The Stolen Generation

Australia’s ‘Stolen Generations’ is a term used to describe the practice between the 1890’s and the 1970’s of taking young indigenous Australian and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and into facilities. From the 1950’s these children were sent to the care of wholesome white households. Young Aboriginal girls in particular were taken into white households to be trained in the ‘domestic service’. There were a multitude of reasons for doing such a thing, but one that stands out is the goal to destroy the indigenous Australian culture that is largely oral. If this culture could not be passed on, then their “Aboriginal-ness” would be eliminated.

This topic is highly sensitive and is something that should be discussed with care and respect, but most importantly it should be discussed. Speaking from a personal viewpoint this occurred long before my time and for a while was something that I wasn’t even aware of having happened until around 2007. At that time the Prime Ministerial candidate, Kevin Rudd, brought it up as a promise. Supposedly he would publicly and officially apologize to the ‘Stolen Generations’ if he should become Prime Minister of Australia. Until the topic became a political tool, no one I knew had ever discussed it. No adults, no teachers, and no one in authority. This young generation that I’m a part of had been made completely unaware of it. The lack of discussion of this admittedly shameful past of Australia is important. It is evidence that the Australian government of the time was attempting what I consider a soft genocide, an attempt to dilute a race until it is unrecognizable and then forget about it.

Thankfully this failed, but it still happened. A certain wing of political commentators makes the argument that the ‘Stolen Generations’ never occurred, Andrew Bolt having famously written an opinion piece called “Betrayed by a black myth” in 2007 around the same time Kevin Rudd’s promise of apologizing was still going around the media circuit. He quotes one woman, Lowitja O’Donoghue, who doesn’t like being called ‘stolen’, preferring the word ‘removed’. This in itself is not a problem, presenting the woman’s preference on how she would wish to be described. The problem is that Andrew Bolt goes on to press his own view with “Of course, ‘removed’ still isn’t accurate. The correct word is in fact ‘abandoned’, or even ‘saved’”. Andrew Bolt continues to call the ‘Stolen Generations’ a myth, stating that no child was actually stolen and keeping that assertion up to at least 2013, the most recent article of his that discusses the issue. Andrew Bolt’s argument boils down to semantics, there was never anyone stolen, they were saved. This paints the topic in a light that makes it almost outrageous that anyone would want an apology.

It’s this dismissiveness, this disregard for the topic, that led to the political climate that makes a simple apology something to be lauded, a political promise to be made to win votes. If the ‘Stolen Generations’ hadn’t ever been forgotten, then it would simply be a matter of course. Of course, you should acknowledge your mistakes. Of course, you treat others with respect. And of course, of course, of course, you apologize to someone if you do them harm. It’s simply the right thing to do. The ‘Stolen Generations’ may not be forgotten in the traditional sense, but before 2007 it seemed there was no discussing it, no talking about it. There are books dated between the 1970’s and 2007 that discuss the issue, but can you find a book on a topic that you don’t know exists? The idea that the ‘Stolen Generations’ can be forgotten in such a pervasive way disturbs me and it brings to mind the almost cliché saying “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. It would be nothing less than a tragedy to repeat this past, so we can’t forget it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *