The pocket Windschuttle: his case against Peter Read
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The “stolen generations”
Reader Tony Thomas, a retired journalist and the chief typo spotter of this blog, rightly believes there are few more important books on Australian history than Keith Windschuttle’s latest – a demolition of the “stolen generations” myth.
Indeed, Thomas considers The Fabrication of Aboriginal History – Vol 111: The Stolen Generations 1881-2008 to be so important that to spread the word he is considering writing a series of precis of its central arguments and revelations.
Here is his first – a summation of Windschuttle’s devastating assault on the scholarship of Professor Peter Read, the man who invented the “stolen generations” phrase. Page references are given as a number (page) and decimal point (approximate location on that page – eg 46.3 indicates page 46 and a third of the way down). Let Tony know if you’d appreciate more where this came from:
The “Stolen Generations” tag originated from a 1981 pamphlet of 21 pages by historian Peter Read, now Professor of History at Sydney University, who argued that children were removed to separate them permanently from the rest of their race. 43.4
He claims to have written this pamphlet ‘at white heat in a single day’. 62.6 And he urged the political follow-through that led to the “Bringing Them Home” inquiry and report. 74.1
He first wanted to call his pamphlet The Lost Generations, but his wife Jay Arthur thought that was too bland and suggested the tougher word, “Stolen” generations. 73.8
He wrote: “…Welfare officers, removing children solely because they were Aboriginal, intended and arranged that they should lose their Aboriginality, and that they never return home.” 44.2
Read in other publishings drew an explicit analogy between the Holocaust of World War 11 and the Stolen Generations 52.3 He also compared the Nazi use of terror in controlling Jewish victims, to the child-stealing policies of the NSW Aborigines Protection Board. 52.6
Other academic historians such as Paul Bartrop of Deakin, and Dirk Moses of Sydney University, used the same Holocaust analogy. 52.6 and 53.3
Read wrote his 1981 pamphlet when a postgraduate student at ANU. 55.6 He based it on his interviews with Aborigines about their experiences with the welfare system, and on his own research into the NSW official records. 56.1
Over time, he hardened up his thesis to even maintain that the authority’s desire was not just to end Aboriginal culture 60.8 but to eliminate Aborigines themselves 61.1:
“Their extinction , it seemed, would not occur naturally after all, but would have to be arranged.”
Read claimed to have read “all” the thousands of childcare records of the NSW Aborigines Protection Board. That is, 800 detailed files on wards, and 1500 other references to wards. 61.4 He said the total stolen children in NSW from 1883-1969 was 5625. 61.7
From this research, he claimed one in six or seven NSW Aboriginal children had been ‘taken’ in the 20th Century, with intent of permanent removal from their culture 77.4 and every present-day NSW Aboriginal would know or be related to a ‘taken’ person. 61.7
Sir Roland Wilson’s “Bringing Them Home” report went even further, and said that nationally, not one Indigenous family has escaped the effects of forcible removal. 61.9
Windschuttle says that Read’s research and pamphlet, the two foundation props of the Stolen Generations national scandal, were filled with errors and distortions. Windschuttle studied all the 1200 pages of records that Read claimed to have studied, which cover more than half of all NSW’s ‘stolen’ children to 1938. 76.4
Strangely, Read has published little analysis of these files, eg tabulations of reasons for removal, age, sex, parents and other circumstances. 76.9
But Read himself concedes that from 18 years, stolen children were free to go home to their community, and indeed many did. 79.4. Hardly, ‘permanent’ removal.
Windschuttle follows up, and calculates that in NSW from 1907-32, more than half the wards returned to their family and communities. The real proportion was probably a lot higher because of gaps in the forms. 80.4
Read claimed that children were often taken when very young – babies, infants, primary school age kids. The SBS series First Australians, claimed that nationally, ‘most’ of ‘50,000’ children allegedly taken from their families were ‘under five’. 81.2
Case studies profiled in Bringing Them Home were all of these types – babies, youngsters. 81.3
The reality: NSW, 1907-32 – Separations: 0-5 years, 10.6%; 6-12 years, 22.6%; 13-19 years, 66%. 82.1
In actual numbers, in that quarter of a century, only 25 children out of 700 were under two years. 82.6
The bulk were teenagers, and the board ‘took’ two-thirds of these teenagers because it had found jobs for them, as domestics, farm workers, and other four-year apprenticeship work. 84.6
The jobs weren’t usually where the kids home was, so naturally they were found board as well. (Don’t get snobbish: in that era, many white country kids sought the same jobs under the same apprenticeship rules).
Bottom line: this dominant group of ‘stolen’ kids spent their whole childhood in their community, then boarded out for four years as teenagers with a job provided – often returning home during holidays- and were then free to return to their community.
Peter Read claimed that ‘the vast majority’ of the childen removed, were neither orphans nor neglected. Instead, they had mothers, fathers and other caring relatives.87.5
Windschuttle’s analysis of archives on 631 NSW families in the Ward Registers, 1907-32, shows orphans totalled 134 or 21%, – and 99 of them appeared to be completely alone without even a living granny. 88.3 and 90.2.
Another 33% were from single parent families, and 46% had two parents known to the authorities, though not necessarily cohabiting. Only 29% of the 800 separated childen had known relatives (grannies etc) who could have cared for them, although bureaucrats might have failed to note some other instances.
More than half the families had no male breadwinner, suggesting a high degree of welfare dependency and dysfunction. 88.2-9
Peter Read claimed that bureaucrats ‘welfare’ and ‘neglect’ reasons for child removals were a cover-up for “a violent and premeditated attack not only on Aboriginal family structure but on the very basis of Aboriginality itself”. Some officials, he said, gave as reason for removal, simply ‘for being Aboriginal’, ie they were heartless monsters. 90.6
Windschuttle tirelessly checked the files, finding 674 files that gave ‘reasons’. Of 800 children, only three or four files used “for being Aboriginal” or similar terms. 90.9
Instead, the officials gave a big number of reasons, reflecting the complexities of human life.
Among the ‘negative’ reasons were
Neglected – 113; Orphan – 73; no proper parental care, 52; moral danger, 28; uncontrollable, 26; and poor/undesirable surroundings, 21. A long string of other negative reasons followed, eg ‘parents alcoholics’, ‘crime’, ‘homeless’, ‘abandoned’and indeed, ‘For being Aboriginal’ (4 cases). 93.1-9.
Another category was health reasons, about 80 cases.
And a third category was positive reasons. Here we find the biggest single reason for separations – to go into apprenticeships or jobs – 173 cases. Other large categories here were to improve living standard (62 cases), schooling (52), parent’s request (30), and child’s own welfare (13).
Read and Co., faced with those records, claimed the officials were faking the records to disguise their racist goals. 92.5
That would have to be the mother of all conspiracies, lasting 25 years and involving scores of varied officials.
The conspiracy theory collapses further when Windschuttle examines the removals by age grouping. In the 0-5 year old category, 17 were removed by the State Children’s Relief Board (involving a case before a Children’s Court), compared with only 12 by the supposedly villainous Aborigines Protection Board. (Read, without supporting evidence, also accused the magistrates and judges of cultural insensitivity and racism 109.4). Ten were orphans, and 16 had parents ill, dead or incapable. Another six removals were at parent’s request. 96.1
In the 6-12 year old group, 45 were deemed neglected by the Aborigines Board, 10 by the Children’s Relief Board, and 25 were orphans or with no fit parents. 96.5
Read claimed that his national estimate of 45-50,000 stolen children, included 5626 stolen in NSW. 97.6
Windschuttle checked Read’s NSW figures , and found they involved some complete fiction, exaggerations, double counting, errors, creative accounting and guesswork. 98.9-99.1.
Windschuttle’s own estimate for NSW removals from 1912-68 was only 2600. They were not ‘stolen’ – far from it. Of those, two-thirds were simply teenagers boarded out for apprenticeships, just like white kids. 103.5
The other third were largely orphans, neglected, destitute, in moral danger, or abused, in other words, rescued not stolen. As a percent of all NSW Aboriginal children in those 56 years, the annual separation rate was 1 to 2 percent, hardly the ‘genocide’ claimed by the Human Rights Commission, or backing its claim that ‘not one Indigenous family’ was escaping the effects of forcible removals. 103.5
Windschuttle is careful to note that some individual police or officials were harsh and racist, while others went out of their way to nurture their wards. 123-124. But to tar the whole system with a racist brush was contrary to the evidence. The data tells the real story – how the ‘stolen generations’ story that arose from NSW data, was in fact fabricated.
Having been born at Cherbourg in 1949 and lived and been educated there until 1964, I knew and was acquainted with some of the children that went to Melbourne with the holiday scheme. I have visited and lived at Cherbourg over the later years . Also I met Harold Blair shortly before his passing in 1976 when I was living in Melbourne.I must say that I have NEVER heard of anyone being kept there against their will under the said scheme, even from Harold ! More of the Aboriginal Victim Industry (AVI) ie People with a vested interest in promoting and perpetuating the victim status and mentality of Aboriginal people. ( The Dodson brothers are board members )