AUSTRALiA

“‘We were playing in the schoolyard and this old black man came to the fence. I could hear him singing out to me and my sister. I said: ‘Don’t go. There’s a black man’. And we took off. It was two years ago I found out that was my grandfather. He came looking for us. I don’t know when I ever stopped being frightened of Aboriginal people. I don’t know when I realized I was Aboriginal. It’s been a long hard fight for me’“ (Celermajer, Danielle).


Like many nations, Australia’s current population is very different than it was a few hundred years ago. About 250 Aboriginal tribes lived in Australia and the surrounding areas of Tasmania and the Torres Strait Islands.

Fishermen from countries just north of Australia (China and other Asian countries) visited irregularly. In 1606, the Dutch began exploration of the northern and western coast. British colonists claimed east Australia in 1770. Britain transformed this “new” land into a penal colony (a jail) with New South Wales as their first settlement, founded on January 26th, 1788. On January 1st, 1901, all six of Britain’s colonies formed a federation called the Commonwealth of Australia. The native population, approximately 350,000 when the Europeans began colonization, declined steadily.

One major reason for the European colonization stemmed from the idea that Australian was terra nullius, or “no man’s land”. Much of central Australia is covered in desert, making the land appear quite desolate. Despite the native Aboriginal population, Europeans believed that Australia was theirs for the taking. Europeans also thought that the natives were uncivilized heathens that needed saving. This idea of terra nullius became especially crucial in land disputes between Europeans and Aborigines. The Europeans argued that the Aborigines had no right to the land and that land belonged to whomever the European government gave it to. Aborigines, on the other hand, argued that they had lived on and worked the land, so therefore it was theirs.

The Australian gold rush of the 1850’s added to the chaos and the land conflicts escalated. Thousands of immigrants flooded the country and Australia’s economy boomed. Conflicts with Aborigines also increased.

Australia’s participation in WWI was considered a defining moment for the nation, as was its participation in WWII. Australia began to break its ties with the UK and come into their own. Australia allied with the US during WWII as the UK was defeated in Asia and they feared Japanese invasion. Encouraged post-war immigration from Europe and Asia changed Australia’s image and culture.

The Australian civil rights movement occurred in the 1970’s as many Aborigines fought for equal rights. The ‘90’s, as well, were a landmark decade for Aboriginal rights.

Between 1910 and the 1970’s (but especially during the ‘30’s), over 100,000 Aboriginal and mixed-race children were taken from their homes and put into foster care, religious institutions, or group homes. These children are known as the Stolen Generation. According to the Bringing Them Home report:

“Nationally we can conclude with confidence that between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were sic. forcibly removed from their families and communities in the period from approximately 1910 until 1970. In certain regions and in certain periods the figure was undoubtedly much greater than one in ten. In that time not one family has escaped the effects of forcible removal (confirmed by representatives of the Queensland and WA Governments in evidence to the Inquiry). Most families have been affected, in one or more generations, by the forcible removal of one or more children.”

The Australian government claimed that this was to help give these children opportunities that they would not otherwise get. However, the real motive behind this was that the government wanted to slowly but surely extinguish an entire culture by forcibly integrating Aboriginal children into white culture. Children were often taken so early that they did not remember their birth parents. Most children were taken against their will and the wills of their families. Some parents were forced to sign consent papers. Some children ended up having better jobs and high-level education that they would not receive in their home villages. However, this came at a steep price. Most children did not benefit from their forced integration. Children were discouraged from using their native language and were often beaten for not conforming to white cultural norms:

“Y’know, I can remember we used to just talk lingo. [In the Home] they used to tell us not to talk that language, that it’s devil’s language. And they’d wash our mouths with soap. We sorta had to sit down with Bible language all the time. So it sorta wiped out all our language that we knew.”

At times, children were abused physically, emotionally, and/or sexually. Many children felt alienated and were bullied because of their skin color.
The Stolen Generation had major repercussions for Australia. It tore families apart and threatened to destroy entire cultures. Thousands of aboriginal children suffered identity crises and abuse. Aboriginal children who grew up in white homes continuously felt out-of place and were forced to assimilate into an unfamiliar culture, thus destroying their former culture. Parents were left empty-handed with only a hope that their children were still alive. The policies of the Stolen Generation era proved that, if unchecked, a government could slowly but surely extinguish an entire culture without direct violent means.

Hope, however, is on the horizon for Australia. The Stolen Generation policies were eradicated a few decades ago. On February 13, 2008, the new Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, issued a formal apology to the native Australian population:

“Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.”

“Rudd followed the apology with a 20-minute speech to the house about the need for the apology, which was widely applauded among both Indigenous Australians and the non-indigenous general public.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generation)


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What now? What policies should the Australian government adopt? What steps should be taken to ensure full equality for all Australians? Tell me what you think in the Discussion page :).

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The following Wikipedia article is very informative and goes into a lot more depth on the Stolen Generation:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generation
The following is an interesting article about Bruce Trevorrow who is a member of the Stolen Generation:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6937222.stm

Works Cited/Additional Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generation
http://www.infoplease.com/spot/aboriginal1.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generation
http://www.culturewars.org.uk/2002-12/stolengeneration.htm
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6937222.stm
Hoyt, Alia. "What was Australia's Stolen Generation?." 20 October 2008. HowStuffWorks.com. <http://history.howstuffworks.com/australia-and-new-zealand-history/stolen-generation.htm> 27 February 2009.
http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/goldrush/
Celermajer, Danielle. The Stolen Generation: Aboriginal Children In Australia
Human Rights Dialogue: "Cultural Rights" (Spring 2005) (http://www.cceia.org/resources/publications/dialogue/2_12/section_1/5142.html)
http://www.australianexplorer.com/australian_history.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_nullius

*Edited by: Clarity