by Tony Thomas
May 12, 2010
The Pocket Windschuttle: The Northern Territory and the “Stolen Generations”
Tony Thomas: Data from the Commonwealth-run Northern Territory fails to back up any theory about ‘Stolen Generations’.
[Note: All page references are to The Fabrication of Aboriginal History – Volume Three: The Stolen Generations 1881-2008 by Keith Windschuttle (Macleay, 2009)]
The Northern Territory until the 1967 referendum was the only area where the Commonwealth had direct responsibility for Aborigines.
In 1993 the Australian government sponsored an exhibition about Aborigines compiled from records in the Australian Archives. This exhibition compiled by no fewer than 12 researchers. It opened in Sydney, toured Australia and was seen by half a million people.
There was such demand from schoolteachers that the exhibition was bundled as a book titled “Between Two Worlds”, authored by exhibition curator Rowena MacDonald.
MacDonald when first looking for an exhibition theme, came across then-ANU historian Peter Read, the originator of the “Stolen Generation” thesis (see part 1 of our series). Read was appointed ‘curatorial advisor’ and he successfully advised MacDonald to make the Stolen Generations the whole focus of the show. p480
Unfortunately adopting Read’s own methods, Windschuttle says, MacDonald cherry-picked snippets from documents that backed Read’s thesis, and ignored evidence to the contrary. She took apparently embarrassing quotes from early-day officials out of context, and ignored statistics on child removals in the NT that would have questioned her case. She grossly distorted the extent of removals, the climate of the time, and the intentions of those who removed children. p481
For example, she quoted a Chief Protector in 1913 saying, “No half-caste children should be allowed to remain in any native camp.” Thus he appeared to support permanent removal of half-castes from other Aborigines. In fact, he was concerned that whites and Asians were supplying the camps with grog and opium, and fornicating there. He wanted the half-castes put on segregated reserves with full-blood Aborigines, where they would be trained and schooled and encouraged to inter-marry in that community. p481
She also wrote of police from 1927-39 doing sweeps of kids across the territory, removing them for government and church missions. The reason, she claimed, was white fears that they would be swamped by half-castes unless the half-castes – or at least the females – intermarried with whites. Otherwise half-castes might ‘resort to savagery’ and become a ‘menace to society’. p482
She ignored readily available data about how many kids were rounded up. The reality was that in 1928, there were 21,000 Aborigines in the NT, including 800 half-castes. The white population was 4500, and unlikely to be swamped by half-castes. p482
Of the half-caste children, only 132 were in government or mission quarters. During the 1930s, the ‘homes’ increased their half-caste child populations, but not greatly. For example, half-castes in the government ‘home’ in Darwin rose from 76 in 1928 to a peak of 153 in 1938, of whom 121 were female. p482
The government ‘homes’ were poor standard, in fact, appalling, and MacDonald got that correct. But the government took action in the later 1930s to improve the homes, and in the wartime defence of Darwin, the ‘home’ there was good enough for billeting of our troops. p483
Why were some Aboriginal children removed from NT camps? In the early 20th Century, partly to get them into jobs in Darwin, but largely to protect the girls from sexual predators of all races, and disease. p486 Note that mothers and children jointly went to the ‘home’ in Darwin; there was not ‘removal’ from mothers. Destitute and orphaned kids were also put there.
The NT camps were hotbeds of vice and assault. Old men had multiple young wives, and these, often half-starving, were preyed on by passing white ruffians wanting drink and sex orgies. The station owners had no powers to prevent this trafficking. p488
In 1915, the NT Chief Protector, J.T. Beckett, provided this harrowing account of the fate of half-caste girls in camps.
“The half-caste girl who remains with the tribe anywhere in the vicinity of a civilized settlement has one inevitable destiny, and that the most degraded,” he wrote.
“That the half-caste girl without proper protection is more likely to become degraded than a white girl goes without saying, for she runs the risk…of being actually sold by her tribal relatives for prostitution or taken away by force by some unscrupulous man who keeps her just as long as he cares to do so. When half-caste girls have been given a fair chance and kindly treatment they do not go wrong; in fact, they exhibit a plain repulsion to follow any such sort of life.” p489
Unfortunately, only the half-caste girls were ‘taken’ to save them from such degradation. Full-blood girls by policy had to be left to their fate in the tribe, because policy was to preserve Aboriginal traditional life. p489
Thus there was certainly a ‘racist’ policy: half-caste girls were rescued, full-blood girls were not. But overall, how could this be a villainous exercise in child stealing?
The NT Missions
In 1928 the seven missions housed 419 children, many more than the government homes. Most were full-bloods, and almost all of them came with at least their mothers (i.e. they were not stolen from their family). p491
Mothers came readily to missions to escape tribal ‘husbands’ assigned them at birth, to escape violence, or just to get food and schooling for their children. Commonly, kids overnighted in dormitories while their adults lived closed by. p491
The concern of the Roper River Mission was about very young girls being raped (in our terms) by their old betrothed husbands. If the girls were attracted to young men, the young men could be speared. One missionary, Father Francis Xavier at Bathurst Island, even ‘bought’ 150 of these child ‘wives’ from their ‘husbands’, in order to protect and educate them in a Christian setting, and to allow them to later marry young men. p492
The ‘stolen generations’ story included that half-caste girls were ‘taken’ to be married off to whites, to ‘breed out the color’. The Commonwealth position, adopted publicly by the Lyons government in 1934, was in fact that half-castes were free to marry whom they wanted. The Commonwealth was quite relaxed about them marrying back into the full-blood community. p494
Bringing Them Home reported that post-war, Patrol Officers prowled the camps seeking out half-caste children for forcible removal. It said that by the early 1950s, the NT missions cared for 360 children, i.e. most if not all of the NT half-castes, it said.
Academic historian Tony Austin claimed the NT was doing ‘social engineering’ on half-castes until 1969. p502
Windschuttle examines the data from the archives. In the 1954 NT census, the NT half-caste population was put at 1,955. Lacking data, he then estimates by ratio analysis that the half-caste children totaled about 850, of whom only 353 or almost 60% were not in mission homes. p503
And overall, 74% of Aboriginal children (half and full-blood) were not in either government or mission homes. p506
Remember also that most of the half-caste children in homes were there for reasons including parental desire for their education, or genuine welfare for orphans, neglected kids, and destitution. p506.
Amazingly, all the stolen generation historians refrained from counting or publicizing how many NT half-caste kids were being removed per year, in those early post-war years. The government data, Windschuttle finds, were that such removals between 1946-51 averaged just 18 per year – removals for all reasons. p506
The data expose Bringing Them Home’s summary of the NT situation as alarmist work. If you don’t believe Windschuttle, believe Justice Maurice O’Loughlin, who wrote,
“Even though one forced removal would be regarded today as one too many, the numbers in the Administrator’s report, if accurate, do not support an argument that there was a large scale policy of forced removals occurring in this period.” [early post-war] p507