of their culture and reinvigorating it.
In 1995, the Australian government launched an inquiry into the policy of forced child removal. The report, "Bringing Them Home", was delivered to Parliament on the 26th May 1997. It estimated that between 10 per cent and 33 per cent of all Indigenous children were separated from their families between 1910-1970.
The report acknowledged the social values and standards of the time, but concluded that the policies of child removal breached fundamental human rights. The Keating Labor government commissioned the inquiry into the Stolen Generations, but the Howard Liberal government received the report. Howard’s government was skeptical of the report’s findings, and largely ignored its recommendations.
It is sometimes argued that the aim of this policy of kidnapping was not strictly genocide, the argument being that genocide is the deliberate killing of a large group of people from a targeted nation or ethnic group, and killings did not happen at the camps and missions listed below. However a broader definition of genocide, used by the UN in its convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, specifically includes the provision "forcibly transferring children of the group to another group" as an indicator of genocide. This UN convention was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 9 December 1948 as General Assembly Resolution 260. The Convention entered into force on 12 January 1951. The abuse and kidnapping at the camps and missions listed below continued past this date, so the perpetrators and accomplices of this policy of "assimilation" were continuing to implement genocide even after such acts were defined as crimes against humanity by the UN and Australia had ratified the convention.
Australia ratified the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide on 8 July 1949 (praise-worthily the second country to do so after Ethiopia) but astonishingly did not legislate to make genocide a crime in Australia until 2002, and then did not make the legislation apply retrospectively! The long time delay and seeming change of heart in being fully in support of the legislation and then not implementing it, and especially in not making it retroactive, obviously raises the question of the Australian Government having a guilty conscience: "The prospect of litigation by Aboriginal Australians no doubt ensured that when the Commonwealth Government finally legislated to make genocide a crime in Australia it did not do so retrospectively".
On 1 September 1999 the Full Bench of the Federal Court found that genocide is not a crime under Australian law. A comment on this decision was that "there's a real contradiction in Australia's position internationally where it doesn't like genocide in places like East Timor and Kosovo, but it allows it to continue against the indigenous people here".
As well as the Stolen Generations, genocidal massacres of Aboriginal people were used to drive them off their land. From 1890–1926 in the Kimberley region, during what the colonial government called "Pacification", recalled as "The Killing Times", a quarter of Western Australia's police force was deployed in the East Kimberley where only 1% of the white population dwelt. See the Frontier Wars, see also:
- Work is ongoing by Prof Lyndall Ryan at the University of Newcastle to document the massacres of the Frontier Wars. So far only Eastern state sites have been recorded, but the project aims to move Westward.
Aboriginal response to genocide of the Jewish people[edit | edit source]
On 6 December 1938, the then 77 year old William Cooper, a Yorta Yorta elder, led a march to Melbourne's German Consulate to make a stand against the persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi government of Germany. He sought to hand in a letter protesting against the mistreatment of Jewish people. This was after Kristallnacht, a night of government-sponsored terror and persecution of Germany's Jewish population by the Nazis, which had occurred about a month earlier. However, the German consul refused to accept the petition; it is unclear whether this was because the consul was prejudiced against Aboriginal people or Jewish people, probably both.
Cooper’s letter remained undelivered until 6 December 2012 (74 years later to the day) when his 84-year-old grandson Uncle Alf “Boydie” Turner and great-grandson Kevin Russell, with the cooperation of the German Embassy this time, handed over a duplicate letter of protest. Abe Schwartz, a member of Melbourne's Jewish community who helped organise the re-enactment, said:
|“||When he heard about the wrongs being perpetrated to the Jews of Nazi Europe he tried to right that wrong from a position of no human or civil rights of his own. His grandson and family have followed that dream to pursue their grandfather's wishes. As a proud Jew I could not be more delighted. It's phenomenal that he had the capacity, the wherewithal, the lateral thinking, the time, the interest to fight for the rights of others and think about the rights of others when he had so many rights of his own to fight for.||”|
On 8 November 2017, the letter was handed over to the German government in Germany. It was handed over by Uncle Boydie with the assistance of Abe Schwartz to Dr Felix Klein, German ambassador for Relations with Jewish Communities, at the Australian Embassy in Berlin.
It has been sometimes claimed (e.g.) that despite the world-wide shock caused by Kristallnacht, Cooper's is the only protest by a private group of citizens known from anywhere in the world! However this is refuted by Dr Hilary Rubinstein, a historian of Australian Jewish history, who says that there were protests by other Australians, indeed even at the same consulate and they received the same response. But she is not seeking to belittle Cooper's action as she goes on to state: "That it was 'an extraordinary, brave and noble gesture' by a man and a group who lacked civil rights in Australia is undeniable".
Further reading[edit | edit source]
The policy of "Assimilation" was officially in effect from 1910 to 1970 (even after it had been recognised by Australia as genocide in 1949, but not made illegal in Australia). Astonishingly, although "Assimilation" is no longer official policy, it is still being implemented. More Indigenous children have been removed after the National Apology of Kevin Rudd than at any other time in Australian history – they are 10 times more likely to be in care than their non-Indigenous peers. Although they represent only 5.5 per cent of their age population, they make up 35 per cent of children in out-of-home care.
The Aboriginal children in "care" are often not allowed to speak their language and sometimes they are forbidden to use their own names and given new English names: in 2017, two children "were asked not to speak their language and weren't called by their Aboriginal names, this in comparison to the Stolen Generation is exactly what happened back then and it's happening again now".
The basis for the claim that the number of indigenous children in care now is far greater than those who were taken as part of the stolen generations comes from comparing the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care in 1997 when the "Bringing Them Home" report was tabled in Federal Parliament, which was was 2,785, with the number of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care in June 2016, which was 16,846. A 1994 survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics stated that one in every ten (10%) Aboriginal people aged over 25 had been removed from their families in childhood as part of the first stolen generations. Another figure quoted which is the maximum estimate of the "Bringing Them Home" report was that one third (33%) of Aboriginal children were stolen, and it is also said that all Aboriginal people had at least one relative kidnapped by the state.
Locations of camps, homes and missions involved in the Noongar Stolen Generations[edit | edit source]
Read the book "Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence" by Doris Pilkington (Nugi Garimara) or see the 2002 film the "The Rabbit Proof Fence". It tells the story of three Aboriginal girls, Molly Craig (Doris' mother), Daisy Burungu (Molly's half-sister), and Gracie (their cousin), who escaped from the Moore River Native Settlement and travelled 2,414 km (or 1,600 km?) in nine weeks to return to their family in Jigalong.
The Stolen Generations wasn't an exclusively Aboriginal trauma, it also happened to people in the Belgian colonies in Africa: the old Belgian Congo now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burundi and Rwanda.
"The stolen generations : separation of aboriginal children from their families" (1999), by Anna Haebich and Ann Delroy is a booklet about this practice written from the Noongar perspective.
- "The Stolen Generations". AUSTRALIANS TOGETHER. Retrieved 30 July 2018
- Shirley Scott 2004. "Why Wasn't Genocide A Crime in Australia?". Australian Journal of Human Rights. Retrieved 30 July 2018
- Reporter: Petria Wallace. "Federal Court finds no law against genocide" transcript. PM, ABC Radio National and ABC Local Radio. 1 September 1999. Retrieved 10 March 2019
- Rachel Perkins, Marcia Langton (2010). "First Australians". The Miegunyah Press. p.xxi
- "Professor Lyndall Ryan". University of Newcastle. Retrieved 13 February 2019
- Bridget Brennan 2017. "New map records massacres of Aboriginal people in Frontier Wars". ABC News. 4 July 2017. Retrieved 25 August 2017
- Bridget Brennan 2018. "Map of Indigenous massacres grows to include more sites of violence across Australia". ABC News. 27 July 2018. Retrieved 13 February 2019
- Adam Manovic. "William Cooper: a Koorie's protest against the Nazis". NITV. 31 May 2018. Retrieved 11 March 2019
- Samantha Donovan. "Aboriginal activist's anti-Nazi stand remembered". ABC News. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 11 March 2019
- Peter Kohn. "Indigenous Kristallnacht protest finally accepted". Australian Jewish News. 16 November 2017. Retrieved 11 March 2019
- Hilary Rubinstein. "Kristallnacht: “White Australia Stood Silent” (Not)". J-Wire. 19 December 2018. Retrieved 11 March 2019
- "No law against genocide means Australia is not a civilised nation". Sovereign Union - First Nations Asserting Sovereignty. Retrieved 30 July 2018
- Larissa Behrendt. "Indigenous kids are still being removed from their families, more than ever before". The Guardian. Published 12 February 2016, modified 13 March 2018. Retrieved 2 August 2018
- Padraic Gibson. "Removed for being Aboriginal. Is the NT creating another stolen generation? " The Guardian. Published 4 March 2015, modified 27 October 2016. Retrieved 2 August 2018
- Stephanie Zillman. "The missing kids of the 'second stolen generation'". ABC News. 28 February 2017. Retrieved 2 August 2018
- Jane Bardon. "Indigenous families battling against becoming second Stolen Generation in Northern Territory". ABC News. 20 March 2017. Retrieved 2 August 2018
- Jens Korff. "A guide to Australia's Stolen Generations". Creative Spirits. 11 March 2019. Retrieved 10 June 2019
- Missions. Kaartdijin Noongar - Noongar Knowledge. Retrieved 15 May 2017
- Doris Pilkington (1996). "Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence". University of Queensland Press. ISBN 0-7022-3355-2
- "Belgium apology for mixed-race kidnappings in colonial era". BBC News. 4 April 2019. Retrieved 22 April 2019
- Anna Haebich, Ann Delroy (1999). "The stolen generations : separation of aboriginal children from their families". Western Australian Museum, Perth