Welcome to Quadrant Online | Login/ Register Cart (0) $0 View Cart
January 01st 2010 print

Keith Windschuttle

Why There Were No Stolen Generations (Part One)

Most Australians would be taken aback to find that whenever academics in the field of genocide studies discuss history’s worst exam­ples, their own country is soon mentioned. The March 2001 edition of the London-based Journal of Genocide Research indi­cated the com­pany Australia now keeps. That edition carried six arti­cles, in the following order:

“The German Police and Genocide in Belorussia 1941–1944. Part 1: Police Deployment and Nazi Genocidal Directives”, by Eric Haberer

“Comparative Policy and Differential Practice in the Treatment of Minorities in Wartime: The United States Archival Evidence on the       Armenians and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire”, by Rouben Paul Adalian

“Final Solutions, Crimes Against Mankind: On the Genesis and Criticism of the Concept of Genocide”, by Uwe Makino

“The Holocaust, the Aborigines, and the Bureaucracy of Destruction: An Australian Dimension of Genocide”, by Paul R. Bartrop

“Did Ben-Gurion Reverse his Position on Bombing Auschwitz?”, by Rich­ard H. Levy

“Kalmykia, Victim of Stalinist Genocide: From Oblivion to Reassertion”, by François Grin

According to Paul Bartrop of Deakin University, Australia deserves this place in the academic literature because our past policies towards Aboriginal children were comparable to those of Nazi Germany. “It did not involve killing,” he admitted, “but its ultimate objective was the same as Hitler’s was for the Jews; namely, that at the end of the process the target group would have disappeared from the face of the earth.” Hence he declared with confidence: “It is impossible to con­clude otherwise than that Australia in the 1930s was possessed of an administrative culture that in reality practised geno­cide.” In its first ten years from 1999 to 2009, the quarterly Journal of Genocide Research published twelve major articles of this kind about Australia. This was more than three times as many as the journal car­ried in the same period on the regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia. In Volume 10, Issue 4, 2008, no fewer than three of the seven articles were on Australia: one on the Stolen Generations and two on colo­nial history. Indicting Australia for genocide has become an aca­demic obsession.

Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission made this charge notorious when in April 1997 it published Bringing Them Home, the report of its National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families. The report accused Australia of breaching the United Nations convention on genocide. For its historical analysis, the Commission relied heavily upon the work of a small number of university-based histori­ans. Since then, the number of academics and academic programs in this field has grown exponentially to cash in on the demand created. Today, very few countries, and certainly no others of our size, devote the quantity of university resources that we now do to geno­cide studies. The field is concerned not only with the Stolen Genera­tions but the so-called invasion of Australia and the genocide alleg­edly inherent in establishing British settlement here.

The underlying agenda of this academic pursuit is not simply the study of genocide, let alone its analysis or prevention. Its aim is political, to argue that our own society and those like it, that is, Britain and the United States, are every bit as bad as Nazi Germany. In the 2001 edi­tion of the academic journal Aboriginal History, editors Ann Curthoys and John Docker of the Australian National University wrote:

Settler-colonies like ‘Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, the United States, and Canada’ led the way in setting out to achieve what the Nazis also set out to achieve, the displacement of indigenous populations and their replacement by incoming peoples held to be racially superior.

International academic book publishers know there is a market for such material. For their anthology Genocide and the Modern Age, edi­tors Isidor Wallimann and Michael Dobkowski commissioned a chapter exclusively on Australia. The only other countries singled out to this extent were Turkey, which got a chapter for its 1915–17 massacres of the Armenians, and, of course, Germany, which generated several chapters on the Holocaust. In the ten-volume series Studies on War and Genocide, edited by Omer Bartov of Brown Uni­versity, seven of the books commissioned were on Nazi Germany, two were general volumes about genocide in various places, but Aus­tralia was the only other country given a volume of its own, Genocide and Settler Society, published in 2004 and edited by Dirk Moses of the University of Sydney. Observing this publishing trend, University of New England historian Alan Atkinson commented:

It is disturbing for an Australian to discover that debates about genocide often do not move very far beyond the classic area of study—Europe under the Nazis—before someone mentions the antipodes. Genocide is a crime, in other words, for which Australia is listed among the usual suspects.

More recently, the focus on Australia has only intensified. In Blood and Soil, a world history of genocide published in 2007, the Austra­lian expatriate historian Ben Kiernan of Yale University devoted more attention to the alleged genocidal activities of Australia than to any other nation or region. His book had 61 pages about Australia, compared to the Armenian massacres (21 pages), the Nazi Holocaust (39 pages), the Japanese atrocities in East Asia (31 pages), the Soviet Terror (26 pages), China under Mao (27 pages), and the genocides of Cambodia and Rwanda (32 pages). Four of Kiernan’s maps depicted scenes in Australia, the same number as Nazi Germany, Stalinist Rus­sia and Maoist China put together. In 2008, Paul Bartrop repeated his earlier accusation. As co-author of the two-volume work The Dictionary of Genocide, he wrote the entry “Australia, Genocide in”. He again applied the term genocide to the Stolen Generations, saying its use in that context “could be sustained relatively easily”.

In March 2009, one of Australia’s best-known historians and essay­ists, Inga Clendinnen, reviewed the book Guilt About the Past, a col­lection of lectures by German novelist Bernhard Schlink. The lec­tures discussed how the modern German nation, now two generations dis­tant from the Second World War, should approach the question of guilt for the Holocaust. Clendinnen was disappointed with the book, and wrote, almost as an aside: “I had hoped the lecture titled Forgive­ness and Rec­onciliation would speak to our situa­tion in this country.” In other words, literary reviews and intellec­tual discussion in this country now toss off the comparison between Australia and Nazi Germany as if it were so familiar one can now speak about it in shorthand—“our situation in this country”—as though any possible debate is over.

The argument of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume Three, The Stolen Generations 1881–2008 is that Australia does not deserve this reputation. While the case against genocide for the Stolen Genera­tions has already produced several effective critics, most notably anthropologists Ron Brunton and Kenneth Maddock, journalists Paddy McGuinness, Paul Sheehan and Andrew Bolt, and two former Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs, John Herron and Peter Howson, a full defence of the charge has yet to be mounted. This book is longer, more detailed, and much less reader-friendly than it ought to be to gain a wide readership. But to address the full range of arguments made by the prosecution there was no alternative but to proceed comprehensively and forensically. That could only be accomplished properly by a complete re-examination of the foun­dation on which the case was originally made: its claim to be histori­cally true.

My conclusion is that not only is the charge of genocide unwarranted, but so is the term “Stolen Generations”. Aboriginal children were never removed from their families in order to put an end to Aboriginality or, indeed, to serve any improper government policy or program. The small numbers of Aboriginal child removals in the twentieth century were almost all based on traditional grounds of child welfare. Most children affected had been orphaned, abandoned, des­titute, neglected or subject to various forms of domestic violence, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Historians have given Western Australia a particularly loathsome reputation, but when you examine the records you find the majority of children placed in state Aborigi­nal settlements were from destitute families and they went there with their parents. In New South Wales, some children became part of an apprenticeship indenture program to help Abo­riginal youth qualify for the workforce. A significant number of other children were vol­untarily placed in institutions by Aboriginal parents to give them an education and a better chance in life.

Moreover, there is no fall-back position for those who want to argue that, even if the removals might not have quite amounted to genocide, they were still done for racist reasons. In Chapter Three, I demonstrate in an analysis of welfare policy for white children that none of the policies that allowed the removal of Aboriginal children were unique to them. They were removed for the same reason as white children in similar circumstances. Even the program to place Aboriginal children in apprenticeships was a replica of measures that had already been applied to white children in welfare institutions in New South Wales for several decades, and to poor English children for several centuries before that.

Chapters Three and Eight also discuss several pieces of legislative discrimination against Aboriginal people and their children that derived from the system of Aboriginal protectionism in the first half of the twentieth century. In some states officials treated Aboriginal people who lived on reserves, government stations, and on state-funded missions, depots and settlements as though they were the equivalent of white inmates of welfare institutions. I have no desire in this book to defend these last measures since they effec­tively treated Aborigines as second-class citizens. However, the criti­cal question in the debate over the Stolen Generations is not whether all Aboriginal policy was free of discrimination. Rather, it is about why some Aboriginal children were removed from their parents. The answer was the same for black children as it was for white. They were subject to the standard child welfare policies of their time. This is not to say the laws were all the same for black and white children. In some states they were quite different. Nonetheless, the intentions behind the laws that allowed the state to remove children, whether black or white, were the same.

One critical point that has always been avoided by the historians of the Stolen Generations is that full-blood children were rarely, and in many places never, removed from their parents. By the early decades of the twentieth century, most Aborigines in the southern half of the Australian continent were people of part descent, but in the north­ern half, full-descent populations predominated. In the Kimberley district and the Northern Territory, half-castes constituted a small minority of indigenous people. From Federation to the Second World War, the policies of the Queensland, West Australian and Commonwealth govern­ments were to preserve full-blood Aborigi­nal com­munities inviolate. By the 1920s and 1930s, when it became clear the full-blood population was not dying out as previously thought, but was actually increasing in some places, these govern­ments estab­lished reserves of millions of acres and passed laws forbidding Europeans and Asians from entering Aboriginal commu­nities, employing or remov­ing full-blood Aborigi­nes without permission, having sexual relations with them, or pro­viding them with alcohol or opium.

Overwhelmingly, in the north of the continent, the Aboriginal children subject to removal policies came from the minority of half-castes and those of lesser descent. They were removed for both traditional welfare reasons and to help them gain some education and training for the workforce. In the local idiom, the latter was known as “giv­ing them a chance”. The only full-blood children taken into care were those chronically ill, dangerously malnourished or severely disabled, but this was uncommon. Less urgent cases of child abuse and neglect among full-bloods were ignored and simply regarded as Aboriginal business.

This is yet another reason why the charge of genocide is untenable. The United Nations Convention on Genocide, Article 2, defines acts of genocide as those “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. Half-castes and those of lesser descent did not constitute any such group. Their identity varied enormously. Some saw themselves and were treated by others as Aborigines, but there were many who did not. In some communities, full-blood people accepted half-castes; in others they were not regarded as true Aborigines at all; in some cases, half-caste babies born to tribal women were routinely put to death. Chapters Seven and Ten discuss evidence about many half-caste people who did not identify as members of a distinct racial commu­nity, and indeed, were more concerned to emulate white people and live like other Australians.

To say there were no Stolen Generations is not to argue there were no forcible removals of Aboriginal children from their fami­lies. There were many forcible removals in the period under discus­sion, just as there are today. The children of parents who neglected them, who let them go hungry, who abused them with violence, who prostituted them, who let them run wild with no supervision, or who drank themselves into an alcoholic stupor while leaving the chil­dren to their own devices, all faced forcible removals—often by the police and occasionally under scenes of great duress. Academic historians and Aboriginal activists, however, have redefined all these legitimate removals as rac­ist and genocidal. Only by this means have they been able to mount the semblance of a case. A detailed study of the surviving individual case records in New South Wales in Chapter Two reveals an array of reasons for removal far too broad to fit into any single-minded bureaucratic program.

Some Aboriginal children do have genuine grounds for griev­ance, but they are not alone. In the rough justice of child welfare policy, white children could be treated harshly too, especially if their mothers were unmarried. Until as recently as the 1970s, such children, white or black, were frequently removed on grounds that we would not approve today. Before governments began paying pensions to unmarried mothers in the 1970s, children could be deemed neglected because they lacked a father, and thus a means of support. Until then, unmarried white teenage girls who fell pregnant were strongly pressured by both church and state to give up their babies, who were often taken from them at birth and adopted out to other families. But in these cases the child’s fate was determined not by its colour but by its illegitimacy. There was a common presumption throughout Australia that unmarried teenage mothers, black or white, could not and should not be left to bring up the children they bore.

Some people removed as children remember their former family life as a time when they were happy and well cared for. They recall their removal as an event of great trauma. There is no reason to doubt they are telling the truth. Some of their testimony is inher­ently convincing. They could not possibly have invented the kind of trauma they described. There were others, however, who remembered trauma from another source—their own homes: “I can understand why they took me,” one former inmate of the Cootamundra Aborigi­nal Girls’ Home told an interviewer in 1994. “Mum and dad were terrible when they were on the grog—in fact we were dead scared.”

The problem with the Stolen Generations thesis is that child­hood recollections constitute the only credible evidence its adherents have provided to make their case. But no amount of child­hood anecdotes can establish the argument’s central thesis that the intentions of the authorities were both criminal and racist. That accusation was embedded in both the words of the term. The adjec­tive stolen said the removals were deliberately intended to achieve an illegal result. The noun generations said this objective was tar­geted at a particular line of people across successive age cohorts. The childhood memories of individuals are not enough to establish that governments had such intent or such perseverance. Indeed, memories of childhood trauma are consistent with forcible removals for the same welfare reasons as white children.

The case for the Stolen Generations needed a convincing account of government policies towards Aboriginal children. However, this book’s examination of the primary source evidence reveals there is a void at the very core of the case. There was no unequivocal statement by anyone in genuine authority that child removal was intended to end Aboriginality. The only support for that proposi­tion has come from creative interpretations of selected statements taken out of con­text by politically motivated historians. Moreover, the lack of gov­ernment words on the subject was matched by the lack of govern­ment action. The handful of places allocated for the care of Aborigi­nal children, the tiny budgets that supported the gov­ernment boards and departments, and the archival records that show how small a frac­tion of the Aboriginal population they affected, all render the thesis completely implausible.

Another of the central claims of the academic historians who created this story was that children were taken by authorities as young as possible so they would never inherit Aboriginal culture. “The younger the child the better,” according to Henry Reynolds, “before habits were formed, attachments, language learnt, traditions absorbed.” In the SBS Television series First Australians, scriptwriters Beck Cole and Louis Nowra confidently declared: “Between 1910 and 1970 an estimated 50,000 Aboriginal children were removed from their families. Most were aged under five.” None of those who make this assertion have ever backed it with proper evidence, such as a breakdown of the ages of the children sent to vari­ous institutions. This is not surprising. For the available evidence shows the opposite was true.

The statistics of child removals in this book reveal that those most commonly affected in New South Wales were not the very young but those at workforce entry age, which in rural districts in the first half of the twentieth century was normally thirteen, fourteen and fif­teen years. This was because of the influence of the state’s apprentice indenture scheme. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory the age of the few separations correlated with primary school age. This was because many part-Aboriginal children in these regions were sent by their parents to board at government and religious hostels and institutions that sent them to school.

Whatever their circumstances, it was rare for babies and infants to be removed. In one archive of 800 children removed between 1907 and 1932 in New South Wales, only seven were babies aged twelve months or less and only eighteen were aged between twelve months and two years. Some governments had poli­cies that strictly forbade removing Aboriginal babies unless they were orphans or urgently needed hospitalisation for disease or malnutrition.

Another deception is the assertion by historians that most children were removed permanently, that they were never meant to see their parents again. “The break from family, kin and community must be decisive and permanent,” Henry Reynolds has written. “If young people could return to their families the effort had been wasted.” Chap­ter Two provides good evidence that this was untrue. The case records show that a clear majority of children removed in New South Wales returned either to their families or to Aboriginal communities. In fact, welfare authorities gave the older ones assistance such as money for the rail fare home, and usually accompanied the younger ones on the train. In other states, especially Western Austra­lia, gov­ernment institutions like the notorious Moore River Settle­ment and religious missions across northern Australia admitted the majority of child inmates with their parents. Institutions for indigent Aborigines of all ages have been widely but wrongly characterised by historians, television producers and film-makers as homes exclu­sively for children, when they never were.

Rather than acting for racist reasons, government officers and religious missionaries wanted to rescue children from welfare camps and shanty settlements riddled with alcoholism, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Evidence throughout this book shows public servants, doctors, police and missionaries appalled to find Aboriginal girls between five and eight years of age suffering from sexual abuse and venereal disease. They were dismayed to sometimes find girls of nine and ten years old hired out as prostitutes by their own parents. That was why the great majority of children removed by authorities were female. The fringe camps where this occurred were early twentieth-century versions of today’s notorious remote communi­ties of central and northern Australia. Indeed, there is a direct line of descent from one to the other—the culture of these camps has been reproducing itself across rural Australia for more than 100 years. Government officials had a duty to rescue children from such settings, as much then as they do now. From the perspective of child welfare officials, the major problem was that state treasuries would not give the rele­vant departments and boards sufficient funds to accommodate all the neglected and abused children who should have been removed.

The Fate of the Stolen Generations Thesis in the Courts

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.

—Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples, House of Representatives, February 13, 2008

[I]ntegration of part Aboriginal children was not based on race; it was based on a sense of responsibility —perhaps misguided and paternalistic—for those children who had been deserted by their white fathers and who were living in tribal conditions with their Aboriginal mothers. Care for those children was perceived to be best offered by affording them the opportunity of acquiring a western education so that they might then more easily be integrated into western society.

—Justice Maurice O’Loughlin, judgment in Cubillo and Gunner v. Commonwealth, Federal Court of Australia, August 2000, para 162

If the Stolen Generations story were true, its members should have had many victories in the courts, now that the tide of opinion is firmly on their side. The charges involved serious breaches of the law—false imprisonment, misfeasance of public office, breach of duty of care, and breach of fiduciary and statutory duties—and human rights lawyers and Aboriginal legal aid services have been lining up for years to take their cases. Yet only one claimant has ever been successful before a court: Bruce Trevorrow, who in 2007 was awarded $525,000 by the South Australian Supreme Court. Given the huge size of the potential client base, and the fact that Aboriginal people and their lawyers have had a grievance about the issue for more than twenty-five years, the lack of legal success is tell­ing. On its own, it is enough to seriously question whether there really were any Stolen Genera­tions.

In his apology in the House of Representatives in February 2008, Kevin Rudd avoided any use of the term genocide but he did accuse the parliaments of the nation of enacting racist statutes. That accusation, however, was untrue, as either Rudd or his speechwrit­ers would have known were they familiar with either of the two major test cases on the Stolen Generations. The best-known of those cases, Cubillo and Gunner v. Commonwealth, was decided by Justice Maurice O’Loughlin in the Federal Court in August 2000. Counsel for the applicants, Ms M. Richards, had submitted that the Northern Terri­tory in the 1940s and 1950s had a policy called “the removal policy” and “the half-caste policy”. She said that, because it targeted only half-caste children, it was based on race rather than welfare. It was pursued “without regard for the welfare of individual children or their indi­vidual circumstances”. In his judgment, Justice O’Loughlin said:

I cannot accept that submission; it failed to recognize those decisions of the High Court to which reference has already been made that classified the legislation as beneficial and protectionist; it failed to recognize that there was then, as there is now, an acceptance of the need for special legislation and special consideration for Aboriginal people. Finally, there was absolutely no causative link connecting ‘race’ to a failure to have regard for the welfare of children. The existence of one does not preclude the existence of the other.

What the judge meant by “those decisions of the High Court to which reference has already been made”, were several verdicts, the most recent of which had been Kruger v. Commonwealth; Bray v. Commonwealth. That was a judgment made by the full bench of the High Court in July 1997 but which today is largely unknown outside legal circles. Yet it was the major case that considered whether the removal of Aboriginal children amounted to genocide. Although handed down only two months after the Bringing Them Home report accused the nation of that very crime, most news media and virtually all members of the political commentariat ignored it. Since then, they have pretended it never existed. I discuss its findings in more detail in Chapter Ten, but let me observe here that five of the six judges commented specifically on the question of genocide. Counsel for the plaintiffs argued that the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal Ordinance of 1918, which permitted the Chief Protector and Director of Native Affairs to remove and detain all Aboriginal people in the Territory, including children, thereby breached the United Nations Convention on Genocide. All five judges rejected the claim. Justice Daryl Dawson said:

there is nothing in the 1918 Ordinance, even if the acts authorized by it otherwise fell within the definition of genocide, which authorizes acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part any Aboriginal group. On the contrary, as has already been observed, the powers conferred by the 1918 Ordinance were required to be exercised in the best interests of the Aboriginals concerned or of the Aboriginal population generally. The acts authorized do not, therefore, fall within the definition of genocide contained in the Genocide Convention.

Justice Michael McHugh concurred:

The 1918 Ordinance did not authorize genocide. Article II of the Genocide Convention relevantly defines genocide to mean certain acts ‘committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such’. The acts include ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’ and ‘forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’. There is, however, nothing in the 1918 Ordinance that could possibly justify a construction of its provisions that would authorize the doing of acts ‘with intent to destroy, in whole or in part’ the Aboriginal race.

In short, when they tested specific policies before the Federal Court, and when they argued the general intentions of the parliaments and legislators before the High Court, the historians and political activists who invented the notion of the Stolen Generations proved incapable of substantiating their case. As far as Australia’s highest courts are concerned, the central hypothesis of the Stolen Generations is legally extinct.

The only legal cases with any potential credibility would be those made by individuals such as Bruce Trevorrow, who was unlawfully removed from his family and suffered badly as a result. But as Chapter Twelve demonstrates, the Trevorrow case did not confirm the Stolen Generations thesis. Instead, it provided yet more evidence to disprove it.

How Many Children Were Removed?

Even though one forced removal would be regarded today as one too many, the numbers in the Administrator’s report, if accurate, do not support an argument that there was a large scale policy of forced removals occurring in this period.

—Justice Maurice O’Loughlin, judgment in Cubillo and Gunner v. Commonwealth, Federal Court of Australia, August 2000, on the paucity of child removals in the Northern Territory in the 1940s and 1950s

In the Prime Minister’s apology, he said the total number of children wrongly removed between 1910 and 1970 was “up to 50,000”. He said this meant between 10 and 30 per cent of Aboriginal children had been “forcibly” taken from their parents. The Bringing Them Home report claimed that between one in ten and one in three Aboriginal children were “forcibly removed”. In reality, these claims were unwarranted guesses. Indeed, the Human Rights Commission seriously misrepresented some of the principal research it used to reach the higher figure. As an example of the rate of removal, it reported the findings of one study made in Bourke:

Dr Max Kamien surveyed 320 adults in Bourke in the 1970s. One in every three reported having been separated from their families in childhood for five or more years.

That was not the study’s rate for the separation of children “from their families”. What Kamien actually found was this:

Between the ages of 5 and 14 years 34 per cent of the 320 adult males and females interviewed had experienced the absence of one parent for more than five years. Absence of both parents for the same time period was recorded in 5 per cent of males and 7 per cent of females.

Moreover, the great majority of the “absences” recorded by Kamien were not forcible removals. Most occurred simply because the fathers were away from home, working on rural properties. Of children separated from both parents, Kamien found the most common reason was not to lose their culture but to go to hospital. In four of the other six studies it cited, Bringing Them Home seriously misreported the results. Of the remaining two studies, one was unpublished and no one else can find any record of the other. Chapter Thirteen examines the charade of research interpretations on which the Human Rights Commission made its “confident findings”.

My own estimate of the total number of Aboriginal children taken into care in the period from 1880 to 1970 is provided in Chapter Thirteen. The total is 8250. “Taken into care” means Aboriginal children separated from parents and placed in government, church and charitable institutions, plus the very small numbers placed into foster care and adopted by white families. The figure represented 5.2 per cent of the Aboriginal population at the 1976 census of 160,000.

This total is not offered as a counter-estimate of the number of the Stolen Generations. The argument of this book is that there were no Stolen Generations. The figure is an overall estimate made from the surviving records of children separated from their families for substantial periods under the broadest range of conditions, both volun­tary and involuntary, and for all kinds of reasons, both positive (educa­tion and hospitalisation) and negative (neglect, destitution, sexual abuse, and the death of parents). The total and the proportion are much lower figures than are usually claimed but they demonstrate another theme of this book. Rather than governments being over-zealous, the reality was the opposite. Everyone who worked in Aboriginal child welfare complained that the states and territories did not do nearly enough, especially in the period from Federation to the Second World War. There were always many more Aboriginal children badly in need of welfare, education and health services than governments were willing to fund.

The most offensive numerical assertion in this debate, that the removal of children was on a scale large enough to be genocidal, is not just wrong but embarrassingly wrong. In the first half of the twentieth century, when university historians and Bringing Them Home assured us governments were doing their best to eliminate the Aboriginal race, its population grew substantially. In the period nominated by the Human Rights Commission as the worst affected, 1910 to 1970, the Aboriginal population of Australia grew by 68 per cent from 83,588 to 139,456. Growth was particularly strong in those regions where governments were purportedly determined to absorb half-caste and other part-Aboriginal people into the white population. In New South Wales, the Aboriginal population grew by 65 per cent from 1915 to 1940. In Western Australia, the supposedly “doomed race” of full-descent people in the north of the state did not decline at all, while in the southern half of the state, where part-Aboriginal people predominated, their numbers were up no less than 120 per cent between 1900 and 1935. In both cases, their populations grew at a faster rate than that of white people. Chapters Two and Seven have the details. If the Stolen Generations thesis is true then the Australian Aborigines are the only people in world history to have suffered genocide in the midst of a boom in their population.

Education versus Institutionalisation

There is another good reason why it was not the policy of governments to remove Aboriginal children from their parents: they wanted the children to go to school. Governments pursued this objective with far more action and money than they ever gave to child removal. In the 1880s all Australian colonial governments instituted compulsory education for children of school age. All parents, of whatever racial or ethnic background, were required to enrol their children. In New South Wales, the Department of Public Instruction constructed schoolhouses and employed schoolteachers on all the twenty-one Aboriginal stations set up between 1893 and 1917. It also provided schools and teachers on any of the 115 Aboriginal reserves that had enough children of school age to justify it. On those reserves where there were not enough children for a dedicated school, the Aborigines Protection Board insisted they must go to the local public school. In the early years, it tried to coerce Aboriginal parents into sending their children to school by withholding rations if they refused. In its later years, it tried a more conciliatory approach by giving all Abo­riginal children a hot midday meal at school.

In the early twentieth century, it was true that much provision for Aboriginal schooling was substandard. Many Aboriginal children received a lower-level curriculum than whites. In some parts of New South Wales and Western Australia, protests by white parents about Aboriginal standards of hygiene and disease (including, as I demonstrate in Chapter Four, cases of venereal disease among Aboriginal primary school children) meant some public schools refused to enrol them. Nonetheless, the number of places governments provided for Aboriginal children who lived with their parents and went to school, compared to the number of places governments funded at welfare institutions for those removed from parents, is telling. In New South Wales in the 1920s and 1930s, there were only three welfare institutions designated for Aboriginal children. One at Bomaderry housed twenty-five infants to ten-year-olds, the second at Cootamundra accommodated fifty girls aged up to thirteen years, and the third at Kinchela housed fifty boys aged up to thirteen years. At the same time, some 2800 Aboriginal children in New South Wales lived with their parents and attended public schools. That is, there were twenty-two times as many places for Aboriginal children at public schools than at welfare institutions.

In the Northern Territory in the 1950s, virtually none of the approximately 8000 full-blood Aboriginal children either attended school or were housed in a welfare institution. For part-Aboriginal children the government pursued a policy of integration and assimila­tion. But even here, there were between two and three times as many part-Aboriginal children living with their families and attending schools than housed in welfare institutions. In 1959, for instance, there were 815 part-Aboriginal children at Northern Territory schools and 315 part-Aboriginal children in institutions. Of the latter, many were sent by their parents to be boarders while they went to school. Chapter Ten discusses the role played by the Retta Dixon Home in Darwin and St Mary’s Hostel in Alice Springs.

On the grounds of school policy alone, no one can argue that the government was conducting a systematic program to destroy Aboriginality by stealing children from their families. The existence of this disparity disproves the core allegation of the Stolen Generations thesis.

Part Two is here…