Category Archives: The “Stolen Generations”: things not as they seem

What Keith Windschuttle’s archival research has actually found about the “stolen” children

The Truth of SA’s ‘Stolen Generations’

January 10th 2017 print

TONY THOMAS

Papers rescued from a landfill, painstakingly unearthed archival material, long-forgotten records, diary entries and correspondence put pay to the myth that racist policies saw many Aboriginal children removed from their parents. The reasons were good and the numbers tiny

stolen IIOn May 28, 1997, in Adelaide, South Australian parliamentary leaders vied to apologise to the “Stolen Generations”. That was more than a decade before the Rudd national apology of February 13, 2008. Yet the details of any child-stealing in SA remain elusive.

The SA Department of Human Services on the date of the state’s apology provided a 40-page guide to the previous century’s Aboriginal policy implementation. From this rather perfunctory booklet we learn

  • There were only minuscule numbers of part-Aboriginal children removed for any reason in various years of the early 20th century
  • The authors had no idea about the total number of removals in SA (for whatever reasons),  so they just said there were “many”.
  • Child removals (for any reason) could be effected only after approvals were obtained – usually with difficulty –  from courts and higher levels of the bureaucracy. And even then, there could be “a storm of protest”  from pro-Aborigine lobby groups and the media.
  • The intent of removals was benevolent, designed to rescue children from camp squalor and (in a pre-welfare era) to ensure their future self-supported living.

In the May, 1997, apologies in the SA State Parliament from government and opposition figures, they cite no evidence, other than hearsay, beyond that specially-prepared document. Opposition Leader Michael Rann (Lab.), for example, said, “I am told other mothers at settlements around Australia had to temporarily bury their children in the ground in order to prevent their being taken away, supposedly for their own good.” Legislative Council opposition leader Carolyn Pickles (Lab.) said,  “In some cases they [children] were rounded up like animals and torn away from [their mothers].”

Accessing the  SA archives

There are enormous resources of untouched primary documents on SA Aboriginal affairs lumped in half a dozen warehouse archives around Adelaide. For the past five years, volunteer researchers Joe Lane, 73, and Alistair Crooks, 65, have been intensively re-keying and posting SA archival documents on-line. So far they’ve published at least 15,000  pages from the century to 1940 including more than 13,000 letters in, and 9000 letters out, from the SA Protectors of Aborigines, circa 1840-1912.

From the documents inspected, they say that in SA the black-armband view of Aboriginal/white relations, as taught to students, is wrong. [1] They have found no evidence of the systematic taking for racist reasons of part-Aboriginal SA children. Removals of small numbers of children, such as orphans, did occur for welfare reasons – as also occurred with white children. Officialdom often considered that getting part-Aboriginal children out of squalid camps and wurleys was a matter of life and death, whether to protect them from infanticide, disease or abuse.[2] For girls, removal also meant rescue from degradation and prostitution. But such removals were infrequent and treated as incidental to Protectors’ main job of organizing statewide distributions of rations.

Crooks and Lane’s documents are available at firstsources.info. The two men have now published an annotated collection of key papers in Voices from the Past: Extracts from the Annual Reports of the South Australian Chief Protectors of Aborigines, 1837 Onwards. 309pp.[3]

The researchers’ background

To declare an interest, I wrote the book’s foreword, largely a biographical sketch of the authors. Joe Lane  was married to a Ngarrindjeri woman, Maria Rigney (1949- 2008), who later became a senior academic in the Aboriginal education sector. Together in the 1970s they hand-made more than 100 of the red, yellow and black Aboriginal flags, enabling this powerful symbol to displace scores of   complex and kitsch designs around the country.

Joe and Maria Lane as activists at first accepted and promoted in the journal Black News the black-armband histories. But over time they recognized that the much of the accounts were based on second/third-hand sources, oral recollections and hearsay. In 1983, Joe  was delighted to come across typewritten paper copies of the journals of  Rev. George Taplin, who ran the McLeay Mission on the SE coast from 1859-79, where Lane’s wife was born. Lane re-keyed the documents in 1997.

Lane says, “I wished that some fool should re-key the material for the internet. As it turned out, I was that fool. But I had discovered a goldmine of information.

“A friend gave me some old letter-books to 1900 from the mission that he rescued from a tip. By then I was hooked on searching out first-hand sources and went on to type up the thousand pages of three early Royal Commissions. More recently, I’ve been typing up the correspondence of the SA Protectors of Aborigines.”

Early in the work he joined with retired geologist Alistair  Crooks who had independently begun a similar exercise re-keying papers from important conferences, such as the 1937 national meeting of all the states’ Protectors.

Counting the “stolen” children

The duo’s first surprise was the miniscule numbers of “half-caste” children that came to SA missions and institutions without a parent.  According to Sir Ronald Wilson’s Stolen Generation report of 1997, 10-30% of all Aboriginal children nationally were forcibly taken (that report’s co-author, Mick Dodson, claimed about 100,000 “stolen” children). The Rudd apology of 2008, without explanation, halved the number of forcible removals, and referred to  “up to 50,000”.

Overall, Crooks and Lane estimate that in the 100 years from first settlement to 1940,  an average two to three  SA Aboriginal children per year were removed into care, usually  orphaned, or given up voluntarily by a parent. Historian Keith Windschuttle’s grand total for SA Aboriginal children taken into care for all reasons  from 1900-1970 was 1100 — about 16 a year.[4]

The Crooks/Lane documents show that in SA from 1911-20, the numbers of “half-caste” SA children (mainly girls) taken from the interior camps averaged only about two per year. And these included children who were neglected, orphaned, destitute, in moral jeopardy or willingly given up by a parent. In the 1920s the numbers taken were even fewer.

Windschuttle arrived at a similar figure for the 1895-1914 period in SA. He found 54 children “taken” during about 20 years, two or three per year.

In the two decades from 1880 to 1900 at Point McLeay settlement, only eight out of 200 children had been brought there officially. In the next 50 years, children brought there officially again hardly totaled double-digits. The McLeay school’s records from 1880-1960 show that only 47 out of 800 enrolled children were ever put into care, and all but one such child (whose mother died) returned within a year to their families. Not one was adopted out.[5]

In 1926-27 the United Aborigines Mission opened the Colebrook Home at Quorn for at-risk “half-caste” SA children, mostly from northern cattle country during droughts. Crooks and Lane estimate from the reports that admissions averaged only about two per year. By 1937-38 Colebrook Home had 31 children. Five were from a single family, the O’Donahues, brought there in 1934 by their white father. The O’Donahues included  Lowitja O’Donahue (later an ATSIC chair) and her four siblings.

Another home used for domestic training of “half-caste” girls (though mainly for white girls) was Fullarton, run by the Salvation Army, in Adelaide. Again, the numbers were miniscule – it was built to cater for a dozen girls. Crooks says the 1944-45 report mentions only two “half-castes” completing training and another being dux of the school. In 1948-49 there were only eight there, still in close contact with their families. Other Aboriginal parents were reportedly keen to place their children at Fullarton.

The 1997 SA apology document similarly cites miniscule numbers. It mentions “several” teenage boys being removed for apprenticeships after an 1844 ordnance and “significantly fewer” girls. Those removals needed consent of parents and of the Governor, it said. There is another reference to “several” removals in 1896 which ignited protests in the press. In 1909-13, the document says the Protector’s tally of removed Aboriginal children was 18, i.e. an average 4-5 a year.[6] The document does not clarify whether such removals were voluntary or forced, or what welfare considerations were involved. But it does say magistrates were initially  reluctant to commit such children.

Legal rationales

In 1911, the Premier produced a draconian and unprecedented Bill for removals, aimed at preventing contact with alcohol, prostitution and other dangers. The ‘apology’ document says, “So far as can be ascertained, it was not used by itself to authorise the removal of children from their parents.”

Amid the bureaucratic reports, glimpses of sad children sometimes emerge. In 1878,  a Mr Marlin reported on a ten-year-old orphan, Joanna,

“She has no-one to look after her or care for her, and she gets her living as best she can by associating with the blacks, and has to content herself with any old rags she can find about the wurlies.” Mr Marlin successfully lobbied for her to be sent to school and cared for. “She is an intelligent little girl, and if now taken in hand and properly cared for, will no doubt be able to go to service and earn her own living in a few years.”

Crooks and Lane also found frequent references to infanticide and health hazards. Some snapshots:

1865: The issuer of rations at Overland Corner reported that in his district in the recent years, “every living child appears to have been destroyed immediately after birth.”

1868:  Sub-Protector Butterfield — “There are in many parts of my district, several half-caste children whose fathers have abandoned [them] to a wurley life , a certain degradation, and, in the case of females, infamy and prostitution. It is a pity something cannot be done to rescue such from their perilous position.”

1874: Point McLeay missionary, Rev. Taplin, wrote, “Savage life is most destructive of infant life.” In the same year, Sub-Protector W.R. Thompson reported that “half-castes”  in camps rarely survived to adulthood.

1908: Protector South wrote, “I think all half-caste children at least should be gathered in, instead of being left in the camps where they are subjected to the brutalizing customs and ceremonial operations still prevalent in outlying districts.”

1911: Protector South mentioned a “quadroon” girl of nine officially taken from Stuart’s Creek after her single mother had gone to Hergott Springs near Marree (700km north of Adelaide). “To have left her to the inevitable fate of all half-caste girls brought up in the blacks’ camps in the interior would have been, to say the least of it, cruel…”

1924: Protector Garnett wrote, “It is generally reported and doubtless true, that aborigines in these parts of Australia often kill children not wanted, and especially ‘half-castes’.”

1948: Aboriginal Protection Board – “One of the principal causes of ill-health, particularly among children, is the irregular and inadequate meals provided by some mothers, who are incompetent and neglectful. No doubt such children would enjoy better health, and be much happier, if placed in institution provided by missionary organisations, and in some cases, action along these lines has been taken. The board desires, however, as far as possible, to preserve family life intact…”

1960s: Infanticide rates around Ernabella Mission were up to a fifth of all births, according to anthropologist Aram A. Yengolen.

Adelaide public backlash

The records show Protectors in their annual reports  – such as Protector South in 1908 – expressing a desire for part-Aboriginal children to be removed and separated until adulthood from their kin and clan. The view was that otherwise, the clan would encourage idleness and dependency. The Protectors’ desire was not translated into reality, given the legal safeguards and political resistance involved from church and philanthropic groups. Those groups, whose audience stretched to London, were eager to condemn any infraction and to publicise complaints about mistreatment.

From 1881 to 1895, the SA Destitute Persons Act allowed neglected children, white or black, to be taken into foster care or an industrial school, but taking an Aboriginal child also needed the consent of the Aborigines Department, i.e. its single employee, the Protector, plus Destitute Board, plus a court. The successor State Children’s Act was just as reluctant to concern itself with Aboriginal children.

Sub-Inspector Besley wrote in 1892:

“If forcefully taken there would be a cry of cruelty but it is cruelly unkind to leave them where they are. The girls become trained for a life of easy virtue, and the men drunken loafers. I have arranged with a Mr and Mrs Schneider at Port Augusta to take three of these children, with their parents’ consent. They are kind and good to them, though they both have to work hard for a living. These children appear to be fond of their adopted parents, and are kept clean and tidy, and attend school regularly…” (My emphasis here and below).

Besley concluded with a wish for an apprenticing, adding, “Before anything can be done Ministerial instructions should be given.”

In a revealing note in 1900, Protector Hamilton urged efforts to protect young female “half-castes” from the camps:

“In some cases they object to leave their tribe and in others the mothers of the girls will not consent to give them up.”

By 1911 state Parliament permitted removals from missions, but only of entire families, with no separation of children, and only with prior consent of two JPs.  Protector South in 1916-17 mentioned several girls being removed from camps in the interior for their own protection, “chiefly at the request of their aboriginal and half-caste parents”.

In 1923 the SA Parliament passed an Aboriginal Children’s Training Act enabling removal of neglected illegitimate aboriginal children to institutions without a court order. But the Act was quickly suspended because Aborigines objected to it. The Protector could then only remove children where the parents were willing.

Protector South’s successor, Francis Garnett, reported in 1924 that about 20 “half-caste” girls from Alice Springs  had been put into domestic placements in SA,  since jobs were scarce in the NT and the girls were at risk from predatory white station hands. But he said such transfers were inhumane and  “should be considered a temporary expedient and stopped as soon as possible.”

The 1997 apology document concedes that Protectors and departmental officials lacked power or ability for arbitrary removals. Such actions not only required the cooperation of  courts but also several  branches of the government, it said. It cites the “storm of protest” when Parliament sought to drop safeguards.

More on the 1997 booklet

In the whole 1997  document, there is only one instance cited of an Aboriginal child being targeted for removal  because of race rather than welfare or neglect. It quotes the Protector in 1912 about

“an illegitimate quadroon girl, aged between 9 and 12 years, called [girl’s name] at Point McLeay Mission Station. Although the girl is fairly well cared for, I consider that she should not be reared amongst the aborigines, and would respectfully suggest that the matter be referred to the State Children’s Council with a view to her being brought under their control.”

The document does not say whether the removal actually occurred. But it notes contemporary testimony that police were reluctant to get involved in removals  — even if a child was “in a really bad state” — because they could suffer violent clan  retaliation. Moreover, magistrates tended to have no objection to children being brought up in a wurley.

Another church home for children was at Koonibba, which had 67 children in 1920. The 1997 document says they were

“hence  separated from their families. Reports of the day claim that ‘many parents voluntarily [gave] up their children’ to be placed in the children’s home. This claim is disputed by many Aboriginal people today.”

This wording is quite dishonest. The reality was that parents worked during the week on local stations, while their children were being schooled and cared for on the mission. Of course, they were re-united for the weekends. This occurred at many missions, well into recent times – for example, at Gerard Mission until 1961, when the government took it over and ceased the service.

The same apology document claimed that from about 1913-63, removed children, shamefully, “were rarely allowed contact, or reunited with their parents.” Crooks and Lane find the opposite.

Children not separated

In 1919, Crooks and Lane cite, Protector South complained that when girls were placed in domestic work (one of the very few occupations for working-class girls at the time) they still had liberty to return to their camps or parents whenever they wished, and to live there in idleness.

At Point McLeay and Point Pearce missions there had been a degree of separation after children were voluntarily placed by parents in a dormitory. When the state took the missions over in 1917 and closed the dormitories, policy became to bring mothers more closely  into the child’s upbringing, with requirements to wash and mend the school clothes, for example.

Aborigines on the missions came and went at will, Crooks and Lane say. Children who wanted to go back to their home districts were supported for the trip. One boy was supported to Oodnadatta and then further to his home country. He was back at the mission a year or so later, when his successful request for a harmonium (a small organ) was recorded. He had saved 15 pounds, half the substantial cost. The Protector paid the other 15 pounds. Lane adds, “No mission was ever fenced to keep people in.”

Far from wanting to herd communities onto missions, the Protectors sought to keep groups self-sufficient. From the 1860s onwards the  Protector provided dozens, perhaps a hundred or more, fifteen-foot boats and smaller canoes, fishing gear and guns for hunting to people on the Murray and Coopers Creek  waterways to help them “stay in their own districts”. Non-workers got the items and repairs free; working Aboriginals paid half costs.

In the 1940s an explicit goal of the Aborigines Protection Board  was to preserve family life intact as far as possible, and it created travelling welfare officers to coach Aboriginal mothers on child-rearing and thus avoid the need for removals because of neglect.

Today’s odd priorities

As for the modern era, more than one in twenty (5.23%) of South Australian Aboriginal children as of  June, 2015, were in out-of-home care, more than nine times the rate of non-Aboriginal children. In Victoria, of the 1511 Aboriginal children in care (up 59% since 2013), close to 90% had experienced family violence and parental alcohol/substance abuse.[7]  There seems more pressing social issues today than painting grim and exaggerated pictures of “stolen generations”.

Tony Thomas’ new book of Quadrant essays, “That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print” is available here.


[1] A typical example: “Tearing drawings. Students make a drawing of their family at home and include valued items such as pets or computers. The teacher then tells the story of stolen children and, while walking around the room, tears away part of each student’s drawing. A student could then talk about how they felt about their valuable work being ripped apart and how they would feel being ripped from their family.”

[2]  Health aspects were mentioned by Point McLeay missionary Rev George Taplin on 5/7/1864:

The practice of the natives in drying their dead is a very horrible one. Fancy a corpse over a slow fire in a state of putrefaction and the juices of the body gradually frying out and dropping into the fire below and making a horrible fetid smoke…I have no doubt that the practice is killing them, and will do so in increasing numbers, for every death causes disease. I have known horrible old men to catch the corruption dropping from a dead body in a pannican, and then besmear their bodies with it to make them strong. Fancy how they smell afterwards. I would fain visit the wurleys more, but am often kept outside by the horrid smell. There will be perhaps 15 or 20 dead bodies all more or less decayed in the wurley or hut, and the stench from them is indescribable.

How horrible it is too, to see a mother or father basting with oil and red ochre an infant’s corpse as it is squat up on a sort of bier or stage. And then the mourners will be daubed (that is, the women) with human ordure and consequently stink till you cannot approach them. I have known people to die through the stench of the dead and yet the poor souls keep on the practice. The young men and women would I believe fain to do away with it, and would be glad if the civil power compelled them to bury their dead.  And then, most of their witchcraft depends on the practice.

Elsewhere a horrified Taplin notes breast-feeding mothers smearing their breasts with these body juices and then suckling their children.

[3] Hoplon Press, Adelaide. Available from Bookdepository.com   $A29 paperback or $A44 hardback, post-free.

[4] Nationally from about 1880 to 1970, Windschuttle found 8250 Aboriginal children taken into care for all reasons, including NSW (2600); WA (2500); NT (1000) and  Victoria (700). That’s about 90 a year, including orphans, the destitute, the neglected and those given up voluntarily by parents. The small numbers leave small scope for any “stolen generation” national genocide involving a total 50,000-100,000 forcible removals.

[5] The schooling appeared to be effective, a contrast to the remote schools today. Protector South commented in 1908, “It is now seldom in the settled districts that one meets a native who cannot read and write.” The Closing The Gap report (2015) said remote attendance rates were as low as 14%, and only 35% of children there met minimum Year 7 reading standards. Overall there was no significant literacy improvement by Aboriginal students generally from 2008-14.

[6]  Confusingly, the 1997 document says a few pages later that removals from 1909 had “gathered pace” and the total of removals from 1909-14 was 58.

[7] The Jackomos report to the Victorian government on neglected Aboriginal children (October, 2016) described “a catalogue of failure and neglect in many areas by the [Victorian] State.”

COMMENTS [18]

  1. Jody

    This was always the great lie, catapulting the aboriginal community into a downward spiral of helpless dependency and victimhood; the bigotry of the soft left, described by Pearson. Short of disability, chronic or terminal illness we all have the capability to lift ourselves out of crisis and penury. The aboriginal population is now different, assuming that we are told correctly – all people are equal. That being the case we should demand of them the same as we demand of all people – resilience and independent responsibility. Anything less is abuse. And it’s what the left does oh, so well.

    One of my last tasks in teaching was to show Year 12 English students how they had been comprehensively brainwashed in the film “Rabbit Proof Fence”. As a narrative it’s a good yarn, but it’s essentially propaganda from the black armband brigade. As I have a background in documentary film, and university qualifications in film study, it was as easy as falling off a log to demonstrate to 16/17 y/o how they had been propagandized. I hadn’t seen the film before I had to teach it, but it was so infuriating to me that I stopped the film midway through and said, “oh, wait a minute; this isn’t going to stand”. So, while teaching the kids about “the Journey” for their “Area of Study” I taught them an invaluable lesson about how image and sound are used to propagandize – and they learned all about “agitprop”. Yes, that was very satisfying.

  2. en passant

    There were a number of aboriginal soldiers in units in which I served. I always asked them why they joined the Army. The unfailing answer was: “to get away from the clan and give myself a better life.”

  3. Salome

    minuscule, not miniscule.

  4. Bill Martin

    Reading an article like this brings one’s blood to boiling point. The principal target of one’s rage is not the politically correct progressive left but the educated Aborigines who condemn their less fortunate kin to perpetual misery by vigorously promoting the black armband victimhood narrative while enjoying a lavish lifestyle funded by those despicable, heartless, racist whities. There is no lower form of life than that.

    • Warty

      And that creep Mick Dodson participated in the lie, with his 100, 000 stolen children. He for one wouldn’t want this report to get out: it would be one more nail in the Constitutional Recognition coffin.

    • rosross

      I don’t think it helps to attack people personally. Generally people are acting in what they perceive are their own best interests even if they are misinformed or willingly ill-informed.

  5. Patrick McCauley

    And the historians are in this fraud up to their necks. Entire history departments of most universities are pedalling the Stolen Generations as the height and proof of Australian cruelty and racism – as attempted Genocide. Every student has seen “Rabbit Proof fence’ at least ten times during their school years and no mention of Doris Pilkington’s outrage at having her story so thoroughly mutilated by Phillip Noyce. Nor the images of having children ripped out of their mother’s arms by a policemen. This film has done more harm to Australians than Mein Kampf did to Germans. This lie has been profound, deliberate, extended, celebrated and has fuelled such resentment as to actually manifest itself into further disfunction. It has stopped Aboriginal children attending school. It has served to prevent Aboriginal children from learning to read and write in English. This of all things is what finally drove me out of left wing thinking, and it is the left who have perpetrated and fuelled this lie for over thirty years. What is shameful, is not Australia’s efforts at providing a Christian compassion to Aboriginal children with absent white fathers and vulnerable Aboriginal mothers, but the intellectuals who have driven this lie into a National Apology for something we did not do. Phillip Noyce made Australia bend down in shame before his nasty lie purporting to be a documentary. And don’t forget the parts that Robert Manne and Rai Gaita played in this shameful fiction.

    • Jody

      Nasty individuals, all. You could see from the first 15 minutes of the film what agitprop it was!! These are one and the same that luvvie Meryl Streep are “defending” against Donald trump. The latter is full of faults and will probably fail but I agree with my eldest son; Trump is taking a sledgehammer to the Left.

    • joelane94@hotmail.com

      In one of Arthur Upfield’s earliest ‘Bony’ novels, published in 1937, Bony has to work undercover on the Rabbit Fence, at Burracoppin, As usual, Upfield goes into fine detail about the job: each man was assigned about seven miles of fence to maintain, fork tumbleweed over, fix rotten posts, etc. So perhaps 150 men were working every day on the Fence, from one end to the other. Is it really possible that none of them spoke to each other, or to their drinking mates in the local pub each night, and that such information wouldn’t get into the local paper, and from there into the West Australian ? There is no reference whatever to such a story on Trove: http://trove.nla.gov.au/

      I don’t think that Doris Pilkington (born 1937) lied, but it is highly unlikely that a story can be remembered with perfect accuracy after twenty year, let alone sixty.

      In the 1934 Moseley Commission, set up by the new Labor Government t enquire into Aboriginal issues, there are no references to this story, not by Neville nor by Mrs. Mary Bennett, his perennial thorn in the side. There are refr3ences to girls running away from Moore River settlement, usually sixteen or seventeen years old, but where did they run to, or towards ? Fremantle, the bright lights. So this story directly contradicts not only the truth but the direction in which girls went, and the story and film, in their anti-assimilationist fervour, contradict the intent of those girls to get as much ‘assimilation’ as they could.

      I was born on the Left, I pent twenty years as a Maoist, but I have been disillusioned by so many aspects of the Aboriginal story. Poverty ? I did an income study of community where we had lived for four years, and to my horror, found that the average family income was equal to the Australian average, while rents were a fifth of the Australian average. Deaths in custody ? The proportion of DIC was lower than the proportion of Aboriginal people in the prison system. The Hindmarsh Island Scam ? My wife was from that group: it was clearly a fraud, perhaps dreamt up by Aboriginal people who found out about secret women’s business’ up in the North, and assumed that since all Aboriginal culture is the same across Australia, they must have had it down that way, but whites had kept it from them. Bastards. A little learning is a dangerous thing …..

    • Alistair

      “Evil” is the word (to describe our historians and academics) that comes to my mind – which is why Joe and I wrote the book – Voices from the Past. After reading the Protectors’annual reports we thought they were being misrepresented and denied natural justice. The book allows the Protectors their own voice in the current debate – instead of hearing only distortions by academics, historians and the aborigines themselves.

      • gary@erko

        Many of the links on your First Sources website end up nowhere, or open a page of unreadable characters.

      • rosross

        Evil, defined as that which negates, live spelled backwards perhaps, but not evil in the conventional sense.

        Academics at worst are self-serving do-gooders, seeking to profit from their position in an industry which provides benefits financial, professional, political and in terms of general power.

        The represent the debasement of academia in an age where opinions are considered as important, if not more important, than facts.

  6. rosross

    The heartening thing is that there are voices now, and some coming from within the indigenous community, breaking free of the black-armband lies and distortions and seeking to speak not just truth, but common sense.

Why Another Stolen Generation Claim Has Failed in Court

The removal of the eight children of Don and Sylvia Collard from their home at Brookton, 140 kilometres east of Perth, superficially conforms to the “Stolen Generation” or “Rabbit-Proof Fence” stereotype.

Here’s the Collard version. It is December 7, 1961. The Collard children are aged from eight months to ten years. A grandmother gives them all a bath. Don is away on farm work. It is late morning and there is no inkling of trouble.

A car, an old black or grey Austin, comes up the road, driven by a missionary, Ms Jones. The mother flees to avoid the pain of any mother’s worst nightmare. The children’s grandmothers are shouting.

Ms Jones “takes” the children without warning or authority. The girls are issued with red tartan all-in-one pinafores, white tops and brown sandals, and the boys get into shorts, a T-shirt and a short-sleeved shirt.

They all crowd into the car (it is hard to visualise, but this happened), thinking they are going for a ride or a picnic. But as the car travels on, they realise they are being taken from their parents and they all begin crying.

The car gets to Sister Kate’s in Perth, where the children sit around waiting while forms are filled, and then Ms Jones leaves in the car. The children’s years at the now-notorious Sister Kate’s are marked by hard manual labour and severe punishments …

The actuality was a far cry from the stereotype. For a start, the hard labour at Sister Kate’s was nothing more than cottage mothers’ rosters of children’s chores, and the severe discipline involved naughty kids getting hit with a fly-swat.

It took Justice Janine Pritchard in the West Australian Supreme Court 400 pages on December 20 to establish the facts and dismiss the Collard family’s claims for damages from the state over the removal and wardship of nine children taken between 1958 and 1961.

Don and Sylvia Collard are now eighty and eighty-one. They and seven of their children, Glenys, Ellen, Eva, Wesley, Beverley, Darryl and Bonnie, sought damages from the West Australian government. Four other children, Glen, Sylvia, Donald and William, are deceased. After the removals the parents had three more boys, Joseph, Phillip and Ashley.

The court got to the facts of the December 7 removals. The Collards lived in a humpy on the block of Sylvia’s mother, Bessie Ninyette, next to the Brookton native reserve. Some days earlier, the parents were served with a summons by Constable Wall to attend the Children’s Court on December 8 over a Department of Native Welfare application to have the children declared neglected.

The parents canvassed their options with the missionary, Ms Jones. They agreed the best option was to get the children into Sister Kate’s on a private basis, where the eight could stay together and be easy to visit. The parents agreed to let Ms Jones drive the children to Sister Kate’s for voluntary admission on the parents’ behalf, after reassuring the children they were going for a ride or holiday. Don would pay seven shillings and sixpence per week per child for maintenance.

The parents’ intention was that when they could upgrade their housing from humpy standard, and Don could get proper work, they could re-collect the children. “We thought it was a way of beating the authorities,” Don said.

But the Children’s Court magistrate hearing went ahead anyway the next day. The children were declared neglected, based on squalid conditions and parental drunkenness, and made wards till the age of eighteen or until the parents’ housing improved. The magistrate severely rebuked Sylvia and Ms Jones for failing to present the children in court as required.

The court was told the humpy was of iron and bags, divided into two rooms, with three beds for ten people, and dirty and squalid conditions. The “Departmental Opinion” was: “Parents drink heavily and no provision made for children. No food, water or sanitary convenience at the home when inspected.”

Beverley’s recollection of humpy life in 1961 was a double bed and a single bed:

She remembered that Don and Sylvia slept in the double bed with Glenys, Eva and Beverley. Donald, Darryl and Bill shared the single bed. When the double bed was too crowded, Beverley would sleep in the boys’ bed, while Wesley used to sleep in a pram or bassinet next to the double bed.

On admission to Sister Kate’s, all eight children had to be treated for trachoma, ringworm and vermin.

Don was earning “good money” or about £25 a week, rising to £40 to £45 a week during shearing. The judge wondered why they remained impoverished, given the humpy had negligible costs and they received some free food from farmers. Don had to pay about £6 a week in maintenance for removed children, but often got into arrears and used stretches in jail to expiate the debts.

Don contributed his own version of the removals in 2002 to a publication, Echoes of the Past: Sister Kate’s Home Revisited:

The thing is we never neglected our kids, no fear, we always looked after them the best we could … I had a summons to appear in court for negligence. We didn’t know what that meant. I mean our kids weren’t neglected or anything like that … We were happy, but the Welfare used to come around and check up a lot. They would hound you and really pressurise you.

The Collard saga of removals in ensuing years runs in all directions. Don would often go to Perth and “steal them back”. The children as they aged also began absconding from Sister Kate’s and from foster parents to return to the humpy—in one case by a 135-kilometre bike ride. Children then “escaped” from the humpy back to their Perth carers.

After the nine children were removed, the Collards had three more, but neglected them. In late 1969 Don left them in an “appalling” state with their grandmother, and they were found there by his sister-in-law. She tracked down Don, who was “in a drunken stupor”, got his permission and brought them up in Perth for six years. The parents separated four times. Sylvia was once hospitalised for three days by Don’s bashings.

The long-suffering Ms Jones, eight years after the above-mentioned Austin car trip, had three girls “dumped” at her door by Don and Sylvia. With a constable, she had to drive them to emergency foster placements in Perth, from which Glenys and Eva absconded. Throughout, the authorities mostly took a pragmatic view, accepting developments they could not control, and generally tolerating illicit reunions as the children grew older.

Most dramatically of all, when Don and Sylvia became grandparents, they transformed their lives. From 1972 they cared for two other children informally, and from 1976 they began conscientiously caring for three children of their daughter Bonnie. From then on they were paid private foster-care rates by the Department of Community Welfare. The parents also bought and sold or gifted four houses between 1978 and 2001.

The family’s case in court alleged failure of the state to properly exercise its “fiduciary duty” to the family. The judge dismissed the case, observing tartly that there was no “fiduciary duty” involved. “Fiduciary duty” is a legal concept involving primary loyalty (normally economic) to a beneficiary, such as between executor and heirs in a will.

The plaintiffs even invoked the original proclamation of the first Lieutenant Governor, Sir James Stirling, on June 18, 1829, as establishing fiduciary duties towards the West Australian Aboriginal population as a whole. The judge said that the essence of state governing is not sectional loyalty but the balancing of competing interests, including the need sometimes to remove children forcibly from parents.

However, the plaintiffs’ case was so broad that the judge tested all aspects of the removals and wardships and ruled them reasonable by the standards of the time (except for officials’ one-time moralistic stance against the Collards’ alleged gambling). The plaintiffs raised the Stolen Generation motive and the judge rejected it.

Commenting on the judgment later, the West Australian Aboriginal Legal Service said it was devastating to “thousands” of Stolen Generation people in West Australian hoping to see the wrongs of the past righted.

(A more pressing problem for the West Australian Aboriginal Legal Service ought to be the current rate of West Australian Aboriginal children removed and in care. At June 2012, it was 1614 children, or one in twenty Aboriginal children, a rate fifteen times higher than for non-Aboriginal children.)

Don Collard, abrogating any personal responsibility for the family’s traumas, said he was bitter that the government had declined the chance to help his family honourably and graciously for all that the family had been through. He said, incongruously in view of the court evidence, “My family was split up, not because we were not good parents, but because we were not white, because we were seen as different.” He asked rhetorically, “Why did I pay maintenance to have my kids neglected, abused and all that by the state?”

The plaintiff’s sub-text in the hearing was that given the children were not neglected, they could only have been taken for racist reasons—stolen. Indeed Sir Ronald Wilson’s 1997 Bringing Them Home report cites the Collard case (without naming it) as an example where the mere existence of poor housing was sufficient reason to declare Aboriginal children neglected and “take” them. Wilson’s evidence was a line from a West Australian official’s note taken out of context and massively contradicted by documents and testimony examined by Judge Pritchard. She found that the children were neglected and in physical jeopardy by the standards of the day, let alone modern standards. The parents, being only human, preferred the “stolen” version:

Bonnie recollected that when she was in her 20s, she had a discussion with Don (and possibly Sylvia) about how she was taken into care. Her evidence was that Don didn’t go into a lot of detail, “he just said we were stolen, he never put us there [that is, in Sister Kate’s]”. Bonnie said Don and Sylvia didn’t give her any details, just that “we were taken”.

Wesley’s evidence was that he talked once with Don about being taken into care, and that Don told him that he had been stolen and that Don had to steal him back. In telling his story for Echoes of the Past, Wesley is quoted: “The only thing I listen to is my father, what he tells me. We were taken away by the Native Welfare from the reserve in Brookton. From what I have been told, wadjelas [that is, white Australians] just turned up and took us away. That was it.”

Justice Pritchard made short shrift of any “Stolen Generation” narrative, though she preferred the term “assimilation”. She found:

The references to “assimilation” in the evidence I have set out above are not sufficient to support a finding on the balance of probabilities that at the time of the wardships there was, within the Department of Native Welfare or the Child Welfare Department, the pursuit of a policy of assimilation of aboriginal people into white Australian society … through the wardship of aboriginal children.

More particularly, there was no evidence that the decisions to apply for each of the Children to be made wards were made in the pursuit of a policy of assimilation of aboriginal people into white Australian society. Rather, the evidence supports the finding that the decisions to apply for the Children to be made wards, and subsequent decisions at various times not to return them to the care of Don and Sylvia, were all made having regard to the welfare—albeit primarily the physical welfare—of the Children …

There was very little evidence of a policy of assimilation … during the period of the wardships of the Children. The only evidence which made any reference to a policy of assimilation was a letter from a bishop in the Kimberley to the Minister for Native Welfare in 1962 in which the bishop noted that “the current official policy of the Native Welfare Department is the policy of assimilation. We regard this as a sound policy because the Natives in the Kimberleys … have been detribalised.”

However, the bishop went on to express his concern about the implementation and application of this policy. He suggested that the Minister should “proceed with caution rather than precipitate the process of assimilation”. A briefing note prepared for the Minister by the Deputy Commissioner of Native Welfare on 19 September 1962 indicated … that “this, I think, is what the various Governments have been doing”.

There was some evidence that Sister Kate’s was thought to facilitate assimilation into white society. But to readers of the transcript, this assimilation was as a result, not a cause, of admittance, and amounted to equal and prejudice-free primary schooling.

The West Australian Aboriginal Legal Service selected the Collards as a test case from among more than 700 candidates on child removals, later whittled down to a dozen. The judge complained of a needless fourteen-year delay by the Aboriginal Legal Service in bringing the case forward, while witnesses died and evidence weakened.

The Pritchard judgment has made a mockery of Kevin Rudd’s Sorry Day speech of 2008, with its reliance on the Bringing Them Home report and emphasis on “stealings” even post-1970. Rudd:

The 1970s is not exactly a point in remote antiquity. There are still serving members of this parliament who were first elected to this place in the early 1970s …

The uncomfortable truth for us all is that the parliaments of the nation, individually and collectively, enacted statutes and delegated authority under those statutes that made the forced removal of children on racial grounds fully lawful …

This is not, as some would argue, a black-armband view of history; it is just the truth: the cold, confronting, uncomfortable truth—facing it, dealing with it, moving on from it.

In respect of Western Australia, currently home to 15 per cent of the country’s Aboriginal population, there was no policy of enforced assimilation in the 1950s and later, let alone racist removals of children. Child Welfare and Aboriginal Welfare authorities were removing neglected children as a last resort and doing their reasonable best to reunite the Aboriginal families concerned when safe to do so. Moreover, the Collard case established that removals for neglect were treated the same in black or white cases, with parents’ quality of care being the prime factor. Impoverished living conditions on reserves were often an extra factor.

“The alternative way, if the child was left there, it was likely that the child would suffer further harm and in some cases perish,” the then Child Welfare director Keith Maine told the court. His word perish is relevant to the first removal from the Collard parents—baby Ellen at just over five months of age on March 13, 1958, by order of the Brookton Children’s Court. The parents had admitted Ellen in poor condition to the nearby Beverley Hospital a month earlier. They made regular phone calls about Ellen’s condition but it was a month before they visited her. They were shocked to be told by the matron that Ellen had “gone”, but the matron meant the baby had been made a ward for adoption or fostering.

The key surviving document was a file note by Mr John Waghorne, a Child Welfare official, saying the matron had told him Ellen suffered from malnutrition and lack of proper care. Ellen was six pounds three ounces when born but weighed only five pounds when admitted as a five-month-old. (The judge agreed that the loss of weight was “significant”.) Although the baby was now ready for discharge, the home conditions were filthy and dangerous to Ellen’s health, the matron told Waghorne. Waghorne went urgently to check the Brookton home, which he found was an unlined tin humpy of one room with a galvanised iron partition, a dirt floor, and only two beds for the parents and six children. The bedding was dirty and the premises unclean. Waghorne concluded it would be detrimental “and in fact dangerous” to return the child to the “filthy” humpy, so he applied for wardship. (The humpy’s wretched condition remained unchanged a decade later.)

Ellen was fostered from the age of six months by a white family, Mr and Mrs Dwyer of Carlisle, Perth. If I may inject a value judgment, the Dwyers made a selfless, large contribution (as did the missionary lady, Ms Jones). Ellen under the Dwyers’ care never ran away, and grew up happy and well cared for. The Dwyers urged Ellen to be proud of her Aboriginal heritage. Ellen could see her Collard parents, who sometimes brought other relatives along too, as often as she wished, but over time this became infrequent.

One Child Welfare report in 1972 remarked, “Father calls at home quite often. Drinks and puts up tales for money … [Ellen] has no desire to leave this family.”

Sadly, the emotional impact of Ellen’s removal from her birth parents and culture ran so deep that she continues to suffer trauma from it, as do all the surviving Collard offspring. As teenagers, three boys and a girl served time in Perth’s Longmore reformatory and the same girl also spent time in Nyandi maximum security training centre. Three Collard girls became mothers at seventeen or under.

The Collards’ Christmas celebration in 1970 was noteworthy for its divergence from the “stolen” stereotype. At the parents’ request, Child Welfare agreed to allow Beverley, Glenys and Eva to spend Christmas with the parents, who were then renting a house at Kondinin, 140 kilometres east of their Brookton humpy. After official inspection, the house was deemed satisfactory. Don picked the children up from their foster home and Sister Kate’s and apparently took them to Kondinin on December 21. However, in the following three days Don and Sylvia took them from Kondinin back to Brookton. The girls by mid-January 1971 had returned prematurely to Perth and they turned up at the homes of a Mrs McIntyre of Hamilton Hill and a Mrs Bennell. An official made a file note that at Brookton the parents drank and brawled until January 15, when the girls decided to run away to Perth.

Court records show Sylvia and Don were convicted on December 26 for drunkenness in Lennard Street, Brookton, on December 24. They were in custody for two nights, that is, over Christmas.

Sylvia said that by the time she got home, the girls were gone because, quoting her mother, “welfare went there and took them, picked them up”. The judge was sceptical.

Beverley and Glenys were sexually abused at Sister Kate’s and during weekend placements. But they did not report the abuse, even to their parents or well-liked house mothers, until they were adults. They and four other siblings received ex gratia payouts from a West Australian government scheme in 2008–11 for sufferings under wardships.

The parents’ lifestyle delayed re-unification of the family. Don acquired thirteen convictions between 1955 and 1973 for alcohol offences. The charges were drunk (nine), assault (one), drunken and dangerous driving while unlicensed (one), drunken driving while under suspension (one), drunk and disorderly (one), as well as disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, stealing and receiving, and driving while under suspension. Sylvia had three convictions, two unrelated to alcohol.

In 1968 Mr Hill, Child Welfare District Officer, noted, “Whenever he [Don] can get it, he uses his money to buy liquor, belts up his wife whenever he gets drunk, is frequently out of work, and is not keen on it when some falls into his lap”:

On the 8-1-68 I saw Mrs Sylvia Rachael Collard in Narrogin. She told me that a few days before her husband had given her a severe thrashing, and had beaten her up so much that she had spent three days in the Pingelly Hospital. She stated that this sort of thing had now been going on for 20 years or so, and the time had now come when she was scared to go back to him, but what was concerning her was that their six children were all in his care now. She stated that she wanted custody and control of them and Maint[enance] …

The latest baby, Arthur Ashley Collard … was there in the care of old Mrs Bessie Ninyette [Sylvia’s mother], who is really far too old to have the care of a very young baby. When I arrived the baby was crying in his pram and in obvious need of his Mother’s care. According to Mrs Ninyette, she had fed the child. Whilst it was not good, I did not feel that I should remove the child forthwith … Later next week I will visit Brookton again with Miss Saggers and will make an application to have these children “Declared Neglected” if they are still not being properly cared for.

Many official details have been lost over time. The Native Welfare resources were so thin that in 1959 a single District Officer, Terence Long, was supposed to patrol and look after the whole Southern District’s Aborigines.

The parents were in a triple bind on government housing, run by the State Housing Commission. They had to improve their housing to get the children back but couldn’t get endorsement for housing because of their humpy lifestyle. Moreover Don didn’t qualify for Aboriginal housing because he was classed as a “quadroon”. The State Housing Commission was leery of Aboriginal tenants anyway because of poor track records on rent and upkeep.

Footnote: Serious official wrongs were done to Don and Sylvia Collard, but not directly in connection with this lawsuit. At the ages of seventeen, they lived together, Sylvia was pregnant, and they needed Native Welfare’s permission to get married. Rather than agree and give them support, officials recommended they be split up into separate institutions for three months, after which the baby would be born and they could marry. This plan was to deter other under-aged unmarried couples from undesirable behaviour. But there was no institution suitable for Don, so Sylvia only was committed to the Moore River Settlement on June 15, 1950, “during the Minister’s pleasure”. However, by then Sylvia had already had her baby Glen, on May 1, and was breastfeeding. Glen was left behind with Sylvia’s mother Bessie Ninyette. Sylvia said, and the judge accepted, that she did this on the instructions of a policeman. She felt frightened, lonely and isolated at Moore River, missing Don and her baby. After several weeks at Moore River, she was released by discomfited officials and permitted to marry Don on August 12, 1950. Glen died at five months after a short illness.

Tony Thomas wrote on current high rates of removals of neglected Aboriginal children from their parents in the May 2013 issue.

The ‘Stolen’ Degeneration

TONY THOMAS

Some twenty cases have now gone before the courts, but only one has produced a positive result for the plaintiff. The latest ruling specifically refutes claims that children of mixed race were for a period of time taken from their homes in the name of “assimilation”

wa courtJustice Janine Pritchard in the WA Supreme Court on December 20 rejected claims that from 1958-79 there was any official program in WA to implement the so-called Stolen Generation policy. Her judgment dismissed damages claims by the Aboriginal Don and Sylvia Collard and seven of their children removed or made state wards.

She specifically dealt with a claim that the children were removed “pursuant to a policy of assimilation of aboriginal children.” She found the children were instead removed, mainly to Sister Kate’s in Perth, to safeguard their physical welfare.

This is the twentieth case in State, Federal and High Courts involving significant Stolen Generations claims, and the nineteenth to see the claims thrown out. Justice Pritchard found:

“The references to ‘assimilation’ in the evidence I have set out above are not sufficient to support a finding on the balance of probabilities that at the time of the wardships there was, within the Department of Native Welfare or the Child Welfare Department, the pursuit of a policy of assimilation of aboriginal people into white Australian society through the wardship of aboriginal children.

“More particularly, there was no evidence that the decisions to apply for each of the Children to be made wards were made in the pursuit of a policy of assimilation of aboriginal people into white Australian society. Rather, the evidence supports the finding that the decisions to apply for the Children to be made wards, and subsequent decisions at various times not to return them to the care of Don and Sylvia, were all made having regard to the welfare – albeit primarily the physical welfare – of the Children.”

THE COLLARD JUDGMENT CAN BE READ IN FULL HERE

Even counsel for the Collards conceded late in the case that ‘assimilation’ was not a motive for the removals, and during the case they only pushed the assimilationist line half-heartedly. The Commissioners for Native Welfare at the time were Stanley Middleton (1948-62) and Frank Gare (1962-79). Both emphatically rejected the idea of removals of half-castes for racist reasons.[i]

The only pieces of evidence Justice Pritchard found for any assimilation policy was a letter from a bishop in the Kimberley to the Native Welfare Minister in 1962, claiming the department policy was assimilation and urging that the policy (which he favoured) be pursued only with caution. The department replied that it was already being cautious about it.

There were also references to Sister Kate’s Home assisting the assimilation process, e.g. because the part-colored children were fully incorporated into white, aged-based classes at the nearby state school. But in the Collard case, the authorities remained keen to re-unite the family, subject to the Collard parents improving their living conditions and lifestyle.

In his Stolen Generation apology of 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd emphasised that ‘forced removal’ of Aboriginal children was happening ‘as late as the early 1970s’. He said, “The uncomfortable truth for us all is that the parliaments of the nation, individually and collectively, enacted statutes and delegated authority under those statutes that made the forced removal of children on racial grounds fully lawful.”

The Pritchard judgment, in respect of post-war WA at least, shows that Rudd’s claims are nonsense. She outlines in scores of pages of detail, how WA authorities and public servants did their best to procure the physical welfare of the vulnerable Collard children. She details how WA officialdom from the late 1950s gave increasing weight to children’s emotional well-being, once the importance of parental rather than institutional care was recognized.

She acknowledges that in those times the State had different views and knowledge about children’s best interests compared with today. She notes that in 1958 there was not a single tertiary course in social work in the State, and only one social worker in the entire WA Child Welfare Department.

Justice Pritchard’s findings mirror those of Justice Maurice O’Loughlin in the Cubillo-Gunner case in the NT Supreme Court on August 11, 2000. He rejected that there had been in the NT any “wide-spread, indiscriminate removals of part Aboriginal children” when Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner were removed for welfare reasons in 1947 and 1956 respectively. Nor was there any policy to ‘breed out’ half-castes (one element of the Stolen Generation hypothesis first promulgated in 1981 by then ANU post-graduate student Peter Read in a 21-page polemical pamphlet he claimed to have written on a single day).

In SA, the Trevorrow case involved an unlawful removal of Bruce Trevorrow as an ailing one-year-old from his parents in early 1958. The removal was done by a well-meaning but inexperienced Aboriginal welfare worker, contrary to official policy. Trevorrow was adopted by a caring white couple but his life became dysfunctional. He won $775,000 damages in 2007-08. This remains the only successful “Stolen Generation” case, although it in fact demonstrated that SA government policy was against any racial removals of half-castes, rogue welfare workers notwithstanding.

In Victoria, the Aborigines Welfare Board from 1957 had no power to remove Aboriginal children, and six government-sponsored reports from 1996-2003 failed to find any evidence of policies for half-caste removals (contrary to Rudd’s later assertion). Nor could these six inquiries locate any individuals who fitted the bill as ‘stolen’.[ii]

Moving north, removals in NSW from 1912-68 totalled 2600, of whom two-thirds were simply teenagers boarded out for apprenticeships, as occurred with white children. The other third were largely orphans, neglected, destitute, in moral danger or abused.[iii]

In Queensland from 1908-71, only 249 Aboriginal children were officially removed from their parents and put in institutions, reserves, and missions. That is, about four per year, for all reasons.[iv]

In the WA case, Justice Pritchard found that welfare workers acted reasonably in separating the Collard children from their parents. The following examples give some of the picture:

# The five-month-old baby Ellen in March 1958 was in hospital from “malnutrition and lack of proper care” and had lost 1lb of her 6lb 3oz birth weight. Officials said they were unwilling to return her to a 4×4 metre tin humpy with dirt floor, with only two or three filthy beds for two adults and six children, and no power, running water or sanitation.

# One daughter recalled that in the humpy, the parents slept in the double bed with daughters Glenys, Eva and Beverley. Sons Donald, Darryl and Bill shared the single bed and Wesley slept in a pram by the double bed. When the double bed was too crowded, Beverley would sleep in the boys’ bed. A visiting welfare officer reported that when he visited the humpy, there was no food in it, although the Collards said they acquired food as needed. At Sister Kate’s, the children were treated for trachoma, vermin and ringworm.

# An official file note from 11 January 1968, included:

“On the 8-1-68 I saw Mrs Sylvia Rachael Collard in Narrogin. She told me that a few days before her husband had given her a severe thrashing, and had beaten her up so much that she had spent three days in the Pingelly Hospital. She stated that this sort of thing had now been going on for 20 years or so, and the time had now come when she was scared to go back to him…”

# Don had nine convictions between 1955 and 1973 for drunkenness, one for assault, one for drunken driving while under suspension, one for disorderly conduct (yelling, fighting and screaming with his wife), one for disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, one for stealing and receiving, and one for driving under suspension. Sylvia had three convictions including one for drunkenness.

As an illustration of cognitive dissonance, while concerned people condemn the WA welfare fieldworkers and policies of half a century ago for insensitivity, today’s removal situation is seriously worse.

Despite Rudd’s 2008 demand that “the injustices of the past”, i.e. forced removals, ‘never never happen again’, about one in 19 Aboriginal children nationally are removed and in care. All-up, there were 12,385 Aboriginal children removed and in care in 2010–11. Moreover, nearly a third are in care with non-Aboriginal carers.[v]

In Victoria in 2011-12, nearly one in ten Aboriginal children were removed from their families, at least temporarily.[vi]

[i] [i] http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ref/wa/biogs/WE00472b.htm. Gare was extensively interviewed by the National Library oral history project. His quoted comments are at Session Two, from 36min

[ii] Windschuttle, K, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. Vol 111, The Stolen Generations 1881-2008. MacLeay Press, Sydney 2009. P560

[iii] ibid p103

[iv] ibid p 608

[v] https://tthomas061.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/todays-new-stolen-generation/

[vi] http://quadrant.org.au/opinion/bennelong-papers/2013/12/one-blow-stolen-generation/

Tony Thomas is author of Stolen Generations: The Pocket Windschuttle. Macleay Press, Sydney, 2010. He blogs at tthomas061@wordpress.com

Still Not The ‘Stolen’ Generation

In a case little-reported outside WA, a family’s claim for damages has been dismissed — a decision likely to stymie many other actions and further erode the myth that black children were taken for no good reason by white welfare workers

Justice Janine Pritchard in WA’s Supreme Court last week dismissed a potential landmark case for compensation by nine “stolen generation” claimants. They are Donald Collard, 80, and his wife Sylvia, 81, of the wheatbelt town of Kondinin, and seven of their children. They claimed that nine of their 14 children had been wrongly taken away by the authorities between 1958 and 1961, and split among foster carers and Sister Kate’s Home.

The couple sought damages, exemplary damages, aggravated damages, compensation and costs for themselves and the children. The media have reported it as a ‘multi-million’ claim. The state Government defended the case, described as the first “stolen generations” damages lawsuit in WA, arguing that “it was the right thing to remove the children.” A win by the Collards could have set a precedent for thousands more “stolen” claims.

The 1997 Bringing Them Home report claimed there were 100,000 “stolen generation” cases. Ex-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in his formal 2008 apology, dropped the number without explanation to a maximum of 50,000. Bringing Them Home accepted all Aboriginal “stolen” complaints at face value, and published without comment such improbable accounts as this from ‘Jennifer’:

“Cootamundra [Home, NSW] in those days was very strict and cruel…Mum remembered once a girl who did not move too quick. She was tied to the old bell post and belted continuously. She died that night, still tied to the post, no girl ever knew what happened to the body or where she was buried.”

On the face of such and similar claims and accusations, “stolen” members have had an excellent legal case for compensation, not to mention a plethora of pro-bono or government funded lawyers willing to run their cases. A score of cases have been taken to state Supreme courts, the Federal courts and High Court. All but one failed. Some claimants have obtained modest compensation in other jurisdictions for wrongs suffered after removal, but not for the removal per se.

The WA government, for example, ran a compensation scheme, Redress WA, from 2008-2011 offering ex-gratia payments to people – white and black – abused or neglected while children in state care. About half the claimants said they were stolen generation members. The total of 5200 payouts ranged from $5000 to a maximum $45,000, averaging $23,000. This level contrasts with the Collards’ higher hopes for damages.

The Collard case, involving child removals half a century ago, comes against a backdrop of mind-boggling rates of removal of Aboriginal children today, with official forecasts that the rate is accelerating. For example, Victoria’s new Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos, says his state may soon have another “stolen generation”, with almost 10% of indigenous Victorian children removed from their families — at least temporarily — between 2011 and 2012. [In NSW rate, the 2011-12 rate for Aboriginal out-of-home care was one in 12]. Jackomos’ submission to the State government says:

“At current levels, the rate of Aboriginal child removal in Victoria exceeds levels seen at any time since white settlement… Ten out of 13 young women, who had been sexually assaulted when in the care of their families were subsequently raped or sexually abused by co-residents or sexually exploited by external parties.”

He told the ABC last week, “I must admit I’m shell-shocked from what I’m learning here.” Nationally, one in 18 Aboriginal children is in care after neglect or abuse, ten times the non-indigenous rate.[i]

Justice Pritchard 44, is no easy target for those objecting to her dismissal of the Collard case, as she has a good feminist pedigree in addition, of course, to her judicial expertise. She holds a graduate diploma in Women’s Studies from Murdoch University, was a board member of Australian Women Lawyers and has been lauded for relating to “the marginalised”. If she has a weakness, it is for “high heels in a variety of colors”.

Justice Pritchard said while she felt for the family, its case had not been established:

“I am conscious that it is difficult for a third party to comprehend the enormity of the emotional pain and heartache experienced by all of the plaintiffs as a result of the children being made wards and living apart from their family for so many years.

Having said that, it is impossible not to be deeply moved by the plaintiffs’ experiences, and one cannot help but admire their efforts to rebuild and maintain their family relationships.

The application of the applicable legal principles to the facts established on the balance of probabilities by the evidence leads to the conclusion that the state was not, and is not, subject to the fiduciary duties alleged by the plaintiffs.

Even if the state was subject to those duties, the plaintiffs did not establish that the state breached those duties, other than in relation to a decision which was made in November 1959 not to return Ellen to Don and Sylvia’s care.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs have no right of action against the state because they did not comply with the requirements of the Crown Suits Act.”

Media accounts of the trial-in-progress, which began last February, are sketchy and mixed with comments by the Collards and supporters outside court. Its inception was on Sorry Day (May 26) in 2010, when Lavan Legal, pro bono, lodged a writ. The 410-page judgment is now available online.

Two of the nine removed Collard children died in car accidents. The seven remaining are Glenys Collard, Wesley Collard, Darryl Collards, Ellen Thomas, Eva Jetta, Beverley Humphries and Bonnie Miller.

The Collard parents’ account is that they were living in a bush camp and working as shearers when they took their five-month-old daughter, Ellen, to hospital. When they returned to collect the baby they were told she’d ‘gone’. They went into shock and were then told Ellen had been fostered out to a white family in Perth. In 1961 a welfare worker or missionary lady and policeman visited the Collard camp and took eight of their children to board at Sister Kate’s. The parents consented, fearing that if they objected, they would be jailed. One of the daughters, Glenys, then 3, said she suffered years of sexual abuse, largely from white volunteers who took her on weekend leave. The siblings at Sister Kate’s became split up among foster carers. All were psychologically damaged, although they had sporadic contact with their parents. Glenys has on-going physical and mental health issues she attributes to multiple rapes while in care.

Glenys said, “It shouldn’t have happened because we had Mum and Dad, we had Nans and Pops, we had aunties and uncles all around us. We weren’t neglected until we went to Sister Kate’s.” By contrast, Ellen says she grew up in a loving home, not even realizing she was Aboriginal until she was 14 years old. She later re-united with her parents.

The Crown defence, as put by Rob Mitchell, Senior Counsel for the State, was partly based on archived official documents about the Collard family. He said removal of the children, who were living in squalor and neglect, was justified on welfare grounds. It was not racism, as claimed by the Collards.

Mr Collard’s employment as a shearer and a farmhand brought him wages that were above average for the time in WA, Mitchell said. But living in a humpy, Mr Collard had no accommodation or power costs, and evidence suggested he was spending his money on alcohol. The humpy in 1958 had only two rooms and two unclean beds for the parents and six children. Collard had more than a dozen convictions for drinking and other offences dating to the 1950s. He often belted his wife when drunk, Mitchell alleged.

Collard disputed that he had been a heavy drinker or that he had been at times in a drunken stupor or paralytic. He had hit his wife eight or ten times, but this was a reaction to his distressed state, he said. His earnings went on family food and clothes, not alcohol. He said the humpy was on Sylvia’s mother’s property near an Aboriginal reserve and the family used the toilets and washrooms there. They only lived there six months. The humpy was of tin and lined with hessian, with a floor of wooden boards and dirt; a stove was inside and a fireplace outside: “Our kids were always clean and loved and were never neglected and we shared our lives with them.”

The Collard case has points of comparison and contrast with the earlier major cases. In the Northern Territory, “stolen generation” claims backfired in a spectacular way when they were dismissed in court in 2000. Lawyers for claimants had 550 cases to choose from, and decided their best chance was with claims by Peter Gunner and Lorna Cubillo.

It turned out that Peter Gunner’s mother, Topsy, had put the new-born Peter down a rabbit burrow near the Utopia Station homestead. His aunt however pulled him out, before he could be eaten alive by ants. This fate had been Topsy’s intention for her infant. Topsy was herself a half-caste and therefore an outcast from the camp. Peter was raised there by his aunt, but became so ill and half-starved that only a Flying Doctor visit saved him. Finally, Topsy agreed that Peter could go to a hostel at Alice Springs.

Patrol officers testified to Justice Maurice O’Loughlin that mothers of half-castes would be brutally bashed in the camp and sometimes the infants were as well. Half-caste kids would turn up at missions with spear-marks and other wounds. Half-caste babies were often killed by their grandmothers standing on them, crushing their chests. Half-caste girls who reached puberty would be bartered as sexual playthings. If discovered by patrol officers, the girls could be removed for their own protection.

Lorna Cubillo’s claim was also rejected in court. Her mother died soon after Lorna’s birth, and she was cared for by a grandmother, who then also died. A woman called Maisie took over Lorna’s upbringing. In July, 1947, a truck came and took Lorna, aged 8, and 15 other children to the Retta Dixon Home in Darwin. The judge found that key documents had been lost, but acknowledged Maisie may have consented and that authorities may have had Lorna’s best interest at heart. Although the camp women were distressed at the removal, they were also appreciative of the children being given the chance for a good education.

The Bringing Them Home inquiry had declined NT patrol officers’ requests to give evidence, later testifying in another judicial forum that removals were a last resort, particularly to save half-caste girls from sexual predators. Policy was to make strenuous efforts to obtain the mother’s willing consent. Mothers could accompany their children to the institution. Parents were free to visit and children could return to them during holidays. In any event, in the two years 1949 and 1950, only 42 NT children in total were removed, including 12 at their parents’ request, with two others deemed neglected.

The only successful “stolen generations” claimant has been Bruce Trevorrow in the SA Supreme Court. He was “stolen” in early 1958, when 13 months old, by a well-meaning but misguided Aboriginal Welfare Officer called Marjory Angas, who secretly put him out to a white couple for adoption in the incorrect belief the baby’s health would suffer if returned to its parents. Trevorrow won $775,000 damages in 2007-08. Far from validating the “stolen generation” thesis, the Trevorrow case proved the opposite, that there was no policy to remove half-caste children. In SA welfare cases, Aboriginal parents had the right to refuse removal, unless over-ruled by a court. After removals, there was no policy to cut children off from their Aboriginal heritage. “Stealing” Aboriginal children had been legally impossible since an Act of 1911.

Tony Thomas is author of “Stolen Generations: The Pocket Windschuttle.” Macleay Press, Sydney 2010. He blogs at tthomas061.wordpress.com

[i] http://www.aifs.gov.au/cfca/pubs/factsheets/a142117/index.html

The mystery of the black/white baby in the suitcase

Genuinely Stolen?

Readers can form their own judgement as to whether this first-person account would count in Andrew Bolt’s challenge to Robert Manne to “name ten” Aborigines stolen purely for racial reasons

sorryHas another “Stolen Generation” case come to light? A first-hand account of removal of an Aboriginal baby girl for non-welfare reasons has surfaced in a booklet of mini-autobiographies produced last November (2013) for university alumni. The 60-page booklet comprises self-written accounts by more than 100 graduates from the 1963 year.

One 1963 graduate wrote, “For a time [I] was a Native Welfare Officer, a title not without irony, for the then Department of Native Affairs. One of [my] duties was to remove a newborn baby girl from her mother for no reason other than the colour of the child’s skin.”

This account therefore seems to fit the paradigm of the Stolen Generation, whereby half-caste children were taken from the Aboriginal community for eugenic rather than welfare reasons. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, in his historic apology of February 13, 2008, referred to up to 50,000 children taken in this way between 1910 and 1970.

I rang the graduate, whom I’ll call Helen, to get the details and this is her account. Readers can form their own judgement, for example as to whether this example would count in Andrew Bolt’s challenge to Robert Manne to “name ten” Aborigines stolen purely for racial reasons.

In such a catalogue No 1 would be Bruce Trevorrow, who was “stolen” in early 1958 contrary to SA Government policy by a well-meaning but irresponsible female Aboriginal Welfare Officer, who secretly fostered him out to a white couple, in the incorrect belief the baby’s health would suffer if returned to its parents. Trevorrow won $775,000 damages in 2007-08 in the SA Supreme Court.

Helen recounts:

“I was a Native Welfare Officer at Broome in 1965 when I was 24. I’d previously been a teacher and after 14 months at Broome, I went back to teaching.

I was the only female welfare officer at Broome, and there was a male officer in charge of me plus a secretary.

I was told to collect a light-skinned baby girl, at most a few days old, from an Aboriginal mother at Derby Hospital, 220km north, and bring it back to be brought up by nuns at their mission in Broome. There was some urgency as I was to remove the baby before the mother was discharged from hospital.

I thought it was puzzling and careless that I should be given charge of this baby. Nobody checked, or they would have discovered that I knew nothing about babies or how to look after them, and I was ill-prepared.

My boyfriend of that time drove me up to Derby in his jeep. It had a roof but no windows and was pretty noisy. Luckily he was a mechanic so that reduced the risk of getting stranded on the rough gravel road. The round trip was probably during a weekend. I can’t remember exactly why we couldn’t use a department vehicle.

I used a suitcase as an open cot for the baby. I can’t even recall how I fed the baby, I must have had a bottle or something. The jeep conked with mechanical problems several times on the way back.

“I think the reason for the decision to remove the baby was that it was it was pale rather than black and was the offspring of an itinerant white workman and the Aboriginal mother. The mother was married in a settled relationship with an Aboriginal man, and he would obviously know he was not the father. It was not her first child.

They were one of the families on a local station and I was not aware of any welfare-type issue with them. I didn’t think the baby would come to any harm.

I assume the mother signed a consent for removal of the baby, although being illiterate she would have just made a ‘cross’. She was very shy and getting her consent I believe would have been a bullying process, because she was in a bed in this strange hospital environment and in no position to put her own case strongly.

There was also a language barrier . As I recall, a nun from Derby conducted the bedside interview putting the view that the husband would not be pleased with this light-skinned baby. The mother did not seem to see this as an issue. There was no certainty that she understood all that was said, or the significance of her consent. However as this sort of thing had happened before, it is probable that she knew all too well from the experience of other mothers what was happening but felt powerless to object. She said very little and looked very sad.

I believe that the Native Welfare Department could just take a baby on its own initiative, I don’t recall a Magistrate being involved. It seemed to be an agreement between the Catholic organisation and the department. That baby would otherwise have just gone home with its mother. The decision to take the baby was not made with the baby’s welfare in mind, it was implemented by people who had a preconceived view. Obviously the best people to raise a child are its parents, except in exceptional circumstances.

As far as I could tell it was just that the Catholic Church was collecting any light-skinned baby they could. The Catholic Church was quite firm in its policy, they had a clear picture of what they were doing. I think eventually the child would have gone from the nuns at Broome to the Beagle Bay mission where there were quite a number of small Aboriginal children brought up and educated.

I had no further contact with this baby. The Native Welfare Department doubtless kept track of all these children.

I think at my time it (child removal) was the procedure. My case was not the first case, but it was the first and only case on my watch in my 14 months there. I can’t recall any other such cases.

There was one other removal case but it was completely different and justifiable. An Aboriginal mother had leprosy and her girl was put out to be fostered by another Aboriginal family at Lombadina Mission near Beagle Bay. When the mother was cured of leprosy after a few years she wanted the girl back with her in Darwin but the foster family didn’t want to part with her. The girl was then about six and didn’t want to leave her foster family. It was a heart-breaking case for everyone. Eventually we arranged for the foster mother to accompany us with the girl back to Broome which dissipated the tension of the encounter.”

Asked if she felt at the time any conscience about the Stolen Generation, Helen says that at the time there was no concept of ‘stealing’ children:

“We were just doing what we did, without fuss. If there was a child removal, it was a case by case situation, although there was a bit of unease about helping the Catholic Church in this way. The ‘Stolen Generation’ theme was introduced retrospectively.

I didn’t realise how shocking the incident was at the time. I am disturbed by it now in retrospect.”

Footnote: Frank Gare, WA Native Welfare Commissioner 1962-79, says child removal policies were stopped by his predecessor, Stanley Middleton, as soon as Middleton took office in 1948. From the time Gare joined the department in 1949 he saw or heard of no such cases of removal for racist reasons. He was asked whether in fact removals by field officers continued as before into the 1960s but by using the Child Welfare Act as a pretext. This had been alleged to the Wilson inquiry by the WA Aboriginal Legal Service. Gare emphatically rejected the allegation, and said the Child Welfare Act was used only if the life or physical welfare of a child was in jeopardy. Neither Middleton nor himself and other field officers would have condoned such a practice, he said.[i]

Tony Thomas is co-author, with Dr C.G. von Brandenstein, of “Taruru – Aboriginal Song Poetry from the Pilbara” (Rigby 1974) and “Stolen Generations – The Pocket Windschuttle” (Macleay Press, Sydney 2010)

[i] http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ref/wa/biogs/WE00472b.htm. Gare was extensively interviewed by the National Library oral history project. His quoted comments are at Session Two, from 36min

Today’s new “stolen generation”

SOCIETY

Aboriginal Child Abuse the Royal Commission Cannot Avoid
Tony Thomas

Child abuse and mistreatment in Aboriginal communities are endemic and worsening by the year. Here’s a few snapshots:

Rates of hospitalisation for neglect and abandonment among indigenous children have been put at thirty to eighty times higher than for the non-indigenous population.[1]
More than 12,000 Aboriginal children have been removed and are in care, making up a third of all Australian children in care.[2]
One in nineteen Aboriginal children is in care, ten times the non-indigenous rate.[3]
In Queensland, one in every 2.2 Aboriginal children is known to Child Safety, and this is expected to increase to every second child being known to Child Safety this fiscal year. In 2007–08, only one in 4.6 Aboriginal children was known to Child Safety.[4]
Yet under-reporting of the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children may be nearly 90 per cent.[5]
Kevin Rudd began the current Labor era with his apology to the Stolen Generations at the opening of the forty-second Parliament on February 13, 2008. The apology was made and received with the best of intentions.[6] Rudd made the powerful pledge that “the injustices of the past must never, never happen again”. One assumes he was referring to the forced removal of indigenous children from their parents, and placement with white families or institutions.

In May 1999, Queensland Labor Premier Peter Beattie had initiated an apology from the state parliament “for the past policies under which indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families”, which “[expressed] deep sorrow and regret at the hurt and distress that this caused”. This was also heartfelt, but odd. From 1908 to 1971, the state government’s own figures show that a total of only 249 Aboriginal children were removed from their families and sent to reserves, missions and institutions. That’s four per year on average, and the reasons included parents’ death, neglect, the need for better education, and the need to accompany their parents.[7] To put that number in perspective, Queensland now has about 3000 Aboriginal children in care after forced removal from their families.

For Australia as a whole, the number of Aboriginal children living in care in 2010–11 was a spectacular 12,385, up 16 per cent in the previous two years alone.[8] This compares with only 8250 Aboriginal children in total taken into care in all states for all reasons in about the first seventy years of the twentieth century.[9] Moreover, of the current group in care nationally, about 30 per cent have been placed with non-indigenous carers. The rates of placement into non-indigenous care are Northern Territory, 66 per cent; New South Wales, 18 per cent; Queensland, 47 per cent; Victoria, 42 per cent; South Australia, 25 per cent; Tasmania, 57 per cent; Western Australia, 29 per cent.

[10]

Many of the children are from remote communities, and because of distant separations and loss of contact, they do not have a good chance of re-uniting with their families.

Perhaps it was politically astute that the Labor government, in selecting its “Closing the Gap” targets, did not target child abuse notifications. The targets chosen were all worthwhile but some were secondary. Ironically, the target to halve the gap in the mortality rates of children under five might be progressing partly through child removals. Prime Minister Gillard’s sentences, “Babies will live who might have died. Infants will thrive who once would not,” could have various interpretations.

Callum Clayton-Dixon, of the Queensland Anaywan Nation, can hardly be criticised for headlining the in-care figures in Brisbane Blacks Monthly as “The New Stolen Generations”.[11] (The story was illustrated with a photo of a trooper dragging an infant from its mother’s arms into a truck, a still from the fictionalised movie Rabbit Proof Fence.)

One in nineteen Aboriginal children today is in care as a result of neglectful or abusive living conditions. In the worst state, New South Wales, one in twelve Aboriginal children is in care, and in Victoria, one in 17.5.

[12]

Last June the federal government reported that in 2010–11, Aboriginal children nationally were 7.7 times more likely to be the subject of a protection order than non-Aboriginal children. The worst ratio was, surprisingly, in the ACT, where one in eighteen Aboriginal children was mistreated, thirteen times the non-Aboriginal rate. In Victoria, New South Wales and Northern Territory, the abuse involved close to one in twenty children, in Queensland one in forty, and in South Australia one in twenty-eight. Western Australia was anomalous, with a one-in-fifty-eight abuse figure, but near-equal highest ratio (thirteen times) relative to non-Aboriginal child abuse. Girls are the main victims but inquiries in the Northern Territory and New South Wales found widespread abuse of boys as well.

The federal government’s Australian Institute of Family Studies has noted a multitude of factors that could cause the Aboriginal-child abuse data—appalling as it is—to be seriously understated.

[13]

For example,

Aboriginal families fear the police and government agencies;
They fear the child may be “taken”;
A culture of silence and denial;
Pressure from abusers and their clans not to “betray” culture and community;
Fear that an abuser might suicide in jail;
Fear of retaliatory violence;
Shame, guilt and fear in cultural terms;
Lack of understanding about child abuse and neglect;
Language, legal and communication barriers;
Distance and isolation from welfare contacts.
Official inquiries in Western Australia, New South Wales and Northern Territory concluded that child sexual abuse was common, widespread and grossly under-reported, possibly by 88 per cent.

Noongar author and lawyer Dr Hannah McGlade wrote last year that sexual abuse happens to one in four Aboriginal girls and one in nine Aboriginal boys under eighteen. (Those figures were published in 2002.) She notes growing concern that high rates of suicide among the young are linked to earlier child sexual abuse.

[14]

In the foreword to this book, Professor Emerita Judy Atkinson writes,

Recently a senior male political figure admonished those in a meeting who wanted to discuss the [child abuse] issue: “When you talk about child sexual assault you traumatise Aboriginal people,” he said. What should have been said was: “Recently in your community a two-year-old child was removed because there was evidence she had been sexually penetrated, and she had a sexually transmitted infection. Would the child not be traumatised by what had happened to her? Who speaks for her?”

[15]

McGlade dedicates the book, “To all the Aboriginal children who cried out in the night but who were not heard. In special memory of Susan Ann Taylor (1984–99).”

Susan Taylor lived at the Swan Valley Nyungah Community near Perth. McGlade initially supported the Swan Valley patriarch, Aboriginal elder Robert Bropho, who campaigned for Perth land rights and respect for Aboriginal heritage and culture. She then learned he was terribly abusing girls and children. Judicially described as a bully, liar and child abuser, he was sentenced in 2008 to six years and died in 2011.

[16]

One report noted that a boy had witnessed the rape of a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler at the camp in April 2000, and the same perpetrators had sexually abused him; there were ten other children currently being abused. The police did not follow up until August 2001. The Department of Community Development tried to re-interview the child in February 2003 after removing him from school, but the child declined as he was living with a perpetrator and was not safe.

[17]

Susan Taylor was found hanged in 1999 only two weeks after filing a complaint to police of violence and sexual abuse. The coroner suspected suicide but said the police investigation was faulty and the true circumstances would never be known. The coroner said:

It was apparent from the evidence received at the Inquest hearing that there is widespread rape and sexual abuse generally committed against young Aboriginal persons like Susan throughout Western Australia. It is also very clear that few of those cases are reported.

[18]

The Swan Valley Nyungah Community was closed by the state Labor government in 2003.

Louis Nowra, in his 2007 non-fiction monograph Bad Dreaming, said that Aboriginal children face as much risk as some of the world’s most impoverished communities, according to the international aid agency Save the Children.[19] Nowra writes:

Back in 1990, Dr Ernest Hunter reported that heavy drinking had been so destructive of family life that there were fewer Aboriginal children in Western Australia being raised by their biological parents than in the days of forced assimilation.

The situation is not publicly recognized partly because of the fear that these children be seen as another stolen generation … Despite the high figures of Aboriginal children being removed from their communities and families, many other at-risk children are not being removed because, as Sue Gordon, National Indigenous Council chairwoman, has remarked, “Government agencies across the states and territories charged with the statutory responsibility for children’s issues have, I believe, taken the softly-softly approach to child abuse, [whether it be] emotional, physical, neglect or sexual, because they have been frightened of creating another stolen generation.”

According to the Australian journalist Tony Koch:

If the laws that apply to the rest of the nation were applied to Aboriginal and some island communities, children would be taken from their parents and put into care by the truckload. The most serious abuse that occurs is not sexual or physical violence— although they are certainly occurring in horrendous numbers—but sheer physical neglect.

Yet argument bogs down on whether it is “culturally appropriate” for indigenous children to be placed in the care of human beings who have lighter skin … Ask a starving child whether he or she cares who gives them a sandwich, or a safe house, or who cleans up their clogged ears and weeping skin diseases, and see what the answer is … The “culture” can come later, if the child lives long enough.

[20]

In Queensland at least, the policy is kids first, political correctness last. The Child Protection Commissioner Tim Carmody says that although the Child Safety Taskforce is working on flexible styles of help, it has also established “a clear position that, in creating a balanced approach, no child should be deprived of a statutory response when this is needed to keep them safe from harm”.

[21]

Nowra quotes the indigenous welfare worker Pam Greer who says:

Men are having sex with children, young girls, young boys … It’s a tragic, tragic situation because the children lie awake at night, waiting for it to happen to them, just lie there, waiting. They know it’s coming for them, because it’s happened to everybody. And who are they getting abused by? People who are in positions of power … And what happens? The children get stoned, get drunk, hang themselves, and we all know why.

[22]

Apart from alcohol and violence, pornography has become a factor in Aboriginal child abuse. Adults have used access to pornography to barter for sex from children and teenagers. Sexual attacks have escalated after the arrival of a shipment of pornography, which has inappropriately sexualised whole communities.[23]

In February Tim Carmody issued a discussion paper:

Queensland’s current approach to child protection is clearly failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander [ATSI] children and their families on many fronts. Rates of substantiated harm against children remain high, increasing numbers of families face intrusive interventions, and the system is struggling to provide stable and suitable placements for children in need of protection.

Numbers of ATSI children in out-of-home care in Queensland have climbed since 2008. These children are entering care younger and staying longer. Nearly 40 per cent of all children in out-of-home care are ATSI, while less than 7 per cent of [all] Queensland’s children are ATSI.

[24]

He told the press that Aboriginal children are on track to comprise half the Queensland children in care by 2015. The current 40 per cent figure compares with 25 per cent in 2004, a near-doubling in eight years.

Welfare officers use the terms “notification” and “substantiation”. “Notification” means the child appears to need protection from serious harm and does not have a parent able and willing to protect them from the harm. Further investigation can result in “substantiation” involving either remedial in-home measures or placement away from the child’s home.

Carmody says the imbalance of indigenous children in the Queensland child protection system has grown strongly in the past eight years. They are now five times more likely than non-indigenous children to be “notified” for abuse or neglect, six times more likely to be “substantiated” for abuse or neglect, and nine times more likely to be living in out-of-home care.

In Queensland’s discrete indigenous communities, where 10 per cent of the state’s Aborigines live, the child abuse and neglect are far worse and worsening. The communities of Hope Vale, Mapoon and Wujal Wujal had rates of serious harm to children more than twelve times the state average. These appalling rates, Carmody says, had been occurring alongside “extreme poverty” (even with welfare payments?), community and family violence, drunkenness and drugs, non-employment, over-crowding, poor dental and general health, and poor education. Since 2008 state and federal governments have spent $100 million on the Aurukun, Coen, Mossman Gorge and Hope Vale communities, equal to $30,000 per resident. Results in school attendance and violence reduction have been positive, but only half the residents surveyed felt parenting was improving and only a third felt there was less fighting between families.

[25]

In the Queensland population aged under eighteen, 82.0 in 1000 indigenous children were subject to a notification in 2011–12, compared with 16.1 in 1000 non-indigenous children. While the number of non-indigenous children subject to a notification has decreased by 10.8 per cent since 2007–08, the number of indigenous children subject to a notification has increased by 35.5 per cent.

[26]

The raw numbers for “substantiated” indigenous children were 1622 in 2007–08, rising to 2002 in 2011–12. Of those, 386 involved physical harm, 98 sexual harm, 533 emotional harm, and in 985 cases, “neglect”.

Carmody blames factors including mass relocations of communities, past forced removals of children, poor parenting that magnifies through the generations, distrust of mainstream agencies, and everyday violence including spousal assaults, homicides, self-harm, rapes and inter-group fighting.

[27]

He says solutions can’t involve child safety alone, but require improvement to the community living conditions, including poverty and housing. There is a “National Framework” for child protection, which is full of worthy goals, but he says the reality with Aboriginal children is quite different. Many at-risk families get aid only when things reach a crisis. Community-driven aid and schemes for parental education are virtually absent.

In 2010 Queensland set up eleven family early-support services, but in Townsville, for example, less than 10 per cent of referrals could even remotely be called “early” intervention, much less prevention. Most of the other 90 per cent of families have long histories with child safety authorities of up to twenty years.

[28]

Services are fragmented, including both white and Aboriginal bureaucracies, reducing effective help. Only four districts are now providing holistic service.

Carmody believes the worsening situation is because state government bureaucracies have interfered with successful community-driven services. The various local bureaucracies are hampered by lack of trained Aboriginal staff, inexperienced directors, missing skills, poor procedures, and the inability to marshal data convincingly for grants.

The department has funded “recognised entities”, meaning both individuals and groups, to provide input into child safety case decisions. These entities are hamstrung or marginalised by departmental bureaucrats, and are sometimes reprimanded for disagreeing with departmental decisions or initiating referrals.

[29]

In a shocking coda last August to the child abuse litany, the former CEO of Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services, Steven Andrew Larkins, aged forty-six, pleaded guilty to nine offences including producing and possessing child pornography, fraud and the aggravated indecent assault of two boys aged eleven and twelve. He was sentenced to a minimum of nineteen months in jail.

Larkins had worked in advisory roles on child protection for both the New South Wales and federal governments. He was so revered in New South Wales he was on the expert panel for the government’s “Keep Them Safe” reforms.

[30]

The Hunter Aboriginal Children’s Services organise foster care and family support. Their website says:

When children or young people cannot live with their family, we try to restore them with their natural (or birth) family and only when this is not possible, we place children and young people in culturally aware, trained and loving Aboriginal foster families.[31]

Tony Thomas, a retired journalist, is a frequent contributor to Quadrant and Quadrant Online.

[1] http://www.aic.gov.au/publications/current per cent20series/rpp/100-120/rpp105.html, p55

[2] http://www.aifs.gov.au/cfca/pubs/factsheets/a142117/index.html

[3] ibid

[4] http://www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/175393/Chapter-3.pdf p37

[5] Op cit see 2

[6] But if, as Rudd claimed, there had been “tens of thousands” or “up to 50,000” stolen children, it is odd that the judiciary in court has verified only one stolen child, Bruce Trevorrow, who was taken in 1958 as an ill baby by a well-meaning but misguided white couple. That taking was in defiance of, rather than conformity with, policies of the SA State government against removal of Aboriginal children from their parents. Trevorrow in August 2007 won $535,000 damages plus $250,000 interest.

[7] Windschuttle, Keith, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Vol 111, Macleay Press, ` Sydney 2009. P603

[8] Op cit see 2

[9] Windschuttle, op cit p617.

[10] http://www.aifs.gov.au/cfca/pubs/factsheets/a142117/index.html

[11] http://brisbaneblacksmonthly.weebly.com/the-new-stolen-generations.html

[12] http://www.aifs.gov.au/cfca/pubs/factsheets/a142117/index.html

[13] ibid

[14] McGlade, Hannah, Our Greatest Challenge – Aboriginal children and human rights. Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra 2012, p8-9

[15] ibid, pvi

[16] ibid, p87

[17] ibid p84-85

[18] ibid p119

[19] Nowra, Louis, Bad Dreaming – Aboriginal men’s violence against women and children. Pluto Press, Victoria, 2007, p81-2

[20] Weekend Australian 24/7/10

[21]Op cit 10, p173

[22] Op cit Nowra, p55

[23] Op cit 8 AIFS

[24] http://www.childprotectioninquiry.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0009/175248/QCPCI_Discussion_paper.pdf p166

[25] http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/indigenous/noel-pearsons-cape-york-trial-changing-lives/story-fn9hm1pm-1226608059546

[26] ibid

[27] ibid p169

[28] ibid p172

[29] ibid p177

[30] http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-07-31/child-sex-jail/4167044/?site=indigenous&topic=latest

[31] http://www.hunteracs.org.au

Unstolen Generations in Victoria

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:

Removed children

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.