[photos: above- The Well, girls at Cootamundra Girls Home. below- scene from the movie, "Rabbit-Proof Fence"] I'm overcome by emotion; overwhelmed with the personal accounts, the speeches, images, poetry that has accumulated in Bringing Them Home, and in relation to Australia's steps to Reconciliation.
The apology was certainly overdue. The 'Stolen Generations' is a terrible and shameful blot on Australia's history. The pain of children being removed from their mothers is obvious to me today, yet this cruel practice went on for years!
I am sorry for the disprespect, mistreatment and the brutality committed by my people. I despair that it has taken such a long time to acknowledge the wrongness of the 'Stolen Generations'.
"We can all learn from past wrongs" a voice of hope wrote... I dearly hope that we are ever willing to continue to learn from our mistakes, motivated by the wish to peacefully move forward together as a nation of mutually respected diversities.
A Nation Shocked by Tales of Sorrow
[from Sydney Morning Herals news] "When the girls left the home, they were sent out to work in the homes and outlying farms of middle-class white people as domestics. On top of that you were lucky not to be sexually, physically and mentally abused, and all for a lousy sixpence [a week] that you didn't get to see anyway. Also, when the girls fell pregnant, their babies were taken from them and adopted out to white families. They never saw them again."
This was confidential submission No.617 to the Bringing Them Homereport, from a NSW woman removed at eight with her three sisters and sent to Cootamundra Girls Home in the 1940s. There were thousands of such testimonies, most of them appalling, many never before shared, and as they piled one on top of the other, first in the report and then through the media, they revealed for the first time the sheer depth and scope of the suffering of indigenous Australians who were removed from their homes because they were deemed neither white enough, nor black enough.
By the time the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Parliament on May 26, 1997, it had sparked national soul-searching. In Parliament, the opposition leader, Kim Beazley, tried to read out some of its horror stories of sexual and physical abuse but became misty-eyed and had to stop to compose himself.
A Herald-AGB McNair poll showed almost two-thirds of Australians believed all the parliaments should apologise for removal policies that took part-indigenous children - or those who looked part-indigenous - from their families until 1970. But a Morgan poll also found that 37 per cent of those surveyed agreed with the prime minister, John Howard, who said to apologise would be to hold present generations responsible for the past. Mr Howard agreed the report was "very shocking" but his government attacked it as legally flawed and said compensation would be impractical and divisive.
The West Australian Liberal senator Ross Lightfoot was threatened with expulsion from the party after telling Parliament that Aborigines "in their native state were the lowest colour on the civilisation spectrum".
And Pauline Hanson, then at the peak of her powers as the member for Oxley, said many of the children who were taken away "are only alive today because they were taken".
The result of the National Inquiry Into The Separation of Aboriginal And Torres Strait Islander Children From Their Families, the Bringing Them Home report was commissioned by the Keating Labor government and prepared by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Among its key findings were that between one in three and one in 10 indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970, that one in five of those fostered or adopted and one in 10 sent to institutions reported being sexually abused, that many were never paid wages for their labour as apprentices, domestics and farm boys, and that under international law, policies of forcible removal amounted to genocide after 1946 and racial discrimination after 1950.
Genocide was the report's most controversial word and was insisted upon by the late Human Rights commissioner, Ronald Wilson. A former High Court judge and president of the Uniting Church Assembly, he had apologised for his own role in child removals as a leading church figure and chose genocide, "a nasty word, an offensive word", to shock people, he said.
The inquiry made 54 recommendations, including that reparation be made to those who had become known as the "stolen generations". It recommended an acknowledgement of responsibility and apology from all Australian parliaments, police forces, churches and non-government agencies which implemented policies of forcible removal, plus restitution and rehabilitation.
By mid-August 1997, all state and territory parliaments had issued statements of apology except the Commonwealth, the Northern Territory and Queensland - which expressed its "sincere regret". (Queensland later apologised under Labor premier Peter Beattie in 1999, and the Northern Territory in 2001.) The Commonwealth committed $63 million over four years for family reunion, counselling and indigenous language services in 1997, but refused to apologise.
In what he later said was a low point in more than a decade in office, Mr Howard gave a speech to the Australian Reconciliation Convention on the day after the report was tabled in Parliament.
Incensed by audience members who turned their backs to him, Howard thumped the lectern and said, "Australians of this generation should not be required to accept guilt and blame for past actions and policies over which they had no control".
In the aftermath, the government argued that forced removals "were sanctioned by the laws of the time, and … were believed to be in the best interests of the children concerned" and that "a formal unqualified apology does, according to the legal advice … have certain legal implications".
Eventually, on August 26, 1999, Mr Howard moved a motion of reconciliation expressing "deep and sincere regret that indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations, and for the hurt and trauma that many indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices".
Some indigenous leaders said the government had come a long way towards reconciliation, others felt the absence of the word sorry made it meaningless.
13 February 2008- The Stolen Generations*: Australia says Sorry
As the first official parliamentary act of his government, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to his Aboriginal countrymen. “For the indignity and degradation... inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry... "
A thick 1997 report, Bringing Them Home, brought these stories to the attention of white Australians. As Rudd said, "There is something terribly primal about these firsthand accounts. The pain is searing; it screams from the pages. The hurt, the humiliation, the degradation and the sheer brutality of the act of physically separating a mother from her children is a deep assault on our senses and on our most elemental humanity.” ---------------------------------------------------------------
Sadly, many of the opposition (Liberals) demonstrated that they weren't sorry...
Booing, Backpeddling and Boycotting Several Liberals (Sophie Mirabella, Alby Schultz, Don Randall and Wilson Tuckey) avoided the ceremony. Victorian Liberal Chris Pearce refused to stand at the end of the speeches and called the ceremony a "pantomime".
Speaking after the Prime Minister, Liberal's leader at that time, Dr Nelson, delivered a heavily qualified speech and attemped to balance the competing views within his party (ranging from support to outright hostility). Although the motion was about apologising for mistreatment of indigenous Australians by past governments, Dr Nelson spent considerable time concentrating on the plight of indigenous Australians today. He defended ex PM John Howard's 'emergency intervention' in the Northern Territory. Dr Nelson then delved into Australia's military history to stress that not everything done by past generations was bad.
Nelson was defensive of the need to take children from their families. "Our generation does not own these actions, nor should it feel guilt for what was done in many, but not all cases, with the best of intentions. Even when motivated by inherent humanity and decency to reach out to the dispossessed in extreme adversity, our actions can have unintended outcomes. As such, many decent Australians are hurt by accusations of theft in relation to their good intentions."
'Stolen Generations' or 'Forcibly Removed'? Dr Nelson pointedly declined to use the term "stolen generations", preferring instead "forcibly removed". He implied that others also suffered the same trauma by mentioning that his own father was adopted out at birth after being conceived out of wedlock.
Reactions To Dr Nelson's Speech Outside on the lawn, the crowd watching on a big screen began to hiss and boo. People chanted to "get him off". In the chamber, the indigenous people who packed the public galleries maintained a respectful silence. In Perth, the broadcast was switched off after crowds began to clap and turn their backs. [Adapted from news in SydneyMorningHerald] ---------------------------------------------------------------
Photo above: “Standing on our wishing well …wishing for someone to come and take us home” (Former residents of Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home) "The well cap became a quiet place where in solitude or with a sister we would sit and gaze down the driveway to see if family visitors were coming."
* Stolen Generations means a person of Aboriginal descent who was taken as a ward or otherwise forcibly separated and alienated from family, Community and Country as a result of government assimilation policy, racism or prejudicial action and/or those Aboriginal persons fostered, adopted or institutionalised under duress including intergenerational family members so affected.
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