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Tuesday, February 19

Australia: the apology

Kevin Rudd with Nana Nungala Fejo, the Northern Territory great-grandmother named by the Prime Minister in his historic apology to the stolen generation

The apology by Australia's new Labor Prime Minister to the Stolen Generations [Aborigines removed en masse from their parents] was a well-hyped moment. Coming at the beginning of the new Parliament it was received by large crowds of Aboriginal people who descended on Canberra.

It's way over due. Way past Canada or New Zealand or Brazil in their approach to their indigenous citizens. And it comes with - deliberately - no compensation (although the courts may see more compensated, it's unlikely because the evidence trail is cold), unlike those other countries. Plus there is still large scale opposition and complete denial, in particular to anyone raising the concept of 'genocide'.

Here's what this means in practice:

I do not know if Rikki Davis (Letters to the Editor, NIT Issue 144 ‘In defence of Brough’) is Aboriginal or non Aboriginal but this is exactly what I mean; no such thing as cultural genocide indeed? I know there is, cause I can’t speak MY language or practice MY culture because some whitefulla told my grandfather that he cannot do that “it is the old way” and to ensure he never did he was beaten every time he spoke one of the five or so more languages he could speak.

So he had to do it in secret, never to pass it onto his children for fear he would “hold them back”.

He also had the fear of a foreign god forced into his psyche to aid the cultural genocide policies of the times.
Like many Indigenous Australians, I couldn't get too excited. It's just (carefully calculated) words.

Labor in Australia is not, traditionally, that friendly to Aborigines. Inspiring figures like ex-Labor PM Keating ('we poisoned the waterholes') are rare. PM Rudd, as well, has form from his time as a Queensland civil servant in working against Indigenous interests and in the lead-up to the election Labor backed former PM John Howard's shocking, paternalist and colonialist 'intervention' in remote communities for electoral advantage. The States have been largely in Labor hands for years and they have done b****r all for Indigenous Australians. The Labor States have in particular fought the allied issue of 'stolen wages' - years of failing to pay or underpaying Indigenous workers.

Labor has done part of The Right Thing To Do but until they start serious spending to reverse the gap - which is enormous, many Aborigines live in Sub-Saharan Africa circumstances - and propose real constitutional change I ain't convinced by their sincerity.

The UK should also apologise, being the ultimate responsible party, but we have a historic antipathy to indigenous people within the UK establishment, focused on the Foreign Office, which most Labour supporters wouldn't be aware of.

We apologised to the Irish for the potato famine but apparently Australia's Aborigines living in our 'Terra Nullius' (empty land) don't have enough clout.



Between 1910 and 1970 up to 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken forcibly or under duress from their families bypolice or welfare officers .

Most were under 5 years old. There was rarely any judicial process. To be Aboriginal was enough. They are known as the ‘Stolen Generations’.

What happened to them?
  • Most were raised in Church or state institutions. Some were fostered or adopted by white parents.
  • Many suffered physical and sexual abuse. Food and living conditions were poor.
  • They received little education, and were expected to go into low grade domestic and farming work.
Why where they taken?

They were taken because it was Federal and State Government policy that Aboriginal children - especially those of mixed Aboriginal and European descent - should be removed from their parents.

Between 10 and 30% of all Aboriginal children were removed, and in some places these policies continued into the 1970s.
  • The main motive was to ‘assimilate’ Aboriginal children into European society over one or two generations by denying and destroying their Aboriginality.
  • Speaking their languages and practising their ceremonies was forbidden
  • They were taken miles from their country, some overseas
  • Parents were not told where their children were and could not trace them
  • Children were told that they were orphans
  • Family visits were discouraged or forbidden; letters were destroyed.
What where the results?
  • The physical and emotional damage to those taken away was profound and lasting:
  • Most grew up in a hostile environment without family ties or cultural identity.
  • As adults, many suffered insecurity, lack of self esteem, feelings of worthlessness, depression, suicide, violence, delinquency, abuse of alcohol and drugs and inability to trust.
  • Lacking a parental model, many had difficulty bringing up their own children.
  • The scale of separation also had profound consequences for the whole Aboriginal community - anger, powerlessness and lack of purpose as well as an abiding distrust of Government, police and officials.
A National Inquiry was set up in 1995. Its 1997 Report ‘Bringing them Home’ contained harrowing evidence.

It found that forcible removal of indigenous children was a gross violation of human rights which continued well after Australia had undertaken international human rights commitments.
  • It was racially discriminatory, because it only applied to Aboriginal children on that scale, and
  • It was an act of genocide contrary to the Convention on Genocide, (which forbids ‘forcibly transferring children of [a] group to another group’ with the intention of destroying the group.)


  1. Anonymous30.8.08

    hi paul

    just wondering if you were the paul canning i knew in newtown back in the late 80's
    you worked for radio skidrow
    my name is bruce and i lived in erko

  2. The same ;] Ah, memories!