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The Stolen Generations (also known as Stolen children) were the children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments. The removals occurred in the period between approximately 1909 and 1969, although in some places children were still being taken until the 1970s.
Documentary evidence, such as newspaper articles and reports to parliamentary committees, suggest a range of rationales. Motivations evident include child protection, beliefs that given their catastrophic population decline after white contact that Aboriginal people would die out, and a fear of miscegenation by full-blooded Aboriginal people.
One view suggests that the motivation and purpose of the laws providing for the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents was child protection, with government policy makers and officials responding to an observed need to provide protection for neglected, abused or abandoned mixed-descent children. An example of the abandonment of mixed race children in the 1920s is given in a report by Walter Baldwin Spencer that many mixed-descent children born during construction of The Ghan railway were abandoned at early ages with no one to provide for them. This incident and others spurred the need for state action to provide for and protect such children.
Other 19th- and early 20th-century contemporaneous documents indicate that the policy of removing Aboriginal children from their parents related to different beliefs: that given the catastrophic population decline of Aboriginal people after white contact that they would die out, that the full-blood tribal Aboriginal population would be unable to sustain itself, and was doomed to inevitable extinction.
This supposed that the civilisation of northern Europeans was superior to that of Aborigines, based on comparative technological advancement. Some adherents to these beliefs considered any proliferation of mixed-descent children (labelled half-castes, 'crossbreeds', quadroons and octoroons) to be a threat to the nature and stability of the prevailing civilisation, or to a perceived racial or civilisational "heritage". For example, in the 1930s, the Northern Territory Protector of Natives, Dr. Cecil Cook, perceived the continuing rise in numbers of "half-caste" children as a problem. His proposed solution was:
Generally by the fifth and invariably by the sixth generation, all native characteristics of the Australian Aborigine are eradicated. The problem of our half-castes will quickly be eliminated by the complete disappearance of the black race, and the swift submergence of their progeny in the white.
Eliminate in future the full-blood and the white and one common blend will remain. Eliminate the full blood and permit the white admixture and eventually the race will become white.
But the context of the whole article indicates that Mr Neville was referring only to some perceived problem at the time in multiple physical colours of skin in a society. The wider point he was making was that there were members of society that were being let down by the European community and Aboriginal communities and there is no reason why the European community should fear assimilation and were morally bound to provide for the disadvantaged.
The earliest introduction of child removal to legislation is recorded in the Victorian Aboriginal Protection Act 1869. The Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines had been advocating such powers since 1860, and the passage of the Act gave the colony of Victoria a wide suite of powers over Aboriginal and 'half-caste' persons, including the forcible removal of children, especially 'at risk' girls. By 1950, similar policies and legislation had been adopted by other states and territories.
The child removal legislation resulted in widespread removal of children from their parents and exercise of sundry guardianship powers by Aboriginal protectors over Aborigines up to the age of 16 or 21. Policemen or other agents of the state (such as 'Aboriginal Protection Officers') were given the power to locate and transfer babies and children of mixed descent from their mothers or families or communities into institutions. In these Australian states and territories, half-caste institutions (both government and missionary) were established in the early decades of the 20th century for the reception of these separated children. Examples of such institutions include Moore River Native Settlement in Western Australia, Doomadgee Aboriginal Mission in Queensland, Ebenezer Mission in Victoria and Wellington Valley Mission in New South Wales.
The exact number of children removed is unknown, and disputed within a large range. The Bringing Them Home Report is often quoted as saying that "at least 100,000" children were removed from their parents, but this figure is arrived at by multiplying the Aboriginal population in 1994 (303,000), by the report's maximum estimate of "one in three". This is not something done in the actual report which stated "between one in three and one in ten" which referred only to children. The real figures are difficult to establish, given differing populations over a long period of time, different policies at different times in different states, and incomplete records. Australian historian Robert Manne suggests "approximately 20,000 to 25,000" were removed between 1910 and 1970, based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics report of 1994. Other writers, such as Keith Windschuttle, have argued for a much lower figure.
The Bringing Them Home Report stated:
Nationally we can conclude with confidence that between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities in the period from approximately 1910 until 1970. In certain regions and in certain periods the figure was undoubtedly much greater than one in ten. In that time not one family has escaped the effects of forcible removal (confirmed by representatives of the Queensland and WA Governments in evidence to the Inquiry). Most families have been affected, in one or more generations, by the forcible removal of one or more children.
The report closely examined the distinctions between "forcible removal", "removal under threat or duress", "official deception", "uninformed voluntary release", and "voluntary release". The evidence indicated that in a large number of cases children were brutally and forcibly removed from their parent or parents, possibly even from the hospital shortly after their birth. Aboriginal Protection Officers often made the judgement on removal. In some cases, families were required to sign legal documents to relinquish care to the state. In Western Australia, the Aborigines Act 1905 removed the legal guardianship of Aboriginal parents and made their children all legal wards of the state, so no parental permission was required.
In 1915, in New South Wales, the Aborigines Protection Amending Act 1915 gave the Aborigines' Protection Board authority to remove Aboriginal children "without having to establish in court that they were neglected"; it was alleged by Professor Peter Read that Board members sometimes wrote simply "For being Aboriginal" as the explanation when recording a removal, however the number of files bearing such a comment appear to be on the order of either one or two with two others bearing only the word "Aboriginal". At the time, some members of Parliament objected to the amendment; one member stated it enabled the board to "steal the child away from its parents", and at least two members argued that the amendment would result in children being subjected to unpaid labour tantamount to "slavery".
In 1911, the Chief Protector of Aborigines in South Australia, William Garnet South, reportedly "lobbied for the power to remove Aboriginal children without a court hearing because the courts sometimes refused to accept that the children were neglected or destitute". South argued that "all children of mixed descent should be treated as neglected". His lobbying reportedly played a part in the enactment of the Aborigines Act 1911; this made him the legal guardian of every Aboriginal child in South Australia, including so-called "half-castes".
The Bringing Them Home report also identified instances of official misrepresentation and deception, such as when caring and able parents were incorrectly described by Aboriginal Protection Officers as not being able to properly provide for their children, or when parents were told by government officials that their children had died, even though this was not the case. One first hand account referring to events in 1935 stated:
I was at the post office with my Mum and Auntie [and cousin]. They put us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome. They put the mums in there as well. But when we'd gone [about ten miles (16 km)] they stopped, and threw the mothers out of the car. We jumped on our mothers' backs, crying, trying not to be left behind. But the policemen pulled us off and threw us back in the car. They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were chasing the car, running and crying after us. We were screaming in the back of that car. When we got to Broome they put me and my cousin in the Broome lock-up. We were only ten years old. We were in the lock-up for two days waiting for the boat to Perth.
The report discovered that removed children were, in most cases, placed into institutional facilities operated by religious or charitable organisations, although a significant number, particularly females, were "fostered" out. Children taken to such places were frequently punished if caught speaking local indigenous languages, and the intention was specifically to prevent them being socialised in Aboriginal cultures, and raise the boys as agricultural labourers and the girls as domestic servants. Many Europeans at the time worked in similar occupations.
A common aspect of the removals was the failure by these institutions to keep records of the actual parentage of the child, or such details as the date or place of birth. As is stated in the report:
… the physical infrastructure of missions, government institutions and children's homes was often very poor and resources were insufficient to improve them or to keep the children adequately clothed, fed and sheltered.
The report said that among the 502 inquiry witnesses, 17% of female witnesses and 7.7% of male witnesses reported experiencing a sexual assault while in an institution, at work, or with a foster or adoptive family.
The social impacts of forced removal have been measured and found to be quite severe. Although the stated aim of the "resocialisation" programme was to improve the integration of Aboriginal people into modern society, a study conducted in Melbourne and cited in the official report found that there was no tangible improvement in the social position of "removed" Aborigines as compared to "non-removed", particularly in the areas of employment and post-secondary education.
Most notably, the study indicated that removed Aboriginal people were actually less likely to have completed a secondary education, three times as likely to have acquired a police record and were twice as likely to use illicit drugs. The only notable advantage "removed" Aboriginal people possessed was a higher average income, which the report noted was most likely due to the increased urbanisation of removed individuals, and hence greater access to welfare payments than for Aboriginal people living in remote communities.
On the other hand, "removed" children were often those deemed "at risk" in the first place. Less doubtful is the negative social & psychological impact of being separated from their families and extended families, an implication now generally recognised, but not well understood by authorities at the time.
By around the age of 18 the children were released from government control and where it was available were sometimes allowed to view their government file. According to the testimony of one Aboriginal person:
I was requested to attend at the Sunshine Welfare Offices, where they formerly (sic) discharged me from State wardship. It took the Senior Welfare Officer a mere 20 minutes to come clean, and tell me everything that my heart had always wanted to know...that I was of 'Aboriginal descent', that I had a Natural mother, father, three brothers and a sister, who were alive...He placed in front of me 368 pages of my file, together with letters, photos and birthday cards. He informed me that my surname would change back to my Mother's maiden name of Angus.
The Bringing Them Home report condemned the policy of disconnecting children from their "cultural heritage". Said one witness to the commission:
I've got everything that could be reasonably expected: a good home environment, education, stuff like that, but that's all material stuff. It's all the non-material stuff that I didn't have — the lineage… You know, you've just come out of nowhere; there you are.
On the other hand, some Aboriginal people do not condemn the government's past actions, as they see that part of their intention was to offer opportunities for education and an eventual job. According to the testimony of one Aboriginal person:
I guess the government didn't mean it as something bad but our mothers weren't treated as people having feelings…Who can imagine what a mother went through? But you have to learn to forgive.
I was put in a mission dormitory when I was eight, nine. I cried for two nights, then I was right with the rest of those kids. We weren't stolen; our family was there. It was a good system. Or a better system than now. At least my generation learnt to read and write properly.
Historian Professor Peter Read, at the time at the Australian National University, was the first to use the phrase 'stolen generation'. It was used by him first as a title for a magazine article which was followed by a book, The Stolen Generations (1981). Widespread awareness of the Stolen Generations, and the practices which created it, only began to enter the public arena in the late 1980s through the efforts of Aboriginal and white activists, artists and musicians (Archie Roach's "Took the Children Away" and Midnight Oil's "The Dead Heart" being examples of the latter). The extensive public interest in the Mabo case had the side effect of throwing the media spotlight on all issues related to Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia, and most notably the Stolen Generations.
In early 1995 Rob Riley of the Aboriginal Legal Service published Telling Our Story which brought to the public attention the effect of past government policies that saw thousands of Aboriginal children removed from their families and reared in missions, orphanages, reserves and white foster homes.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families commenced in May 1995, presided over by Sir Ronald Wilson, the president of the (Australian) Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, and Mick Dodson, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC). During the ensuing 17 months, the Inquiry visited every state and Territory in Australia, heard testimony from 535 Aboriginal Australians, and received submissions of evidence from over 600 more. In April 1997 the official Bringing Them Home Report was released.
Between the commissioning of the National Inquiry and the release of the final report in 1997, the conservative government of John Howard had replaced the Keating government. Howard was quoted as saying "Australians of this generation should not be required to accept guilt and blame for past actions and policies."
As a result of the report, formal apologies were tabled and passed in the state parliaments of Victoria, South Australia and New South Wales, and also in the parliament of the Northern Territory. On 26 May 1998 the first "National Sorry Day" was held, and reconciliation events were held nationally, and attended by over a million people. As public pressure continued to increase, Howard drafted a motion of "deep and sincere regret over the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents" which was passed by the federal parliament in August 1999. Howard went on to say that the Stolen Generation represented "...the most blemished chapter in the history of this country."
In July 2000, the issue of the Stolen Generation came before the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva who heavily criticised the Howard government for its manner of attempting to resolve the issues related to the Stolen Generation. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concluded its discussion of Australia's 12th report by acknowledging "the measures taken to facilitate family reunion and to improve counselling and family support services for the victims", but expressed concern "that the Commonwealth Government does not support a formal national apology and that it considers inappropriate the provision of monetary compensation for those forcibly and unjustifiably separated from their families, on the grounds that such practices were sanctioned by law at the time and were intended to 'assist the people whom they affected'." and recommended "that the State party consider the need to address appropriately the extraordinary harm inflicted by these racially discriminatory practices".
Global media attention turned again to the Stolen Generations issue during the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics. A large "Aboriginal tent city" was established on the grounds of Sydney University to bring attention to Aboriginal issues in general. The Aboriginal athlete Cathy Freeman (who was chosen to light the Olympic flame and went on to win the gold medal in the 400 metre sprint) disclosed in interviews that her own grandmother was a victim of forced removal. The internationally successful rock group Midnight Oil obtained worldwide media interest when they performed at the Olympic closing ceremony wearing black sweatsuits with the word "SORRY" emblazoned across them.
Prior to the Sydney Olympics a mockumentary called The Games was broadcast on ABC TV. In the episode shown on 3 July 2000 the actor John Howard made a recording "for international release" of an apology to the Stolen Generation, ostensibly on behalf of the Australian people.
In 2000, Phillip Knightley summed up the Stolen Generations in these terms:
This cannot be over-emphasized—the Australian government literally kidnapped these children from their parents as a matter of policy. White welfare officers, often supported by police, would descend on Aboriginal camps, round up all the children, separate the ones with light-coloured skin, bundle them into trucks and take them away. If their parents protested they were held at bay by police.
On 11 December 2007, the newly installed Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced that an apology would be made to Indigenous Australians, the wording of which would be decided in consultation with Aboriginal leaders. On 27 January 2008, Rudd announced that the apology would be made on or soon after the first day of parliament in Canberra, on 12 February. The date was later set to 13 February, when it was ultimately issued.
For more than a decade since the Bringing Them Home report on forced separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children was handed to Liberal prime minister, John Howard, he and his conservative coalition colleagues consistently rejected calls for a formal government apology (though coalition government members stated that they were personally sorry for the outcomes of the policy). The main reasons put forward for the rejection were concerns that a formal apology could be construed as an admission of deliberate wrongdoing, rather than reflect on the claimed original "well intentioned aim of Child Protection". It was also suggested that the government would admit liability in any duty-of-care legal proceedings (by admission that there was deliberate wrongdoing)
The announcement of an apology by the new Labor prime minister led to a split reaction from the Liberal Party whose leader Brendan Nelson initially said that an apology would risk encouraging a "culture of guilt" in Australia. However, other senior Liberals expressed support for an apology, e.g., Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Costello, Bill Heffernan and former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser. Former Liberal minister Judi Moylan said: "I think as a nation we owe an apology. We shouldn't be thinking about it as an individual apology — it's an apology that is coming from the nation state because it was governments that did these things."
Nelson himself later declared he supported the apology. Following a party meeting, the Liberal Party as a whole expressed its support for an apology, which thereby achieved bipartisan consensus. Brendan Nelson stated: "I, on behalf of the Coalition, of the alternative government of Australia, are [sic] providing in-principle support for the offer of an apology to the forcibly removed generations of Aboriginal children."
Lyn Austin, chairwoman of Stolen Generations Victoria, stated her view on why she believed an apology was necessary, recalling her experiences as a stolen child:
I thought I was being taken just for a few days. I can recall seeing my mother standing on the side of the road with her head in her hands, crying, and me in the black FJ Holden wondering why she was so upset. A few hundred words can't fix this all but it's an important start and it's a beginning[...] I see myself as that little girl, crying myself to sleep at night, crying and wishing I could go home to my family. Everything's gone, the loss of your culture, the loss of your family, all these things have a big impact.
The text of the apology did not make reference to compensation to Aboriginal people as a whole or to members of the Stolen Generations specifically.
That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation's history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering, and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.
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Rudd followed the apology with a 20-minute speech to the house about the need for the apology, which was widely applauded among both Indigenous Australians and the non-indigenous general public.
The Leader of the Opposition Brendan Nelson then also delivered a 20-minute speech, which while apparently endorsing the apology, appeared to include a significant qualification. In his speech Nelson made reference to the 'under-policing' of child welfare in aboriginal communities, as well as a host of social ills blighting the lives of aborigines.
The Alice Springs Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers with great courage revealed to the nation in 2006 the case of a four-year-old girl drowned while being raped by a teenager who had been sniffing petrol. She told us of the two children – one a baby – sexually assaulted by two men while their mothers were off drinking alcohol. Another baby was stabbed by a man trying to kill her mother.
Nelson's speech was considered controversial and received mixed reactions. Thousands of people who had gathered in Canberra and Melbourne turned their backs on the screens displaying Nelson giving his speech, while in Perth people booed and jeered until the screen was eventually switched off. In Parliament House's Great Hall elements of the audience began a slow clap, with some finally turning their backs. There were similar reactions and walk-outs in Sydney and elsewhere.
After the ceremony the House of Representatives unanimously adopted the proposed motion, although six members of Nelson's opposition caucus — Don Randall, Sophie Mirabella, Dennis Jensen, Wilson Tuckey, Luke Simpkins and Alby Schultz — made themselves absent in protest at the apology. Peter Dutton was also the only Opposition front bencher to abstain from the apology.
Later that day, a motion for an apology in identical terms was considered by the Senate. The Leader of the Greens, Senator Bob Brown, attempted to amend the motion to have it include words committing parliament to offering compensation to those who suffered loss under past indigenous policies, but was opposed by all the other parties. The original motion was passed unanimously.
The final part of the indigenous opera Pecan Summer by Deborah Cheetham, which premiered in Mooroopna in October 2010, is set at Federation Square, in Melbourne, on the day of Kevin Rudd's apology, and quotes some of his words.
The legal circumstances regarding the Stolen Generations remain unclear. Although some compensation claims are pending, it is not possible for a court to rule on behalf of plaintiffs simply because they were removed, as, at the time, such removals were authorised under Australian law. Australian federal and state governments' statute law and associated regulations provided for the removal from their birth families and communities of mixed-race Aboriginal children, or those who appeared mixed.
The apology is not expected to have any legal impact on claims for compensation.
In the Federal Court of Australia cases of Cubillo and Gunner, their claims failed. The presiding judge, Justice Maurice O'Loughlin, noted in his summary judgment that he was not ruling that there would never be valid cases for compensation with regard to the Stolen Generations, only that in these two specific cases he could not find evidence of illegal conduct by the officials involved. Investigations revealed that Cubillo, aged eight years, was removed from a remote station in 1947 when her father went missing and her mother and grandmother were dead. Gunner, it turned out, had been sent to Alice Springs to get an education with the consent of his mother.
On 1 August 2007, in a decision in the Supreme Court of South Australia by Justice Thomas Gray, Bruce Trevorrow, a member of the Stolen Generation, was awarded $775,000 compensation. The SA government announced that it would pay the compensation awarded to Trevorrow but at the same time, seek to review in the High Court to clarify the court's findings of law and fact.
Trevorrow did not have long to celebrate his victory in the courts. He died in Victoria on 20 June 2008, at the age of 51, less than a year after the court decision.
The West Australian newspaper reported Trevorrow's story as follows:
Mr. Trevorrow was separated from his mother in December 1957 after he was admitted to Adelaide's Children's Hospital with gastroenteritis. More than six months later, his mother wrote to the state's Aboriginal Protection Board, which had fostered him out, asking when she could have her son back. "I am writing to ask if you would let me know how Bruce is and how long before I can have him back home," she wrote in July 1958. "I have not forgot I got a baby in there". The Court was told the board lied to her, writing her son was "making good progress" and that the doctors still needed him for treatment.
(See Bringing them Home, Appendix 6 for a listing and interpretation of South Australian acts regarding 'Aborigines' and Bringing them home education module regarding relevant South Australian law and policy.)
|The neutrality of this section is disputed. (February 2014)|
Terms such as "stolen" were used in the context of taking children from their families – the Hon P. McGarry, a member of the Parliament of New South Wales, objected to the Aborigines Protection Amending Act 1915 which then enabled the Aborigines' Protection Board to remove Aboriginal children from their parents without having to establish that they were in any way neglected or mistreated; McGarry described the policy as "steal[ing] the child away from its parents".
In 1924, in the Adelaide Sun an article stated "The word 'stole' may sound a bit far-fetched but by the time we have told the story of the heart-broken Aboriginal mother we are sure the word will not be considered out of place."
Indigenous Australians in most jurisdictions were "protected", effectively being wards of the State. The protection was done through each jurisdiction's Aboriginal Protection Board; in Victoria and Western Australia these boards were also responsible for applying what were known as Half-Caste Acts.
More recent usage was Peter Read's 1981 publication of The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal Children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969. The 1997 publication of Bringing Them Home – Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families brought broader awareness of the Stolen Generations. The acceptance of the term in Australia is illustrated by 13 February 2008 formal apology to the Stolen Generations, led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and passed by both houses of the Parliament of Australia. Previous apologies had been offered by State and Territory governments in the period 1997–2001.
There remains opposition to acceptance of the validity of the term "Stolen Generations". This was illustrated by the former Prime Minister John Howard refusing to apologise and the then Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, John Herron controversially disputing the usage in April 2000. Others who dispute the validity of the term include: Peter Howson, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 1971–72 and Keith Windschuttle. Others argue against these critics, responding to Windschuttle in particular.
Despite the lengthy and detailed findings set out in the Bringing Them Home report, the nature and extent of the removals documented in the report have been debated and disputed within Australia, with some commentators questioning the findings and asserting that the Stolen Generations has been exaggerated. Sir Ronald Wilson, former President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and a Commissioner on the Inquiry, has stated that none of the more than 500 witnesses who appeared before the Inquiry were cross-examined. This failure to cross-examine has been the basis of criticism by the anthropologist Ron Brunton as well as by the centre-right Liberal Party Federal Government, which was in power at the time that the report, commissioned by the previous Labor Party Government, was delivered.
An Australian Federal Government submission has questioned the conduct of the Commission which produced the report, arguing that the Commission failed to critically appraise or test the claims on which it based the report and fails to distinguish between those separated from their families "with and without consent, and with and without good reason". Not only has the number of children removed from their parents been questioned (critics often quote the ten percent estimate, which they say does not constitute a 'generation'), but also the intent and effects of the government policy.
Keith Windschuttle argued in his 2009 book, The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume Three: The Stolen Generations 1881-2008, that "not only is the charge of genocide unwarranted, but so is the term 'Stolen Generations'. Aboriginal Children were never removed from their families in order to put an end to Aboriginality or, indeed, to serve any improper government policy or program. The small numbers of Aboriginal child removals in the twentieth century were almost all based on traditional grounds of child welfare."
In April 2000, controversy stirred when the then Aboriginal Affairs Minister in the conservative Howard Government, John Herron, tabled a report in the Australian Parliament that questioned whether or not there had been "Stolen Generations", on the semantic distinction that as "only 10% of Aboriginal children" had been removed, they did not constitute an entire "generation". The report received media attention and there were protests. Dr Herron apologised for the "understandable offence taken by some people" as a result of his comments, although he refused to alter the report as it had been tabled.
The term "generation" was first used by historian Peter Reed. Robert Manne has stated that when people refer to the "generation that lost their lives in the First World War", we don't mean 50 per cent or 90 per cent of young people, but use it as a metaphor for a collective experience. Similarly, the Aboriginal community use the term to describe their collective suffering.
Some commentators such as Sir Ronald Wilson have alleged that the Stolen Generations was nothing less than a case of attempted genocide, because it was widely believed at the time that the policy would cause Aborigines to die out. In its 12th report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination the Australian Government denied that this was a breach of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Robert Manne argues that the expressed views of government bureaucrats, such as A.O. Neville, to merge the Aboriginal race into the white population by means of "breeding out the colour", and therefore eventually resulting in the former being "forgotten", bore strong similarities to the views of the Nazis in 1930s Nazi Germany. Manne points out that, though the term 'genocide' had not yet entered the English language, the policies of Neville and others were termed by some contemporaries as the 'die out' or 'breed out' policy, giving an indication of their proposed intent. Nevertheless, he also states that it is now "generally acknowledged" by academics that the authors of the Bringing Them Home report were wrong to argue that Australian authorities had committed genocide by removing indigenous children from their families, because assimilation has never been regarded in law as equivalent to genocide.
Conservative Australian historian Keith Windschuttle contends that no genocide has ever taken place in Australia. He concedes there were "obnoxious" attempts to "breed out" Aboriginality in Western Australia and the Northern Territory but says those policies concentrated on intermarriage, not child removal, and were undercut by the ineptitude of the bureaucrats involved.
Paul Bartrop, co-author of The Dictionary of Genocide with US scholar Samuel Totten, rejects the use of the word genocide to describe Australian colonial history in general, but says the use of the term can be "sustained relatively easily" when describing the Stolen Generations. Dr Bartrop, who wrote the entry in the dictionary entitled "Australia, Genocide in:", said he used the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, as cited by Ronald Wilson in his 1997 Bringing Them Home report, as the benchmark for the use of the term genocide.
Historian Inga Clendinnen suggests that the term genocide rests on the question of intentionality. "There's not much doubt, with great murderous performances that were typically called genocide, that they were deliberate and intentional," she argues. "Beyond that, it always gets very murky."
This 1983 documentary was the first film to deal with the Stolen Generations. Directed and produced by Alec Morgan, it won several international and Australian awards. Despite this, it took two years for the government-run Australian Broadcasting Corporation to be convinced to broadcast it. It is now standard fare in educational institutions, and has been highly influential, including on the Australian Prime Minister's apology to the Stolen Generations, more than a quarter of a century after the film's release.
The 2002 Australian film Rabbit-Proof Fence, directed by Phillip Noyce was based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara. It concerns the author's mother and two other mixed-race Aboriginal girls who ran away from Moore River Native Settlement, north of Perth, to return to their Aboriginal families, by following a rabbit-proof fence. In a subsequent interview with the ABC, Doris recalled her removal from her mother at age three or four, arriving at the settlement in 1931. She was not reunited with her mother until she was 25 and, until that time, she believed that her mother had given her away. When they were reunited, Doris was unable to speak her native language and had been taught to regard Indigenous culture as evil.
The principal persona of Melanie Hogan's film Kanyini, Bob Randall, is an elder of the Yankunytjatjara people and one of the listed traditional owners of Uluru. He was taken away from his mother as a child. He remained at the government reservation until he was 20, working at various jobs, including as a carpenter, stockman and crocodile hunter. He helped establish the Adelaide Community College and lectured on Aboriginal cultures. He served as the director of the Northern Australia Legal Aid Service and established Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander centres at the Australian National University, University of Canberra and University of Wollongong. He was named 'Indigenous Person of the Year' in 1999 and inducted into the Northern Territory musical hall of fame for songs such as "Brown Skin Baby," "Red Sun" and "Black Moon" (about the Coniston massacre). He is also the author of two books: his autobiography Songman and a children's book, Tracker Tjginji.
Bryce Courtenay's novel Jessica tells in the history a case brought in a New South Wales court against the Aboriginal Protection Board challenging the Aboriginal Protection Act of 1909 in order to return two children from Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls to the Aboriginal mother.
Aboriginal artist and author Sally Morgan has written several novels documenting the lives of herself and her family members, featuring intimate portrayals of the impact of forced removal on individuals, their families and communities, although Sally herself was not a stolen child. Her first, My Place, involves her quest to uncover her Aboriginal heritage which had previously been denied by her family, who insisted "as a survival mechanism" that they were of Indian extraction.
Stolen is a play by Australian playwright Jane Harrison. It tells the story of five indigenous people who dealt with the issues for forceful removal by the Australian government.
Stolen tells the story of five fictional Aboriginal children by the names of Sandy, Ruby, Jimmy, Anne, and Shirley.
Benang is Indigenous Australian Kim Scott's second novel. Benang in about forced assimilation and finding how one can return to their own culture. The novel presents how difficult it is to form a working history of a population who had been historically uprooted from their past.
The white stolen generations are so-called to distinguish them from the indigenous stolen generations. It is estimated that around 450,000 Australian born non-Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families from the 1930s to 1982. This number includes 250,000 babies born to unmarried mothers that were forcibly removed. The mothers were often drugged, tied to beds or told their babies had died. Many hospitals engaged in what is now known as institutionalised baby farming, whereby those children deemed "inferior" were taken and adopted into the middle class.
Organisations such as the Apology Alliance and Adoption Loss Adult Support have actively campaigned for a parliamentary apology similar to that given for the [Aboriginal] Stolen Generations. In 2001, then treasurer of NSW Michael Egan made a statement of public acknowledgment in the NSW Parliament. In October 2010, West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett delivered a parliamentary apology on behalf of state institutions involved in the aggressive adoption practices. Prime minister Julia Gillard made a personal public apology.