Unstolen Generations in Victoria
by Tony Thomas
May 12, 2010
The Pocket Windschuttle: Victoria’s embarrassing lack of stolen generations
Tony Thomas: In Victoria, numerous inquiries were launched to document Victoria’s complicity in ‘stolen generations’ policies. Despite failure to find any such policies or any stolen children, other than welfare cases, the major parties still delivered a formal apology in Parliament. The state government then set up a $5m community organization called Stolen Generations Victoria, and widened the definition of ‘stolen’ so far that virtually every person of Aboriginal descent qualified.
[Note: All page references are to The Fabrication of Aboriginal History – Volume Three: The Stolen Generations 1881-2008 by Keith Windschuttle (Macleay, 2009)]
In 2003 a Victorian Government taskforce on stolen generations, said, “…There was no formal policy for removing children.”
In 1996 the Victorian Government’s final submission to the national inquiry into stolen generations, reported:
“…Consideration was given to the important question of the total number of Aboriginal people affected by separation or removal in Victoria. Unfortunately the Victorian Government is not in a position to give an estimate of these numbers.” p559
Between 1996 and 2003, the Victorian government actually produced or commissioned six separate submissions and reports on the subject. All six reports presumed from the outset that Victoria had its stolen children, but none could provide evidence of either government policies to that effect, or a body of people who filled the bill as stolen. p560
Yet in 1997 the Kennett government issued a deep apology for ‘removal’ policies, and it was passed by the House without dissent.
Only a year earlier, the government’s own submission to the Human Rights Commission had made it clear that from the late 19th C to the mid 20th C, very few Aboriginal children had been officially removed. Moreover, after 1957, the Aborigines Welfare Board did not have the authority to remove children at all! p560
The only removals the government could find were some unauthorised private fosterings and informal adoptions. There was nothing for the government to apologise for. Windschuttle said, “Yet the government wanted so badly to have Stolen Generations of its own, it ignored the findings of its own research and apologised anyway, just like they did in Tasmania.” p561
Actual policies included such things as boarding out teenagers while apprentices – involving a mere three or four children per year from 1912-29.
Another scheme involved children attending industrial schools in Melbourne. 1901-52. This scheme placed an average 5 children a year. p562
Neglected children sent into official care: This was policy from 1890-late 1920s but no instances of removals could be found. The inquiries said the number would be ‘few, if any’. p562
In the 1950s, police instituted ‘care and protection’ action against 150 Aboriginal children from shanty towns in Gippsland, Western District and Goulburn Valley. They included 24 children living on the shire rubbish tip at Mooroopna. p562
Children’s Courts placed them in care of the Children’s Welfare Department, which sent most to the Ballarat Orphanage. “Needless to say, Bringing Them Home made as much mileage as possible from this sole Victorian example of its thesis,” Windschuttle comments. p562
Surprisingly, the government’s submission even included 400 young Aboriginal law-breakers who were punished no differently than young white offenders. The submission reluctantly admitted that ‘they were generally able to return to their communities within a few months although this was certainly not always the case.’ p563
No cases of legal adoptions could be found, but some might have been arranged through hospitals, the submission said. p563
The Board for the Protection of Aborigines met a mere five times between 1950-55, and not at all in 1953 and 1954, because it had nothing much to discuss. p563
The Bringing Them Home report acknowledged that after 1957 the Aborigines Welfare Board had no power to remove children, but said the board could effect removals another way by reporting children to the police. In fact, the police and courts would then have to examine the case no differently to any other case of neglect in the community. p564
Windschuttle does cite one 1944 case of removal on welfare grounds, where a drunken violent father had thrown his crying children down a river bank. Their hut was dirty and the only food there was some flour, jam and powdered milk. The children had no boots and few clothes. p564
Bringing Them Home basically lied in claiming the state government in 1957 still wanted to enforce assimilation through removals. The report claimed as evidence comments in the debate on the 1957 Bill.
The truth was that one Country Party member in the Council had mentioned the views merely of a committee of local citizens at Mooroopna, and an Opposition council member had accused the government of a racist stance. As barrister Douglas Meagher witheringly put it, “Speeches by backbenchers, especially members of the Opposition, are not a basis for concluding government policy of the time.” p563
The rather desperate Bringing Them Home writers sought to made adoption policies complicit in stealing children. Historian Colin Tatz had claimed to it that if you really wanted to have a child, you just went to the Aborigines Welfare Board to ‘get yourself a baby’. p565
This claim was wildly inaccurate and it was irresponsible of the report to publish it unchecked, Windschuttle commented.
The board in fact arranged 15 adoptions during the ten years between 1958 and 1968, or an average one or two per year. p566. Hardly a baby farm.
The commission, still desperate, claimed Aboriginal parents were somehow coerced or influenced into signing over their children for adoption when all they wanted was temporary care for them. But in fact the whole case for adoption had to go before a judge. p566
The reality was that the babies put up for adoption in the 1950s and 1960s were mostly via unmarried teenage girls from interstate, in an era when contraception was dicey and abortion illegal. Both white and black teenaged mothers behaved and were treated alike with their surreptitious and tragic pregnancies. Windschuttle remarks that ‘compassion’ in those days involved adoptions rather than today’s abortions. p567
The only credible evidence for the ‘stealing’ case in Victoria involved informal adoptions and foster care. In 1968 the Director of Aboriginal Affairs said he had discovered 300 suspected cases of unofficial adoptions. They were not illegal but Aboriginal parents were immediately and officially advised to demand their children back. If the fosterers refused, police should be called in. p568
OK, so we have 300 Victorian Aboriginal kids, sort of, technically, possibly, stolen – assuming the white informal-foster parents or informal-adopting parents were not motivated by kindness, compassion, concern for the children’s health and welfare etc.
But here is Windschuttle’s uppercut: the stolen generations thesis is that stealing was government policy. On informal fosterings, the government exposed, combated, condemned and corrected the ‘stealings’ – the opposite of the thesis. p569
As well as apologising in 1997, the government in mid-2005 announced a $5m budget for its community organization Stolen Generations Victoria. The organization was based on the government’s Taskforce report of 2003. This taskforce solved the problem of the absence of documentation of any stolen children, by redefining ‘stolen’. 569.4 The new definition defined ‘stolen’ as:
“…separated at a young age from community, family, language, land or culture, as well as the families of that separated child.”
The “primary client base” was now included:
families who suffered as a result of their removal
non-indigenous family members in adopted families, and
descendents of those forcibly removed who, as a result, have been deprived of community ties, culture and language, and links with and entitlements to traditional land. p569
Windschuttle notes that these new definitions do not require you, as a ‘stolen’ child, to have been separated forcibly or illegally, for racist reasons, or because you were of Aboriginal descent. The length of separation (weeks, months, years) is unspecified. There is nothing in it about necessary separation from dysfunctional parents or community. p569
Windschuttle concludes, p570
As long as you had some Aboriginal forebears and had been separated at some time for any reason, you qualified. And all your family qualified, and so did all your descendents.
Hence Victoria, where the initial government research into its welfare industry failed to find more than a handful of children removed under dubious circumstances, was transformed into a state where it was hard to find any people of Aboriginal descent who were not Stolen Generations.