Genocide in Australia
Indeed, in response to the High Courts Wik decision, the Coalition government under John Howard has introduced amendments to the Native Title Act (known as the 10-point plan), which aim to extinguish native title in all but name, perpetuating the cycle of dispossession and alienation. In what has been described (not only by socialists and Aborigines themselves) as “the biggest land grab since 1788”, Howards legislation takes from the Aborigines to give to the richest pastoralists in the land. At the time of writing, the Senate has rejected this legislation for the second time, setting the scene for a double dissolution and a general election.
Howard derides what he calls the “black armband view of history” that is, a history which tells the truth about what happened to the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and how Australias wealth was built on the theft of their land. He does so for both pragmatic and ideological reasons: to advantage his rich mates and make Australia safe for the mining companies, pastoral interests and capitalism generally, and to justify his assault on the gains Indigenous people have made in recent years, meagre as they are.
The Howard government has also given the go-ahead to Energy Resources Australias Jabiluka uranium mine, situated on the traditional lands of the Mirrar people in the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, in direct contravention of the wishes of the traditional owners. Once again, the rights of Indigenous people have been trampled over in the rush to make profits.
The government therefore wants to sweep the Stolen Generations report under the table. A crucial aspect of its strategy to enrich the miners and pastoralists is to deny any spiritual or traditional connection with the land as the basis for a native title claim and this is the only kind of claim many of the stolen generations can make.
They must not be allowed to get away with it. In the past, Indigenous people have won rights through struggles such as the freedom rides, the Gurindji strike and the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in which they and their supporters took to the streets to gain popular support. Today, we need that kind of fight again.
Opinion polls, the numbers who attend demonstrations in support of Indigenous rights and the establishment of organisations like Defenders of Native Title and the Jabiluka Action Groups show that there is widespread support for justice for Indigenous Australians. That support needs to be mobilised into a powerful movement that can stop Howard and turn the tide against the rising racism that he has fostered.
This pamphlet looks at some of the issues raised by the Stolen Generations report and in particular addresses the criticisms and disclaimers emanating from the Howard government and its supporters in big business not to mention Pauline Hanson and her racist One Nation organisation. In order to build the kind of movement described above, we need to be able to counter Howards arguments with the real facts. Hopefully this pamphlet is a small contribution to building such a movement.
In 1949, Millicent was four years old. Thats when she and five of her siblings were taken from their parents and placed in institutions. She never saw any of them again, apart from one brother who was subsequently removed to another institution.
The authorities told Millicent that her parents didnt want her, when actually they prevented them from visiting her. After a horrific childhood consisting largely of domestic servitude, beatings and religious indoctrination, Millicent was sent into unpaid domestic service, where she was raped, bashed and slashed with a razor for resisting. On reporting the rape, she was beaten for lying. The resulting pregnancy earned her yet more beatings. Millicent was overjoyed to have a baby someone she could love but her joy was shortlived. They took her baby away and told her the infant had died a lie only revealed when the two were reunited many years later.
The immense human tragedy of the stolen generations is made up of thousands of stories like Millicents.
The practice of forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families has a long and dishonourable history, dating back to the very beginning of European settlement in Australia. The early settlers often simply kidnapped children to work for them, as personal or domestic servants, or on the land. They were effectively enslaved: paid no wages and supplied with only the barest necessities of food, shelter and clothing. In the north of Australia, this type of thing was happening up to the early twentieth century.
While settlers stole children purely for personal gain, governments and churches came up with a range of ideological justifications for the practice of systematically removing children from their families. These justifications, though on occasion presented as in some sense “benevolent”, led to the same outcome for their Aboriginal and Islander victims lives of misery and physical, cultural and spiritual deprivation.
The motivation of the missionaries and governments also reflect a deep underlying racism. Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were seen as backward and barbaric, incapable of determining their own future and therefore without rights. They had to be “civilised”, their languages, culture and way of life destroyed, so that they could take their place a subordinate one, naturally in European society. Crucially, they were to be inculcated with European values and work habits so that they would be fit for service to the colonial settlers.
You didnt have to scratch the surface very far to find the real motivations behind seemingly “altruistic” actions. In 1814, for example, Governor Macquarie funded a school for Aboriginal children. Within a few years, however, it became obvious to Indigenous families that the real purpose of the school was to distance the children from their families and communities. This was an essential step in the process of separating Indigenous people from their land, which was necessary to free the land for capitalist exploitation.
Meanwhile, colonial authorities were doing nothing to curb the brutal activities of the settlers. It was the British government, embarrassed by reports of frequent massacres and atrocities, which moved to appoint a Select Committee into the condition of the Aboriginal people. But the result of this, far from providing any relief for Indigenous people, was the establishment of legal mechanisms to control the Indigenous population, restrict their movements and rights and remove their children. All this went on in the name of “protection”.
Along with “protection” went segregation. Many Aborigines, thrown off their land, deprived of the means of subsistence and forced into dependence on government handouts, drifted to the towns and set up camps. The inevitable poverty, malnutrition and disease in the camps made them an embarrassment to the settlers and the colonial governments. So it was planned to remove Indigenous people to reserves in areas the Europeans didnt want, segregating them from the white population and restricting their movement. By 1911, the Northern Territory and every State except Tasmania had some form of “protectionist legislation”, giving the government-appointed Protection Board or Chief Protector virtually total control over every aspect of Aborigines lives, and, crucially, legal guardianship of all the children. The sham of “protection” was indicated by the fact that the enforcement of protectionist legislation was carried out by “protectors” who were usually police officers.
The exception, Tasmania, simply removed all its Aboriginal inhabitants to Cape Barren Island and thereafter claimed it had no Aboriginal population, just a few “half-castes”.
Throughout the nineteenth century, massacres, disease and malnutrition took a heavy toll, leading to a serious decline in the full descent Indigenous population. However, the mixed descent population was increasing, due no doubt to the widespread practice of the rape of Aboriginal women and girls by white settlers. These developments led to a somewhat different approach from the authorities. In social Darwinist “survival of the fittest” terms, the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders were “doomed races”, destined to extinction because they couldnt compete with a more “advanced” society. The task of government and missionaries was therefore to “smooth the dying pillow”. Indigenous people of mixed descent, however, were to be absorbed into European society and forced to join the workforce. This policy of “merging” would both save the government money and provide cheap labour for the developing capitalist economy, and it made the removal of children an even more vital part of the process, to keep full descent and mixed descent Aborigines apart.
Definitions of “Aboriginality” were arbitrarily changed to fit government policy and facilitate the break-up of families and communities. Across the country, there were some 67 definitions of “Aboriginality”, enshrined in over 700 pieces of legislation. People were defined as “full blood” or “half caste” and there were further offensive divisions such as “quadroon” and “octoroon”.
The first national discussion of the “Aboriginal problem” took place in 1937, at a Commonwealth State Native Welfare Conference. It was here that the notion of “merging” became the policy of “assimilation”, which formed the basis for government action right up to the 1970s. The difference between “merging” and “assimilation”