Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Touchiest Australian Issue: How the Aborigines Were Treated

I am teaching a Centre College class on Australian National Identity in Australia this month.

A central front in the Australian culture war is over the "stolen generations" of aboriginal children who were taken from their families and raised in mission schools, fostered out, or adopted out. Conservatives have contested whether the policy was really bad, as well as whether it was really as extensive as liberal scholars and ideologues have contended.

The initial aim of the policy was to take "half-caste" children, to use the 19th century term. The justification for the policy was that mixed-race children were not accepted in aboriginal communities. The schools and foster placements were designed to help them assimilate to mainstream (white) society. The policy was not, at least officially, directed toward children of aboriginal couples.

Today we took a fine "aboriginal heritage tour" sponsored by the Royal Botanical Garden in Melbourne. Our guide, Brian, talked primarily about the many uses aborigines made of the plants in the garden. He started us off, though, with his own story. "I am a member of the stolen generation" he began. He said that he, his brother, and his sister were taken from their mother when he was two. He was adopted by a white Melbourne family. He did not see his siblings for 30 years.

However the policy to remove some children from aborigine mothers may have been conceived, it sure feels like their lives were stolen to some of those children, now grown to adulthood.


Anonymous said...

This is essentially the exact same issue that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was designed to address in the United States with regard to governmental policy concerning Native American children in the 19th and 20th centuries. Interesting, and tragic, to see the many similarities in the former governmental policies of both nations with regard to its indigenous populations and the response of that population to that treatment.

Mac said...

And yet, there is change in the air. The first stanza of "I Am Australian" (Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton, 1987) recalls

I came from the dream time, from the dusty red soil plains,
I am the ancient heart - the keeper of the flame,
I stood upon the rocky shore, I watched the tall ships come,
For forty thousand years I'd been the first Australian.

We are one but we are many
And from all the lands on earth we come,
we share a dream,
And sing with one voice,
I am, you are, we are Australian.

There are growing numbers of Australians who want "I Am Australian" to replace "Australia The Fair" as the national Anthem.

Aaron X said...

Rabbit Proof Fence - Unwanted Third Race

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) - Official Movie Trailer

Rabbit Proof Fence Documentary - forced removal scene

Marjorie Woodrow history - Member of the Stolen Generation

The Stolen generation

The Stolen Generation 2