History Wars

Fabrication in Tasmania

The Pocket Windschuttle: Tasmania fabricates a stolen generation 

Tony Thomas: Writing this essay, it is hard know whether to describe the recent Tasmanian tilt at political correctness over ‘stolen generations’ as delusion or farce. But there is no doubt that the Human Rights Commission’s 1997 report on Tasmania’s ‘stolen generations’ was both mendacious and foolish. Its deceptions can be disproved from the same data it obtained and then concealed. 

[Note: All page references are to The Fabrication of Aboriginal History – Volume Three: The Stolen Generations 1881-2008 by Keith Windschuttle (Macleay, 2009)]

In January 2008, the then Tasmanian Labor government led by Paul Lennon said it would pay 84 Tasmanians $58,000 each because they claimed to be members of the Stolen Generations. And 22 offspring of ‘victims’ who had died, each got $5000. The Liberals there backed the idea. It was all very nice.

Except that it was legally impossible for any Tasmanian to have been stolen in the period nominated by the Human Rights Commission (“Bringing Them Home”). That period was 1910-70. p537, 539.

Why? Because after the death in 1876 of Truganini, the last Tasmanian Aborigine, all Aborigines were presumed to have died out and hence there were no laws based on or directed at race. They were not mentioned again legally until the 1970s. There was no mainland-type system of Aboriginal “Protectors” and their wards. p539, p541

Hence no Tasmanian could have been legally and officially ‘stolen’ because of their Aboriginality. Even two recent Ph.D. theses on Tasmanian child welfare, 1880-1940, reported: “We found only two passing references to the Aboriginality of state wards, among hundreds of records.” p540.

The authorities did know that a small community at Cape Barren Island were descendents of indigenous wives of Bass Strait sealers since 1810. But they were only mentioned in legislation to do with land leases.

Those people did not see themselves as ‘Aboriginal’ in any way. As one of them, Annette Mansell, said in 1978:

I’m not an Aboriginal. I’m only the descendent of one. There are no Aboriginals now. There’s not much in any of us. There’s no tradition in Tasmania with the Aboriginals. p539.

This did not prevent the Human Rights Commission from getting its knickers in a twist about it. It claimed a new phase of child-stealing commenced in the 1930s ‘with the forcible removal of Indigenous children from Cape Barren Island under general child welfare legislation, and continues into the present.’ P540.

That report relied on the work of historian Lyndall Ryan. The validity of her output was harshly dealt with by Windschuttle in his first volume of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History. He did so in such defamatory terms that I am amazed that Ryan has declined to sue him over it. In Volume III he repeats his critique. To give a sample, Windschuttle says,

“Ryan claimed one governor consigned Aboriginal children to an orphan school that did not even exist during his time in the colony.” p541.

Bringing Them Home claimed that from 1928-80, the head teacher on Cape Barren Island was appointed a special constable and used this power to remove children for neglect, with a shed at the back of the school used as a temporary lock-up.

Problem: the Human Rights Commission well knew that such removal needed endorsement by a Magistrate of the Children’s Court.

Solution: the Magistrates must have been racists too, unwilling to make any concessions to ensure a fair hearing for the parents whose children were being ripped from their arms.

It so happened that some of these Magistrates were alive, and well able to answer such a slur. But none was given an opportunity to give evidence to Bringing Them Home. The late chair Sir Ronald Wilson, a former High Court judge no less, “particularly disgraced his own reputation by this action,” Windschuttle says. The other accuser of the Magistrates, Mick Dodson, our 2009 Australian of the Year, also has legal qualifications yet failed to deal justly with the Magistrates, Windschuttle says. p542

Tasmania’s Aboriginal activist Michael Mansell, however, was indeed called to testify, and he painted a picture of naïve islanders who felt helpless before white authority figures.

This can be set against comments by former officer of the Department of Social Welfare, Max Chugg, who did not give evidence:

“I worked in the Launceston office of the Department in the first half of the 1970s and kept the Children’s Court Register. At that time the District Child Welfare Officer had the power to veto any attempts by police to prosecute any child. He was on extremely friendly terms with the Cape Barren Islanders who had open access to his office. When Cape Barren Islands children were in trouble the mothers made a bee-line for the District Child Welfare Officer’s office, and although I know that these children got into more than their fair share of mischief, I have no recollection of one ever going to court.” p543

In the 1950s and 1960s some Cape children did go before a children’s court for serious neglect, destitution or law-breaking. They were rarely sent to white institutions; by far the normal process was to put them with foster parents.

The main foster care provider for these wards was “Aunty” Molly Mallet, herself a Cape Islander who had moved to Launceston in the 1940s. She began with two kids whose mother drowned and no carer remained. Thereafter, she fostered so many Cape kids that she lost count. She also gave  board  to Cape kids getting schooling in Launceston.

The field officers’ manual recommended foster care for wards and especially if fostering was with relatives. Aunty Molly fitted the bill perfectly since all the Cape community were related one way or another.

Aunty Molly was so respected by all that by the time she died in 2005, she had an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Tasmania and an AO. She was named in testimony of the state government to the commission as ‘the liaison person for the Cape Barren Island community’ from the late 1950s to 1967 – a very long and relevant period. Note the ‘the’. She was also every bit as “Aboriginal” as any other Cape person. p545

Yet here’s a puzzle: the commission didn’t call her as a witness. I wonder why?

Windschuttle hazards a guess. The commission’s agenda was to establish that Cape kids were being officially stolen from their parents, to be whited-out in the white community. So the commission wrote:

“These children were sent to non-Indigenous institutions and later non-Indigenous families on the grounds that they were neglected.” p546

The commission wanted to mislead its readers into thinking that all these families were non-Aboriginal. Hence, any trace of Aunty Molly’s life work had to be airbrushed away. Oh well, the commission cut a few corners. But wait a minute! Wasn’t it chaired by a former Judge of the High Court?

Not touched on so far are the living conditions of the Cape people at that time. Official concerns about their health – especially about the children – surfaced in reports from the 1920s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Children were malnourished and ill; the community depended on an unreliable flow of handouts from offshore, the store had no milk for babies, kids were ‘under-nourished and starving’, and funds were misused for alcohol. Kids did poorly at school because they lacked nutrition, and were therefore supplied with peanuts, powdered milk, cheese and oranges. p547

Despite all that, the government continued to prop up the islander lifestyle, despite the obvious benefits from moving the 100 or so people to the state’s mainland. The government line was to allow this shift to happen of its own accord.

In 1961 there were plans to encourage transfers by offer of welfare housing around Launceston. This flopped because the islanders wanted to stay with their kids on the island to get the maximum unemployment/welfare benefits, whereas nearer the big smoke they would be expected to work, according to the welfare officer’s report. p548

Another plan to slyly encourage transfer through getting kids to do high school study on the mainland, also flopped. Tasmania’s Chief Secretary binned the plan because the islanders

‘should not in any way feel coerced (to leave), nor should there be any suggestion of enforced separation from their children through the pressure of educational needs.’ p548

This totally fails to square with the Human Rights Commission’s claims that assimilation was being engineered through the cruel removal of children.

Windschuttle concludes:

This is not the picture of authorities driven by racist ambition to rid the island of its children. In short, from any rational perspective, there is enough evidence in the Tasmanian Government’s own 1996 submission to disprove the existence of the Stolen Generations in Tasmania. p549-50.

Finally, Windschuttle does what he always does best, counts how many kids were ‘removed’. The commission was officially told how many by the State government itself, but by keeping mum about that, the commission showed ‘yet another deceit…perpetrated in its discussion about Tasmania’. p550

The child Aboriginal wards existing in various documented years from 1969 to 1995 was in the range 20 to 40 per year. Half or more involved ‘neglect’, other causes were law-breaking, uncontrollable, own protection, and voluntary. As a guide, by 1975, wards were 0.8% of the Aboriginal population. p551

Since the commission was trying to argue that Tasmanian authorities were out to eliminate Aboriginality by stealing children, it would make itself ridiculous by publishing such figures.

So, once again, the Human Rights Commission got out its airbrush, Windschuttle says. The figures were not published.

He then turns to the matter of that $58,000 paid as compensation to the 84 former stolen children, as small recompense for their lifetime, as then Premier Paul Lennon put it, of ‘cultural isolation’. Only four of the compensated ‘stolen’ people publicly identified themselves in media announcements, this being a choice involving normal privacy.

One was Annette Peardon, who told Background Briefing on ABC radio that ‘neglect’ was the usual stated reason for removal. Incredibly, she continued,

I myself was removed from Flinders Island with my brother, and my mother, who’s now deceased, was actually in prison for three months hard labour for neglect of children. p553

The four had read their welfare files. The second one cited ‘neglect’, the third did not know the reason for removal, and the grandmother of the fourth apparently consented to a removal six months after the mother died in childbirth. Yet presumably these four were the best candidates that Premier Lennon could find to bolster his racial-stealing compensation story. Windschuttle’s heading for this section was “The Absurdity of Compensation in Tasmania.”

Buy The Fabrication of Aboriginal History – Volume Three: The Stolen Generations 1881-2008 here…

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