The Stolen Generation

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t h e s t o l e n g e n e r a t i o n

Amid 1910 and 1970 up to 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken forcibly or under compulsion from their families by police or welfare officers. A number of these children were taken at birth and in their childhood years. The babies and children were sent either to ‘special intention' establishments or in later years especially, to foster homes. In a small amount of instances mothers or families knew where their children had been taken and were able to maintain some progressing relationship with them. In other occasions they had no idea of the whereabouts of their babies or children who had been taken from them. In some cases within the institutions and the foster homes the children were treated well, although occasionally with frequent condescension. In other occurrences physical mistreatment, sexual exploitation and further intense forms of humiliation were recurrent. The physical and emotional damage that the Aborigines received was very intense and eternal. This was the consequence of the ‘stolen generation'.

In the earliest decades of the twentieth-century a new development, a form of consequence of human relations on the border of European settlement, became evident. This was the materialisation of mixed descent children. These were children that were born to Aboriginal mothers after sexual encounters – occasionally fleeting, exploitative and occasionally permanent or even matrimonial – with European males. Almost customarily, the Australian settlers in the first half of the twentieth-century thought of these mixed descent children, and of the descendants of these children – whom they labelled, almost zoologically, as half-castes or crossbreeds – as an increasing, concerning social dilemma.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century the educated opinion in Australia was the general view that the full-blooded Aboriginal people represented a dying race, condemned in the breadth of time towards extinction. It was alleged that the theoretically ‘lesser' cultures could not survive contact with higher civilisations. Australians generally thought that the races of mankind could be fitted neatly into an evolutionary hierarchy overlain by an inspiration of moral worth and of fitness to survive. North Europeans were on the highest tread of this civilisation ladder; Aborigines on the lowest tread. In relation to the half-castes there was cultural contempt and public apprehension. The Perth Sunday Times in 1927 put it thus: "Central Australia's half-caste problem ... must be tackled boldly and immediately. The greatest danger, experts agree, is that three races will develop in Australia: white, black and the pathetic sinister third race which is neither".

To recognise a throng of individuals as a ‘problem', lead to the desire for a rigid ‘solution'. In April 1937, the key administrators of Aboriginal affairs congregated in Canberra. It was the original such conference in Australia's history. It was at this convention that the association between half caste policies and child removal was most unmistakably exposed. A.O Neville was the intellectually overriding figure in the Canberra consultation. He began his official address with the following statement: "The problem of the native race, including the half-castes, should be dealt with on along- range plan. We should ask ourselves what will be the position, say, fifty years hence". Neville proposed that if the half-caste problem was to have an adequate solution, the half caste babies or infants must be taken away from their families before the age of six. By puberty, it was ‘too late'. Under Western Australian law, he had to the authority to remove by force, and to institutionalise any Aboriginal under the age of twenty one. It was not significant that the child was with their parents or if the parents were legally married. The query of neglect was not even raised.

Eventually, all the states and territories passed the...
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