'The Denial' - Windschuttle and the Stolen Generations

Cameron Raynes Online Opinion 19 March 2010

Published in a Darwin newspaper in the 1930s this picture signifies the suffering caused by the inherent racism of the Australian government's Aboriginal assimilation policies. The presents the children are holding were most likely only provided for the sake of the photograph.

The caption reads: A group of tiny half-caste and quadroon children at the Darwin half-caste home. The Minister for the Interior (Mr Perkins) recently appealed to charitable organisations in Melbourne and Sydney to find homes for the children and rescue them from becoming outcasts.

'The Last Protector'
by Cameron Raynes
Wakefield Press

In April 2004, I was effectively banned by Michael Atkinson, the Attorney-General, from accessing the correspondence files of the Aborigines Department in South Australia. Luckily, I had already spent hundreds of hours over several years systematically reading those files. In 2009, Wakefield Press published the fruit of that labour, The Last Protector. The Last Protector is the first book to show that an Australian government - in this case the South Australian Government - acted illegally in removing or withholding Aboriginal children from their parents.

Then, late last year, Keith Windschuttle’s lastest installment of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History was published. Volume 3 looks at the Stolen Generations and concludes that “almost all” removals of Aboriginal children were conducted “on the same child welfare policies that applied to white children”, and were “neither racist nor genocidal”. There are, he argues, “no ‘Stolen Generations’”. Now Andrew Bolt has repeated this claim in The Advertiser. Let me respond to Windschuttle.

Windschuttle devotes part of a chapter of his 600-plus-page book to the practices of Aboriginal child removal in South Australia. He argues that the laws passed by the South Australian government in the 20th century make it “very difficult for anyone [now] to argue that the government had any intention of stealing Aboriginal children” (Windschuttle, K 2009, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume 3: the Stolen Generations 1881–2008, Mcleay Press, Paddington, p593).

He’s wrong. South Australia was the last of the mainland Australian states to introduce legislation to “protect” Aboriginal people. The Aborigines Act 1911 was based very closely on legislation already passed in Queensland (1897) and Western Australia (1905). In both these states, the consensus among lawyers and historians is that their Acts did allow their protectors or boards to remove Aboriginal children and place them where they saw fit.

(See Buti, AD 2004, Separated: Aboriginal childhood separations and guardianship law, Sydney Institute of Criminology, University of Sydney, p90; Haebich, A 2000, Broken circles: fragmenting Indigenous families 1800-2000, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, p314; Bringing them home: report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children from their families, April 1997, p256.)

In South Australia, as in Queensland and Western Australia, the chief protector was the legal guardian of all Aboriginal children. Here, the Aborigines Act allowed the chief protector to keep “any aboriginal or half-caste” within the boundaries of any reserve or Aboriginal institution. When the Act was being debated in the South Australian parliament in 1911, the Premier, John Verran, agreed that this clause allowed Aboriginal children to be removed from their parents and sent to an institution. (South Australia, House of Assembly 1911, Debates, vol. 1, p417.)

The problem was in the application of the legislation. It just hadn’t been thought through properly. In allowing confinement only at a reserve or Aboriginal institution, the Act failed to satisfy those who wanted Aboriginal children to be removed entirely from Aboriginal society and influence.

But, without the support of the Children’s Welfare Board, there was little the Aborigines Department could do. They embarked on a prolonged program of removing Aboriginal children by stealth, usually keeping them in children’s homes run by missions, against the wishes of their parents. This was illegal. Windschuttle and Bolt would have known all this if they’d read The Last Protector.

Windschuttle also argues that the practice of Aboriginal child removal in South Australia “did not involve any attempt to bring up children to make them believe they were white” (Windschuttle, K 2009, p591). He argues that the children who were separated “were encouraged to retain contact” with their parents.

My work clearly shows that those Aboriginal parents who were unlucky enough to have their children institutionalised against their wishes were barred at every opportunity from making contact with their children. The Aborigines Department consistently misled Aboriginal parents as to their rights and systematically colluded with missions in their illegal holding of Aboriginal children. At Koonibba Mission, on the far west coast of South Australia, Aboriginal “girls” were kept as virtual prisoners of the “children’s home” until well into their 20s. When an Aboriginal woman tried to have her 29-year-old sister released to spend a holiday with her, she found that Traeger, the missioner-in-charge, wouldn’t co-operate. She wrote:

… my poor sister dreads to think, she’s to spend all her days in the Mission Home. (Raynes, C 2009, The Last Protector: the illegal removal of Aboriginal children from their parents in South Australia, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, p63).

A month later, Penhall advised the woman that Traeger had “authorised” her sister to spend one month with her (Raynes, C 2009, p63). Of course, neither Traeger nor Penhall had any such authority over the woman’s movements.

Windschuttle’s own rehashing of Bruce Trevorrow’s childhood shows that, far from being encouraged to retain contact, Bruce’s mother was lied to and prevented from having access to her son for years. Bruce was not told of the identity or whereabouts of his natural family until the age of ten. By this time, the Aboriginal Affairs Act 1962 was operating and any guardianship the Aborigines Department may have enjoyed over Trevorrow had dissolved.

In 2007, in the Supreme Court of South Australia, Justice Gray found that Bruce Trevorrow’s removal from his family was illegal; that the State breached its duty of care to him; and that he was falsely imprisoned (Trevorrow v State of South Australia (2007) 5 SASC 285 para. 1228). And yet Windschuttle argues that the removal of Trevorrow actually proves the non-existence of the Stolen Generations in South Australia. If there really was “a project to end the Aboriginality of those like him”, Windschuttle asks, why weren’t his older siblings removed as well? (Windschuttle, K 2009, p589.)

It’s a fair question. The answer is this. By 1957, the “project” had all but been abandoned. In that sense the removal of Bruce Trevorrow is a relatively isolated event and perhaps cannot be seen as part of a project or program: or, if it can, as one of the final “kicks” of that program’s death-throes. In any case, the program of child removal in South Australia was always of a stop-start, opportunistic nature. The Aborigines Department was always constrained by the ability of the missions to accommodate children and by the fact that it was engaged in a covert operation. As such, it removed Aboriginal children surreptitiously and in small numbers, and preferred to target parents who lived in remote locations, away from the public gaze.

They had to - the department was aware that their actions were of questionable legality. The program faltered in 1949, when they finally received confirmation from the crown solicitor that what they were doing was illegal. Faltered, but didn’t entirely halt, as the Trevorrow case reveals. This explains why Trevorrow’s siblings weren’t also taken.

And finally, the question of genocide. Windschuttle contends that Aboriginal children “were never removed from their families in order to put an end to Aboriginality” (Windschuttle, K 2009, p17). He writes:

There was no unequivocal statement by anyone in genuine authority that child removal was intended to end Aboriginality (Windschuttle, K 2009, p20).

How then does Windschuttle explain this? In their annual report of 1911, the State Children’s Council wrote on the proposal to remove “half-caste, quadroon and octoroon” Aboriginal children, paying “special attention” to the girls:

The Council is fully persuaded of the importance of prompt action in order to prevent the growth of a race that would rapidly increase in numbers, attain a maturity without education or religion, and become a menace to the morals and health of the community [emphasis added] (South Australia, Parliament 1911, Annual Report of State Children’s Council, Parliamentary Paper no20).

In 1911, the State Children’s Council was the peak body in South Australia concerned with the welfare (and removal) of children. It had “genuine authority”. Its “unequivocal statement” clearly shows that its intention was to “put an end to Aboriginality” or at least to a significant manifestation of it.

Well, Mr Windschuttle?

Cameron Raynes 25th February 2009 'Secret history'
The South Australian government is denying access to key documents about the illegal removal of Aboriginal children

A Windschuttle Article - pre Sorry-Day 2008

Headlined: 'Don't let facts spoil the day'

Keith Windschuttle The Australian February 09, 2008

IF the Rudd Government apologises to the Stolen Generations it should not stop at mere words.

It should pay a substantial sum in compensation. This was the central recommendation of the Human Rights Commission's Bringing Them Home report in 1997.

The charge that justified this, the report said, was genocide. This allegedly took place from the 1910s until the late '60s right across Australia. In some parts of the commonwealth it was still going on in the '80s.

None of the politicians who plan to apologise next Wednesday can avoid the term genocide. It is embedded in the very meaning of the phrase "Stolen Generations".

Bringing Them Home found indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes so they could be raised separately from and ignorant of their culture and people.

The ultimate purpose, it claimed, was to endthe existence of the Aborigines as a distinct people.

Bringing Them Home claimed "not one indigenous family has escaped the effects of forcible removal". Hence it recommended that virtually every person in Australia who claimed to be an Aborigine was entitled to a substantial cash handout. The Bruce Trevorrow case in South Australia provided a benchmark for what that sum should be, a minimum of $500,000.

The Aboriginal population today numbers almost 500,000, living in about 100,000 families. Those who are serious about an apology should back it with a lump sum payment of $500,000 to each family, a total of $50 billion. Only an amount on this scale can legitimately compensate for such a crime and satisfy the grievances of activists such as Lowitja O'Donohue and Michael Mansell.

The parliament cannot take those bits of Bringing Them Home it finds congenial and ignore the rest. The report's logic is impeccable. If children really were systematically removed to end the existence of Aborigines asa distinct people, then the crime was definitely genocide. As Raymond Gaita has argued, quite accurately, if Bringing Them Home is a true account, the crime of genocide is "over-determined".

There is no doubt that the majority of Aboriginal people today believe the Stolen Generations story is true. If parliament agrees with them, but fails to offer compensation, it will reduce next week's apology to a politically expedient piece of insincerity that yet again humiliates Aborigines by showing we do not take their most deeply-felt grievances seriously. It is also worth observing that by apologising, the Rudd Government will go a long way towards demolishing one of the Labor Party's strongest calls on loyalty: its sense that it alone offers a historical progression towards "the light on the hill". One thing the university historians who first established this story kept largely to themselves was that the major pieces of relevant legislation were all passed by Labor governments.

In NSW, the 1915 Aborigines Protection Amending Act, which allowed the Aborigines Protection Board to remove children without recourse to a hearing before a magistrate, was the work of the first Labor government in the state headed by James McGowen and W.A.Holman. The Act's 1943 amendment, which allowed Aboriginal children to be fostered out to non-indigenous families, was introduced by the Labor government of William McKell, one of his party's favourite sons who later served as governor-general.

In Western Australia, the 1936 Act that historians claim allowed A.O.Neville to implement his policy of "breeding out the colour" was the product of the Labor governments of Phillip Collier and John C.Willcock. By apologising, Kevin Rudd and his colleagues will be effectively trashing the reputations of their party's predecessors.

The problem with the Bringing Them Home report is not its logic, but its facts. As regards NSW, the story of the Stolen Generations was largely formed in 1981 by the historian Peter Read, then of the Australian National University (now at the University of Sydney). Read's work had an enormous influence on Aboriginal communities by saying institutionalised children had not been failed by alcoholic parents who neglected to provide them with food and shelter.

It was all the work of the white man, of faceless white bureaucrats who wanted to eliminate the Aborigines.

Bringing Them Home did no original research of its own in NSW. Instead, it relied upon Read's writings. It quoted verbatim his claim that the files on individual children removed by the Aborigines Protection Board confirmed his case: "Some managers cut a long story short when they came to that part of the committal notice 'Reason for board taking control of the child'. They simply wrote 'for being Aboriginal'."

If it's pretended this was commonplace, however, it is a serious misrepresentation. In a debate with Read last year at the History Teachers Association's annual conference, I asked him how many files bore those words. He confessed to the audience there were only two. When I investigated the same batch of 800 files in the NSW archives, I found there was only one. Its words were "Being an Aboriginal". There were two others with the single word "Aboriginal".

I also found that, although popular songs and the Bringing Them Home report gave the distinct impression that most children were removed when they were babies or toddlers, there were hardly any in this category. The archive files on which Read relied show that between 1907 and 1932, the NSW authorities removed only seven babies aged less than 12 months, and another 18 aged less than two years. Fewer than one-third of the children removed in this period were aged less than 12 years. Almost all were welfare cases, orphans, neglected children (some severely malnourished), and children who were abandoned, deserted and homeless.

The other two-thirds were teenagers, 13 to 17 years old. The reason they were removed was to send them off to be employed as apprentices. In reality, the NSW Labor governments were not stealing children but offering youths the opportunity to get on-the-job training, just like their white peers in the same age groups.

Read knew these Aboriginal youths were being apprenticed, though he never admitted they constituted the great majority of those removed. He claimed the authorities regarded them as stupid and consigned them to degrading jobs: the boys to agricultural work and the girls to domestic service. But at the time, this is where most white Australians were also employed. These were the two biggest single employment categories for men and women. The government was not asking Aborigines to take occupations any more onerous or demeaning than those of hundreds of thousands of their white countrymen.

Moreover, these teenagers were not removed permanently, as the charge of genocide infers. The majority of them returned home to their families when they turned 18 and their apprenticeship was complete. The archival records show this clearly, and Read found the same when in the '80s he recorded a little-publicised oral history of the Wiradjuri people.

Yet in 2002 he could still claim publicly: "Welfare officers, removing children solely because they were Aboriginal, intended and arranged that they should lose their Aboriginality and that they never return home."

There is another very good reason why it was not the policy of the government to remove Aboriginal children from their parents: it wanted them to go to school. It pursued this objective with both action and money.

The NSW Department of Public Instruction constructed schoolhouses and employed schoolteachers on all the 21 Aboriginal stations set up between 1893 and 1917. It also provided schools and teachers on any of the 115 Aboriginal reserves that had enough children of school-going age to justify it.

On those reserves where there were not enough children to warrant a dedicated school, the Aborigines Protection Board insisted they must go to the local public school. In the early years, it tried to coerce Aboriginal parents into sending their children to school by withholding rations if they failed to do this. In its later years, it organised for all Aboriginal children to have a hot midday meal at school.

In contrast, in the '20s and '30s, there were only three welfare institutions in NSW designated for Aboriginal children. One at Bomaderry housed 25 infants to 10-year-olds, the second at Cootamundra accommodated 50 girls aged up to 13 years, and the third at Kinchela housed 50 boys aged up to 13 years.

At about the same time, about 2800 Aboriginal children in NSW lived at home with their parents and attended public schools.

The 125 places at the welfare institutions represented a mere 4.5 per cent of all the places provided for Aborigines at public schools. On these grounds alone, no one can argue that the government was conducting a systematic program to destroy Aboriginality by stealing children from their families. A similar ratio of schools to welfare institutions operated in most other states, where the same conclusion deserves to be drawn.

In Western Australia and the Northern Territory, the two greatest villains in this story were A.O.Neville and Cecil 'Mick' Cook. Both publicly endorsed a program to "breed out the colour" with the ultimate aim of biologically absorbing the Aboriginal people into the white population.

This was an obnoxious policy that well deserved Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of Neville as a fastidious, obsessive bureaucrat in the film Rabbit-Proof Fence.

However, it was also a policy that had only a minor focus on children. It was primarily concerned with controlling Aboriginal marriage and cohabitation patterns in order to foster the rapid assimilation of part-Aborigines. To define the policy as part of the Stolen Generations thesis is a mistake. In any case, it was almost a complete failure.

In the '30s, marriages arranged by these administrators totalled less than 10 a year. Neville proved as inept at rounding up children as he did at match-making. The Moseley royal commission recorded in 1935 that over three years, the one government settlement in the state's south at Moore River took in only 64 unattended children. This was out of a total Aboriginal population in the state of 19,000. It was less than 1 per cent of all Aboriginal children in the state. Neville dealt with handfuls of children, not generations.

The only successful program from this era was the NSW Aboriginal apprenticeship system, which operated from the 1880s to the 1940s. It provided real jobs and skills and gave young Aborigines a way out of the alcohol-soaked, handout-dominated camps and reserves of their parents. Indeed, it is a policy that could well be revived today to rescue children from the sexual assault and substance abuse prevalent in the remote communities.

If Rudd led a real Labor Government, he would be more concerned about emulating the down-to-earth policies devised by his party's predecessors among the old cream of the working class than pandering to the misinterpretations of the recent academic historians who created this issue.

Keith Windschuttle's The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume Two was published in late 2008

The myth of the Stolen Generations – a rebuttal

Peter Read abc.net.au 15th February 2008

Keith Windschuttle is one of the few historians to question seriously the accepted account of how Aboriginal children were removed in large numbers out of fundamentally racist policies.

In his article 'Don't let facts spoil the day.' (printed above) as usual, his too-hurried research leads him into error

What was happening in southern Australia?

Conscious from the 1870s that the part-Aboriginal population was rapidly increasing, Victoria and New South Wales were trying the policy of the 'designated reserve' from which Aboriginal people either could not or would not want to leave. But by the first decade of the twentieth century it was clear that the policy was failing.

Arable land in southern Australia was wanted by new settlers, the harsh regimes of some reserves were causing the residents to vote with their feet. So a new policy, exactly opposite to the first, was evolving by 1910.

This was progressively to reduce and ultimately to close the reserves by expelling the adults and removing the children.

That is the context in which Robert Donaldson, from 1916 the Protection Board's Chief Inspector, uttered the infamous words:

  • '[t]here is no difference of opinion as to the only solution of this great problem - the removal of the children... In the course of the next few years there will be no need for the camps and stations; the old people will have passed away, and their progeny will be absorbed in the industrial classes of the colony'

That was the context of a new policy which Windschuttle ignores, the reason why Aboriginal schools were created only up to 1918 and the reason why the removal rate of children accelerated after that time.

Windschuttle, on the basis of his rushed reading, asserts that not many babies were taken. But babies were commonly removed directly from stations without being listed on the files which Windschuttle uses.

Nor does he consider the children born to unmarried Aboriginal mothers in public hospitals in the major cities. Such mothers had virtually no chance of keeping their children, but how many such babies were lost to the Aboriginal people in this way are unknown.

Joy Williams, who sued the NSW government for developing mental illness while a state ward, was one of them. Born in Crown Street in 1942 to a Stolen Generation mother, she was immediately transferred to the Bomaderry home for Aboriginal babies. She has no record in the files which Windschuttle consulted.

There were many justifications provided by managers for removing children besides 'being Aboriginal' and similar forms of words. They illustrate how sharply the state distinguished Aboriginal from other children.

Being an orphan was often cited as a cause, and yet according Dr Naomi Parry’s calculation, 45 per cent of children removed in NSW from 1916 to 1928 had two parents living with them.

Another common citation was 'being in moral or physical danger'. That ploy represented little more than the Board's recognition that it could not solve the 'great problem' just by presenting 'neglected' children to a magistrate.

In 1915 the Chief Secretary told the parliament:

  • 'At the present time the law is that the state can take control of neglected children, but under the law these children cannot legally be called neglected... If the Aboriginal child is decently clad and apparently well looked after, it is very difficult indeed to show that the half caste or aboriginal child is actually in a neglected condition, and therefore it is impossible to succeed in court.'

So the Board was granted the power to declare as a state ward - and hence remove - any Aboriginal child under 18 deemed to be 'in moral or physical danger'. In the 'reason for removal' the phrase occurs frequently!

The bypassed legal system could no longer protect Aboriginal children from the bureaucracy. That is another essential difference which Windschuttle misses.

Windschuttle accuses me of down-playing the beneficial policy of removing children to enter apprenticeships. But state wards were not Trades Apprentices, who learned a trade from a skilled worker. The condition of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal state wards was much more similar to indentures in unskilled rural labour and domestic service.

The children were 'apprenticed' as domestic servants just as white working class women were leaving domestic service for factory work, and just when the rural labour force was in serious decline after WWI.

Here a more sinister element enters the equation. Professor Heather Goodall calculates that 72 per cent of all the children over 12 who were removed from 1912 to 1928 were girls, which she describes as an intervention to restrict and control young Aboriginal women's sexual activity.

Parry found that 49 per cent of children were sent into service directly without any training at all. Many were later deeply traumatized by what Windshuttle describes as 'on-the-job training'.

In one by no means unique case, a girl was taken to the Cootamundra Girls Training Home when she was five, and ten years later was sent to 'apprentice' as a domestic servant. Not much more than a year later she had been in five different work situations, two Aboriginal stations, the Sydney Rescue Home, a police station and Callan Park Mental Hospital. When she was 20 a Board official casually noted, 'heard that she had returned to Darlington Point and living with sister'.

She at least knew where to return.

Until 1921 the board officials were not even required to return wards and even then they frequently did not take young people back to their communities.

The officials' motives were clear then, and are clear now: the children were supposed to lose their Aboriginality after their removal. In the Board's solution they were not supposed to return.

Windschuttle adopts his common tactic of singling out a particular historian for attention. But Parry, Goodall and Read are only three of a host of historians who have worked much more closely in the records than Windschuttle.

How insulting to the stolen generations and their descendants to be told that their history has been created by these 'recent academic historians'.

Windschuttle should try walking into the throng of stolen generations ... and suggest that to them. He may be surprised.