Voice Special Edition

Intergenerational Trauma and All That

One of the most insidious aspects of the Voice referendum is the treaty process promised by the Prime Minister in line with the Uluru Statement, which the Makarrata Commission would seek to impose on Australians. One ground for treaty-making is the alleged “intergenerational trauma” suffered by descendants of the original settlers, even by those who were distant in time from traumatic events, including those with distant Aboriginal heritage.

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Marcus Stewart is a member of the Common­wealth government’s referendum working group and a good subject for a comparative trauma study. He bills himself a “Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung Nation”. He was, until very recently, a member of the First Peoples Assembly of Victoria and active in the Victorian treaty process.

Marcus Stewart, indeed, the entire Aboriginal leadership, is very keen on self-determination. Part of the treaty process in Victoria is the establishment of a self-determination fund. Phase one of the plan is to receive an “initial state contribution”—that is, the Victorian taxpayer gives the fund $30 million. In the second phase, the self-determination fund will distribute what is politely known as “government donations” to who knows who. There does not seem to be much self-determination in this little process. And that is just to start the “conversation” about a treaty.

Stewart’s only ancestral link to Aboriginal people is one great grandfather, who was either full or part Aboriginal. Stewart is of very distant Aboriginal heritage. The remarkable thing about his great grandfather is that from a barefoot boy wandering the bush he successfully integrated into the wider society. I wonder what trauma Stewart has suffered because of the successful integration of his great grandfather. Is it loss of culture, one that he never knew, just as I would never have experienced my forebears’ culture?

Victoria seems to specialise in remote ancestor worship. The Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation situated immediately west of Melbourne, for example, has 228 members and one apical ancestor, John Robinson, who was born in 1846 and died in 1919. This group has an attachment to south-west Victoria. My attachment is similar—one great grandmother, on my father’s side, born in Barrabool in 1849 and one great grandfather, on my father’s side, born in Casterton in 1843.

Much greater than my mere attachment to land across generations, I think that I too may have a claim to “suffer” from intergenerational trauma. Michael Garvey was my great grandfather, on my mother’s side. He was born in Galway in 1846 and came to Australia, landing in Launceston in 1867. He and his wife Kate had five children. She witnessed him cutting his throat. He was jailed for attempted suicide and later died in custody. The Argus reported his death on December 28, 1892:

The city coroner held an inquest at the Melbourne gaol yesterday on the body of Michael Garvey, 42 [actually 46] years of age, a prisoner detained during the governor’s pleasure, who died on the previous Sunday. The medical evidence showed the death was due to disease of the brain. Garvey was in custody on a charge of attempting to commit suicide, and had formerly been a fellmonger, but lost his employment when the fellmongery [preparing animal skins for leather] was destroyed in the flood of July 1891, and afterwards showed signs of a deranged mind.

Michael Garvey was under the care of Dr Shields in the jail hospital until his death, the same doctor who had found him to be insane and unfit to plead at his trial: “He would have been removed to the asylum” but was “unfit to be removed owing to extreme wasting as he refused food and had to be fed artificially”. His hospital record showed that he was five feet two and a quarter inches tall, was bald and had hairy arms. That makes my skin crawl, especially my hairy arms.

So, what is my cause of action? To sue the state of Victoria (whose record on victimology is second to none), or sue the Melbourne jail for the death in custody, or the estate of Dr Shields because he failed to save my great grandfather by not sending him to the asylum? Or perhaps his employers at the fellmongery for not making adequate provision for flood mitigation, or failing to reopen the factory in a timely manner and provide employment? Or the Commonwealth for failing to pay unemployment benefits? Oh, that’s right, there was no Commonwealth, and no unemployment benefit at the time. History is such a harsh critic of the present generation of cosseted benefit seekers.

Anyway, I continue to ponder Michael Garvey’s fate and why my life has turned out how it has, without the guidance that, no doubt, he would have provided my mother’s side and passed through the bloodline to me.

One of Marcus Stewart’s great grandfathers, on the other hand, led a long and successful life, despite the fact that he was not Irish. He was of Aboriginal descent, either full-blood or part. Stewart’s claim to Aboriginal descent and his entire “identity” and employment and political persona stems from one man, John Franklin. Franklin, born circa 1837, was orphaned when a young child and found wandering near Healesville.

Stewart’s great grandfather was raised by a couple who owned the local estate. He later worked as a servant at another estate in the district. He met Harriet Tull, born in Williamstown of English parents, who also worked as a servant at the estate. John and Harriet had twelve children between 1874 and 1897.

Their opportunity for advancement came when the Land Act was amended in 1878 making it easier for small farmers to apply for a lease of Crown Land. In 1879 he applied for a selector’s lease of eighty acres in the Yea district. His adoptee father Donald Ferguson was on the council and probably led the support to their application. The local newspaper reported:

It will scarcely be believed that this true son of the soil had great difficulty in obtaining his selection. The officials were against him, the red-tape system was against him, and, had it not been for the energetic action of the shire council on his behalf, John Franklin would have had to live a Government pauper in the land which a little more than half a century ago was every foot of it owned by his race. There are others at Coranderrk that might be advantageously transformed from paupers to farmers.

Franklin, the abandoned Aboriginal boy made good. In 1887, a farming expert from Melbourne was invited to visit and write a series of articles about the future of farming in the district. He was taken to see Franklin’s farm, and said:

One of the most interesting small farms I have met with in my rambles throughout Australia is owned by a Victorian aboriginal who has taken to himself the name of John Franklin. He has about 250 acres in two blocks, and has formed a comfortable home for himself … John Franklin has taken unto himself a wife of pure European blood, and has a numerous young brood growing up. He is much liked by the people in the neighbourhood, is honest, sober, and industrious and takes great pride in the success of his children at the local school.

I wonder if Marcus Stewart was traumatised by this successful integration. It seems that the Franklins “melded fairly seamlessly into life in the small town of Yea, although later generations told of petty acts of discrimination that the Franklin children sometimes experienced”. Despite this, three of Franklin’s boys played in the Yea football team in 1914 and two sons, Leslie and Walter Franklin, enlisted and fought in the First World War.

In subsequent generations the children found partners and started to move away from their family home in Yea. One child married a resident of Kensington, the inner-city Melbourne suburb. My mother was born in Kensington, Marcus. Perhaps our forebears’ paths crossed amicably?


WHAT have we learned from this little excursion in history? Marcus, you are kidding yourself that you have any standing to make claims on the wider society for some wrong that allegedly befalls you. You had the chance of a good upbringing, as did your great grandfather, not to mention, indeed you do not mention, your other seven great grandparents. What is it about the eighth that is so special? It seems that whatever trauma befell John Franklin he overcame in spectacular fashion.

Marcus Stewart, rather than extend your hand into the pocket of the Victorian and Australian taxpayer for retribution and reparation, perhaps you may care to look at the unfinished business of Aboriginal children who are yet to make John Franklin’s journey to integration.

This week, Aboriginal children will walk into the store at Warburton in Western Australia and purchase the typical fare of an Aboriginal diet. On the same latitude as the border of Northern Territory and South Australia, Warburton is as remote as it gets. But cake, Coca-Cola and energy bars are all available, and expensive. For adults, throw in smokes. These are typical purchases. Week in and week out. Eating and drinking junk foods, not working, and having no purpose in life, other than consumption, is a death sentence. No amount of government intervention can save this. No Voice, no committee, no treaty, no “truth-telling”, no Makarrata can save these people.

As my local source at Warburton texted recently:

The local residents “humbug” for money (beg), yet there are multiple jobs available in the town, which nobody wants to do.

Another day in Paradise. Warburton shop closed now because of a violent, drunk man with a crowbar, smashing up things in the shop. Just now and three days in a row.

Latest news. Three six year old boys just ran out with arms full of ice creams and confectionery. Never stops.

They complain about how they live but they put the houses into disrepair. I met a builder 13 months ago who told me he was contracted to build 40 houses in and around Alice Springs and in 3 years he had to go back and repair them all.

8pm at night here and 6 year olds are wandering the streets throwing fireworks into our and other yards. Why? Because the 6 year olds today told us to Get F….d because we were F…..g white trash C…s. 6 year olds. What hope is for them?

Aboriginal people are a modern people. In Warburton, mobile phones are commonplace. Electricity keeps the food and drink cool. Without the paraphernalia of the modern world there would be no Warburton, it would have closed decades ago. Aboriginal people rely on modern means to survive. Most have no idea how it is made. This is cruel.

The task of leaders like Marcus Stewart is to have every child understand how it is that the mobile phone and the electricity that makes their food and shelter available come into being. Government may be the provider, but it is not the maker. Government makes nothing, it merely covers the indignity of woeful ignorance. Why do governments refuse to teach their citizens how their lives have been degraded to the point of begging?

This referendum with its “simply about recognition” meme is no gracious gift. It masks the huge Uluru agenda. That agenda is stealing the future of people at Warburton and hundreds of other places. Recognition is not the same as reconciliation. There is no reconciliation in this referendum proposal—it is, as a result, an abandonment of leadership. Aboriginal parents face an awful choice. If they keep their children “safe” on country, away from the worst of modern life, grog and drugs, they condemn their children to restricted lives, with poor education, a poor diet, and few prospects.

The great lie of this referendum is that choices can be avoided. Somehow, twenty-four select delegates in Canberra will solve the parents’ dilemma. They will not; they will continue to mask the choice and, in default, make the choice for them. A slow death on country, rather than to break free, with the help of their families and guidance from outsiders on how to handle the wider world.


JOHN Franklin made an extraordinary transition three generations ago because it was an accepted path. Now, that path is blocked for children at Warburton and across northern Australia because of the ideologues whose mindset belies their experience. Aboriginal leadership and the ideology of self-determination have trashed the legacy of John Franklin.

There is no love for Aborigines in this referendum proposal, just ego. The Aboriginal people at Warburton are radically disabled. They are self-determining all right, sitting on country, speaking language, and dying early. And Aboriginal leaders, CEOs and the Prime Minister think this is a good idea. They must do, because their solution is to change nothing. Not to learn how to create value, not to adapt, but to wait. Government money as a permanent way of life is poison.

Some thousands of naive supporters of the Yes campaign think it’s a good idea. Think again. Emotion and faux morality are no substitute for a steely focus on what a person needs to make it in this world. A world not of their making, but one they inherited. Wishing it were otherwise is no substitute for action. Would any leader in the eastern and southern capitals tolerate the behaviour tolerated in Warburton, and a hundred other failing communities in northern and western Australia, in their backyard?

And one last thing. How does Marcus Stewart have a treaty with the other seven-eighths of himself?

The Hon. Gary Johns, a minister in the Keating Labor government of the 1990s, is president of Recognise a Better Way and the author of The Burden of Culture (Quadrant Books), which can be ordered here


16 thoughts on “Intergenerational Trauma and All That

  • pmprociv says:

    All so true Gary. You’ve hit so many nails on the head here. The greatest intergenerational trauma being inflicted right now on the kids of those remote communities results from their apathetic neglect by parents. No doubt this has its roots in the way kids were raised in traditional culture (mainly left to their own devices, but with plenty of good role-modelling and direction from older kids) — but such culture is now effectively extinct. Compounding all this, of course, is the devastation of foetal alcohol syndrome, which leaves brains permanently, irreversibly damaged. The kids are left to free-range, with no direction, no discipline, no decent food, no schooling, no positive goals or challenges, no role-modelling (apart from the destruction and violence they see around them and in the toxic movies and porn to which they’re exposed), no purpose, no future. Is it any wonder they do what aimless kids do, in extremis?

    The Voice is but yet another distraction, promising one more layer of pointless bureaucracy. No doubt it will comprise the usual suspects, the self-identified, self-important, entitled, exhibitionistic “leaders” of the indigenous industry (exemplified by your fraudulent poseur, Marcus Stewart), who will appeal ad nauseam to urban guilt-trippers and virtue-signallers, blaming racist, colonial land-thieves, while changing zilch in the remote communities. And why should they want things to change, when this dysfunction provides them with such comfortable careers and lifestyles, even celebrity status? Most conveniently, the past that’s supposedly responsible for all this trauma, is unchangeable — or worse, can be distorted and embellished to rub in the victimhood.

  • Dr Gary Johns says:

    The attacks on my various observations on Aboriginal policy demonstrate the vacuousness of the Yes case.
    We at Recognise a Better Way intend to carry on after this referendum has been defeated.
    We will join with good people at Quadrant and beyond to engage with those on the ground who are helping Aboriginal people in need to integrate into the world into which they have been born.
    Fortunately, most Aboriginal people have made the journey, and they will be guide a positive integration.

    • Daffy says:

      Gary, I’ve worked for Aboriginal CEOs, had Aboriginal bosses, Aboriginal professional colleagues and have admired Aboriginal artists. Whence the helplessness? The ‘trauma’? The inability to take part in modern culture? The whole thing is pure politics of maneuver driven by the radical left it a typical power grab. The Voice would change nothing, because the real solutions to the real problems have been ignored, avoided and denigrated. It will all just continue to support the Revolution.

    • Brian Boru says:

      Thanks Gary. I was led to the Recognize a Better Way website by an excellent pamphlet put out by Wesley Aird. I congratulate you and the others involved on your endeavors.
      There is no doubt that integration into the economic life of the Country is the only way out of the misery for the remote communities.
      My thinking is that it has to start with the education of the children and enabling them to progress to meaningful employment. That would involve some kind of voluntary relocation once past local school years to major centres. For that to succeed there would also be a need to facilitate regular visits back to family so that the mistakes of our early years are not repeated.
      I think that when the children saw a future for themselves, in contrast to the alternative, that it would become attractive and more successful as time went on.
      I know that the aboriginal industry, with so many careers based on perpetuating the current situation, will be against this. However your crew at Better Way are on a winner with so many role models to show the way. The irony is that the members of the aboriginal industry are themselves evidence that your solution is right.
      I have unsuccessfully looked for a “Vote No” poster on a number of websites to counter the “Yes” ones I am now seeing. Would it be possible for Better Way to get an authorised poster up for sale?

  • W.A. Reid says:

    This is a worthwhile read:

    ‘They Bleed from Long-Healed Scars’: a Nietzschean Psychological Perspective on the Literature of Inherited Colonial Trauma in New Zealand:


  • Daffy says:

    I wonder if my claim against Norway for the Norse invasion of the east of France would have any legs? I just think of the suffering and intergenerational snafu imposed on the Gallic peoples by those naughty Norsemen.

  • rosross says:

    Logic decrees if intergenerational trauma for those with aboriginal ancestry were a reality then all would suffer from it. They do not. It manifests only in those who are not assimilated into the modern world and living normal and functional lives.

    In fact, all humans are descended from the persecuted, colonised and traumatised, so all should suffer in this way. They do not.

    One could also argue the source of any intergenerational trauma for those who remain in backward and violent tribal systems would be thousands of years of mothers killing, and often eating their babies; thousands of years of women being treated as slaves, speared and beaten often to death by irritated males; thousands of years of the brutality of a stone-age way of life. Now that is real trauma which could well account for the abuse and neglect of children in aboriginal communities today and the violence toward women which is in some communities 80 times greater than the average.

  • Tony Tea says:

    As someone who grew up in the Pilbara and in country Western Australia, the pretentious public performances of the likes of Marcus Stewart grind my gears whenever I see them in costume, hamming it up on the telly.
    These urban race hustlers don’t use their own advantage to fight for their disadvantaged cousins, they use their disadvantaged cousins to fight for their own advantage.

  • Solo says:

    Can we please differentiate with the ‘intergenerational trauma’?

    Typically, regardless of skin colour, if poverty, substance abuse, violence, absent parenting and dislocation from support structures affects one generation, the next generation will also suffer. These symptoms of ‘trauma’ can be wide and varied. At it’s most simple, you’ll see it in parenting styles. Some kids just raise their children in the same manner as their parents did for better or worse. If a man reads to his children, they will assume this is what men should do and likely continue the tradition. If dad flogs mum for looking at him, it sends a message to the kids that this too, is normal. It says to the boy children its OK to hit your partner, and it says to the girls, you can expect this in your future relationships (just as an example).

    Trauma is a hard one to fix in a lot of situations. You need to demonstrate other, more positive ways of parenting, of addressing the effects of trauma etc and then maybe, with enough internal motivation and external support, the person in question might be able to adjust course somewhat and future progeny may also do better. Throwing cash at trauma only allows a person to continue maladaptive behaviours behind the wheel of a Mercedes, rather than taking the bus.

    Other folks are happy to remain ignorant of the effects of trauma in childhood and continue living their ‘best’ life or feel too hopeless to make any meaningful difference in their own life, breeding one way or another and sowing the seeds for more trauma as each child mirrors what has gone on before.

    I am happy with the above descriptions with the wording of ‘intergenerational trauma’ as it does indeed span generations and it’s pervasive in our society.

    The more politicised version of the above blames white people (colonisation/structural racism etc) as the catalyst for the trauma to start. This is the part I disagree with. However, trivialising the impact of trauma as it spans generations is not helpful and demeans the reality of suffering that people experience, again, black or white.

    Remove the political aspects of it, sure, but intergenerational trauma is pretty obvious as a serious problem.

    • rosross says:

      It is not trivialising trauma to make the point that every human alive today is descended from someone who was traumatised in some way, and probably someone who was a coloniser and who was colonised.

      Every family has trauma in its past. My mother’s paternal grandfather spent four years in a London workhouse from the age of three, with his four siblings, one a baby. When two of the children died, having been placed there when their father died, the mother took them out and quickly remarried, no doubt so she could support them.

      The same man and his wife lost six of their 10 children as babies or young children, perhaps to Syphilis undiagnosed and yet my grandfather grew up as a solid, respectable, hardworking young man, often barefoot and surviving on bread and dripping from the local church. He came to Australia at the age of 19 as part of a Scouts programme for poor children. He never left. He went to night school, got a degree and did very well.

      My maternal great-great grandmother arrived in the new SA colony escaping a life of poverty, or so she thought. But not really. Drinking, violence and poverty dogged her and her many children with a few of them frequently in court. She drank poison at the age of 69 and died a few days later in Royal Adelaide Hospital. Her last words were: Goodbye cruel world!

      Those experiences were not exceptional for my family, or, I suspect, for many others. If there was or is family trauma from that then my family has done extremely well despite it, as have most.

      And that is not to trivialize trauma but to make the point that a healthy psyche will process trauma and emerge onto solid psychological ground. That is certainly harder and sometimes impossible to do when a family culture remains dysfunctional and violent, but, even then, some do manage it.

      • pmprociv says:

        Spot on, rosross — there’d hardly be a person alive in Oz today without recent ancestors who suffered severe trauma in one form or another (or many!). I’m still amazed by what my parents survived through — as for grandparents, I knew no such thing, for they all perished under the Soviet system and WWII.

        Telling kids that they are victims of “intergenerational trauma”, as well as racism and colonialism, is effectively saying they have no hope, for such past influences cannot be changed. Not good for their mental state, or sociability. Throwing money at them sure isn’t going to improve matters (as Noel Pearson, in a previous incarnation, fully acknowledged). What those kids in remote communities seriously need is positive role models, and clear evidence of healthy options for their futures — neither available in such dystopias. Any young person there who miraculously does achieve something exceptional, such as a useful job or education, then risks being constantly humbugged and dragged back into the abyss (you previously compared this with crabs in a bucket). Their only hope is to be extricated, for which they need outside help with expert guidance — but it means that our society has to accept that those remote communities have no future, and should be closed down. That’s going to be a huge challenge, especially when such a thriving indigenous industry depends on their persistence.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    “Victoria seems to specialise in remote ancestor worship.”
    Says it all really.
    Our main familial influences in descent are our parents and grandparents and their siblings, and there are usually enough of them not to look back any further for any of our advantages or deficits. That is so for aboriginal people too, modern people as they are. Beyond any of our grandparents we are in the past, and as we know, that is a foreign country. None of us can blame it or any descent from anything or person in it for anything that we are today. Same for aboriginal people. We each make our own lives and selves.

  • Citizen Kane says:

    One can only speculate, but I dare say that if John Franklin were still here today he would be quick to put his spoilt, ungrateful, rent seeking sanctimonious and self righteous great great grandson back in his place for bringing shame on his family.

  • Maryse Usher says:

    So much wisdom, knowledge and common sense in the article and comments. The aphorism “Do not cast your pearls before swine” comes to mind.
    Why not give pigs this obvious good?
    Because pigs cant read, don’t want to, and prefer to consume garbage.
    That’s human pigs, of course. Sad reality.

  • padraic says:

    The saddest thing for me in the article was the racist language of those 6 yr old kids who have been taught to be victims and to hate white people and the Australian socio-economic system. They have been encouraged to behave in that way by the Aboriginal activist class.

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