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August 28th 2017 print

Tony Thomas

A Museum Makes an Exhibition of Itself

To be fair, there really is a lot of good stuff on display at the National Museum of Australia, but that value for the taxpayer dollar is hugely diminished by the distortions and sheer bastardry of the institution's promotion of 'stolen generation' myths and slanders of self-sacrificing missionaries

NMA buildingCan a leopard change its spots? The National Museum of Australia (NMA) in Canberra can’t. From inception it was captured by the Left’s social justice warriors and they’re still cementing their long march through the joint today.

The original  design for a wall  included some irregular dots and bumps. As an in-joke, the NMA crowd organized some of the dots to read, in braille, “Forgive us our genocide”, and “Sorry”. These were  stealthy insults to then Prime Minister Howard, who was scheduled to open the NMA in 2001. The plot was exposed and the braille words were made illegible.

I happened to visit the NMA last weekend, including the Aboriginal rights display.

It includes a 1997 poster featuring a hideous caricature of Pauline Hanson with “Pauline’s Menu of Truth” concocted by the cross-cultural “Campfire Group” of Brisbane artists. The pompous NMA caption says the group

harnessed  satire as a means of addressing issues negatively affecting Indigenous people in order to maintain a dialogue and challenge the veracity of information disseminated as fact. Fish ‘n Chips is a commentary on the policies and personalities of the late 1990s.”

pauline poster IIThe NMA has adopted here the ABC trick of deriding and insulting Hanson (e.g. as “Redneck Emperor”) using the pretext of “comedy”, as in the ABC’s “Pauline Pantsdown” shtick or an earlier ABC stunt of broadcasting filthy and defamatory songs about her.[1] To spot the agenda, try to imagine the NMA letting rip with comedic and insulting exhibits from a right-wing group about Julia Gillard, Penny Wong or The Green’s Sarah Hanson-Young.

Nearby in the NMA show, one of the larger (if not largest) historical posters was from the Communist Party of Australia, circa 1982. It included the party’s red flag and the wording, “You’re on aboriginal land…Pay the rent…Land rights now!”

The NMA-written caption reads

“At the time of the 1967 referendum, the Communist Party of Australia gained support from indigenous rights campaigners for their vocal stance against racially discriminatory policies.” The poster was “donated by Mr Peter A Murphy, Sydney District Committee, Communist Party of Australia.”

Bravo the Communist Party of Australia, except  that its Soviet parent and financier had a  habit of murdering racial minorities en masse. Mongolians (100,000 out of 2.4m), Chechens (up to 200,000 or 33-50% of the total), Volga Germans (160,000  dead) and Cossacks spring   to mind.   I’m not saying this NMA caption was inaccurate, just that it seems a bit unbalanced –   other, larger groups – Christian lobbies for example – were also campaigning for Aboriginal causes.[2]

I took a few more steps and another NMA caption literally stopped me in my tracks.

NMA CPA poster“Missions and Reserves” was the heading. The text began with a quote from a Gracie Bond of Cherbourg’s Barambah Mission (Qld) dated 2008:

“Growing up on ‘the mish’ was hard and life was tough. The way my family were treated is heartbreaking – especially the kids. That anyone could think that missions were about ‘protecting’ or ‘benefiting’ Aboriginal people is unbelievable.”

The main text reads:

“Between 1860 and 1978 there were over 200 registered government-controlled missions and reserves across Australia. These were compounds established to contain or control Aboriginal people and restrict or prevent their movement across their traditional lands. Originally, missions differed from reserves in that they were established by church groups rather than secular authorities, but later the word ‘mission’ came to refer to both.

“Those living on missions had their lives controlled by government officials. This could result in residents being unable to leave the mission without written permission, having little or no control over their money, and having their mail censored or withheld, for example. Often they faced the fear of having their children removed. The mission experience was so pervasive that it affected lives and families well after the dismantling of missions in the late 1970s.” [My emphasis].

I am deeply suspicious about the NMA’s attempt to conflate government-run settlements (mainly oriented to welfare distribution) and church-run missions with a philanthropic emphasis on education, protection of vulnerable girls and boys, job-training and Christianising. This mixing-up of the two types implies that the worst paternalism and neglect at the government-run establishments (e.g. at Moore River Settlement in WA’s south-west) were just as prevalent in the church-run stations.

Also, note the sheer bastardry of the NMA in wiping off the generations of self-sacrifice and charity of those church stalwarts who dedicated their lives to Aboriginal protection and betterment. NMA people drawing their fat public service salaries in Canberra (and many of the staff seem to be on the gold-plated public service super schemes)[3] would find it hard to identify with earlier Australians living for  decades amid the heat, flies and isolation of the outback. These missionaries and helpers were ministering to people suffering frightful diseases and disadvantages. The indigenous girls rescued by missions were saved from  violent cultural practices such as rape by mature and old men, including sexual tearing of girls hardly beyond toddler stage.

Moreover, the NMA’s caption does its best to liken the missions to closed compounds (or even a mild form of concentration camp), supposedly forcing Aborigines to stay there despite the  alleged appalling conditions inflicted by monstrous white overlords and overladies.

What bunk! First, the norm was that groups drifted in seeking better food and lifestyle than the bush offered (especially during drought). Missions, often staffed by a  bare handful of people, were  keen  to return them to their own lands rather than have them idly consuming mission resources. Second, when a group felt like returning to their lands, they just went. Who or what could prevent them?

To the extent women and children were in locked dormitories at night, it was for protection against the male black uniapon IImarauders, especially young men whose normal sex partners were monopolized by polygamous elders, with powers of witchcraft and payback to enforce their authority.

The would-be young marauders included David Unaipon, 25 at the time and whose portrait in suitcoat, winged collar and tie now graces our $50 note.

I include this anecdote thanks to the wonderful researches of Joe Lane in Adelaide, who   spent  years patiently re-keying and posting on-line at www.firstsources.info hand-written  early documents from SA’s missions and archives.

On May 27, 1898, the superintendent of Point McLeay Mission on Lake Alexandrina, Thomas Sutton, wrote to the Rev. Dalton, secretary of the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association in Adelaide, the mission’s agent. Sutton’s letter concerned Unaipon, who was Point McLeay-born:

“We have had a rather startling experience with some of our young men, and I regret very much that David Unaipon has been the ringleader of it all.

Last Monday night, about 11 o’clock or later, voices were heard in the dining room of the Dormitory but before it could be ascertained who they were, they made their escape. I set to work at once to investigate the matter, which resulted in proving most conclusively that David was the leader of three others, viz., Willie Butcher, Pat Williams and Mansell Tripp; first of all David persuaded P. Williams to leave his bed in the young men’s room to join them, then he tried to persuade Tom Lawson to do so but he refused; and subsequently led the above band; we found that he had a key that would open the young women’s door – (that is why I have sent for patent locks) – and if they had not been surprised and hindered, I don’t know what would have happened.

“I can only hope that no entrance has been previously made. I tried them on Wednesday morning and sentenced David to 6 months banishment from the station and from subsequent revelation am going to make it 12 months; and the other two who, I believe, were foolishly led into it but did not go to the extent of the others, I gave them the option of one month’s work without pay or 3 months’ banishment. I think they will choose the former. It has been a great worry to me especially the part that David played, but I believe the prompt punishment will be a good lesson to others.”

Sutton’s discipline didn’t prove very effective, as Unaipon and his co-conspirator simply camped just outside the station boundary. Three weeks later (June 18), Sutton was writing again to Dalton:

“D. Unaipon & W. Butcher I regret to say that these two fellows are now camping on the reserve just outside our ground; if we cannot get control of reserve, it is no use trying to carry out our regulations; the natives will only laugh at us.”

This Unaipon episode is just-by-the-way.[4] The missions generally had far more serious issues to deal with. For example, a prime purpose of many missions was to save children from infanticide, or save half-caste girls from the vilest prostitution,  leading to  rapid death from disease.

As mentioned, the NMA caption starts with the 2008 quote from Gracie Bond from Cherbourg, which is now a self-governing Aboriginal community (population 1300) three hours’ drive north-west of Brisbane. In that very year – though the NMA doesn’t mention it – Cherbourg was so dysfunctional that one in ten inhabitants was bashed severely enough to be recorded on police statistics. (The next year the rate fell to “only” 7%). Police rated 60% of the assaults in the “serious” category. The rate of hospitalization from assaults was more than 30 times the  Queensland average.

As for the children in Cherbourg, at least one in 20 at that time were  involved in substantiated notifications of being at risk of harm.[5]

I’ll repeat Gracie Bond’s allegation in the NMA but now in this black-on-black Cherbourg context:

That anyone could think that missions were about ‘protecting’ or ‘benefiting’ Aboriginal people is unbelievable.”

Moving along the NMA walkway, one gets the full “stolen generation” message, including that children were still being removed and traumatised as late as 1970, to be “better off raised as whites”, alleges the NMA. In other words, Prime Ministers Chifley, Menzies, Holt and Gorton presided over racist child-stealing regimes (federally); as did such decent state individuals as WA Premiers Bert Hawke (uncle of Bob) and Dave Brand (Lib).[6]

In Queensland the policy was to corral Aborigines away from the white community, not to integrate them. From 1908 to 1971, separations of Aboriginal children in  Queensland from their parents averaged four per yearand that was for all reasons, including neglect, incapacity etc.[7]

In South Australia the law explicitly forbade child removals without parental and judicial consent. The Victorian government from 1996-2003 ran six investigations seeking “stolen generation” evidence and individuals and found none, other than 300 informal adoptions and fosterings-out in the 1960s, which earlier governments had discovered, condemned and corrected.

In the Northern Territory, two “stolen generation” individuals sued for compensation, these being the best examples out of 550 prospective cases that phalanxes of lawyers could turn up. Both claimants lost – one case had involved possible parental consent and the other, re Peter Gunner, evinced the horrific evidence that his mother, Topsy, had abandoned the baby Peter on an ants’ nest or stuffed him down a rabbit hole, the finer details vary.

In  NSW, of 2600 children removed between 1912 and 1968, two-thirds were simply teenagers boarded out for apprenticeships (as also occurred with white teenagers) and the other third were largely welfare cases, such as orphans, destitutes and abused children. The NSW cases that involved weakly ambiguous support for the “stolen” thesis totaled three persons.[8]

The NMA display strongly features PM Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the “stolen generation”, in which he said,

“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.”

Tragically, since Rudd’s 2008 pledge, the number of indigenous children in out-of-home care has actually risen by two-thirds, to 15,455, as of June, 2015, such that these children represent 35% of all those in out-of-home-care  and 5.25% of all indigenous children – and the rate is rising. Even SBS TV wonders if there are more of these removals now than at “any other time in Australian history”.

Historian Keith Windschuttle estimates the total removals nationally (for all reasons) from 1880-1970 at about 8250, an annual rate of about 90 that is totally dwarfed by removals today.[9] The NMA could mount quite an interesting display on this contrast, if it chose.

I wasn’t intending a critique of the NMA, which is chaired by business man David Jones (VGI Partners; Kudos Energy) and  run by Dr Mathew Trinca, costs taxpayers $41m a year and gets  1.35m visitors annually
. Just for the rcord, Trinca had this to say about his institution when interviewed by the ABC:

“The one thing good about the cultural institutions of Canberra and elsewhere around the country is that they can be sources that people can trust.”

I just wanted to enjoy myself before my plane took off for Melbourne. Instead, I found myself choking on the NMA’s hotbeds of identity politics, notwithstanding that most of the NMA stuff is pretty good.

I notice that conservative columnist and Institute of Public Affairs board member Janet Albrechtsen is on the NMA’s council, along with gender-Valkyrie and journalism academic Catharine Lumby.  Surely Albrechstsen needs to rock the NMA boat a bit?

Tony Thomas’s book of essays, “That’s Debatable – 60 Years in Print” is available here.


[1] “Before the Chamber Judge, [Hanson] contended that the broadcast material gave rise to imputations that she is a homosexual, a prostitute, involved in unnatural sexual practices, associated with the Ku Klux Klan, a man and/or a transvestite and involved in or party to sexual activities with children. The [ABC] essentially contended that the material amounted merely to vulgar abuse and was not defamatory.”

[2] Another caption does refer to “academics, Christians, trade unions, peace activists, women’s suffrage groups…A broad range of political interests and parties, including the Australian Liberal and Labor parties, the Communist Party of Australia and the Socialist Party of Australia, also offered support.” Note that ‘Christians’ are listed second behind ‘academics’.

[3] NMA expenses last year for the gold-plated defined-benefit and the defined-contribution super were roughly the same.

[4] Put Unaipon’s shenanigans down to youthful indiscretion. Wiki says he was later employed by the Aborigines’ Friends’ Association as a deputationer, in which role he travelled and preached widely in seeking support for the Point McLeay Mission

[5] A child involved in multiple notifications was counted only as one case

[6] I was a reporter in Perth from 1958-69 and from a household active on Indigenous causes, but recall no such allegation of child-stealing ever being raised, let alone creating any controversy.

[7] This data is from the Qld Govt’s own submission to the “Stolen Generation” inquiry.

[8] Details from Keith Windschuttle’s “The Stolen Generations 1881-2008” or my “Pocket Windschuttle” summarizing his 660-page book.

[9] Ronald Wilson’s Bringing Them Home report (1997) implied up to 100,000 forced removals of half-caste children. Rudd’s apology halved that to “up to 50,000”. Neither cited any documentation for their wild estimates.

Comments [9]

  1. pgang says:

    Years ago I visited a friend who was pastor at a very old mission. At that stage it had already been taken over by the authorities, and it was falling inevitably into decay. Anyway he told me a harrowing tale of an adventure he had recently had. A young man had been murdered (I can’t remember the details), and his tribe or family were rampaging and the situation was quickly fomenting. The police and school teachers were under siege in their compound, frightened for their lives. In desperation, a policeman phoned the pastor to ask if there was anything he could to do help. With extraordinary courage, this young family man left his house and went amongst the crowd, and found the dead youth’s mother or grandmother, who was in mourning. He started praying with her, and eventually the crowd calmed down and joined in with reverence, then dispersed. That is an example of what the missions did for these communities by bringing the truth into their lives and displacing their dreadful superstitions.

  2. The meanings of words change: ‘late’, in the nineteenth century, didn’t necessarily mean ‘passed away’, simply that the former holder of an office or position was no longer in that position. ‘Removed’ meant’ moved’, or ‘transferred’, or ‘went from/to’. A policeman might be ‘removed’ from one place to another. Children ‘removed’ – especially if they were fourteen or fifteen – may have been apprenticed, or engaged, at some place away from their family. A hundred years ago, what we would now regard as children were employed at far younger ages: my grand-father went to work at nine in the 1880s, which wasn’t uncommon. School leaving age before 1914 was twelve, and in fact even in the 1950s, fourteen was the school leaving age. Old-age pensions weren’t available until around 1908. Unemployment benefits were unknown before the Depression. Single mother benefits didn’t come in until about 1971. Times certainly do change.

  3. Alistair says:

    Tony, Your articles are always so brilliant they make me feel ill!
    The problem is these ignorant ….. know that they must do everything in their power to vilify everyone from the past in order to misdirect away from the REAL crisis that is happening today, courtesy of poorly thought out self-determination policies of Nugget (and thats pretty much how I think of him) Coombs and his ilk. During the missionary period there was zero youth suicide, zero child sex abuse, low levels of Aboriginal incarceration, zero phoetal alcohol syndrome, low levels of domestic violence, low levels of drug and alcohol addiction, and on and on. The missionaries simply would not tolerate it. In these “enlightened” times though, the progressive government bureaucrats not only tolerate all these, but supress any disenting voices vilify anyone who attempts to correct the record.

  4. padraic says:

    I found the NMA quite racist. There is very little about white native-born Australians. It is all about Aborigines, migrants and Torres Strait Islanders and how horrible the rest of us were.

    • padraic says:

      Just to add – where they do portray us it is as Vegemite eating boofheads and women getting lathered up over owning their first vacuum cleaner. Such a patronizing elite position.

    • Jody says:

      I always laugh about the propagandistic notions that the US is the world’s exemplar of multicultural society; there could hardly be a more violent, fragmented and angry one light years away from the immigration project which saw Eastern and Western Europeans flock there at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. Today with incompatible immigration and runaway illegals we’re seeing the pointy end of a massive failure in public policy accompanied by self-justifying cant about ‘diversity’ and ‘richness’ right out of Orwell. Why people continue to fall for this politburo tripe continues to remain enigmatic, except that those immigrant diasporas probably form the major demographic now. A sobering lesson in what NOT TO BUILD as a society if you want to avoid ‘racism’.

  5. James says:

    I visited the NMA not long after it opened. I was wooing my Chinese-born wife at the time, and I felt she was as unimpressed as I was (actually, I was embarrassed). They have Captain Sturt’s water-bottle, which is worth the price of admission (admission is free).

    Now that I think about it, I wonder how long Sturt’s bottle will survive there, given his trespass on native lands?

  6. Andrew Campbell says:

    Some years ago I was visiting my daughter, teaching in Ceduna. She introduced me to an aboriginal family, and I had the privilege of spending a day with them as they drove into the bush to find some traditional medicines. The grandmother, about 60 years of age related how grateful she was for the Lutheran missionaries on the mission w She said they saved her life. The missionaries would often tell her and her parents to go walkabout.because the welfare were coming the next day. So her family stayed together, and she was deeply appreciative of the passive resistance to government ‘protection.’

  7. whitelaughter says:

    Where, exactly, are these braille platitudes? Having worked as a security guard at the NMA, I call bull. The braille visible from the front says “G’day”.
    However, complaints about the exhibits are more than fair, as the Museum has some truly *awesome* stuff sitting in storage gathering dust. Consensus there was that (in tandem with Summernats) the Museum should display the many historically important cars sitting in storage; but given that getting the museum to relabel an oyster shucker labelled as a ‘knife’ had got nowhere after two years, that’ll require a massive culture shift.