A few months ago I was flicking through the West Australian when an article caught my eye with a mention of the fine city of Edinburgh. I read on, curious to find out what was happening in the Scottish capital that might merit a half-page feature in an Australian paper. It turned out to be the story of an Aboriginal man who was a victim of an Australian government policy of removing Aboriginal children from their families and assimilating them with the white population. These children became known as the Stolen Generation. The gentleman in question was one of these children but had not only been taken from his family, he had been shipped out of his country and sent to an adopted family beside Edinburgh. This wasn't altogether that unusual as there were children sent all over Europe. What made this particular gentlemans story unique was that his brother had been sent to Lancashire, England and he knew nothing of him. It wasn't until years later that they found out about each other and made contact.
I was hooked by the story. When I'd finished reading it I wanted to know more. It was like one of those films that finish leaving you with a dozen unanswered questions swirling around in your head. I'd heard of the Stolen Generation before through the film Rabbit-Proof Fence but when a story like this comes out so close to your own home you instantly become more interested. So I thought myself very lucky indeed a couple of days ago when as part of my working-holiday Australia experience I was opening up the Overlander Roadhouse at 5am and was greeted by a couple of Aboriginal fellows waiting to fill up on fuel. One of whom had a Scottish accent stronger than my own and the other as broad a Lancashire accent as you'll hear anywhere in the shire itself. Despite the time of the day being against me for a flowing conversation, after a coffee a 45-minute conversation ensued. Having the chance to speak to someone who is a living example of history really makes the story hit home. Between 1910-1970 100,000 children were forcibly taken from their parents. Many were put into catholic missions, some were adopted by white families and others were sent overseas. The Aboriginal parents never had a say. In the case of the "Scottish" Aboriginal (I never did get his name, it was 5 in the morning though) his mother tried to fight against her son being taken and his adopted family denied any contact with his blood family. It might sound a bit over the top to say but the reasoning behind the Australian governments policy would easily sit in a copy of Mein Kampf. It was an attempt to try and solve their "Aboriginal problem" by wiping out the culture. The following is a list of motives & actions; (taken from the website) http://www.eniar.org/stolen.html
- The main motive was to ‘assimilate’ Aboriginal children into European society over one or two generations by denying and destroying their Aboriginality.
- Speaking their languages and practising their ceremonies was forbidden
- They were taken miles from their country, some overseas
- Parents were not told where their children were and could not trace them
- Children were told that they were orphans
- Family visits were discouraged or forbidden; letters were destroyed.
The following is an extract from an essay by Robert Manne on the Stolen Generation:
If they were to be effectively absorbed it was imperative, he believed, to get hold of the babies or infants before the age of six. By puberty it was too late. Under Western Australian law, he pointed out, he had the power to seize by force, and to institutionalise, any native under the age of twenty-one.
These days [white] Australia is trying to make up for it's mistakes. A National enquiry was set-up to investigate what wrong-doings were done during this period. And the country has set 26th of May as "Sorry Day," as a day of apology & rememberance for those children taken from their families. On a more progressive note is the National Reconciliation Week which looks to encourage a more unified Australia. Although from an outside perspective it's sometimes difficult to understand a country that has problems with the indigenious population but is at the same time one of the most multi-cultural nations in the world. It's all politics...