The Stolen Generation: Most blemished chapter in Australian history
Posted on December 20th, 2016

 Dr. Ruwan M Jayatunge

My dad taught me from my youngest childhood memories through these connections with Aboriginal and tribal people that you must always protect people’s sacred status, regardless of the pest. –Steve Irwin

The Stolen Generation is a term used to describe those children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian government under Parliamentary Act in 1869. The forcible removals occurred from 1869 to 1970 that given the catastrophic population decline of Aboriginal people and disintegration of their cultural roots leading to numerous psycho-social problems.

The children were removed forcefully and against the will of their parents.

Over 100,000 children were brutally and forcibly removed and in some cases the infants were removed soon after their birth. There are no genuine statistics about the stolen generations today. Many records have been lost or destroyed. Most of the parents whose children were taken never saw them again. One in ten Aboriginal children were separated from their mothers during these years. Such removals were made by the Police Officers or Aboriginal Protection Offices who were white Australians.

The children were held in Government institutions and subjected to inhuman conditions. The aboriginal children were prevented using their native languages and rituals. Often they were severely punished for using their indigenous languages. They were prevented being socialized. The siblings were deliberately separated from each other. The children were taught to reject their Aboriginality and to regard Indigenous culture as evil. The aboriginal boys were trained to become agricultural labourers and the girls as domestic servants to serve in the White Australian households.

According to the comments made by some Historians and Sociologists the Stolen Generation represent a cultural genocide. They argue that the Australian Government literally kidnapped these children from their parents as a government policy which was managed by the APB or Aborigines Protection Board. The ABP gave the power to remove children without parental consent and without a Court order. Therefore it was an institutionalized atrocity against the Aboriginal people which based on racial grounds. This policy made tens of thousand of Aboriginal families to suffer and breaking up of important cultural, spiritual and family ties. It affected individuals as well as the community hence creating a collective trauma. Sir Ronald Wilson the President of Australia’s Human Rights Commission once called it as an attempted genocide.

As the Psychiatrist Dr. Jane McKendrick of Melbourne University points out high proportion of people from the Stolen Generations were psychologically, physically or sexually abused while in care. Many victims suffer from anxiety, depression and post-trumatic stress. The repercussions of the stolen generations still echoes the Aboriginal community. They have high prevalence of alcoholism, suicides, domestic violence and child abuse.

The average Aborigine life expectancy is 17 years shorter than the rest of the countries’ population.

The victims still have Inter-generational effects with poor parenting skills, behavioural problems, unresolved grief and trauma due to the institutionalization upbringing. People who experienced forcible removal in childhood experience blunt emotions, insecurity and they have lack of trust in the outside world. They even pass down negativity to their offspring. The stolen generation lacked socialization which includes processes of being nurtured. They often found difficulty in sustaining and developing good constructive family relationships with their own children.

Therefore the collective trauma became a vicious cycle.

Traumatic removal of Aboriginal children from their parents at young age with no substitute attachment figures resulted a social calamity. The common psychological impacts have often manifested in isolation, drug or alcohol abuse, criminal involvement, self harm and suicide.

Trauma experienced in childhood embedded in the personality and physical development of the victims. It destroyed Aboriginal identity and knowledge of Aboriginal culture. The mental anguish they suffer is directly linked to being taken from their parents. Indigenous Australians suffer disproportionately high rates of psychological ailments.

The Aborigines of Australia were the first people to set foot on the continent, somewhere between 40,000 and 60,000 years ago. Europeans settled in Australia in 1788.

The colonists battled natives for their land. A hundred years later Aborigines no longer held much of the continent and many Aboriginal groups were struggling for survival. There may have been between a half million to a full million Aborigines at the time of European settlement; today about 350,000 live in Australia.

Following the European interventions Aborigines lost their spiritual homes as well as their source of food. Hunger, disease and armed attacks killed thousands of Aborigines. They lost their lands, cultural links and eventually their children.

The APB policy affected not only the aboriginal victims even the enforcers for some extent. According to an article written by Lang Dean in 1997 describes the anguish of his father a Victorian policeman from 1922 until 1946 who made over 343 removals. As the author describes after such removals the policemen was crying and sobbing as a child. He removed aboriginal children against his conscience and repented until his last days.

On February 13, 2008 Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd asked for an apology from the victims of the stolen generation even though the former Premier John Howard rejected calls for a formal government apology. Some political analysts criticized John Howard who had been a Member of Parliament in the 1960s – when forced removal was still a government policy.

Although many Indigenous Australians welcomed the official government apology they highlight that it does not pay any compensation for the suffering that they underwent.

As a result of the government made disaster they are still experiencing the anguish.

The apology was sweet but it was merely nothing but words which will not resolve their current problems.

One Response to “The Stolen Generation: Most blemished chapter in Australian history”

  1. Randeniyage Says:

    There was definite genocide in the case of original Tasmanians, last being Truganini. They try to hide this fact by manufacturing stories such as the one follows.

    Trugernanner (Truganini) (1812–1876)
    by Lyndall Ryan and Neil Smith

    This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976
    (Truganini) Trugernanner (1812?-1876), Tasmanian Aboriginal, was born in Van Diemen’s Land on the western side of the D’Entrecasteaux Channel, in the territory of the south-east tribe.
    Her father was Mangerner, leader of one of the tribe’s bands, and in her adolescence she was associated with its traditional culture, making occasional visits to Port Davey.
    The tribe was disrupted by European sealers, whalers and timber-getters; by March 1829, when she and her father met G. A. Robinson at Bruny Island, her mother had been killed by sailors, her uncle shot by a soldier, her sister abducted by sealers, and Paraweena, a young man who was to have been her husband, murdered by timber-getters.
    At Bruny Island mission in 1829 she ‘married’ Woorraddy, from Bruny. They were associated with all the missions that Robinson and his sons conducted around Tasmania in 1830-35; they acted as guides and as instructors in their languages and customs, which were recorded by Robinson in his journal, the best ethnographic record now available of traditional Tasmanian Aboriginal society.
    Trugernanner, Woorraddy and other Aborigines from Robinson’s mission arrived at the Flinders Island settlement in November 1835. With the hundred or so captured Aborigines still alive they were to be ‘christianized and europeanized’ and taught to be farmers. She was renamed Lallah Rookh by Robinson, but held to her traditional ways. In March 1836 she and Woorraddy returned to Tasmania to search in vain for the one family remaining in the north-west. By July 1837 when they went back to Flinders Island, many had died there and Robinson’s programme had proved unsuccessful. Trugernanner told him that all the Aborigines would be dead before the houses being constructed for them were completed.
    In February 1839, with Woorraddy and fourteen other Aborigines, she accompanied Robinson to Port Phillip. She and four others, without Woorraddy, later joined a party of whalers near Portland Bay. In 1841 all five Aborigines were charged with the murder of two whalers and in January 1842 the two men were hanged. In July Trugernanner and two other women, Fanny and Matilda, were sent back to Flinders Island with Woorraddy who, however, died en route. She lived with the Aborigine Alphonso until October 1847 when, with forty-six others, she moved to a new establishment at Oyster Cove, in her traditional territory. She resumed much of her earlier life-style, diving for shellfish, visiting Bruny Island by catamaran, and hunting in the near-by bush.

    By 1869 she and William Lanney were the only full bloods alive. The mutilation of Lanney’s body after his death in March led Trugernanner to express concern; she told Rev. H. D. Atkinson, ‘I know that when I die the Museum wants my body’.
    In 1874 she moved to Hobart Town with her guardians, the Dandridge family, and died in Mrs Dandridge’s house in Macquarie Street on 8 May 1876, aged 64. She was buried at the old female penitentiary at the Cascades at Midnight on 10 May.
    Her body was exhumed in December 1878 by the Royal Society of Tasmania, authorized by the government to take possession of her skeleton on condition that it be not exposed to public view but ‘decently deposited in a secure resting place accessible by special permission to scientific men for scientific purposes’. But it was placed in the Tasmanian Museum where it was on public display in 1904-47. Trugernanner was the most famous of the Aboriginal Tasmanians, but her life is shrouded in myth and legend. As the faithful companion of Robinson in 1829-35, she assisted in bringing in her compatriots because she wanted to save them from European guns. The establishment at Flinders Island was a grave disappointment to her. Small in stature, forceful, gifted and courageous, she held European society in contempt and made her own adjustment on her own terms.

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