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March 15th 2010 print

Patrick McCauley

History of a tragedy

Without The Fabrication of Aboriginal History: The Stolen Generations - Australian history would be so incomplete as to be a lie. In fact, without addressing the Keith Windschuttle hypothesis, we end up with a history of another country.

The Fabrication of Aboriginal History: Volume Three: The Stolen Generations 1881-2008 

This is a disturbing yet thrilling narrative – a detective story and a psychological thriller. It is a history of historians, public intellectuals and history tasters. When able to escape, briefly, and rest from the facts and figures, the dates and statements, Windschuttle writes with a beautiful rhythm that never ceases. He takes us into the minds and thoughts (through their statements) of those who have been silenced in this debate and who devoted their lives to the care and education of aboriginal and part aboriginal children. Yet it is of all things a tragedy. A tragedy of politics, a farce of near sighted socialism and an irony that it has constructed a situation in which Australian authorities now are required by the United Nations to tolerate the same child abuse, generational alcoholism and drug addiction, family violence, crime and welfare dependency, that these policies sought to alleviate – in the name of human rights. 

Though the full bench of the High Court of Australia has clearly rejected the hypothesis of the stolen generations and genocide, we continue to teach it to every child in every Australian school as known fact. The 600 school aged children in Wadeye, Northern Territory, who do not go to school, and who cannot read nor write nor speak English, know it from SBS and the ABC, and they will choose the short life of crime, addiction and welfare dependency because of it. They will believe they are living ‘traditionally’ and that all whitefellas are invaders bent on genocide, because of it. 

This is a definitive history of this matter which goes to affect every other matter in Australian history. It is a history which no complete National Curriculum of Australian History can leave out. It should be taught in every Australian Teaching Course, Primary and Secondary, throughout the country. This text must be studied carefully by every prospective teacher of Australian history. It will need to be referred to throughout the Primary and Secondary school curriculum at any point where ‘Kevin Rudd’s Apology’, ‘The Stolen Generations’ or ‘Genocide’ is mentioned. Indeed, without The Fabrication of Aboriginal History – The Stolen Generations – Australian history would be so incomplete as to be a lie. In fact, without addressing the Keith Windschuttle hypothesis, we end up with a history of another country. 

Windschuttle observes minutely, like an artist, yet he does not indulge overly. He places the political history beside the songs, rock groups, novels, documentaries and films and provides a startling historical timeline from Peter Reads’ 1981 pamphlet to Kevin Rudd’s apology. He analyses this initial pamphlet of historian Peter Read titled The Stolen Generations; The Removal of Aboriginal Children in NSW 1883-1969 and calls Read on his claim to have read each and every file in the childcare records of the NSW Aborigines Protection Board. Read’s scholarship with regard to his ‘stolen generations’ thesis and his accusation of genocide, reveal serious concerns. 

Windschuttle does not avoid the truth of the massive relief felt by many indigenous Australians at finally having someone to blame (after Kevin Rudd’s Apology) for all the suffering and misery that those who are outcasts must endure. The stolen generations like ceremonial ochre could erase the reality and the responsibility, the alcoholism and child abuse – the violence and the crime – the lost children could now all be blamed on this one thing. Here was the great Satan – Australia – imperialist, patriarchal, capitalist, racist Australia! Australia the invader! 

Windschuttle is always prepared to look sideways at doubtful statistics and explain why. He is always willing to concede if there is any doubt at all, yet he maintains his steady rhythm of facts and figures, references and quotations which all lead inexorably toward the failed thesis of the stolen generations, and the dramatically flawed accusation of genocide. He analyses the ‘hollow apologies’ of Victoria and Tasmania and estimates that there were 8250 aboriginal children taken into some form of extended care in Australia between 1880 and 1970 which is a very different figure from the 50,000 estimated by Kevin Rudd during his apology, or indeed many of the other wild estimations that have been reported in the press. 

Windschuttle gives a voice to the most maligned – Auber Octavius Neville and Cecil Cook both of whom have been vilified as formulating the policies of ‘breeding out the colour’ which in turn make the full case for their alleged belief in eugenics and the accusation of genocide. Both men prove to be human, and have indeed been badly misrepresented by those making the case. This book is a relentless and demanding read. It is emotionally exhausting – yet you read on when you know you are exhausted because you cannot stop. No, part aboriginal children were not taken to breed out the colour, they were given up by their parents, abandoned, or taken from abusive situations to provide them with training and education, as were white children. No the aboriginal population did not decrease in the first half of the century, it increased at a faster rate than the white population. 

This is an exceptional academic study of the most serious accusation ever made against Australia. It draws in all the players and gives voice to those who have thus far been ignored. It gives clear passage to both sides of the argument and explores in detail the settlements, homes and other institutions who were charged with the care of aboriginal and part aboriginal children in Australia during the first half of the twentieth century. It is an exhaustive study of everything imaginable that had anything to do with the accusation of genocide and of the stolen generations. In the end it makes a mockery of both charges and of many of those who have been involved in their manufacture. The tragedy now is that aboriginal people cannot afford to believe it, and will continue on with the hopeless task of seeking compensation for something that that did not happen. Once again they have been lied to and patronised by whitefellas . Once again they are condemned to the slow social implosion of their societies. This time however, there is no alternative social policy to rescue the children. Aboriginal children will never again be placed with non indigenous families. Finally, at a time in history when racism is considered the most heinous of crimes, we seem to have separated the races, though I remember noticing in Wadeye, Northern Territory, that in every aboriginal child, there was an Australian trying to get out.