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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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February 1, 2008

Almost 100 years later, after a century of child removals under policies of protection, absorption, integration and welfare, the federal parliament stands on the brink of a historic national apology to the Aboriginal people we have come to call the Stolen Generations.

The apology will be the first order of business for Kevin Rudd's new government when the parliament meets on Wednesday February 13. What sort of apology will it be?

Liberal Party.jpg Alan Moir

Yet a divided Liberal Party still chokes on saying sorry. It refuses to accept that the state take responsibility for institutional injury to its indigenous citizens. Will they choose to fight on this issue. Some members have called the Stolen Generations a myth. Will Brendan Nelson find a way though and avoid being wedged into a corner?

The apology comes more than a decade after the 1997 National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families - Bringing Them Home, concluded that from 1910 to 1970 between one in three and one in 10 indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities and that not one indigenous family escaped the effects of forcible removal.

Stuart Rintoul writing in The Australian says:

Some children were taken from their families with good intentions and some who were taken have stared deep into the lives they left behind and concluded they were saved. But many were taken only because they were light-skinned to absorb them into the fringes of the Australian dream. These were children who were taken from their families with no intention of returning them, whose identities were changed, who cried themselves to sleep at night for want of their parents, who were taught to forget and were punished for remembering. They were prepared for lives as servants and labourers in outback Australia.

The choking comes from the conservative WA Liberals. Nelson is beholden to them for his leadership. A state rolling in money and which refuses to spend some of the surplus on helping overcome the disadvantages of its Aboriginal citizens.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 5:15 AM | | Comments (18)


re your question: 'What sort of apology will it be?'

There is an acceptance that the push for compensation will be put to one side.There is also acceptance that the apology will be given not in the name of the Australian people, but the Australian government and that no guilt will be attached to the present generation.

Brendan Nelson said yesterday that while Australians felt "a sense of shame" about the forced removal of Aboriginal children, most were done with good intentions. 'Most were done with good intentions'? Does that meant protecting the children from drunken abusive parents? Or does that mean done to ensure assimilation? Or does that mean taking away children of mixed descent to be placed in missions to be trained as "useful workers"?

Earlier this week, Brendan Nelson said he was concerned that the apology would fuel "a culture of guilt" in middle Australia and encourage "victimhood" among Aborigines.

I've never understood the guilt stuff. It's doing a twisted Christian thing, rather than simply taking responsibility for doing something bad.

Then again many in the Liberal Party are in strongly in favour of integration. For all the conservative talk protecting families as the foundation of society, this talk and concern is overridden by integration, by which they mean assimilation.

yes, some Liberals don't think that it is necessary to recognise the suffering of people who for so long were denied their basic rights as Australian citizens.

Like Howard they refuse to confront the dark aspects of Australia's settler history.

Apparently a Welcome to Land will be part of the opening of Parliament. Sorry can be interpreted as a political move, which is how it's being treated by Nelson, but Welcome to Land can't. It's purely a sign of respect.

And far more dignified that all that carry on banging on the doors with a big stick and dragging the speaker kicking and screaming to his chair.

I'd love to see Welcomes become part of the opening hoo haa at all sorts of events. Right alongside the ritual warbling of the national anthem.

As I have said before; Why say sorry to just one small group? Why not say sorry to all?

because not everybody was forcibly removed from their famailies and placed in missions to be trained as cheap labour for pastoralists because they had different coloured eyes, hair or skin to their parents.

then Nelson has a problem as the hardline Right in the Liberal party is not willing to show any respect to Indigenous Australia at all. Indigneous Australians are still seen as stoneage primitives by the WA hard Right.

Welcome to country, not welcome to land. It's nothing to do with aircraft.

I suspect Les means we have more to apologise for than the stolen generations.

your statement about being removed from families and used as cheap labour sounds a lot like the early settlers.
Lyn got what I meant you big drongo.

yes Nelson has handled this badly. Why does he need to keep repeating the cheap-shot mantra that as we have high prices for petrol, groceries and home loans, the apology should not be first priority for the new Parliament. Why should the important symbolic gesture of an apology should be delayed or relegated just because other issues are surfacing?

Since that didn't look good he's know adopted a more defensible position that Nelson is now stressing that he wants to see the wording. It's a thin line since all the signs from Rudd and Macklin is that the wording will be conservative.

Personally I hope the Coalition comes out strongly opposed so as to make clear to us how far right of the centre it has positioned itself.

Nan may have interpreted your remarks differently to what you intended, but she is right to raise the issue of missions and cheap labour. It's the history of our present and it carries a lot of rusty lead in the rotting saddle.

Cheap labour wasn't just a part of nineteenth century settler capitalism --equal pay for aboriginal people did not come until the 1960s. Until then the pastoral industry was relying on cheap indigenous labour from the church missions. True, the missionaries wanted to help aboriginal people by giving them skills to work and live in white society. True, Aboriginal people were deemed to be a dying race by state governments and so they enacted a policy to place them on Aboriginal missions or reserves to take care of them until they died out.

However, the main aim of the Missions was to turn aboriginal people into Christians (assimilation) and this meant destroying the Aborigines' culture and ways of living, and taking their children at age 6 or 7 to be brought up in dormitories. This was so the children would not learn traditional customs and languages.

Though the missions may have helped Aboriginal people to survive Aboriginal traditional society was destroyed, yet aboriginal people were rarely accepted into European society. Assimilation failed big time under this kind of paternal governance in a liberal society.

Queensland's paternal governance was pretty bad in the way it denied indigenous people their freedoms and basic rights. In 1897 the Aborigines Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act was passed by the Queensland Government. This took away many civil rights of Aborigines. Their work, income, marriages, children, the people they could be friends with, the places they could live, were all controlled by Government officers or the missionaries.

For example, they were not allowed to have the low wages they worked for. Pocket money was given out to them by Protectors (usually the local policeman). Aboriginal people could work all their lives and see very little of their own money, and they could not pass it on to their children when they died.

The restrictions of this Act only ended in the 1960s.The 1960s is the watershed. It was when indigenous people were finally treated as liberal citizens by the liberal state.

I'm sorry. I read your remarks wrongly. I stand corrected. But there is no need to call me a drongo, given this history of how aboriginal people were treated in SA in the 20th century.

What upset me were Tony Abbott's remarks about aboriginal children being taken from their bad families for their own protection. That did happen--the above history says:

The legal removal of Indigenous children began soon after the appointment of W.G. South as Protector in 1908. Initially, the removals were done under general child welfare laws.For example, the State Children's Act 1895 was used to remove Indigenous children on the ground of 'destitution' or 'neglect'.These definitions could easily be applied to Indigenous children whose parents were nomadic, involved in seasonal work or impoverished through loss of their land.

What Abbott is denying is the other bits, namely:
Protector South urged the government to extend his powers to remove Indigenous children. Specifically, he wanted to do away with the need for a court's approval - sometimes the courts would refuse to accept that the children were neglected or destitute. In 1911, South was granted these powers under the Aborigines Act 1911, making him the legal guardian of every 'Aboriginal and half-caste'. South was also given additional powers to move Indigenous people between reserves. This power was often used to provide cheap labour to farmers near reserves. People would be moved to reserves depending on the demand for farm workers. South believed that 'half-castes and quadroons [one-quarter Indigenous]' ought to be trained for work.

The Aborigines (Training of Children) Act 1923, allowed any Indigenous child to be committed to a child welfare institution and later sent to work. Though the 1923 law was strongly opposed by Indigenous families and suspended in 1924 it was reintroduced in the Aborigines Act 1934 - 1939.

Abbott plays up the good side of assimilation and ignores the bad side. This conflict is about how we interpret our history.

As far as I'm aware we have signed, but still not ratified, the HREOC genocide thingo. So while Nelson is probably just being a partisan pratt over the wording it is important for both symbolic and technical reasons.

States are responsible for some abuses, but the commonwealth is responsible for others. I like to think that this apology works towards a framework for ratifying the convention. Probably pipe dreams, but if it was, then it makes sense to limit the apology to a single issue where responsibility is distributed. Some kids were taken by state bodies, others by federal ones.

Overall I'm with Les. It's about time we apologised for all of it.

I called you a drongo in jest as you said in an earlier post that you didn't know what a drongo was. I do not think you fall into that category in the slightest.
You must of perhaps had a recent Humorectomy?

Yes Christianity has lots to answer for in this Sorry statement. Will they be saying sorry too? Even the Romans knew the importance of not offending the local Gods when conquering and oddly enough that is part of the reason that Christianity was permitted to spread through Europe and to us here.
Either way I consider Christianity to be an idiotic religion and its dealings with the aboriginal people as evil.

Nan, many indigenous people all over the world through history have been treated badly. If Australia was being settled by whites now it would be done much different as it would of been done 30 years ago or 100 or whatever.

As the human race moves forward it must take responsibility for the past. As technology moves forward and the recording of history has become much much more accurate this lesson is being learned.

I don't feel very humorous about this. Sorry.

Have a read of Xavier Herbert's account of the widespread practice in Australia's north and north-west of what he called "gin rooting" in this interview and in his Capricornia book. As he says in the interview:

There were some terrible stories. One particular thing, in the Kimberleys. The pearling industry was established in Broome and the pearlers used to go up into the Kimberley country and steal the young [Aboriginal] gins to work as pearl divers. Of course, they used to rape them, too, and when they got too pregnant they'd chuck them overboard. Stockmen used to go out for a 'gin spree', too. They'd run the blacks down and take the young girls [who'd] sit down and fill their fannies with sand.

The 60 year practice of selectively removing, by force, any black child who looked white(and only black children who looked white) was directed at the so-called half-castes and quarter-castes). These were the offspring mostly of serial rape of black girls by white men across the years.
It is this kind of gin rooting history that the WA Liberal Right is tacitly defending and condoning in their denial of racism in White Australia.

you are right. Racism is the key trigger point here. Tony Abbott has recently said that he would back an apology if agreement could be reached on "the right words". What are the right words?

If the Government is serious about bipartisan support, they really should be talking to us about a form of words. What we don't support, as some have suggested, is that every removal of children was for the wrong reasons. We could not support an apology that stated the former policy was motivated by racism.

No one is saying that every removal was for the wrong reasons. But many--the majority--were. Conservatives like Abbott are resisting acknowledging this by playing with words.

Re Abbott's comment -the former policy was motivated by racism. So the state and federal governments have done wrong (caused harrm) but the racism involved in causing harm---gin rooting--- cannot be mentioned. The foundation and history of White Australia was not one involving racism. Racism is what the conservatives choke on.

I grew up in Perth and Kalgoorlie so no stories about "Gin Jockeying" as it is more commonly known or other exploitation would surprise me.
My point about saying sorry to all still applies. Most countries have bad moments that the latest generation is ashamed of like us. Are they responsible? No. Are they responsible for acknowledging them and saying they were wrong? Yes.
National sorry day in years to come will take on the form of condolence to all indigenous I hope. I sincerely hope that it doesn't turn out to be an ugly farce and dragged out at every event like the national anthem at sporting events. I can just see it now. A white man handing a token painted aboriginal a boomerang. Yuck!
I think we owe it to them to let them orchestrate the day and how it evolves.

I think the difference between responsible and accountable is useful here.