The central point in the debate over the Stolen Generations is the accusation that children were forcibly removed from indigenous Australians as young as possible for the immediate purpose of raising them separately from and ignorant of their culture and people, and for the ultimate purpose of suppressing any distinct Aboriginal culture. The purported aim was to end the existence of the Aborigines as a distinct people. As the Australian National University historian Peter Read defined the accusation: “welfare officers, removing children solely because they were Aboriginal, intended and arranged that they should lose their Aboriginality, and that they never return home”. Or as Australia’s Human Rights Commission wrote in its 1997 report Bringing Them Home: “The policy of forcible removal of children from Indigenous Australians to other groups for the purpose of raising them separately from and ignorant of their culture and people could properly be labelled ‘genocidal’ in breach of binding international law.” Using these works as its sources, the SBS television series First Australians encapsulated the charge for a popular audience: “Between 1910 and 1970 an estimated 50,000 Aboriginal children were removed from their families. Most were aged under five.”
My book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume Three, The Stolen Generations (Macleay Press, 2009) challenges these claims. Robert Manne has now responded in three separate places—ABC Radio National, the Weekend Australian and the Monthly. In none of them did he focus on the central charges above. He was unwilling or unable to engage in a genuine debate.
Yet he knew that major sections of my book disprove the claim that the children removed were as young as possible or that they were removed from their families permanently. I demonstrate this through an analysis of the records of every child removed by the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board between 1907 and 1932, when:
- two-thirds removed were not under five but teenagers, aged thirteen to nineteen; most went not into institutions but into jobs in the paid workforce
- those children sent to the handful of institutions mostly remained there for months, not years, let alone their whole childhood
- a clear majority returned to their families and communities
- family visits to institutionalised children were not discouraged; instead the board paid parents a stipend and rail fare to travel to see them
- child welfare policies and practices were not racist because they were the same for white children as for black.
While New South Wales is the most important location in this debate, since this was where the concept of the Stolen Generations was invented, I also analyse in detail all the available archival data on removals in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. In Western Australia, the overwhelming majority of children who went into Aboriginal institutions were not forcibly removed but went there voluntarily with their parents to gain access to welfare. During the regime of A.O. Neville from 1915 to 1940, the principal government Aboriginal institution in the south of Western Australia, the Moore River Native Settlement, received a total of only 252 unattached half-caste children, an average of just ten a year, most of them orphaned, neglected, abused or diseased. In the Northern Territory, the two institutions for half-caste children in Darwin and Alice Springs were populated mainly by children between six and fifteen years sent by their parents from remote stations and communities to go to school. In the 1940s and 1950s, most of these parents used their government Child Endowment cheque to pay the hostel fees.
I advance two further reasons why the Stolen Generations thesis has always been inherently implausible:
- Until the white historian Peter Read invented the concept in 1981, the leading Aboriginal activists of the twentieth century were completely unaware that for the entire period 1910 to 1970 there was a great conspiracy by successive cohorts of politicians and bureaucrats in all states to eliminate the Aboriginal race. None of the five-point and ten-point manifestos of the activists at the sesquicentenary in 1938, the Black Panthers in 1970, or the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in 1972 complained of children being stolen. Even those Aboriginal activists who served terms as directors of Aboriginal welfare boards did not realise they were overseeing a program supposedly comparable to the Holocaust. They could not see the genocide that was occurring right beneath their noses.
- Since 1915, the Aboriginal population has grown at a substantially faster rate than the home-grown white population. Hence the Australian Aborigines must be the only people in world history to have suffered genocide in the midst of a population boom.
Rather than questioning this evidence or the logic of my arguments, Manne’s responses have studiously avoided them. He has presented no data to counter my analyses of the ages at which children were removed or about the lack of permanence of separation. Nor did he offer anything to question my examination of child welfare practice for white children that showed removals in New South Wales were the same for white and black children.
Instead, Manne’s responses have focused on a handful of topics in which he has previously entered the debate himself. I discuss his main points in what follows.
“Breeding Out the Colour” as Commonwealth Policy
It can be stated definitely, that it is and always has been, contrary to policy to force half-caste women to marry anyone. The half-caste must be a perfectly free agent in the matter.
—Statement to House of Representatives by J.A. Perkins, Minister for the Interior, August 1934
The Chief Protector of Aboriginals reports that there are no regulations relating to the marriage of whites to half-caste girls.
—Report by Chief Protector, Cecil Cook, to Acting Administrator of the Northern Territory, J.A. Carrodus, September 1934
Manne’s major claim is that the Commonwealth government of Joseph Lyons supported the project of the Chief Protector of the Northern Territory, Cecil Cook, to “breed out the colour”. In the Monthly, Manne now concedes that Cook’s plan, and a similar proposal by his counterpart in Western Australia A.O. Neville, were so unworkable that they “were always ‘fanciful’”. This is true. In fact, the proposal was so hopelessly impractical it produced no more than four or five marriages a year in the Territory and literally none in Western Australia where, as I show in my book, the state government did not give Neville the powers over half-castes he sought. Hence, rather than actual genocide, as the Human Rights Commission charged, Manne now supports the notion that “breeding out the colour” involved no more than “genocidal thought”.
Despite Manne’s climb-down from the position he held in 2001 in his booklet In Denial: The Stolen Generations and the Right, where he compared those who questioned the Stolen Generations thesis to Holocaust deniers (a vilification he has never since publicly withdrawn or apologised for) he still has a long way to go. The position he holds now remains pervaded by omission, exaggeration and invention.
In 2001, Manne claimed that “breeding out the colour” was Commonwealth government policy from 1933 to 1939. “The officials in Canberra and the Minister, J.A. Perkins gave support to Cook’s proposal for an extension of the Territory policy to Australia as a whole.” In his recent replies to me, he still defends that position. My book demonstrates the claim is untrue. A proposal of this kind, originated by Cecil Cook in Darwin, was sent to the cabinet of the Lyons government on September 19, 1933. The cabinet did not accept it. Instead, it sent it back to the Department of the Interior to be reconsidered by its Secretary, Herbert Brown. Manne knows all this occurred, since he has quoted from both the cabinet paper concerned and from Brown’s response. Yet he kept from his readers the information that the issue went to cabinet but was unsuccessful. Why would he do this? Obviously, if readers knew the issue went to cabinet, they would want to know the outcome—do the cabinet minutes show the Lyons government endorsed the policy then or not? In fact, it did not. The reconsideration that Brown gave to his minister, J.A. Perkins, was as follows (this is the full text):
“With regard to your direction that I should see Dr Cook’s report respecting the question of mating half-caste women with whites and give the question some consideration, I desire to inform you I have perused Dr Cook’s report and whilst I am of the opinion that, theoretically, his suggestion would be quite good, in practice I think it would prove to be unsound.
“In any case, I fail to see how it would be practicable to provide the necessary legal machinery in order to give effect to Dr Cook’s proposals.
“Whilst there are undoubtedly some instances of very satisfactory results from the mating of half-caste women with white husbands, it would, I think, be unwise to attempt to restrict the selection by half-caste women of husbands of their own choice and, moreover, it would, I think, be quite improper to limit by Ordinance the procedure to be adopted by half-caste women in respect of their selection of husbands, unless the machinery were to apply equally to half-caste men, and here I think, is where Dr Cook’s proposals break down.
“My own view is that half-castes who have been given certain rights and enjoy the franchise, should have the same privileges in respect to selecting their husbands or wives, as are enjoyed by other citizens of the Commonwealth.”
Perkins subsequently told the House of Representatives:
“It can be stated definitely, that it is and always has been, contrary to policy to force half-caste women to marry anyone. The half-caste must be a perfectly free agent in the matter.”
These statements are unequivocal. The Commonwealth government clearly rejected the proposal to “breed out the colour”.
Yet Manne has known all along that Brown wrote the memo above. Indeed, he has quoted from it, but only the first paragraph (“With regard to your direction … I think it would prove to be unsound.”) Manne withheld from his readers the rest of what Brown said, especially its unambiguous concluding paragraph.
Instead, Manne quoted a pencilled a note written by Perkins on Brown’s memo, saying “Present policy to continue”. Brown did write this, as I report in my book. There are three things to say about it.
First, by “present policy” he meant the pre-1933 situation in the Northern Territory that Cook was lobbying to change because it did not give him the powers he sought.
Second, this was not Perkins’s final decision, as Manne pretends, but simply a deferral of action while he considered his formal response to the parliament.
Third, and most important, Manne declined to inform his readers that in August 1934 Perkins accepted Brown’s advice and came out publicly against “breeding out the colour”. When he said “The half-caste must be a perfectly free agent in the matter”, he was not leaving any room for doubt. There would be no coercive powers, laws, regulations or inducements to half-caste women to marry white men. As Brown had advised him, it would be both “unwise” and “improper” for the Commonwealth to attempt to support Cook by changing laws or regulations. Yet, in his reply to me, Manne claims Perkins: “did not veto the policy. All he did was refute the false claim that had been made by a Labor parliamentarian that under Cook’s policy the half-caste girls were being ‘forced’ to marry white males.”
If Manne doesn’t recognise that Perkins’s public statement was a veto, he does not know what the term “veto” means. If the Commonwealth Minister of the Interior, who had administrative and legislative control of the Northern Territory, declared to the House of Representatives that his government’s policy was that half-castes were “perfectly free” to marry who they wanted, then they were perfectly free to marry who they wanted. The Chief Protector was left with no means to ensure they bred only with white men. In those very words, the Lyons government formally rejected any support for “breeding out the colour”. Moreover, the government never provided Cook with legislation, regulation, funding or personnel to administer such a scheme. Nor did it subsequently take any action to influence the states to make such a policy for “Australia as a whole”, as Manne claimed.
If Manne does not realise that this meant there was no Commonwealth policy on the question, he does not know what the term “policy” means. I challenge Manne to produce just one regulation, one legal clause, one amount of funding, or the appointment of one person that the Commonwealth made in support of Cook’s scheme. Unless he can do so, he should withdraw his claim.
Manne has also claimed that J.A. Carrodus, a departmental officer, was the Secretary of the department in 1933–34. Manne never concedes that Brown held the office in those years. At the time, Carrodus was simply the officer who transmitted Cook’s request to the government. So when Manne quotes Carrodus apparently endorsing Cook’s ideas, Manne is falsely exaggerating Carrodus’s authority and concealing the fact that he was simply repeating Cook’s words, as his position required. In his replies to me, Manne still refuses to admit his elevation of Carrodus’s status was bogus. Without comment, however, Manne’s recent writings have quietly dropped any reference to Carrodus being Secretary in 1933–34, thereby fatally weakening his original case, but without letting his readers know.
Tellingly, in November 1934, when Carrodus himself was free to speak on the topic from the position as Acting Administrator of the Northern Territory, he agreed with Herbert Brown that the proposal to “breed out the colour” should be rejected. Carrodus said:
“In my opinion no great success will attend the scheme for the encouragement of the marriage of half-caste girls to whites. It will be found that half-castes will prefer to marry half-castes. The effort to breed out colour is a commendable one, but it would appear that the Government must face a large natural increase of the half-caste population from the mating of half-caste with half-caste.”
Manne’s final attempt to rescue his position was offered on ABC Radio National when he read aloud from a Department of the Interior document sent to the South African government in 1938 after it had requested information about Australian policy on mixed marriage. By this time, Carrodus had been promoted to Secretary of the department and a memorandum bearing his signature was sent to the Department of External Affairs in which he emphasised that the Commonwealth’s authority over Aboriginal affairs only applied in the Northern Territory, not Australia as a whole. In the Territory, Carrodus said:
“It is not the practice to grant permission for a white or a half-caste to marry an aboriginal woman [that is, a full-blood Aboriginal woman]. European and half-caste males are encouraged to marry half-caste girls. Half-caste girls are encouraged to marry white men approved by the Chief Protector.”
Because the South Africans had asked for an account of the origins of the arrangements Australia had in place, Carrodus also attached a copy of one of Cecil Cook’s 1933 reports arguing for the policy Cook at that time had sought for the Territory.
The key term in the 1938 memo is “encourage”. The only authority that Cook retained was to “encourage” half-caste women to marry white men. Carrodus did not spell out for the South Africans that the Commonwealth government gave Cook no authorisation to do any more than this. In practice, all Cook could do was encourage them verbally. Those with the slightest familiarity with Aboriginal attitudes to the white members of the Territory administration at the time will know this would have been utterly futile. In 1933–34, when the press reported that Cook was resorting to more material kinds of encouragement—like paying white men to take half-caste wives, or offering them government jobs if they did so—the Lyons government was publicly embarrassed and declared Cook had no ability or approval to do anything of the kind. “It is all a lot of rot,” a government statement to the press said. In fact, by September 1934, when Carrodus was Acting Administrator of the Territory, Cook had admitted defeat on the issue. In one of Carrodus’s documents from that year, now kept in the same archive file that Manne has seen, the Acting Administrator pasted some notes he had taken from interviews with the Anglican Bishop of Carpentaria. Carrodus wrote:
“The Bishop was informed that there are ‘regulations’ relating to the marriage of white men to half-caste girls. I informed him that I was not aware of any such regulations. Have any local instructions in the matter been issued by the Chief Protector?”
On the same page, Carrodus pasted the answer he subsequently received from Cook:
“The Chief Protector of Aboriginals reports that there are no regulations relating to the marriage of whites to half-caste girls. He advises that no local instruction or direction has been given by the Chief Protector except insofar as the Administrator has restricted to the Chief Protector authority to give permission for marriage of [full-blood] aboriginals with persons other than aboriginals.”
In other words, in 1934 Cook himself acknowledged he had no authority in the form of regulations or directions to implement his program of “breeding out the colour” by marrying half-caste girls to white men. The only powers he had over marriage were those which all the Territory’s Chief Protectors had before him under the long-standing Commonwealth objective of keeping the full-blood population intact. This was the broader policy context of this issue which, in itself, absolutely refutes any claim that the government sought to put an end to Aboriginality. Cook’s principal legal responsibility was to enforce the policy that only full-blood people could marry one another, except in rare, special circumstances when the Chief Protector could be called upon to decide the issue.
In short, all the evidence from the Commonwealth archives points to the same conclusion: “breeding out the colour” never became Commonwealth policy for the whole of Australia. It remained Cook’s token goal for the Territory, or his “pet scheme” as one politician called it, but the Commonwealth never gave him any legal, financial or administrative support to implement it. Manne has never been able to produce any evidence for the existence of this latter kind of support.
Breeding Out the Colour and the Removal of Children
The biggest misrepresentation in this whole debate is the core assumption that now largely goes unquestioned: that the removal of children was somehow part of the project for breeding out the colour. That was never true. As the words of the phrase said, it aimed to control breeding. It was solely a proposal about fostering the marriage of part-Aboriginal women to white men. It was not a policy to remove children, forcibly or otherwise. Manne, however, refuses to accept this. He says:
“For both Cook and Neville the policy of ‘breeding out the colour’ was premised on the policy of child removal. It beggars belief that Windschuttle seems not to grasp so obvious a point.”
If the point was so obvious, one would expect to see it discussed at least somewhere at the time. Yet not one of the 107 pages in the Commonwealth archive file that record how, from 1932 to 1934, Cook tried to get the Commonwealth to accept his proposal, give the slightest hint that the removal of children was part of the process. How could the Commonwealth government have implemented an Australia-wide policy for the abduction of half-caste girls so they could be married off to white men, without any single document, even its private documents such as cabinet papers and cabinet decisions, mentioning once that the scheme was premised on the forcible removal of children? How could all the newspaper reports of the various public controversies that erupted over the issue for the two years it was discussed in Canberra have failed to see something so conspicuous? Were the members of the Lyons government and its public servants so stupid, and were all the journalists who reported on their deliberations so naive, that they failed to see the obvious?
Manne’s suggestion is so lacking in credibility that it demonstrates he is not a fit person to be taken seriously as an analyst of government policy. I challenge Manne to produce just one statement from this archive linking breeding out the colour with the removal of children.
In the Monthly, Manne quotes just two pieces of “evidence” in support of his case: a 1931 letter Cook wrote to a clergyman and a 1937 address Neville gave to a conference of Aboriginal administrators. The letter from Cook actually undermines Manne’s case. Cook told the clergyman that half-caste girls were “taught domestic arts, and dress and clothing-making, to fit them for a higher station as wives of higher grade half-caste males, or whites” (my emphasis). It should go without saying that if half-caste girls become the wives of half-caste men they will not contribute to “breeding out the colour”. Given that in the Northern Territory half-caste women could not marry full-blood Aborigines under the traditional Commonwealth objective of maintaining the genetic integrity of the full-blood population, their only legal marriage choices were half-caste males or whites. As earlier Territory policy-makers from Baldwin Spencer onwards publicly acknowledged, the overwhelming majority of half-caste women preferred to marry half-caste men, and there was nothing the Chief Protector could do about it. Hence, rather than evidence for Cook’s project to “breed out the colour”, the 1931 letter was simply a re-statement of the position under the old status quo.
The second piece of evidence Manne offers provides even less support for his case. Indeed, it is a wilful misrepresentation. This is how he presents it:
“In 1937 Neville explained to the Canberra Conference of Aboriginal administrators that the biological ‘absorption’ of the ‘half-castes’ was only possible if the children were brought in ‘at the age of six years. It is useless to wait until they are twelve or thirteen years of age.’ For both Cook and Neville the policy of ‘breeding out the colour’ was premised on the policy of child removal.”
But when Neville spoke about bringing in children at the age of six years, he was not talking about them marrying or about their biological absorption. He was talking about their education and their ability to learn to read, write and count and thus be absorbed into the community by joining the paid workforce. Here is what Neville actually said at the 1937 conference, reproduced without Manne’s ellipses, text cropping and omissions:
“If the coloured people of this country are to be absorbed into the general community they must be thoroughly fit and educated at least to the extent of the three R’s. If they can read, write and count, and know what wages they should get, and how to enter into an agreement with an employer, that is all that should be necessary. Once that is accomplished there is no reason in the world why these coloured people should not be absorbed into the community. To achieve this end, however, we must have charge of the children at the age of six years; it is useless to wait until they are twelve or thirteen years of age. In Western Australia we have power under the act to take any child from its mother at any stage of its life, no matter whether the mother be legally married or not. It is, however, our intention to establish sufficient settlements to undertake the training and education of these children so that they may become absorbed into the general community.”
When Manne says this passage is “evidence” of a policy to remove children so they will marry whites, he is telling a blatant untruth.
Anyone who reads my book will find that, in saying this, Neville was, as usual, big-noting himself, because he was never given the money by his state government to create “sufficient settlements” to educate and train any Aboriginal children he removed. According to the 1935 report of the Moseley Royal Commission, Neville’s sole institution for the state’s half-castes at Moore River Settlement was a complete failure at vocational education. Neville’s plans were all talk and never amounted to any serious attempt to educate and train Aboriginal children. Moreover, it was not until the paragraph following the above that Neville mentioned marriage. He treated it as an entirely separate issue, offering some gratuitously racist comments about the “Asiatic cross”, the “negroid strain” and the “white cross”, and then going on to complain how, despite the 1936 Act, he could not control the state’s missionaries who “allow the half-castes under their control to marry anybody”.
The whole debate over “breeding out the colour” has today been inflated to the point of political absurdity. As my book argues, it was no more than a short-lived bureaucratic curiosity, an idea in the minds of two men, Cook and Neville, that never had a hope of being implemented. None of the parliaments in Australia ever gave their Aboriginal administrators the legal, political, financial or institutional means to make such a proposal work. And, to repeat, at no time or place was it ever a cause for the removal of Aboriginal children.
The Extent of My Original Research
As any reader of my book will immediately recognise, Manne has not told the truth about the degree of original research I did for it. He writes:
“Despite its imposing-looking 600 pages and its many footnotes, Windschuttle’s case is actually based on surprisingly inadequate research. The only real archival work he has done is in New South Wales. The evidence of the policy and practice of Aboriginal children removal found in the Northern Territory, Western Australian, South Australian and Queensland archives is almost completely unknown to him.”
In fact, as the text of my work and its bibliography demonstrate, I have done exhaustive archival research in New South Wales, Western Australia and the Northern Territory. I read all the annual reports, all local reports by administrators and missions, all government inquiries and royal commissions, and all the relevant legislation, regulations and amendments in each of those regions. I also read the relevant minutes of the boards of administration and all the case files of individual children that were publicly available and not still restricted. In New South Wales my research of these records covered the period 1881 to 1969; in Western Australia from 1899 to 1948; in the Northern Territory from 1912 to 1956. Except in New South Wales, where individual forms for children removed between 1907 and 1932 are available to researchers, all other states and territories prohibit anyone but family members from inspecting original documents of this kind. Nonetheless, I found enough information in the various archived reports to publish detailed tables of the number of removals of unaccompanied children in New South Wales from 1907 to 1968, in Western Australia from 1915 to 1940, and in the Northern Territory in 1928 and from 1946 to 1956. My book contains much more original research in the primary sources than the biggest previous study, Anna Haebich’s Broken Circles (Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2000).
In Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania, my information about the archival sources came from analyses of the case file data of all children removed, plus relevant legislation and government policies from 1901 to the 1960s. These analyses were made by the relevant government departments in each state and submitted to the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry in 1997. In Manne’s view, all these submissions must be wrong. Yet it is clear from their text that all their authors were plainly sympathetic to the inquiry and trawled their way through their archives trying hard to find evidence that supported what they knew was the favoured interpretation. But, in all honesty, they were unable to do so. The departmental submissions from these three states demonstrate very clearly that nothing remotely resembling the Stolen Generations, in either the policies of the authorities or in the numbers removed, existed in any of those states. In South Australia, I also relied upon state government department analyses of case files and policies, plus the close examination of legislation in that state by Supreme Court Justice Tom Gray in his judgment in the Bruce Trevorrow case.
The Extent of Manne’s Original Research
Any criticism of the extent of my research is rich, coming from Manne. Apart from the 107 pages of Commonwealth government archives he has seen (it is available online from the National Archives), he has never comprehensively researched the most obvious primary sources, that is, the annual reports from the state and territory Aboriginal protection boards and administrators, let alone their minutes, correspondence and accounts, or any of the case files of removed children. He has never read the full contents of any of the relevant Royal Commissions and government inquiries in the twentieth century. He has never read all the available reports of the missionaries or other administrators of Aboriginal settlements from even one state or territory. He knows the subject primarily by secondary sources.
In 2004, Manne announced he was writing a book on Aboriginal child removal policies in Australia during the twentieth century. Six years later, it has still not appeared. In September 2006 he posted on the internet seventy-seven documents, apparently chosen from the research he had done. It was not an impressive collection. It is just 180 pages long (double-spaced typescript in twelve-point to make it appear more substantial than it is). For New South Wales, he reproduces just two pages containing a mere 650 words to supposedly represent state policy in the twentieth century. In Queensland, his primary source documents are entirely confined to the period 1903 to 1905, plus two memos from a public servant in 1934. Manne’s output demonstrates how little appreciation he has of the volume of primary research needed to properly address the topic.
In contrast, anyone familiar with the sources I have used will know they amount to several thousand pages—too many to count. The transcript of evidence of the 1935 Moseley Royal Commission, for instance, is 900 pages long. There are five times as many pages in just this one source than in Manne’s entire collection.
The truth is that Manne is an academic dilettante who has never done serious historical research on the numerous issues he has written about. His modus operandi is to enter political and historical debates that have been established by others, but only after they have attracted public attention. He familiarises himself with the major existing works and then colonises the topic as chief spokesman by dominating the publicity, which he centres largely on himself. His talent is less for scholarship than self-promotion. I am far from the first to observe this. Manne’s practice is so well-established that even his friends now publicly complain about it. One of his colleagues at La Trobe University, the left-wing historian Patrick Wolfe, has written:
“His writing has struck me as being more about Robert Manne than about its ostensible topic … It lends a certain solipsistic quality to his writing, which can come across as Manne thinking out loud rather than Manne engaging with others. Given the oppressive history of the idea that White people should decide what is good for Aborigines, this is particularly unfortunate where Aboriginal issues are concerned …
“The point is that Manne’s long-standing personal ignorance about the Stolen Generations was just that—personal. It was not in any way a reflection of information that had been circulating in the public realm for over a decade, information that was readily available to him as a scholar …
“Here the hazards of his self-referential narrative become inescapable, because the real issue is not Manne’s personal history but that of the nation. In dressing up his own scholarly failure to consult the public record as part and parcel of a generalized national myopia, Manne presents that failure as understandable and, accordingly, as forgiveable. In so doing, he endorses the alibi of ignorance—nobody could be expected to know— whereby successive Australian governments have refused to take responsibility for the havoc that assimilationist policies have continued to wreak upon thousands of Aboriginal people’s daily lives. Surely, of all people, a Jewish writer on the Holocaust should think twice before protesting that we didn’t know.”
The Eugenicist from Brazil
My book observes that the discussion about eugenics and assimilation in the debate over “breeding out the colour” is a prime example of the low standards that prevail in the history of ideas in this country. Eugenics was an authoritarian doctrine that advocated state management of selective breeding by preventing marriages between different races. It is now most commonly identified with Nazi Germany in the 1930s, which passed laws to prevent marriage and even sexual intercourse between “Aryans” and Jews. A number of historians of the Stolen Generations claim that the Australian project for “breeding out the colour” was an example of eugenics. They do this, plainly, in order to taint anyone responsible for Aboriginal child removal with the Nazi connection. Robert Manne is the worst offender. More than once he has called “breeding out the colour” a “eugenics program”. Others who have written the same include Henry Reynolds, Russell McGregor, Tony Barta and Anna Haebich.
Yet the two principal advocates of “breeding out the colour” in Australia, Cook and Neville, sought to implement their proposal by arranging rather than prohibiting mixed marriages between part-Aboriginal women and white men. To the Nazis and their sympathisers, mixed marriage or miscegenation was an abomination. Instead, the theory of breeding behind the ideas of Cook and Neville had entirely different origins, the genetics of Gregor Mendel. This has been made clear by Neville’s biographer, Pat Jacobs, and also by the anthropologist Josephine Flood, who specifically dismissed the Nazi connection. Even the Human Rights Commission’s Bringing Them Home agreed with them.
Manne, however, still refuses to concede that he could be wrong about anything. His reply to me in the Monthly claims that in the interwar years “some” eugenicists in Mexico and Brazil supported mixed marriages. He only cites one of them, the president of the First Brazilian Congress of Eugenics, Edgar Roquette-Pinto, who he says advocated a breeding program for whitening the Brazilian racial stock. Hence, Manne wants us to believe that, because one theorist in Brazil thought eugenics was compatible with miscegenation—a practice which the rest of the world’s eugenicists regarded as the problem rather than the solution—therefore the proposals by Cook and Neville for mixed marriages meant they were supporters of eugenics. Manne clearly needs help in how to think logically.
The Question of Genocide
One of the tactics Manne uses in response to me is to claim I misrepresent the position of orthodox academic commentators on this issue. I supposedly parody the positions of my opponents by wrongly accusing them of being united on the concept of genocide. According to Manne, this is the source of my psychic energy and my basic motivation, as if he’d know. The truth is that nowhere do I say that every academic who has commented on this issue called it genocide. There was no need to. I name and cite the works of enough authors who have endorsed that concept to make it clear they constitute a formidable group. They just happen to be the authors of the most academically influential works on the subject: Peter Read, Henry Reynolds, Anna Haebich, Colin Tatz, Heather Goodall, Paul Bartrop, Tony Barta, Ben Kiernan, Ann Curthoys, John Docker, Dirk Moses, Bain Attwood and Robert van Krieken.
Two academic authors who once supported the genocide thesis, Russell McGregor and Robert Manne, have in recent years grudgingly softened their position a little, but offhand I can’t think of any others. Manne doesn’t provide any evidence for his claim by naming them himself. One of those who definitely has not changed his mind is Manne’s friend, the philosopher Raimond Gaita. In 1997, Manne used his editorship of Quadrant to give Gaita plenty of space to argue that Aboriginal child removal amounted to genocide. Indeed, Gaita claimed the case for genocide made by the Human Rights Commission was “overdetermined”. In 2008, even though Kevin Rudd’s parliamentary apology failed to endorse the concept, Gaita called on academics not to weaken their former stand. He wrote:
“It is, however, inconceivable that Aborigines and their fellow Australians will stop thinking for long about which concepts are necessary to describe their past truthfully. Discussion of genocide will then be unavoidable. It would be a “moral, intellectual and political disaster” if academics and others were to censor themselves because minds slam shut or to refuse to discuss outside academe whether the Aborigines were the victims of genocide.”
The 1994 Australian Bureau of Statistics Survey
Manne claims that the most reliable source of information on the number of members of the Stolen Generations was provided by an Australian Bureau of Statistics survey conducted among Aboriginal people in 1994. It found 10.2 per cent of those older than twenty-five had been separated during their childhood from their natural families. Manne says this survey suggests that between 20,000 and 25,000 Aboriginal children were forcibly removed.
I discuss this survey in my book. It is the only one of its kind that was methodologically sound, in that it questioned a random sample of 5000 Aboriginal households containing 17,500 individuals. However, its results still provide no guide to the size of the Stolen Generations. It was not a survey of “forcible removals” but of removals made for any reason at all. A Commonwealth government submission to a Senate inquiry in 2000 observed:
“This means that the figure of 10.2 per cent would include the removal of children across the broadest range of circumstances, both voluntary and involuntary of various kinds, having been removed for whatever reason (good or bad) and under whatever circumstances (forcibly or with consent).”
Hence included in these removals were youths sent to reformatories and juvenile prison, children who spent extended periods in hospital, and those sent to board at government or mission schools and hostels with their parents’ consent. As my book records, the latter practice was common in the Northern Territory, the far north of Western Australia and other remote outback regions. In short, Manne is wrong to claim this survey is a proper measure of the Stolen Generations.
The Number of Removals in Western Australia
In reply to my argument that A.O. Neville was unable to remove more than a handful of children each year because of lack of resources, Manne quotes Neville telling a Broome police inspector in 1919:
“If the duty of bringing in half-caste children is so obnoxious to the Police, it is strange that this Department has not previously been advised of this, in view of the hundreds of cases that have had attention.”
One piece of information that the historians of the Stolen Generations have kept to themselves is that the great majority of children who went into welfare institutions and onto missions went there with their parents. These institutions provided welfare services for people of all ages. In Western Australia in the 1930s, there was only one institution in the south of the state that took in Aboriginal children exclusively, Sister Kate’s in Perth, which had a total enrolment of twenty-two. The notorious Moore River Settlement accommodated sixty-four unaccompanied children out of its total population of around 400 adults and children. So any accurate count of the number of children separated from their families needs to be based on those children sent to institutions without their parents. The quote from Neville above did not make this distinction.
In his annual reports, the Chief Protector of Western Australia was required to report the number of people removed under Section 12 of the Aborigines Act of 1905. In most years, he reported the number of children and adults removed separately. I record these figures in Chapters 8 and 9. The total number of unaccompanied children removed in the whole of Western Australia under the administrations of Henry Prinsep and Charles Gale from 1906 to 1912 was fifty-eight. From 1915 to 1920, during Neville’s role as Chief Protector, the number of unaccompanied children removed was nineteen. Hence, rather than “hundreds” of cases by 1919, as Manne claims, the records show the total from 1905 to 1920 was seventy-seven, or just five removed a year.
Neville and the Decline of the Full-Blood Population
While we are discussing Western Australia, let me correct another of Manne’s claims about policy in that state. I argue that by the early 1930s, Neville did not subscribe to the old nineteenth-century belief that the full-blood Aboriginal population was dying out. On the contrary, Neville thought those guaranteed a food supply in times of scarcity, such as at his Moola Bulla station in the Kimberley, were increasing their population. This is an important question in this debate because Raimond Gaita and others have argued that the removal of part-Aboriginal children to “breed out the colour” was genocidal because it coincided with the belief by the authorities that the full-bloods would naturally die out. Hence all governments need do, it has been claimed, was breed out half-castes and the race would eventually be extinct. Manne says of my evidence about this topic:
“Once more, he is simply wrong. In May 1937 the Brisbane Telegraph reported that ‘Mr Neville holds the view that within one hundred years the pure black will be extinct.’ I am not alone in interpreting Neville’s thought as genocidal. So did one of his contemporaries, the Western Australian missionary the Reverend R.S. Schenk. After reading the verbatim transcript of the Canberra Conference, Schenk described Neville as the author of the “die out” and “breed out” policy."
It is revealing to see that for an account of Neville’s views in 1937, Manne relies upon second-hand reports by a journalist on an afternoon newspaper in Brisbane, and from one of Neville’s fiercest missionary opponents in Western Australia, rather than the verbatim transcript of what Neville himself said in Canberra at the time.
Neville told the 1937 conference with some satisfaction that the birth rate to full-bloods on government-owned cattle stations in the far north, such as Moola Bulla in the Kimberley, was increasing. This was thanks to his department’s policies designed for that very end. “It is interesting to note,” he said, “that on the departmental cattle stations established in the far north for the preservation of these people, the number of full-blood children is increasing, because of the care the people get.” This view was consistent with population figures Neville had earlier compiled for his 1932 annual report.
The only population Neville did believe was in decline was that of full-blooded Aborigines still living in traditional society in the bush. “In my opinion, no matter what we do, they will die out,” he said. He did not support the “doomed race” theory but blamed “their own tribal practices” of abortion and infanticide, which were routinely practised in bad seasons. Repeated abortions had rendered many tribal women sterile, he said, so few could still bear children.
Whatever anyone thinks about the reasons Neville gave for his demographic predictions, recent studies of the subject show his interpretation of the statistical trends was close to the mark. The most authoritative study is by the ANU historian Gordon Briscoe who calculated that over the period 1924 to 1940 the total full-blood population in Western Australia remained stable around a figure of 22,000.
The Number of Forcible Removals in Queensland
I’m sure that some of Manne’s readers in the Monthly will be puzzled by what he reports about child removals in Queensland. Manne says the doctoral thesis of Mark Copland examined all the available evidence and discovered only 660 documented removals of unaccompanied children to missions or reserves. This was in the entire period from 1859 to 1971. That is, an average of less than six children a year were removed from their families in 112 years. It should be obvious to anyone that there would have been more than that number of genuine child welfare cases in the state over such a long period. Hence, rather than being zealous about removing children from their families, Copland’s figure of 3572 “separations in dormitories”. Queensland administrators were obviously extremely reluctant to do so.
Yet Manne then goes on to tell his readers that the true total of child removals in the state over the same period amounted to no less than 18,313. Again, Manne’s source is the Copland thesis. Manne tries to explain how this figure is so much greater than the 660 unaccompanied children on missions and reserves. He says that Copland counted 3572 “separations in dormitories”, 3353 “removals to other child institutions”, and 10,729 “employment removals”. Manne does not explain these categories, but let me do so to demonstrate the kind of numerical distortion that has long corrupted this debate.
In trying to provide a tally of the Stolen Generations for Queensland, Copland realised that the 660 unaccompanied children would not convince anyone there was a problem to be answered—except perhaps why so few? So he decided to engage in a little inflation. Copland defined children as those under eighteen. He observed that a large number of the teenagers on Aboriginal reserves gained jobs. Many were engaged by employers who approached the reserve management seeking labour for their rural properties, the boys for pastoral and agricultural work, the girls for domestic service. This was the same situation that my book describes in New South Wales, where Aboriginal welfare stations and reserves provided an employment agency service for their inmates. In Queensland, none of this labour could be legally forced upon Aboriginal people. They were free to take it or leave it, but most administrators strongly advised them to take it so they could make their own way in the world. Copland counts all those fourteen-to-eighteen-year-olds who got jobs this way as “employment removals”, and hence members of the Stolen Generations. Manne repeats this definition with a straight face, even though he is well aware that the concept of the Stolen Generations was supposed to be that children were removed from their families as young as possible for as long as possible in order to eliminate their culture. In Queensland, he is obviously happy to accept that leaving home voluntarily to join the workforce qualifies someone as being a stolen child. The fact that many white children did the same at the same ages does not bother him at all.
Manne also takes seriously the notion that children on Queensland reserves who slept in dormitories were also members of the Stolen Generations. He quotes Copland’s figure of 3572 “separations in dormitories”. This is more creative redefinition. As I argue in my book, all the better funded reserves and stations provided dormitories for children who went to school. There were a range of reasons for this but the main one was that it had simply been the standard practice in religious educational institutions in Britain and Europe for centuries. The idea of dormitories for children of school age was not invented in Australia to break up Aboriginal families. Indeed, on all reserves in Queensland the parents of these children were housed on the same settlement, usually only metres away. The dormitories were locked at night (mainly to protect the girls from sexual predators and sexual escapades) but there were no fences separating the dormitories from the parents’ houses and no guards or dobermans patrolling the grounds. Most children saw their parents every day. To claim these arrangements amounted to “removals” is a beat-up.
Copland’s total of 3353 “removals to other child institutions” has just as little credibility. Copland admits that he was unable to research any of the individual records held by the Queensland Children’s Services Department, which controlled child welfare for most of the period discussed in the twentieth century. He only had access to a small number of orphanage records in the nineteenth century. Moreover, he admits that 94 per cent of the personal records he did see for children in institutions had no racial descriptors. His estimate was simply extrapolated from secondary sources written by historians committed to the Stolen Generations thesis, from “narratives” and “stories” told later in life by people who grew up on Queensland reserves, and from a directive in 1928 by Chief Protector J.W. Bleakley that children “with a preponderance of European blood” be placed in institutions for white children. In other words, Copland had no documented evidence at all that more than 3000 Aboriginal children were sent to non-Aboriginal child welfare institutions. It was no more than a guess—or, more accurately, wishful thinking—to which the author added a bogus patina of scholarship through the numerical precision of his total.
So how many genuine removals of Aboriginal children from their families were there in Queensland? The submission by the Queensland government to the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry in 1997 went through its own individual case study files—which are not available to outside researchers, including Copland—and could find only 249 children sent to reserves or missions unaccompanied by parents between 1908 and 1971. I reproduce this figure in my book, but Manne dismisses it, without giving any reason, as a “guess”. Yet both Anna Haebich and Mark Copland quote the same figure from the same source. This must mean their claims are guesses too. Copland’s own tally of the number of unaccompanied children sent to reserves and institutions between the same years is 379, not really that much different from the Queensland government figure. The government submission recorded an average of four unaccompanied children a year sent to institutions in this period, while Copland recorded six such children a year. On any reasonable interpretation, and whichever count is the more accurate, the inescapable conclusion is that in Queensland in the twentieth century forcible removals of Aboriginal children from their families were so small in number as to be almost non-existent. There were no Stolen Generations in Queensland.
Keith Windschuttle’s The Fabrication of Aboriginal History: Volume III: The Stolen Generations, 1881–2008, is published by Macleay Press.