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“Indigenous children have been forcibly separated from their families and communities since the very first days of the European occupation of Australia” obtained from the Bringing Them Home Report
Who are the Stolen Generations
The term ‘stolen generations” is in reference to those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly removed, as children, from their families and communities by government, welfare and affiliated church organisations. These children were systematically placed into institutional care or with non-Indigenous foster families. Although it can be argued that the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children began as early as the very first days of European occupation in Australia, the forced removal policies and legislation began in the mid 1800s and continued until the 1970s.
There is current discourse in Aboriginal communities supporting the notion that the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities continues to exist today in the form of complexities associated with current government policies and legislation and the over representation of Aboriginal children in out of home care.
How and why do we know the forcible removal of Aboriginal children occurred in NSW?
New South Wales, along with other Australian state and territory governments have acknowledged past practices and policies of forced removal of Indigenous children on the basis of race.
The Bringing Them Home Report, commissioned by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) and presented to the Australian government in 1997 came out of the HREOC National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. This report was central to documenting evidence relating to the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in NSW and Australia wide. This report contains extensive evidence of past practices and policies which resulted in the removal of children. It also details the conditions into which many of the children were placed and discusses the negative impact this has had on individuals, their families and the broader Indigenous community.
The Bringing Them Home Report (1997, p. 651) extensively suggested 53 detailed recommendations to the Council of Australian Governments.
For further information on the Bringing Them Home Report and the recommendations that were put forward to the Australian government, please go to http://www.hreoc.gov.au/social_Justice/bth_report/report/index.html
Link-Up NSW a Koori organisation founded in 1980 was established to assist the Stolen Generations in finding their way home as well as support families of people who were separated from their children.
This removal occurred as the result of official laws and policies aimed at assimilating the Indigenous population into the wider community.
What is a Koori?
“There are many terms in use around Australia for the word “Aborigine”. In most areas of NSW the term “Koori” is used. There are several other words which are used around Australia such as – “Goori” (northern NSW/QLD), “Murri” (northern NSW/QLD), “Nunga” (SA) and “Nyoongah” (WA). There are many areas/regions that have retained their cultural language and have different terms to describe themselves” Link Up NSW.
Timeline of government legislation
The below synopsis can be identified as proof of an extensive history of legislative frameworks provided for the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, clans and communities, through an english common law regime in NSW. Under the guise of protection, Aboriginal people were subject to near total control.
This systematic approach to the forcible removal of Aboriginal children in NSW can be identified by many government Acts including:
1810s – Governor Macquarie: Proclamation 4 May 1816, Aborigines declared subject to the protection of British law, but any crimes may render them outlawed and lead to loss of privileges
1849 – Act to provide for the Care and Education of Infants who may be convicted of Felony or Misdemeanour – whereby a child under the age of 19 is convicted, court may assign care and custody of the child to such persons as make application where the court is satisfied it is for the benefit of the child.
1881 – State Children Relief Act – State Children’s Relief Board established. ‘Boarding out’ officers may remove children from charitable institutions and arrange for them to be boarded out in licensed homes.
1908 – Establishment of Bomaderry United Aborigines Mission Home
Consequently, the Aborigines Protection Board set-up in 1909 contributed to the United Aborigines Mission home at Bomaderry on the NSW south coast where younger children and babies were placed.
1909 – Aborigines Protection Act – Established the Aborigines Protection Board (APB) for the Protection of Aborigines. The duration of this Act was for 60 years until its replacement in 1969. A key provision of this Act was to provide for the custody, maintenance and education of the children of ‘Aborigines’.
1911 – Establishement of Cootamundra Girls Home
Cootamundra was the first of the homes for Aboriginal children set up by the APB. The main aim of the Board was to ‘rescue’ Aboriginal children from their families and assimilate them into the white community. Girls were the main target of the Board, especially so-called ‘half-caste’ or ‘mixed blood’ girls. The girls were trained as domestic servants and sent out to work for middle class white families.
1915 – Aboriginal Protection Amending Act – Removed the requirement that an Aboriginal child had to be found to be neglected before the Board could remove him/her.
The discourse associated with the presumption of ‘neglect’, a requirement initially implemented by the Act was disempowering for Aboriginal mothers, fathers and families as there was no recourse for Aboriginal people who challenged the notion of ‘neglect’ that was often decided at the whim of a government inspectors own beliefs and values – these officials held the sole power in determining neglect. This practice was further exacerbated by views of assimilation of Aboriginal people into mainstream white society to ease the pillow of Aboriginal people as a dying race.
1918 – Establishment of Kinchela Boys Home
The Board established Kinchela Training Institution in northern NSW for boys. The APB opened the Kinchela Boys Home with the ‘official’ purpose of providing training for Aboriginal boys between the ages of five and fifteen. These boys were taken from their families by the State from all over New South Wales.
1940 – Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act– Aborigines Protection Board replaced by the Aborigines Welfare Board (AWB). This Board took responsibility for Aboriginal ‘wards’ removed under the Child Welfare Act 1939. This Board had the power to establish ‘homes for the reception, maintenance, education and training’ of wards. This included the administration of the major institutions already established in NSW including Kinchela, Cootamundra, and the Bomaderry Children’s Home.
The Board administered ‘apprenticeships’ and young Aboriginal children were ‘indentured’ to work (farm hands/domestics). Wages of the children were to be paid to the board and kept in a trust account for use by the Board for the ward’s benefit until the ward turned 21.
1943 – Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act –The Board is the authority in relation to children admitted to its control with power over removal and transfer of wards, apprenticing wards and approving custody of wards.
1969 – Repealed by the Aborigines Act – Aborigines Welfare Board abolished. Aboriginal children under the care of the AWB to become wards of the state. Aboriginal children’s institutions deemed to be depots under the Child Welfare Act 1939 and subsequent child welfare legislation.
The apology – Why was it important to apologise to the Stolen Generations?
Recommendation 5a (2) from the Bringing Them Home Report suggests that all Australian parliaments “negotiate with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission a form of words for official apologies to Indigenous individuals, families and communities and extend those apologies with wide and culturally appropriate publicity”.
“This issue is a ‘blank spot’ in the history of Australia. The damage and trauma these policies caused are felt everyday by Aboriginal people. They internalise their grief, guilt and confusion, inflicting further pain on themselves and others around them. It is about time the Australian Government openly accepted responsibility for their actions” (Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter in Buti A, Bringng Them Home the ALSA Way).
In essence, formal government apologies provided a way for Australian governments to recognise the damning effects of removal policies of the past. The lifelong profoundly disabling consequences of those taken, meant that they lost all connection to family, traditional land, culture and language.
On 14 November 1996, the Premier of NSW, Bob Carr, became the first head of an Australian government to respond to the call from the Governor General, Sir William Deane, for all Parliaments to reaffirm their commitment to reconciliation. The Premier’s resolution was passed unanimously. The NSW Premier was also the first state leader to offer a formal apology to the Aboriginal people for the Stolen Generations.
On 13th February 2008, in a historic speech, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formally apology to the Stolen Generations in his first official parliamentary sitting which was the commencement of the 42nd parliament of the commonwealth. Receving a formal apology by the Prime Minsiter of Australia has allowed the start of the healing process
In a response to the National apology to the Stolen Generations, Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, HREOC stated “Through one direct act, Parliament has acknowledged the existence and the impacts of the past policies and practices of forcibly removing Indigenous children from their families. And by doing so, has paid respect to the Stolen Generations for their suffering and loss. For their resilience. And ultimately, for their dignity”.