Idées chrétiennes devenues folles: Après le mariage,… le génocide pour tous ! (Australian aborigenes: why there were no stolen generations)

Depuis que l’ordre religieux est ébranlé – comme le christianisme le fut sous la Réforme – les vices ne sont pas seuls à se trouver libérés. Certes les vices sont libérés et ils errent à l’aventure et ils font des ravages. Mais les vertus aussi sont libérées et elles errent, plus farouches encore, et elles font des ravages plus terribles encore. Le monde moderne est envahi des veilles vertus chrétiennes devenues folles. Les vertus sont devenues folles pour avoir été isolées les unes des autres, contraintes à errer chacune en sa solitude.  G.K. Chesterton
Je crois que le moment décisif en Occident est l’invention de l’hôpital. Les primitifs s’occupent de leurs propres morts. Ce qu’il y a de caractéristique dans l’hôpital c’est bien le fait de s’occuper de tout le monde. C’est l’hôtel-Dieu donc c’est la charité. Et c’est visiblement une invention du Moyen-Age.  René Girard
Notre monde est de plus en plus imprégné par cette vérité évangélique de l’innocence des victimes. L’attention qu’on porte aux victimes a commencé au Moyen Age, avec l’invention de l’hôpital. L’Hôtel-Dieu, comme on disait, accueillait toutes les victimes, indépendamment de leur origine. Les sociétés primitives n’étaient pas inhumaines, mais elles n’avaient d’attention que pour leurs membres. Le monde moderne a inventé la « victime inconnue », comme on dirait aujourd’hui le « soldat inconnu ». Le christianisme peut maintenant continuer à s’étendre même sans la loi, car ses grandes percées intellectuelles et morales, notre souci des victimes et notre attention à ne pas nous fabriquer de boucs émissaires, ont fait de nous des chrétiens qui s’ignorent. René Girard
Ecoutez-les: ils disent eux-mêmes qu’ils sont devenus des étrangers dans leur propre pays. Si les pouvoirs publics veulent vraiment les aider, tout est à repenser. Savez-vous pourquoi les toilettes de leurs maisons sont bouchées? Parce qu’ils utilisent des pierres pour se torcher, comme avant dans le désert. Il faudrait des toilettes sèches, et autre chose que ces préfabriqués dessinés pour un couple et deux enfants occidentaux et totalement inadaptés à un mode de vie clanique! Marj (infirmière)
C’est difficile d’accepter l’aide des Blancs. Mais la situation ne pouvait pas durer ainsi. Les filles vendaient leur corps contre de l’essence à sniffer. Et, maintenant que le flot d’alcool s’est ralenti, il y a moins de femmes battues. Mavis Malbunka
Il est temps de sortir du statut de victime pour embrasser une culture de responsabilité. (…)  Ce dont souffrent aujourd’hui les Aborigènes, c’est de leur dépendance envers l’Etat providence, qui fait d’eux des assistés. Nous devons rejoindre l’économie de marché. Et, pour cela, le gouvernement doit s’engager, dans le long terme, sur l’éducation, la formation, l’accès à la propriété privée. Noel Pearson (chef aborigène)
Ancien stockman – le cow-boy australien – il parle avec nostalgie de sa jeunesse, du temps où les clans vivaient autour des fermes qui trouvaient, contre des vivres et un peu d’argent, à employer tout le monde. C’était avant que les syndicats n’imposent un salaire minimum qui a conduit les fermiers blancs à se débarrasser des Aborigènes, main-d’oeuvre devenue trop chère, réduite dès lors à tendre la sébile à l’Etat providence. (…) Le seul défaut de cette intervention, c’est qu’elle aurait dû se produire plus tôt »: chargée par le gouvernement de superviser l’opération, Sue Gordon ne cache pas son agacement face aux « sempiternelles critiques ». Parce qu’elle connaît bien le dossier des violences sexuelles dans les communautés, cette magistrate pour mineurs d’Australie-Occidentale sait qu’il y avait urgence. Aborigène élevée chez les Blancs, elle a été une « enfant volée ». Arrachée à l’âge de 4 ans à sa famille, elle n’a revu sa mère et sa s?ur que trente ans plus tard. Victime de cette politique d’assimilation forcée, elle en mesure toutes les facettes: « Petite, je n’ai pas connu de fêtes de famille, mais ça m’a donné une chance de réussir. Ce n’est pas à moi qu’il faudrait demander pardon, mais à ma mère. Et c’est trop tard. » Sue Gordon regarde vers l’avant: « Les Aborigènes ne pourraient plus vivre à part dans un Etat séparé, comme certains font mine d’y croire. Notre seule issue, c’est celle de l’intégration. Et cela passe par un effort sur l’éducation, afin de rattraper notre retard. L’Express
Australia deserves this place in the academic literature because our past policies towards Aboriginal children were comparable to those of Nazi Germany. It did not involve killing, but its ultimate objective was the same as Hitler’s was for the Jews; namely, that at the end of the process the target group would have disappeared from the face of the earth. Hence it is impossible to con­clude otherwise than that Australia in the 1930s was possessed of an administrative culture that in reality practised geno­cide. Paul Bartrop (Deakin University)
In its first ten years from 1999 to 2009, the quarterly Journal of Genocide Research published twelve major articles of this kind about Australia. This was more than three times as many as the journal car­ried in the same period on the regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia. In Volume 10, Issue 4, 2008, no fewer than three of the seven articles were on Australia: one on the Stolen Generations and two on colo­nial history. Indicting Australia for genocide has become an aca­demic obsession.
Settler-colonies like ‘Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, the United States, and Canada’ led the way in setting out to achieve what the Nazis also set out to achieve, the displacement of indigenous populations and their replacement by incoming peoples held to be racially superior. Ann Curthoys and John Docker (Australian National University)
It is disturbing for an Australian to discover that debates about genocide often do not move very far beyond the classic area of study—Europe under the Nazis—before someone mentions the antipodes. Genocide is a crime, in other words, for which Australia is listed among the usual suspects. Alan Atkinson (University of New England)
I can understand why they took me, Mum and dad were terrible when they were on the grog—in fact we were dead scared. Former inmate of the Cootamundra Aborigi­nal Girls’ Home (1994)
I asked Mum about that, and I did some reading (…) It was mustering time at the station and, of course, all the young girls were on the rails watching musterers catch and brand calves, cheering them on and all that. So that’s her interpretation of running wild. (…) They were watched and chaperoned all the time. If they wanted sex with a white man, they’d have to sneak off somewhere. (…) At Jigalong, they have laws and they are given husbands when the time is right. They wouldn’t have let the girls have sex with the white men working around the fence.He’s distorting history again to serve his purpose. He needs some publicity. Doris Pilkington
You can never criticise or attack Aborigines or their culture because it would incite racism against Indigenous people … I now see how this view simply perpetuates the idea that Indigenous people are helpless victims, with no personal responsibility for their actions. I also feel absolutely disgusted with those who hold the view that ideology must come before the plight of children. Anonymous correspondent
One of the sustained fantasies about traditional Aboriginal society is that, until colonisation, life for Aboriginal people was peaceful and idyllic. The idea that violence – sanctioned and illicit – was the norm has been cast by the defenders of the myth as a racist misrepresentation of a noble society. I believe those who have attacked those of us who want to deal with the direct and indirect factors contributing to the abuse of children, suffer from a form of ‘Stockholm syndrome’. Psychologists use this term to refer to an emotional bond that develops between hostages and captors. It is a familiar problem for victims of abuse: wives who still love their husbands despite domestic violence; victims of incest still attached to their molesters; prison inmates who turn on each other rather than their guards. The critics of the intervention have become dependent – from a distance – on perpetuating the lot of those who are suffering the most. (…) Solidarity for its own sake takes pre-eminence, and does not permit a clear-cut rejection of wrong doing. This line of analysis informs the outrage at the Australian Defence Force (ADF) being used in the intervention. It must have been easy for John Howard’s spin-doctors to predict that the pro-symbolic Aboriginal activists and their supporters would interpret the use of the army as another ‘invasion’. Few understand the long history of Indigenous involvement with the ADF. It remains one of their largest employers, and has a long history of working closely with remote communities, in areas of operation larger than many countries.
My own research and investigation alerted me to three additional contributing factors driving some communities into the inner circles of hell: illicit drugs, other addictive substances and pornography – all imported into Aboriginal communities since the 1970s. Along with the ‘rivers of grog’ and the debilitating alienation that results from permanent unemployment, they have helped cripple many in the Aboriginal population, and ‘very high rates’ of cannabis use contribute to the epidemic of suicide. Illicit drugs had a similar impact on black American communities following the civil rights movement. There, the pandemic of illegal drugs brought drug wars, communities bristling with arms, high death tolls and the disintegration of community life, although zero tolerance policies stalled these trends in some places. The impact of illicit drugs and substances on Aboriginal communities over the last thirty years cannot be under-estimated. Along with the flood of pornography, their contribution to the present disaster demands more than the present intervention can deliver. Gambling also demands urgent attention. In most remote communities, men and women huddle in circles, throwing their money into the ‘pot’, to be lost or won on a single card. Almost all of a community’s income can disappear overnight. It is these practices – violent anti-social behaviour, excessive and harmful use of drugs, alcohol and other substances, use of pornography (especially in the presence of minors), gambling, and the resultant neglect of family life and children – that Pearson is targeting with his campaign for personal responsibility. (…) It is not just the historical and continuing exclusion from the economy, or lack of intergenerational capital, or vicious governments, but the practices of Aboriginal people themselves that transform mere poverty into a living hell. Australia is enjoying an economic boom driven by the rocketing demand for raw materials, but Aboriginal people – who live in areas from which many of these minerals are extracted – are spiralling into permanent poverty and marginalisation.
It seems almost axiomatic to most Australians that Aborigines should be marginalised: poor, sick, and forever on the verge of extinction. At the heart of this idea is a belief in the inevitability of our incapability – the acceptance of our ‘descent into hell’. This is part of the cultural and political wrong-headedness that dominates thinking about the role of Aboriginal property rights and economic behaviour in the transition from settler colonialism to modernity. In this mindset, the potential of an economically empowered, free-thinking, free-speaking Aborigine has been set to one side because it is more interesting to play with the warm, cuddly cultural Aborigine – the one who is so demoralised that the only available role is as a passive player. The dominance of the ‘reconciliation and justice’ rhetoric in the Australian discourse on Aboriginal issues is a part of this. The first Australians are simply seeking relief from poverty and economic exclusion. Yet, in the last three decades, rational thinking and sound theory (such as development economics) to address the needs of Indigenous societies have been side-tracked into the intellectual dead-end of the ‘culture wars’. This has had very little to do with Aboriginal people, but everything to do with white settlers positioning themselves around the central problem of their country: can a settler nation be honourable? Can history be recruited to the cause of Australian nationalism without reaching agreement with its first peoples? Paradoxically, even while Aboriginal misery dominates the national media frenzy – the perpetual Aboriginal reality show – the first peoples exist as virtual beings without power or efficacy in the national zeitgeist. Political characters played by ‘Aboriginal leaders’ pull the levers that draw settler Australians to them in a co-dependent relationship. The rhetoric of reconciliation is a powerful drawcard – like the bearded woman at the old sideshow. It is a seductive, pornographic idea, designed for punters accustomed to viewing Aborigines as freaks. It almost allows ‘the native’ some agency and a future. I say ‘almost’ because, in the end, ‘the native’ is not allowed out of the show, forever condemned to perform to attract crowds. The debate that has surrounded the Emergency Intervention has been instructive. It has exposed this co-dependency. It has also revealed a more disturbing, less well-understood fault-line in the Aboriginal world. The co-dependents in the relationship seek to speak for the abused, the suffering, the ill, the dying and those desperately in need who have been left alone to descend into a living hell while those far removed conduct a discourse on rights and culture. The bodies that have piled up over the last thirty years have become irrelevant, except where they serve the purposes of the ‘culture war’. But in the meantime, the bodies of real people continue to pile up, human lives broken on the wheel of suffering. How much longer will this abuse of Aboriginal people be tolerated?  Marcia Langton
The 2002 film, Rabbit-Proof Fence, directed by Phil Noyce, is advertised as “a true story”. It is anything but. The film tells at least ten major untruths. (…) The three girls Molly, Gracie and Daisy were not taken by surprise and removed by force from Jigalong. The violent removal scene in the film is entirely fictional. The girls’ mothers knew beforehand they were to go with Constable Riggs and, without any protest, they reluctantly acquiesced in the removal. The girls left Jigalong on horseback, not locked in a motor car. (…) The Western Australian Chief Protector, A.O. Neville, did not remove the girls as part of some government plan to “breed out the colour”. Molly, aged 14, and Gracie, aged 11, were removed because they were having sex with the white fence workers who stopped at the Jigalong depot overnight. Fifteen years earlier, Molly’s mother had done the same with a young English fence inspector, who soon moved on. At the time, in all Australian states, under-age white girls were removed for the same reason. 3. Daisy, aged 8, was removed because she was betrothed to marry a full-blood Aboriginal man old enough to be her grandfather. In traditional Aboriginal society, girls this age could be married. They had sexual relations immediately. Daisy could be removed from Jigalong under the 1905 Aboriginal Act because she was a half-caste girl. Had she been a full-blood Aborigine she could not have been legally removed and would have had to go through with the marriage. The lay missionary Mary Bennett told the Moseley Royal Commission in 1934 that if full-blood girls who married at this age conceived, the babies always died either before or during childbirth, and the child mother often died with them. (…) The Moore River Settlement was not an institution solely for children, as the film depicts. It was a welfare settlement for Aborigines of all ages. Most of its children went there with their parents. When the three girls arrived in 1931, unaccompanied children were in a minority, comprising only 64 of the 400 inhabitants. Between 1915 and 1940, an average of only ten unaccompanied children a year were sent to Moore River. In 1931, Molly, Gracie and Daisy were three of only four children in the whole state sent there, out of an Aboriginal population of 29,000. Keith Windschuttle
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. Most children affected had been orphaned, abandoned, des­titute, neglected or subject to various forms of domestic violence, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Historians have given Western Australia a particularly loathsome reputation, but when you examine the records you find the majority of children placed in state Aborigi­nal settlements were from destitute families and they went there with their parents. In New South Wales, some children became part of an apprenticeship indenture program to help Abo­riginal youth qualify for the workforce. A significant number of other children were vol­untarily placed in institutions by Aboriginal parents to give them an education and a better chance in life. (…) None of the policies that allowed the removal of Aboriginal children were unique to them. They were removed for the same reason as white children in similar circumstances. Even the program to place Aboriginal children in apprenticeships was a replica of measures that had already been applied to white children in welfare institutions in New South Wales for several decades, and to poor English children for several centuries before that. (…) In some states officials treated Aboriginal people who lived on reserves, government stations, and on state-funded missions, depots and settlements as though they were the equivalent of white inmates of welfare institutions. I have no desire in this book to defend these last measures since they effec­tively treated Aborigines as second-class citizens. However, the criti­cal question in the debate over the Stolen Generations is not whether all Aboriginal policy was free of discrimination. Rather, it is about why some Aboriginal children were removed from their parents. The answer was the same for black children as it was for white. They were subject to the standard child welfare policies of their time. This is not to say the laws were all the same for black and white children. In some states they were quite different. Nonetheless, the intentions behind the laws that allowed the state to remove children, whether black or white, were the same.(…) full-blood children were rarely, and in many places never, removed from their parents. By the early decades of the twentieth century, most Aborigines in the southern half of the Australian continent were people of part descent, but in the north­ern half, full-descent populations predominated. In the Kimberley district and the Northern Territory, half-castes constituted a small minority of indigenous people. From Federation to the Second World War, the policies of the Queensland, West Australian and Commonwealth govern­ments were to preserve full-blood Aborigi­nal com­munities inviolate. By the 1920s and 1930s, when it became clear the full-blood population was not dying out as previously thought, but was actually increasing in some places, these govern­ments estab­lished reserves of millions of acres and passed laws forbidding Europeans and Asians from entering Aboriginal commu­nities, employing or remov­ing full-blood Aborigi­nes without permission, having sexual relations with them, or pro­viding them with alcohol or opium. Overwhelmingly, in the north of the continent, the Aboriginal children subject to removal policies came from the minority of half-castes and those of lesser descent. They were removed for both traditional welfare reasons and to help them gain some education and training for the workforce. In the local idiom, the latter was known as “giv­ing them a chance”. The only full-blood children taken into care were those chronically ill, dangerously malnourished or severely disabled, but this was uncommon. Less urgent cases of child abuse and neglect among full-bloods were ignored and simply regarded as Aboriginal business.
This is yet another reason why the charge of genocide is untenable. The United Nations Convention on Genocide, Article 2, defines acts of genocide as those “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. Half-castes and those of lesser descent did not constitute any such group. Their identity varied enormously. Some saw themselves and were treated by others as Aborigines, but there were many who did not. In some communities, full-blood people accepted half-castes; in others they were not regarded as true Aborigines at all; in some cases, half-caste babies born to tribal women were routinely put to death. (…) many half-caste people (…) did not identify as members of a distinct racial commu­nity, and indeed, were more concerned to emulate white people and live like other Australians. To say there were no Stolen Generations is not to argue there were no forcible removals of Aboriginal children from their fami­lies. There were many forcible removals in the period under discus­sion, just as there are today. The children of parents who neglected them, who let them go hungry, who abused them with violence, who prostituted them, who let them run wild with no supervision, or who drank themselves into an alcoholic stupor while leaving the chil­dren to their own devices, all faced forcible removals—often by the police and occasionally under scenes of great duress. Academic historians and Aboriginal activists, however, have redefined all these legitimate removals as rac­ist and genocidal. Only by this means have they been able to mount the semblance of a case. A detailed study of the surviving individual case records in New South Wales in Chapter Two reveals an array of reasons for removal far too broad to fit into any single-minded bureaucratic program. Some Aboriginal children do have genuine grounds for griev­ance, but they are not alone. In the rough justice of child welfare policy, white children could be treated harshly too, especially if their mothers were unmarried. Until as recently as the 1970s, such children, white or black, were frequently removed on grounds that we would not approve today. Before governments began paying pensions to unmarried mothers in the 1970s, children could be deemed neglected because they lacked a father, and thus a means of support. Until then, unmarried white teenage girls who fell pregnant were strongly pressured by both church and state to give up their babies, who were often taken from them at birth and adopted out to other families. But in these cases the child’s fate was determined not by its colour but by its illegitimacy. There was a common presumption throughout Australia that unmarried teenage mothers, black or white, could not and should not be left to bring up the children they bore.
Some people removed as children remember their former family life as a time when they were happy and well cared for. They recall their removal as an event of great trauma. There is no reason to doubt they are telling the truth. Some of their testimony is inher­ently convincing. They could not possibly have invented the kind of trauma they described. There were others, however, who remembered trauma from another source—their own homes (…) The statistics of child removals (…) reveal that those most commonly affected in New South Wales were not the very young but those at workforce entry age, which in rural districts in the first half of the twentieth century was normally thirteen, fourteen and fif­teen years. This was because of the influence of the state’s apprentice indenture scheme. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory the age of the few separations correlated with primary school age. This was because many part-Aboriginal children in these regions were sent by their parents to board at government and religious hostels and institutions that sent them to school. Whatever their circumstances, it was rare for babies and infants to be removed. In one archive of 800 children removed between 1907 and 1932 in New South Wales, only seven were babies aged twelve months or less and only eighteen were aged between twelve months and two years. Some governments had poli­cies that strictly forbade removing Aboriginal babies unless they were orphans or urgently needed hospitalisation for disease or malnutrition.
The case records show that a clear majority of children removed in New South Wales returned either to their families or to Aboriginal communities. In fact, welfare authorities gave the older ones assistance such as money for the rail fare home, and usually accompanied the younger ones on the train. In other states, especially Western Austra­lia, gov­ernment institutions like the notorious Moore River Settle­ment and religious missions across northern Australia admitted the majority of child inmates with their parents. Institutions for indigent Aborigines of all ages have been widely but wrongly characterised by historians, television producers and film-makers as homes exclu­sively for children, when they never were. Rather than acting for racist reasons, government officers and religious missionaries wanted to rescue children from welfare camps and shanty settlements riddled with alcoholism, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Evidence throughout this book shows public servants, doctors, police and missionaries appalled to find Aboriginal girls between five and eight years of age suffering from sexual abuse and venereal disease. They were dismayed to sometimes find girls of nine and ten years old hired out as prostitutes by their own parents. That was why the great majority of children removed by authorities were female. The fringe camps where this occurred were early twentieth-century versions of today’s notorious remote communi­ties of central and northern Australia. Indeed, there is a direct line of descent from one to the other—the culture of these camps has been reproducing itself across rural Australia for more than 100 years. Government officials had a duty to rescue children from such settings, as much then as they do now. From the perspective of child welfare officials, the major problem was that state treasuries would not give the rele­vant departments and boards sufficient funds to accommodate all the neglected and abused children who should have been removed. Keith Windschuttle
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. Keith Windschuttle
The United Nations convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide (and I quote from Article 2) as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Such as; Killing members of the group Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group (Nations, 1948)  (…) Yehuda Bauer, a leading authority on the Holocaust, argues that the definition in the Genocide Convention contains a fundamental flaw. This flaw she says “Is the failure to distinguish between policies which aim at cultural suppression and those which seek to achieve their ends through physical destruction” This to me means that the intention if whether or not a group means to wipe out another groups matters. If the intention is to force another group to assimilate to their culture, (i.e Colonizaion) That this should be thought separately and not just under the one label being Genocide. (Markus 2001, p2) Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University agrees with Bauer, that the current definition of genocide is too broad and policies of assimilation are being labeled as genocide which he thinks is incorrect. He defines genocide as; “The attempt to bring about the disappearance of an ethnic or racial group by deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its partial physical destruction and including selective mass killing.” Under this definition Should Australia be labeled as genocide? Historian Keith Windschuttle in his book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History writes that Australia should not be guilty of Genocide, but perhaps the lesser crime of Ethnocide which Markus defines as; “The attempt to bring about the disappearance of an ethnic or racial group by suppression of its culture, language, and religion, but stopping short of physical destruction.” I’m not too sure that Australia’s colonial history fits entirely into Markus’s definition of Ethnocide. We often think of the Aborigines as one ethnic group, but in fact they are made up of various ethnic groups, who have had vastly different experiences. For sure some of the crimes against some Indigenous groups could be argued to be Ethnocide and not Genocide, but perhaps not all of them. In his 2001 article “Genocide in Australia”, he compares the experience Indigenous Australians endured from the British, and the experience the Jewish peoples had with the Nazis during the second world War. He concludes that the Jewish people endured not only genocide but the more extreme crime of “Holocaust” which he writes is “The attempt to bring about the disappearance of an ethnic or racial group by deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its total physical destruction and including killing all members of the group.” (Markus 2001, p5) I’m sure many people would agree that what happened to the Jew’s in World War Two was different to what happened to Aboriginal Australians from the British. If this is true then is it right that the term Genocide be given to both accounts? the governments official position on this issue is that what happened to the Indigenous populations during Australia’s colonization was not and should not be called genocide, but was in fact a by-product of colonialism from a time where the western world was ignorant to the cultural ideologies of indigenous peoples. In December 1992 Paul Keating was the first Prime Minister to publically admit the terrible crimes of Australia’s past. He said: “It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion” (Polya, 2008) This message was not humbly accepted by all Australians. Keith Windschuttle refers to the colonization as a hard step towards “progress. He was actually opposed to the Apology Kevin Rudd gave back in 2008. He says “The apology confirmed Aboriginal people’s core identity as victims of injustice, rather than potential beneficiaries like everyone else of the prosperous, liberal, democratic, egalitarian society. Which was established here since 1788.” (Windschuttle, 2010) Funny he should call it an egalitarian society established in 1788. I’m not sure that it was for Indigenous Australians, or the majority of women for that matter. Windschuttle thinks that the apology confirms aborigines as victims and perhaps they are! I would argue that the apology is an important step forward in allowing the victims of injustices to move forward. Professor Colin Tatz is an Australian scholar who is well known for his writings on Genocide studies. His thinks the Australian governments avoidance of the word Genocide is ridiculous. He says, “They talk about pacifying, killing, cleansing, excluding, exterminating, starving, poisoning, shooting, beheading, sterilizing, exiling, removing – but, avoid the term genocide. Are they ignorant of genocide theory and practice? Or simply reluctant to taint “the land of the fair go” with so heinous and disgracing a label? » If our history fits UN’s definition of genocide, then why don’t we call it as it is? The he biggest killer of Indigenous Australians was the introduction of many diseases from the arriving convicts and settlers. Diseases such as smallpox, typhoid, tuberculosis, whooping cough, influenza, pneumonia, measles and venereal disease seriously depleted Aboriginal numbers on the continent. The numbers of deaths purely from disease is unknown. However the combination of disease, loss of land and direct violence are estimated to have reduced the Aboriginal population by around 90% between the years 1788 and 1900. What is contested on this issue, is whether or not these Disease’s were deliberately exposed to the Aboriginals‘ as an act of extermination. Colin Tatz wrote: “it is likely that infection of the Aborigines was a deliberate exterminating act as no one has yet refuted this hypothesis.” Keith Windschuttle disputes this argument. He wonders if the soldiers and settlers even understand enough about “Germ Theory” to know how to spread diseases? And Wouldn’t it have spread purely by making contact with them? A point that has been widely documented is that during the early decades of colonial history, Australian governments had said that they looked forward to a date when Australia would one day be racially pure, home only to the White race. (We all know the time in German history where this sort of racist dogma was also used) When disease struck the Aborigines, it was thought that they would all eventually die-out. Governments did not actively facilitate this by performing mass killings, but little money and effort was used for aboriginal peoples needs. So, can disease be considered a form of genocide?? Well it depends.. some scholars like Markus say the “killings must be deliberate to be considered as genocide”. So it depends on whether or not the disease was introduced deliberately. Others like Matthew Storey argue that “genocide does not require malice”. I think this is a good point because although the Nazi’s performed terrible crimes, they didn’t think that they were evil people or that what they were doing was evil. They thought they were doing good and believed they had a sacred duty to the world to get rid of the Jews. Lucas Marie

Enlèvements d’enfants à leurs familles avec leur accord pour cause d’abus sexuels ou de mariages prénubiaux présentés comme enlèvements forcés, pretendu plan d’éradication de la race aborigène, lieu d’accueil présenté abusivement comme camp pour enfants seuls exclusivement …

Après le mariage,… le génocide pour tous !

En ces temps étranges où, à l’instar des calendriers d’antan, chaque jour a son lot de saints martyrs …

En cette journée où, entre Samis scandinaves, Waitangi néo-zélandais et Bob Marley jamaïcain, ce ne sont pas moins de trois peuples « martyrs de la colonisation » qui  célèbrent leurs quasi-fêtes nationales …

Et après la Nakba palestinenne et bien sûr le soi-disant génocide amérindien …

Comment ne pas repenser à cette sorte de psycho-drame qu’avait rejoué la société australienne il y a six ans quand l’Etat était intervenu pour mettre un terme à toutes sortes d’abus notamment contre les enfants aborigènes du Territoire du Nord ?

Et, suite au célèbre roman de Doris Pilkington de 1996 adapté au cinéma en 2002 sur les prétendues « générations volées » de la génération de ses parents, au débat régulièrement ravivé en Australie par médias ou films interposés sur le prétendu génocide aborigène?

Mais aussi à ce si singulier souci de la victime qui fait toute la grandeur de cette société occidentale judéo-chrétienne …

Comme sa vulnérabilité à toutes sortes de dérives et chantages plus ou moins intéressés ?

Aborigènes

L’état d’urgence

De notre envoyé spécial, Jean-Michel Demetz

L’Express

23/11/2007

Alcool, drogue, violence… Face aux maux qui accablent les premiers habitants de l’Australie, le gouvernement fédéral a décidé d’intervenir dans le Territoire du Nord et de rompre avec l’assistanat. Mais comment s’adapter à la modernité sans se perdre?

Tel le serpent luisant des mythes aborigènes, le ruban d’asphalte rompt l’immense monotonie de la terre rouge du désert. De la route, seuls quelques chameaux retournés à l’état sauvage animent cette étendue désolée, parsemée de buissons et d’acacias, que trouble quelquefois un willy willy, cette mini-tornade de sable, source de tant de contes mystérieux. Dans ce c?ur géographique du continent austral vivent les populations les plus marginalisées du pays. A deux heures de voiture d’Alice Springs, Hermannsburg, une ancienne mission fondée pour arracher au nomadisme les premiers habitants du désert, somnole, loin du monde. A l’embranchement où commence la piste, un large panneau enjoint aux résidents de ne pas battre leur femme. Et, dès l’entrée du bourg, des canettes de bière jonchent le sol.

Une population marginalisée

455 000 Aborigènes, soit 2,5% de la population australienne totale et présents dans tous les Etats. Mais, dans le Territoire du Nord (où ils sont 52 000), ils représentent 30% de la population et détiennent 49% des terres.

60% ont moins de 25 ans. Leur espérance de vie est inférieure de dix-sept ans à la moyenne nationale.

Leur état sanitaire est mauvais.

1 prisonnier sur 5 est aborigène.

Le revenu par foyer: 60% de celui d’un non-Aborigène (en moyenne).

4% des Aborigènes ont un diplôme universitaire (21% des Australiens).

Aucun Aborigène ne siège au Parlement fédéral.

En septembre dernier, le Premier ministre australien, John Howard, est venu à Hermannsburg. Il a expliqué pourquoi le gouvernement fédéral avait instauré, trois mois plus tôt, des mesures d’urgence dans les communautés aborigènes du Territoire du Nord ravagées par l’alcoolisme et l’anomie. Il a raconté comment des commissions d’enquête avaient mis au jour l’ampleur des violences, y compris sexuelles, à l’encontre des femmes et des enfants – bébés inclus. Il a justifié le plan d’action conçu à Canberra pour les townships de cette lointaine province largement désertique, vaste comme trois fois la France: prohibition de l’alcool et de la pornographie, retenue à la source d’une partie des allocations sociales – seule ressource de la plupart des Aborigènes du désert – afin de prendre directement en charge les frais de cantine des enfants, délaissés par des parents devenus dépendants de la drogue ou du jeu, pénalités en cas d’absentéisme scolaire, examens de santé systématiques pour les mineurs, renforts de police. Il a rassuré aussi en affirmant que l’armée avait été mobilisée dans cette opération juste pour des raisons logistiques – certains peuplements sont distants de centaines de kilomètres du commissariat le plus proche. « Car, quand on a entendu que les militaires allaient intervenir, ce fut la panique, raconte Gus Williams, un grand-père bombardé, grâce à ses talents passés de chanteur de folk, à la tête du conseil local de Hermannsburg. Le bruit s’était répandu que les soldats venaient nous arracher nos enfants. » Un cauchemar récurrent, qui remonte à la politique, mise en place du début du xxe siècle aux années 1960, qui consistait, en vue de favoriser l’assimilation des Aborigènes, à enlever à leurs familles des milliers de gamins noirs afin de les placer dans des foyers blancs ou des orphelinats. Pour beaucoup, le souvenir de ces « enfants volés » reste une blessure ouverte.

Mavis Malbunka: « C’est difficile d’accepter l’aide des Blancs, mais la situation ne pouvait pas durer ainsi. »

« Le Premier ministre ne nous a pas promis l’arc-en-ciel, concède le vieux Gus. Mais il m’a écouté quand je lui ai dit que nous aurions besoin d’un centre d’accueil où les femmes battues pourraient trouver refuge quand le grog [terme local pour désigner l’alcool, la bière avalée par packs entiers] rend les hommes fous. » De fait, le plan d’urgence ne semble pas, pour l’heure, avoir changé grand-chose à Hermannsburg. Une travailleuse sociale confirme que les adolescents continuent de boire à la fête organisée pour eux le vendredi soir. Et que nombre d’enfants sniffent encore l’essence, quand bien même les services sociaux fournissent un encadrement extra-scolaire généreux – ce jour-là, des footballeurs sont venus de la ville pour échanger des balles avec les gamins. Au dispensaire, Marj l’infirmière, une solide Néo-Zélandaise, aux prises avec une recrudescence de maladies sexuellement transmissibles et des cas de femmes battues, ne s’en étonne guère: « Ecoutez-les: ils disent eux-mêmes qu’ils sont devenus des étrangers dans leur propre pays. Si les pouvoirs publics veulent vraiment les aider, tout est à repenser. Savez-vous pourquoi les toilettes de leurs maisons sont bouchées? Parce qu’ils utilisent des pierres pour se torcher, comme avant dans le désert. Il faudrait des toilettes sèches, et autre chose que ces préfabriqués dessinés pour un couple et deux enfants occidentaux et totalement inadaptés à un mode de vie clanique! »

Repenser de fond en comble la question aborigène, c’est l’ambition justement affichée par le Premier ministre, résolu à rompre avec quatre décennies d’assistanat. Longtemps, à des milliers de kilomètres du désert, sur la côte, dans les banlieues ourlées de plages de sable fin où se presse l’Australie multiculturelle, tout occupée, le week-end, à suivre le match de cricket et à organiser le barbecue familial, nul ne se souciait de ces concitoyens-là. La plupart des Australiens n’ont jamais vraiment approché d’Aborigènes. Certes, le grand public s’enthousiasme pour les exploits de la championne olympique Cathy Freeman, les jeunes cadres jouent à spéculer sur les ?uvres des peintres aborigènes exposées dans les galeries de Melbourne ou de Sydney, et les adolescents élisent la chanteuse Casey Donovan comme l’Australian Idol de l’année. Mais de là à se mobiliser pour l’amélioration de la condition des premiers habitants du continent…

Herman Malbunka: « A l’époque des Vieux, nous ne connaissions pas tous ces problèmes. »

C’est pourquoi l’initiative gouvernementale, lancée en juin, en a surpris plus d’un. Après onze années aux affaires marquées par une relative indifférence, le Premier ministre, John Howard, a en effet défendu l’ingérence du pouvoir fédéral dans les affaires du Territoire du Nord avec des accents dignes d’un acte de contrition. Ne rien faire face à la « tragique détérioration des normes sociales » serait inexcusable: « Nous avons notre Katrina, ici et maintenant », a-t-il déclaré, se référant aux violences commises à La Nouvelle-Orléans frappée par l’ouragan et à l’impuissance des pouvoirs publics à y faire face. Plus encore, ce solide conservateur, qui, malgré toutes les pressions, a toujours refusé de présenter des « excuses » aux Aborigènes pour les torts passés, a solennellement promis, en même temps qu’il appelait ses concitoyens aux urnes le 24 novembre, un référendum en 2008 ou 2009 pour inclure dans le préambule de la Constitution la reconnaissance d’un « statut spécial » comme première nation. Il a rendu hommage à l’apport de la culture indigène au génie australien. Un double geste de « réconciliation » immédiatement salué par l’opposition travailliste.

Dans les communautés du désert, l’interventionnisme musclé du pouvoir fédéral est diversement apprécié. A Ipolera, quelques familles se sont installées autour d’un point d’eau. Mavis et Herman Malbunka surveillent un de leurs petits-enfants juché sur un poulain. « C’est difficile d’accepter l’aide des Blancs, soupire-t-elle. Mais la situation ne pouvait pas durer ainsi. Les filles vendaient leur corps contre de l’essence à sniffer. Et, maintenant que le flot d’alcool s’est ralenti, il y a moins de femmes battues. » Lui acquiesce: « A l’époque des Vieux, nous ne connaissions pas tous ces problèmes… » Ancien stockman – le cow-boy australien – il parle avec nostalgie de sa jeunesse, du temps où les clans vivaient autour des fermes qui trouvaient, contre des vivres et un peu d’argent, à employer tout le monde. C’était avant que les syndicats n’imposent un salaire minimum qui a conduit les fermiers blancs à se débarrasser des Aborigènes, main-d’?uvre devenue trop chère, réduite dès lors à tendre la sébile à l’Etat providence. Herman espère déjà la seconde phase promise par les autorités: « Plus d’éducation, plus de formation, c’est indispensable pour nos jeunes qui veulent aller à la ville. » Certes, sa femme, Mavis, est fière de montrer comment elle sélectionne, dans les différentes espèces d’eucalyptus alentour, ici des feuilles, là des racines pour se soigner, là encore des vers blancs, gourmandise qui croque sous la dent. Mais elle aussi sait bien que l’avenir de sa descendance se jouera ailleurs.

Les premiers Australiens

60 000-40 000 ans avant Jésus-Christ Arrivée probable des premiers habitants de l’Australie.

1788 Début de la colonisation britannique.

1962 Les Aborigènes obtiennent le droit de vote.

1967 Par référendum, les Aborigènes deviennent des citoyens désormais recensés.

1971 La justice récuse la notion de droit foncier indigène: l’Australie d’avant la colonisation était terra nullius.

1992 La justice, par l’arrêt Mabo, reconnaît les droits de propriété préexistant à la colonisation.

1998 Le Native Title Amendment Bill limite la revendication foncière aborigène.

A Alice Springs, le ton est autrement critique. Directeur du Central Land Council, l’organisme représentatif des propriétaires coutumiers de la région, David Ross blâme « une intervention précipitée et sans vision à long terme », même s’il reconnaît que les mesures sur l’alcool et l’annonce de renforts de policiers sont bien accueillies. En ville, des activistes préparent une manifestation contre les dispositions en vigueur, sous la bannière: « Halte au génocide! » « Rendez-vous compte, s’étrangle Jackie Baxter, militante de l’association Générations volées: parce que je vis dans un towncamp [une banlieue d’Alice Springs bâtie voilà trente ans pour loger les nomades attirés par la ville], je n’ai pas le droit d’ouvrir une bouteille de vin avec mon barbecue dans mon jardin. Ce n’est pas de la discrimination raciale, ça? » Eileen Hoosan, elle, ne comprend pas pourquoi la retraite de son mari, qui a servi dans l’armée, est désormais soumise à des prélèvements automatiques pour payer le loyer ou la nourriture. « L’argent promis [1,2 milliard de dollars australiens] ira nourrir les bureaucrates », s’insurge la militante Bard Shaw. Directrice de la radio indigène Caama, Jennifer Howard fustige « l’absence de concertation et de consultation préalables, qui auraient dû précéder l’adoption des mesures d’urgence ». « Normal, opine Owen Cole, patron d’Imparja TV, la télévision indigène. Le gouvernement n’a qu’un but: regrouper progressivement les communautés isolées dont l’entretien lui coûte cher. C’est injuste. » Objecte-t-on que l’exode rural touche aussi l’Australie des petites villes de fermiers blancs que la réponse fuse, automatique: « Mais c’est nier notre rapport spécial à cette terre… »

Sue Gordon: « Notre seule issue, c’est l’intégration. »

Le discours est rodé. Il mêle culpabilité de l’homme blanc, revendication d’un traité, droit à la souveraineté, restitution de l’ensemble des terres… C’est la même antienne que symbolise, à Canberra, face au Parlement, la « tente de l’ambassade », une baraque où, depuis 1972, Isabel E. Coe entretient la mystique du « feu sacré, conscience de nos ancêtres, qui guide notre peuple » et où elle vitupère « Howard le dégueulasse, qui a tué tant d’Aborigènes » (sic).

« Le seul défaut de cette intervention, c’est qu’elle aurait dû se produire plus tôt »: chargée par le gouvernement de superviser l’opération, Sue Gordon ne cache pas son agacement face aux « sempiternelles critiques ». Parce qu’elle connaît bien le dossier des violences sexuelles dans les communautés, cette magistrate pour mineurs d’Australie-Occidentale sait qu’il y avait urgence. Aborigène élevée chez les Blancs, elle a été une « enfant volée ». Arrachée à l’âge de 4 ans à sa famille, elle n’a revu sa mère et sa s?ur que trente ans plus tard. Victime de cette politique d’assimilation forcée, elle en mesure toutes les facettes: « Petite, je n’ai pas connu de fêtes de famille, mais ça m’a donné une chance de réussir. Ce n’est pas à moi qu’il faudrait demander pardon, mais à ma mère. Et c’est trop tard. » Sue Gordon regarde vers l’avant: « Les Aborigènes ne pourraient plus vivre à part dans un Etat séparé, comme certains font mine d’y croire. Notre seule issue, c’est celle de l’intégration. Et cela passe par un effort sur l’éducation, afin de rattraper notre retard. »

Noel Pearson: « L’Etat providence a fait des Aborigènes des assistés. Nous devons rejoindre l’économie de marché. »

Comment s’adapter à la modernité sans se perdre? La réponse apportée par Noel Pearson, un chef aborigène du cap York, à la pointe nord-est de l’île-continent, a influencé le Premier ministre. « Il est temps de sortir du statut de victime pour embrasser une culture de responsabilité, prône ce jeune et brillant universitaire, détesté par nombre d’activistes indigènes. Ce dont souffrent aujourd’hui les Aborigènes, c’est de leur dépendance envers l’Etat providence, qui fait d’eux des assistés. Nous devons rejoindre l’économie de marché. Et, pour cela, le gouvernement doit s’engager, dans le long terme, sur l’éducation, la formation, l’accès à la propriété privée. »

Qu’il soit conservateur ou travailliste, le nouveau cabinet sorti des urnes du 24 novembre saura-t-il entendre cette recommandation? La bureaucratie de Canberra est-elle capable d’imaginer une politique sur mesure? A l’heure où l’Australie, emportée par la croissance de l’économie chinoise, connaît un boom sans précédent, il lui reste à prouver qu’elle est capable de réserver l’investissement minimal afin d’assurer l’avenir de ses premiers habitants.

Voir aussi:

The Ten Big Fictions of Rabbit-Proof Fence

Keith Windschuttle

May 2010

The 2002 film, Rabbit-Proof Fence, directed by Phil Noyce, is advertised as “a true story”. It is anything but. The film tells at least ten major untruths.

1. The three girls Molly, Gracie and Daisy were not taken by surprise and removed by force from Jigalong. The violent removal scene in the film is entirely fictional. The girls’ mothers knew beforehand they were to go with Constable Riggs and, without any protest, they reluctantly acquiesced in the removal. The girls left Jigalong on horseback, not locked in a motor car.

2. The Western Australian Chief Protector, A.O. Neville, did not remove the girls as part of some government plan to “breed out the colour”. Molly, aged 14, and Gracie, aged 11, were removed because they were having sex with the white fence workers who stopped at the Jigalong depot overnight. Fifteen years earlier, Molly’s mother had done the same with a young English fence inspector, who soon moved on. At the time, in all Australian states, under-age white girls were removed for the same reason.

3. Daisy, aged 8, was removed because she was betrothed to marry a full-blood Aboriginal man old enough to be her grandfather. In traditional Aboriginal society, girls this age could be married. They had sexual relations immediately. Daisy could be removed from Jigalong under the 1905 Aboriginal Act because she was a half-caste girl. Had she been a full-blood Aborigine she could not have been legally removed and would have had to go through with the marriage. The lay missionary Mary Bennett told the Moseley Royal Commission in 1934 that if full-blood girls who married at this age conceived, the babies always died either before or during childbirth, and the child mother often died with them.

4. The speech in the film to a Perth ladies charity society by actor Kenneth Branagh, playing A.O. Neville, was never made by the real Neville. The words did not come from a transcript found in any historical archive but were created for the film by screenwriter Christine Olsen.

5. When the girls were removed in 1931, Neville did not have control over the marriages of all the Aborigines in the state. The Western Australian government never gave him either the legal authority or the funding to manage Aboriginal people’s affairs in the way the film alleges.

6. The Moore River Settlement was not an institution solely for children, as the film depicts. It was a welfare settlement for Aborigines of all ages. Most of its children went there with their parents. When the three girls arrived in 1931, unaccompanied children were in a minority, comprising only 64 of the 400 inhabitants. Between 1915 and 1940, an average of only ten unaccompanied children a year were sent to Moore River. In 1931, Molly, Gracie and Daisy were three of only four children in the whole state sent there, out of an Aboriginal population of 29,000.

7. The Moore River Settlement was not, as the film portrays it, a prison. Most Aboriginal people went there voluntarily and temporarily to gain access to welfare. Between 1930 and 1934 Moore River admitted 1067 people, but over the same period 1030 people voluntarily left.

8. On their great trek home, the girls were not pursued by a sympathetic black tracker.

9. They did not receive any help along the way from a sexually-exploited Aboriginal domestic servant.

10. They did not cross the north-western desert unassisted, nearly perishing in the process. The girls were eventually brought home to Jigalong by a white cattle station contractor, riding on his camels.

The filmmakers did very little original research themselves. Instead, their main source the book written by Molly’s daughter, Doris Pilkington, called Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence (1996), which they adapted with creative licence. If history teachers insist on discussing this topic, they will find the book a much more reliable resource than the film. Indeed, Pilkington did a good job of research and most of what she says is backed by evidence. Her only serious mistake was to believe that the Moore River Settlement was an institution exclusively for children. Her book does not contain a number of the film’s anachronisms about Neville’s ad­ministration and, unlike the film, does not invent scenes for dramatic effect.

All the above information about the three girls is discussed in more detail and with complete references to sources in the Preface to The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume Three, The Stolen Generations. Chapter Eight contains a detailed account of the number of admissions, policies and conditions at the Moore River Settlement.

In December 2009, the film’s director Phil Noyce and screenwriter Christine Olsen responded in the press to my criticisms of their work. Noyce said I was “either extremely lazy or just plain dishonest” in my examination of the evidence (Sydney Morning Herald, 15 December 2009, p 4). To establish their case, Noyce and Olsen produced a letter by the Superintendent of the Jigalong depot, A.J. Keeling, written on July 10, 1930. Although Keeling had earlier argued for the removal of the three half-caste girls because they “were not getting a fair chance as the blacks consider the half-castes inferior to them”, in this letter he reconsidered his position. “They lean very much towards the black and on second thought I don’t suppose there would be much gained in removing them.” But the letter does not prove anything. When he received Keeling’s letter in July, Neville did not act on it. He did not take a decision to remove the girls until five months later. The real catalyst was a letter he received from a different source. On 9 December 1930, Mrs Chellow of Murra Munda Station near Jigalong wrote to him about Molly and Gracie’s behavior. “I think you should see about them as they are running wild with the whites”. It was only after receiving this letter that Neville put in motion the procedures that would eventually see the girls sent to Moore River in July 1931.

At the time, ladies like Mrs Chellow could not frankly discuss sex­ual matters in an official letter, but there is no doubting the message she wanted to convey. “Running wild”, when applied to girls, was a contemporary euphemism for promiscuity; “running wild with the whites” meant Molly and Gracie were having sex with the whites. Doris Pilkington disputes this. She responded to my interpretation by saying her mother told her “running wild” simply meant that the girls were watching musterers catch and brand calves, “cheering them on and all that”. (The Australian, 15 December 2009, p 7) It is understandable that Mrs Pilkington would want to defend her mother’s reputation but women of Mrs Chellow’s generation (like my own mother and her friends, who commonly used the term to describe promiscuous teenage girls) knew well what it meant. The phrase came from the title song of the 1923 American musical review “Runnin’ Wild” by Arthur Gibbs, Joseph Grey and Leo Wood. Anyone in doubt about its contemporary meaning should check out the movie Some Like it Hot where Marilyn Monroe sings a very raunchy version.

Voir également:

Australia

Why There Were No Stolen Generations (Part One)

Keith Windschuttle

Quadrant

Most Australians would be taken aback to find that whenever academics in the field of genocide studies discuss history’s worst exam­ples, their own country is soon mentioned. The March 2001 edition of the London-based Journal of Genocide Research indi­cated the com­pany Australia now keeps. That edition carried six arti­cles, in the following order:

“The German Police and Genocide in Belorussia 1941–1944. Part 1: Police Deployment and Nazi Genocidal Directives”, by Eric Haberer

“Comparative Policy and Differential Practice in the Treatment of Minorities in Wartime: The United States Archival Evidence on the Armenians and Greeks in the Ottoman Empire”, by Rouben Paul Adalian

“Final Solutions, Crimes Against Mankind: On the Genesis and Criticism of the Concept of Genocide”, by Uwe Makino

“The Holocaust, the Aborigines, and the Bureaucracy of Destruction: An Australian Dimension of Genocide”, by Paul R. Bartrop

“Did Ben-Gurion Reverse his Position on Bombing Auschwitz?”, by Rich­ard H. Levy

“Kalmykia, Victim of Stalinist Genocide: From Oblivion to Reassertion”, by François Grin

According to Paul Bartrop of Deakin University, Australia deserves this place in the academic literature because our past policies towards Aboriginal children were comparable to those of Nazi Germany. “It did not involve killing,” he admitted, “but its ultimate objective was the same as Hitler’s was for the Jews; namely, that at the end of the process the target group would have disappeared from the face of the earth.” Hence he declared with confidence: “It is impossible to con­clude otherwise than that Australia in the 1930s was possessed of an administrative culture that in reality practised geno­cide.” In its first ten years from 1999 to 2009, the quarterly Journal of Genocide Research published twelve major articles of this kind about Australia. This was more than three times as many as the journal car­ried in the same period on the regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia. In Volume 10, Issue 4, 2008, no fewer than three of the seven articles were on Australia: one on the Stolen Generations and two on colo­nial history. Indicting Australia for genocide has become an aca­demic obsession.

Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission made this charge notorious when in April 1997 it published Bringing Them Home, the report of its National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families. The report accused Australia of breaching the United Nations convention on genocide. For its historical analysis, the Commission relied heavily upon the work of a small number of university-based histori­ans. Since then, the number of academics and academic programs in this field has grown exponentially to cash in on the demand created. Today, very few countries, and certainly no others of our size, devote the quantity of university resources that we now do to geno­cide studies. The field is concerned not only with the Stolen Genera­tions but the so-called invasion of Australia and the genocide alleg­edly inherent in establishing British settlement here.

The underlying agenda of this academic pursuit is not simply the study of genocide, let alone its analysis or prevention. Its aim is political, to argue that our own society and those like it, that is, Britain and the United States, are every bit as bad as Nazi Germany. In the 2001 edi­tion of the academic journal Aboriginal History, editors Ann Curthoys and John Docker of the Australian National University wrote:

Settler-colonies like ‘Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, the United States, and Canada’ led the way in setting out to achieve what the Nazis also set out to achieve, the displacement of indigenous populations and their replacement by incoming peoples held to be racially superior.

International academic book publishers know there is a market for such material. For their anthology Genocide and the Modern Age, edi­tors Isidor Wallimann and Michael Dobkowski commissioned a chapter exclusively on Australia. The only other countries singled out to this extent were Turkey, which got a chapter for its 1915–17 massacres of the Armenians, and, of course, Germany, which generated several chapters on the Holocaust. In the ten-volume series Studies on War and Genocide, edited by Omer Bartov of Brown Uni­versity, seven of the books commissioned were on Nazi Germany, two were general volumes about genocide in various places, but Aus­tralia was the only other country given a volume of its own, Genocide and Settler Society, published in 2004 and edited by Dirk Moses of the University of Sydney. Observing this publishing trend, University of New England historian Alan Atkinson commented:

It is disturbing for an Australian to discover that debates about genocide often do not move very far beyond the classic area of study—Europe under the Nazis—before someone mentions the antipodes. Genocide is a crime, in other words, for which Australia is listed among the usual suspects.

More recently, the focus on Australia has only intensified. In Blood and Soil, a world history of genocide published in 2007, the Austra­lian expatriate historian Ben Kiernan of Yale University devoted more attention to the alleged genocidal activities of Australia than to any other nation or region. His book had 61 pages about Australia, compared to the Armenian massacres (21 pages), the Nazi Holocaust (39 pages), the Japanese atrocities in East Asia (31 pages), the Soviet Terror (26 pages), China under Mao (27 pages), and the genocides of Cambodia and Rwanda (32 pages). Four of Kiernan’s maps depicted scenes in Australia, the same number as Nazi Germany, Stalinist Rus­sia and Maoist China put together. In 2008, Paul Bartrop repeated his earlier accusation. As co-author of the two-volume work The Dictionary of Genocide, he wrote the entry “Australia, Genocide in”. He again applied the term genocide to the Stolen Generations, saying its use in that context “could be sustained relatively easily”.

In March 2009, one of Australia’s best-known historians and essay­ists, Inga Clendinnen, reviewed the book Guilt About the Past, a col­lection of lectures by German novelist Bernhard Schlink. The lec­tures discussed how the modern German nation, now two generations dis­tant from the Second World War, should approach the question of guilt for the Holocaust. Clendinnen was disappointed with the book, and wrote, almost as an aside: “I had hoped the lecture titled Forgive­ness and Rec­onciliation would speak to our situa­tion in this country.” In other words, literary reviews and intellec­tual discussion in this country now toss off the comparison between Australia and Nazi Germany as if it were so familiar one can now speak about it in shorthand—“our situation in this country”—as though any possible debate is over.

The argument of The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume Three, The Stolen Generations 1881–2008 is that Australia does not deserve this reputation. While the case against genocide for the Stolen Genera­tions has already produced several effective critics, most notably anthropologists Ron Brunton and Kenneth Maddock, journalists Paddy McGuinness, Paul Sheehan and Andrew Bolt, and two former Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs, John Herron and Peter Howson, a full defence of the charge has yet to be mounted. This book is longer, more detailed, and much less reader-friendly than it ought to be to gain a wide readership. But to address the full range of arguments made by the prosecution there was no alternative but to proceed comprehensively and forensically. That could only be accomplished properly by a complete re-examination of the foun­dation on which the case was originally made: its claim to be histori­cally true.

My conclusion is 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. Most children affected had been orphaned, abandoned, des­titute, neglected or subject to various forms of domestic violence, sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. Historians have given Western Australia a particularly loathsome reputation, but when you examine the records you find the majority of children placed in state Aborigi­nal settlements were from destitute families and they went there with their parents. In New South Wales, some children became part of an apprenticeship indenture program to help Abo­riginal youth qualify for the workforce. A significant number of other children were vol­untarily placed in institutions by Aboriginal parents to give them an education and a better chance in life.

Moreover, there is no fall-back position for those who want to argue that, even if the removals might not have quite amounted to genocide, they were still done for racist reasons. In Chapter Three, I demonstrate in an analysis of welfare policy for white children that none of the policies that allowed the removal of Aboriginal children were unique to them. They were removed for the same reason as white children in similar circumstances. Even the program to place Aboriginal children in apprenticeships was a replica of measures that had already been applied to white children in welfare institutions in New South Wales for several decades, and to poor English children for several centuries before that.

Chapters Three and Eight also discuss several pieces of legislative discrimination against Aboriginal people and their children that derived from the system of Aboriginal protectionism in the first half of the twentieth century. In some states officials treated Aboriginal people who lived on reserves, government stations, and on state-funded missions, depots and settlements as though they were the equivalent of white inmates of welfare institutions. I have no desire in this book to defend these last measures since they effec­tively treated Aborigines as second-class citizens. However, the criti­cal question in the debate over the Stolen Generations is not whether all Aboriginal policy was free of discrimination. Rather, it is about why some Aboriginal children were removed from their parents. The answer was the same for black children as it was for white. They were subject to the standard child welfare policies of their time. This is not to say the laws were all the same for black and white children. In some states they were quite different. Nonetheless, the intentions behind the laws that allowed the state to remove children, whether black or white, were the same.

One critical point that has always been avoided by the historians of the Stolen Generations is that full-blood children were rarely, and in many places never, removed from their parents. By the early decades of the twentieth century, most Aborigines in the southern half of the Australian continent were people of part descent, but in the north­ern half, full-descent populations predominated. In the Kimberley district and the Northern Territory, half-castes constituted a small minority of indigenous people. From Federation to the Second World War, the policies of the Queensland, West Australian and Commonwealth govern­ments were to preserve full-blood Aborigi­nal com­munities inviolate. By the 1920s and 1930s, when it became clear the full-blood population was not dying out as previously thought, but was actually increasing in some places, these govern­ments estab­lished reserves of millions of acres and passed laws forbidding Europeans and Asians from entering Aboriginal commu­nities, employing or remov­ing full-blood Aborigi­nes without permission, having sexual relations with them, or pro­viding them with alcohol or opium.

Overwhelmingly, in the north of the continent, the Aboriginal children subject to removal policies came from the minority of half-castes and those of lesser descent. They were removed for both traditional welfare reasons and to help them gain some education and training for the workforce. In the local idiom, the latter was known as “giv­ing them a chance”. The only full-blood children taken into care were those chronically ill, dangerously malnourished or severely disabled, but this was uncommon. Less urgent cases of child abuse and neglect among full-bloods were ignored and simply regarded as Aboriginal business.

This is yet another reason why the charge of genocide is untenable. The United Nations Convention on Genocide, Article 2, defines acts of genocide as those “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. Half-castes and those of lesser descent did not constitute any such group. Their identity varied enormously. Some saw themselves and were treated by others as Aborigines, but there were many who did not. In some communities, full-blood people accepted half-castes; in others they were not regarded as true Aborigines at all; in some cases, half-caste babies born to tribal women were routinely put to death. Chapters Seven and Ten discuss evidence about many half-caste people who did not identify as members of a distinct racial commu­nity, and indeed, were more concerned to emulate white people and live like other Australians.

To say there were no Stolen Generations is not to argue there were no forcible removals of Aboriginal children from their fami­lies. There were many forcible removals in the period under discus­sion, just as there are today. The children of parents who neglected them, who let them go hungry, who abused them with violence, who prostituted them, who let them run wild with no supervision, or who drank themselves into an alcoholic stupor while leaving the chil­dren to their own devices, all faced forcible removals—often by the police and occasionally under scenes of great duress. Academic historians and Aboriginal activists, however, have redefined all these legitimate removals as rac­ist and genocidal. Only by this means have they been able to mount the semblance of a case. A detailed study of the surviving individual case records in New South Wales in Chapter Two reveals an array of reasons for removal far too broad to fit into any single-minded bureaucratic program.

Some Aboriginal children do have genuine grounds for griev­ance, but they are not alone. In the rough justice of child welfare policy, white children could be treated harshly too, especially if their mothers were unmarried. Until as recently as the 1970s, such children, white or black, were frequently removed on grounds that we would not approve today. Before governments began paying pensions to unmarried mothers in the 1970s, children could be deemed neglected because they lacked a father, and thus a means of support. Until then, unmarried white teenage girls who fell pregnant were strongly pressured by both church and state to give up their babies, who were often taken from them at birth and adopted out to other families. But in these cases the child’s fate was determined not by its colour but by its illegitimacy. There was a common presumption throughout Australia that unmarried teenage mothers, black or white, could not and should not be left to bring up the children they bore.

Some people removed as children remember their former family life as a time when they were happy and well cared for. They recall their removal as an event of great trauma. There is no reason to doubt they are telling the truth. Some of their testimony is inher­ently convincing. They could not possibly have invented the kind of trauma they described. There were others, however, who remembered trauma from another source—their own homes: “I can understand why they took me,” one former inmate of the Cootamundra Aborigi­nal Girls’ Home told an interviewer in 1994. “Mum and dad were terrible when they were on the grog—in fact we were dead scared.”

The problem with the Stolen Generations thesis is that child­hood recollections constitute the only credible evidence its adherents have provided to make their case. But no amount of child­hood anecdotes can establish the argument’s central thesis that the intentions of the authorities were both criminal and racist. That accusation was embedded in both the words of the term. The adjec­tive stolen said the removals were deliberately intended to achieve an illegal result. The noun generations said this objective was tar­geted at a particular line of people across successive age cohorts. The childhood memories of individuals are not enough to establish that governments had such intent or such perseverance. Indeed, memories of childhood trauma are consistent with forcible removals for the same welfare reasons as white children.

The case for the Stolen Generations needed a convincing account of government policies towards Aboriginal children. However, this book’s examination of the primary source evidence reveals there is a void at the very core of the case. There was no unequivocal statement by anyone in genuine authority that child removal was intended to end Aboriginality. The only support for that proposi­tion has come from creative interpretations of selected statements taken out of con­text by politically motivated historians. Moreover, the lack of gov­ernment words on the subject was matched by the lack of govern­ment action. The handful of places allocated for the care of Aborigi­nal children, the tiny budgets that supported the gov­ernment boards and departments, and the archival records that show how small a frac­tion of the Aboriginal population they affected, all render the thesis completely implausible.

Another of the central claims of the academic historians who created this story was that children were taken by authorities as young as possible so they would never inherit Aboriginal culture. “The younger the child the better,” according to Henry Reynolds, “before habits were formed, attachments, language learnt, traditions absorbed.” In the SBS Television series First Australians, scriptwriters Beck Cole and Louis Nowra confidently declared: “Between 1910 and 1970 an estimated 50,000 Aboriginal children were removed from their families. Most were aged under five.” None of those who make this assertion have ever backed it with proper evidence, such as a breakdown of the ages of the children sent to vari­ous institutions. This is not surprising. For the available evidence shows the opposite was true.

The statistics of child removals in this book reveal that those most commonly affected in New South Wales were not the very young but those at workforce entry age, which in rural districts in the first half of the twentieth century was normally thirteen, fourteen and fif­teen years. This was because of the influence of the state’s apprentice indenture scheme. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory the age of the few separations correlated with primary school age. This was because many part-Aboriginal children in these regions were sent by their parents to board at government and religious hostels and institutions that sent them to school.

Whatever their circumstances, it was rare for babies and infants to be removed. In one archive of 800 children removed between 1907 and 1932 in New South Wales, only seven were babies aged twelve months or less and only eighteen were aged between twelve months and two years. Some governments had poli­cies that strictly forbade removing Aboriginal babies unless they were orphans or urgently needed hospitalisation for disease or malnutrition.

Another deception is the assertion by historians that most children were removed permanently, that they were never meant to see their parents again. “The break from family, kin and community must be decisive and permanent,” Henry Reynolds has written. “If young people could return to their families the effort had been wasted.” Chap­ter Two provides good evidence that this was untrue. The case records show that a clear majority of children removed in New South Wales returned either to their families or to Aboriginal communities. In fact, welfare authorities gave the older ones assistance such as money for the rail fare home, and usually accompanied the younger ones on the train. In other states, especially Western Austra­lia, gov­ernment institutions like the notorious Moore River Settle­ment and religious missions across northern Australia admitted the majority of child inmates with their parents. Institutions for indigent Aborigines of all ages have been widely but wrongly characterised by historians, television producers and film-makers as homes exclu­sively for children, when they never were.

Rather than acting for racist reasons, government officers and religious missionaries wanted to rescue children from welfare camps and shanty settlements riddled with alcoholism, domestic violence and sexual abuse. Evidence throughout this book shows public servants, doctors, police and missionaries appalled to find Aboriginal girls between five and eight years of age suffering from sexual abuse and venereal disease. They were dismayed to sometimes find girls of nine and ten years old hired out as prostitutes by their own parents. That was why the great majority of children removed by authorities were female. The fringe camps where this occurred were early twentieth-century versions of today’s notorious remote communi­ties of central and northern Australia. Indeed, there is a direct line of descent from one to the other—the culture of these camps has been reproducing itself across rural Australia for more than 100 years. Government officials had a duty to rescue children from such settings, as much then as they do now. From the perspective of child welfare officials, the major problem was that state treasuries would not give the rele­vant departments and boards sufficient funds to accommodate all the neglected and abused children who should have been removed.

The Fate of the Stolen Generations Thesis in the Courts

The uncomfortable truth for us all is that the parliaments of the nation, individually and collectively, enacted statutes and delegated authority under those statutes that made the forced removal of children on racial grounds fully lawful.

—Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples, House of Representatives, February 13, 2008

[I]ntegration of part Aboriginal children was not based on race; it was based on a sense of responsibility —perhaps misguided and paternalistic—for those children who had been deserted by their white fathers and who were living in tribal conditions with their Aboriginal mothers. Care for those children was perceived to be best offered by affording them the opportunity of acquiring a western education so that they might then more easily be integrated into western society.

—Justice Maurice O’Loughlin, judgment in Cubillo and Gunner v. Commonwealth, Federal Court of Australia, August 2000, para 162

If the Stolen Generations story were true, its members should have had many victories in the courts, now that the tide of opinion is firmly on their side. The charges involved serious breaches of the law—false imprisonment, misfeasance of public office, breach of duty of care, and breach of fiduciary and statutory duties—and human rights lawyers and Aboriginal legal aid services have been lining up for years to take their cases. Yet only one claimant has ever been successful before a court: Bruce Trevorrow, who in 2007 was awarded $525,000 by the South Australian Supreme Court. Given the huge size of the potential client base, and the fact that Aboriginal people and their lawyers have had a grievance about the issue for more than twenty-five years, the lack of legal success is tell­ing. On its own, it is enough to seriously question whether there really were any Stolen Genera­tions.

In his apology in the House of Representatives in February 2008, Kevin Rudd avoided any use of the term genocide but he did accuse the parliaments of the nation of enacting racist statutes. That accusation, however, was untrue, as either Rudd or his speechwrit­ers would have known were they familiar with either of the two major test cases on the Stolen Generations. The best-known of those cases, Cubillo and Gunner v. Commonwealth, was decided by Justice Maurice O’Loughlin in the Federal Court in August 2000. Counsel for the applicants, Ms M. Richards, had submitted that the Northern Terri­tory in the 1940s and 1950s had a policy called “the removal policy” and “the half-caste policy”. She said that, because it targeted only half-caste children, it was based on race rather than welfare. It was pursued “without regard for the welfare of individual children or their indi­vidual circumstances”. In his judgment, Justice O’Loughlin said:

I cannot accept that submission; it failed to recognize those decisions of the High Court to which reference has already been made that classified the legislation as beneficial and protectionist; it failed to recognize that there was then, as there is now, an acceptance of the need for special legislation and special consideration for Aboriginal people. Finally, there was absolutely no causative link connecting ‘race’ to a failure to have regard for the welfare of children. The existence of one does not preclude the existence of the other.

What the judge meant by “those decisions of the High Court to which reference has already been made”, were several verdicts, the most recent of which had been Kruger v. Commonwealth; Bray v. Commonwealth. That was a judgment made by the full bench of the High Court in July 1997 but which today is largely unknown outside legal circles. Yet it was the major case that considered whether the removal of Aboriginal children amounted to genocide. Although handed down only two months after the Bringing Them Home report accused the nation of that very crime, most news media and virtually all members of the political commentariat ignored it. Since then, they have pretended it never existed. I discuss its findings in more detail in Chapter Ten, but let me observe here that five of the six judges commented specifically on the question of genocide. Counsel for the plaintiffs argued that the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal Ordinance of 1918, which permitted the Chief Protector and Director of Native Affairs to remove and detain all Aboriginal people in the Territory, including children, thereby breached the United Nations Convention on Genocide. All five judges rejected the claim. Justice Daryl Dawson said:

there is nothing in the 1918 Ordinance, even if the acts authorized by it otherwise fell within the definition of genocide, which authorizes acts committed with intent to destroy in whole or in part any Aboriginal group. On the contrary, as has already been observed, the powers conferred by the 1918 Ordinance were required to be exercised in the best interests of the Aboriginals concerned or of the Aboriginal population generally. The acts authorized do not, therefore, fall within the definition of genocide contained in the Genocide Convention.

Justice Michael McHugh concurred:

The 1918 Ordinance did not authorize genocide. Article II of the Genocide Convention relevantly defines genocide to mean certain acts ‘committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such’. The acts include ‘imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group’ and ‘forcibly transferring children of the group to another group’. There is, however, nothing in the 1918 Ordinance that could possibly justify a construction of its provisions that would authorize the doing of acts ‘with intent to destroy, in whole or in part’ the Aboriginal race.

In short, when they tested specific policies before the Federal Court, and when they argued the general intentions of the parliaments and legislators before the High Court, the historians and political activists who invented the notion of the Stolen Generations proved incapable of substantiating their case. As far as Australia’s highest courts are concerned, the central hypothesis of the Stolen Generations is legally extinct.

The only legal cases with any potential credibility would be those made by individuals such as Bruce Trevorrow, who was unlawfully removed from his family and suffered badly as a result. But as Chapter Twelve demonstrates, the Trevorrow case did not confirm the Stolen Generations thesis. Instead, it provided yet more evidence to disprove it.

How Many Children Were Removed?

Even though one forced removal would be regarded today as one too many, the numbers in the Administrator’s report, if accurate, do not support an argument that there was a large scale policy of forced removals occurring in this period.

—Justice Maurice O’Loughlin, judgment in Cubillo and Gunner v. Commonwealth, Federal Court of Australia, August 2000, on the paucity of child removals in the Northern Territory in the 1940s and 1950s

In the Prime Minister’s apology, he said the total number of children wrongly removed between 1910 and 1970 was “up to 50,000”. He said this meant between 10 and 30 per cent of Aboriginal children had been “forcibly” taken from their parents. The Bringing Them Home report claimed that between one in ten and one in three Aboriginal children were “forcibly removed”. In reality, these claims were unwarranted guesses. Indeed, the Human Rights Commission seriously misrepresented some of the principal research it used to reach the higher figure. As an example of the rate of removal, it reported the findings of one study made in Bourke:

Dr Max Kamien surveyed 320 adults in Bourke in the 1970s. One in every three reported having been separated from their families in childhood for five or more years.

That was not the study’s rate for the separation of children “from their families”. What Kamien actually found was this:

Between the ages of 5 and 14 years 34 per cent of the 320 adult males and females interviewed had experienced the absence of one parent for more than five years. Absence of both parents for the same time period was recorded in 5 per cent of males and 7 per cent of females.

Moreover, the great majority of the “absences” recorded by Kamien were not forcible removals. Most occurred simply because the fathers were away from home, working on rural properties. Of children separated from both parents, Kamien found the most common reason was not to lose their culture but to go to hospital. In four of the other six studies it cited, Bringing Them Home seriously misreported the results. Of the remaining two studies, one was unpublished and no one else can find any record of the other. Chapter Thirteen examines the charade of research interpretations on which the Human Rights Commission made its “confident findings”.

My own estimate of the total number of Aboriginal children taken into care in the period from 1880 to 1970 is provided in Chapter Thirteen. The total is 8250. “Taken into care” means Aboriginal children separated from parents and placed in government, church and charitable institutions, plus the very small numbers placed into foster care and adopted by white families. The figure represented 5.2 per cent of the Aboriginal population at the 1976 census of 160,000.

This total is not offered as a counter-estimate of the number of the Stolen Generations. The argument of this book is that there were no Stolen Generations. The figure is an overall estimate made from the surviving records of children separated from their families for substantial periods under the broadest range of conditions, both volun­tary and involuntary, and for all kinds of reasons, both positive (educa­tion and hospitalisation) and negative (neglect, destitution, sexual abuse, and the death of parents). The total and the proportion are much lower figures than are usually claimed but they demonstrate another theme of this book. Rather than governments being over-zealous, the reality was the opposite. Everyone who worked in Aboriginal child welfare complained that the states and territories did not do nearly enough, especially in the period from Federation to the Second World War. There were always many more Aboriginal children badly in need of welfare, education and health services than governments were willing to fund.

The most offensive numerical assertion in this debate, that the removal of children was on a scale large enough to be genocidal, is not just wrong but embarrassingly wrong. In the first half of the twentieth century, when university historians and Bringing Them Home assured us governments were doing their best to eliminate the Aboriginal race, its population grew substantially. In the period nominated by the Human Rights Commission as the worst affected, 1910 to 1970, the Aboriginal population of Australia grew by 68 per cent from 83,588 to 139,456. Growth was particularly strong in those regions where governments were purportedly determined to absorb half-caste and other part-Aboriginal people into the white population. In New South Wales, the Aboriginal population grew by 65 per cent from 1915 to 1940. In Western Australia, the supposedly “doomed race” of full-descent people in the north of the state did not decline at all, while in the southern half of the state, where part-Aboriginal people predominated, their numbers were up no less than 120 per cent between 1900 and 1935. In both cases, their populations grew at a faster rate than that of white people. Chapters Two and Seven have the details. If the Stolen Generations thesis is true then the Australian Aborigines are the only people in world history to have suffered genocide in the midst of a boom in their population.

Education versus Institutionalisation

There is another good reason why it was not the policy of governments to remove Aboriginal children from their parents: they wanted the children to go to school. Governments pursued this objective with far more action and money than they ever gave to child removal. In the 1880s all Australian colonial governments instituted compulsory education for children of school age. All parents, of whatever racial or ethnic background, were required to enrol their children. In New South Wales, the Department of Public Instruction constructed schoolhouses and employed schoolteachers on all the twenty-one 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 age to justify it. On those reserves where there were not enough children for 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 refused. In its later years, it tried a more conciliatory approach by giving all Abo­riginal children a hot midday meal at school.

In the early twentieth century, it was true that much provision for Aboriginal schooling was substandard. Many Aboriginal children received a lower-level curriculum than whites. In some parts of New South Wales and Western Australia, protests by white parents about Aboriginal standards of hygiene and disease (including, as I demonstrate in Chapter Four, cases of venereal disease among Aboriginal primary school children) meant some public schools refused to enrol them. Nonetheless, the number of places governments provided for Aboriginal children who lived with their parents and went to school, compared to the number of places governments funded at welfare institutions for those removed from parents, is telling. In New South Wales in the 1920s and 1930s, there were only three welfare institutions designated for Aboriginal children. One at Bomaderry housed twenty-five infants to ten-year-olds, the second at Cootamundra accommodated fifty girls aged up to thirteen years, and the third at Kinchela housed fifty boys aged up to thirteen years. At the same time, some 2800 Aboriginal children in New South Wales lived with their parents and attended public schools. That is, there were twenty-two times as many places for Aboriginal children at public schools than at welfare institutions.

In the Northern Territory in the 1950s, virtually none of the approximately 8000 full-blood Aboriginal children either attended school or were housed in a welfare institution. For part-Aboriginal children the government pursued a policy of integration and assimila­tion. But even here, there were between two and three times as many part-Aboriginal children living with their families and attending schools than housed in welfare institutions. In 1959, for instance, there were 815 part-Aboriginal children at Northern Territory schools and 315 part-Aboriginal children in institutions. Of the latter, many were sent by their parents to be boarders while they went to school. Chapter Ten discusses the role played by the Retta Dixon Home in Darwin and St Mary’s Hostel in Alice Springs.

On the grounds of school policy alone, no one can argue that the government was conducting a systematic program to destroy Aboriginality by stealing children from their families. The existence of this disparity disproves the core allegation of the Stolen Generations thesis.

Why There Were No Stolen Generations (Part Two)

Keith Windschuttle

The Origins of the Myth

The empirical underpinnings of Bringing Them Home derived largely from the work of white academic historians. The Human Rights Commission did no serious research of its own into the primary historical sources. Co-authors Ronald Wilson and Mick Dodson also declined to hear any evidence that might have contradicted their preferred interpretation. They did not call witnesses from the many still-living public officials responsible for child removal to hear or test their reasons for their policies and practices. The Commission’s only original contribution was to solicit the testimony of 535 Abo­riginal people who had been removed from their parents and who spoke about their own experiences. While many of these stories were completely believable in what they said about what happened and how they felt, it is nonetheless true that when these witnesses were children they were not in a position to comprehend the question at the centre of the accusation of genocide, the motives of government policy-makers.

Moreover, some of these informants made claims that should never have been published. In Bringing Them Home, the anonymous “Jenni­fer” claimed one child at the Cootamundra Girls Home was beaten to death by the staff, who then secretly disposed of the body. As Chapter Five argues, this assertion deserves no credibility whatsoever and, indeed, was a malicious defamation of the matron at the time, Miss Emmeline Rutter. History books have reproduced other tall tales from allegedly stolen children that could not possibly be true. One gave a vivid first-hand account of 500 children supposedly rounded up in 1938. The alleged aim was to remove all the half-caste children in the Kimberley district to the West Australian government’s Moola Bulla station. However, as shown in Chapter Eight, the entire population of half-caste people in the Kimberley at the time, adults and children, amounted to just 500 and the station’s records of the full-blood and half-caste children it accommodated and fed at Moola Bulla that year numbered only sixty-one; most of them had been sent by their parents to go to the station’s school.

Some of the most celebrated books by Aboriginal authors about supposedly stolen children also provide serious grounds for contention, especially the works of Margaret Tucker and Sally Morgan. These and other stories told by well-known Aborigines Lowitja O’Donoghue and Charles Perkins are discussed in Chapter Six. I also discuss there the influence of the Communist Party of Australia, which few people realise played a key role in making some Aboriginal authors famous.

The idea that the removal policies had a racist component and were aimed at ending Aboriginality did not originate in Aboriginal testimony. Indeed, until the term “stolen generations” first appeared in 1981, there had been no popular tradition among Aboriginal people that employed either the term or the concept. In the 1910s and 1920s, parents on some state-funded Aboriginal stations in New South Wales and South Australia did disagree with the government finding employment for their teenage children as four-year indentured apprentices. But these complaints were not about the removal of babies or young children. Moreover, these parents knew their children would be gone for a fixed term and then return.

The person who initiated the idea that the government wanted to destroy Aboriginality was a then unknown white postgraduate history student, Peter Read. He alone was granted the vision denied to all who came before him. In the course of just one day, he wrote a twenty-page pamphlet to make his case. His original title was “The Lost Generations” but his wife advised him to substitute the more attention-getting adjective, stolen.

Read’s publication, The Stolen Generations, was published in 1981 and was noticed within social policy and legal circles, but not much else. The critical turning point in the attitudes of Aboriginal people did not come until two years later. Read’s colleague in the Link-Up social work organisation, Coral Edwards, addressed a meeting of the National Aboriginal Consultative Council to ask for funding for their new service. To the forty, mostly middle-aged Aboriginal community leaders, who until then had been ignorant of any racist separation policy, Edwards’s speech came as a bombshell. Mothers had not voluntarily given their children away, she said. Rather, “the govern­ments never intended that the children should ever return”.

It is not difficult to understand the immediate appeal of such an explanation to many Aboriginal families, especially to those who had grown up on welfare communities and segregated housing estates with high rates of crime, alcoholism, domestic violence and child abuse. This new version of events was deeply comforting. The myriad problems in their own lives no longer derived from the failings of their families or the bad choices they made themselves. Mothers had not given their children away, fathers had not left their children destitute or deserted their families or been so consumed by alcohol they left them vulnerable to sexual predators. Siblings and cousins had not abandoned their communities because they thought their way of life hopeless. Instead of reproaching themselves, Aborigi­nes could suddenly identify as morally innocent victims of a terrible injustice. Their problems could all be blamed on faceless white bureaucrats driven by racism. Read’s interpretation has since come to be believed by most Aboriginal people in Australia.

That does not make the story true. Indeed, as an historical interpretation of government policy in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, it was poorly founded from the outset. Its creator once boasted he had read “all the thousands of childcare records of the NSW Aborigines Protection Board”. However, Read could not have done anything like the investigation he claimed. His research for The Stolen Generations was so shoddy he was completely ignorant of the existence of one government and mission-run institution in New South Wales that housed Aboriginal children for nineteen years, and he attributed to another institution a fifteen-year history that bore little relationship to what it actually did. Chapter Five provides the details. He drew selectively on the individual case files of removed children to bolster his case, but misrepresented the total picture. He provided false information about the age of children concerned and the proportion of them who never returned to their families and communities. He selected from government minutes and reports a small number of apparently incriminating quotations, took them out of context, and gave them a meaning their originators never intended. What little support for his thesis he could find he exaggerated out of all proportion. He claimed the Ward Registers of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board openly revealed the real motives of those in charge:

The racial intention was obvious enough for all prepared to see, and 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’.”

My examination of the 800 files in the same archive found only one official ever wrote a phrase like that. His actual words were “Being an Aboriginal”.

In the early twentieth century, according to Read, the Australian authorities began to realise the Aborigines were not “dying out” as once thought. Instead, the number of half-castes and others of part descent were increasing. So instead of being rid of the Aboriginal race by natural causes, governments decided they had to do the job themselves. “In the long term, Aborigines were not wanted — anywhere,” Read wrote. “Their extinction, it seemed, would not occur naturally after all, but would have to be arranged.” One of Read’s academic colleagues, the historian Heather Goodall, said the New South Wales government tried to do this by deliberately reducing the Aboriginal birth rate. This was, she claimed, the publicly declared reason the Aborigines Protection Board introduced its policy of youth apprenticeships:

The Board stated quite openly in its reports and minutes that it intended to reduce the birthrate of the Aboriginal population by taking adolescent girls away from their communities. Then it intended that the young people taken in this way would never be allowed to return to their homes or to any other Aboriginal community. The ‘apprenticeship’ policy was aimed quite explicitly at reducing the numbers of identifying Aboriginal people in the State.

Goodall did not give any specific source for her claim. Instead, she referred readers of her book Invasion to Embassy to the Aborigines Protection Board’s annual reports for the period 1906 to 1923. I read the board’s reports not only for the years she suggested but also for its entire eighty-five years of existence, looking for any comment about its intention to reduce the Aboriginal birth rate. I could not find anything of the kind. Instead, the board explained its apprenticeship policy in 1924 in the following terms:

[The Board’s] object is to save the children from certain moral degradation on the reserves and camps, and to give them a chance to reach maturity, after which they are given every facility to return either on holiday or permanently, according to their wish, to their own districts, where they are expected to take up suitable employment. Here they have an opportunity of meeting people of their own colour, and in many instances they marry and settle down in homes of their own.

The board also defined its policy in very similar terms in its minutes of June 1919 and its annual report of 1925–26. Chapter Three quotes them in full and examines the board’s real objectives. In short, the board saw a period of apprenticeship as the key to gaining employment, and the best way for Aboriginal youth to get off welfare and live independent lives in the modern world. It wanted to put an end not to the Aboriginal race but to Aboriginal dependency.

The Human Rights Commission used Read, Goodall and other academic historians as its major sources of information on government policy, thereby replicating their omissions, mistakes and falsehoods. Bringing Them Home reproduced a passage from Pat Jacobs’s biography of A.O. Neville, which quoted the West Australian Chief Protector apparently announcing that in the “best interests” of Aboriginal children he intended to remove as many as possible from their parents: “I say emphatically there are scores of children in the bush camps who should be taken away from whoever is looking after them and placed in a settlement …” This quotation, however, was a truncated version of what Neville actually said. His full sentence was:

I say emphatically there are scores of children in the bush camps who should be taken away from whoever is looking after them and placed in a settlement, but on account of lack of accommodation, and lack of means and additional settlements, I am unable to exercise the power which the Act definitely gives me in this respect.

In other words, instead of a declaration of intent to remove scores of such children, Neville’s full statement was actually an explanation why he could not remove them. As Chapter Eight shows in detail, he never had the funds to remove more than a handful each year. The same was true of the Chief Protectors in other states. None of them ever had enough money to remove all the genuine child welfare cases within their domain, let alone attempt as immense a task as eliminating the Aboriginal race.

That did not mean, however, that Aboriginal institutions were as impoverished as historians have painted them. Though conceding that they were not as terrible as the mass extermination camps of Nazi Ger­many, historian Anna Haebich nonetheless claimed: “Aboriginal people in Australia’s refugee camps and gulags faced for a far longer period the daily reality of starvation, disease, chronic ill health and often early death.” It is true that the Moore River Settlement in Western Australia was a vermin-infested dump, and some of the remote missions in the tropical north ran short of food supplies in the wet season and during periods of prolonged drought, but they were not typical. The best Aboriginal stations had superior buildings and more amenities than many white working-class people in the outer suburbs and country towns at the same time. Some institutions for Aboriginal chil­dren had swimming pools, gymnasiums, tennis courts, film projectors, radios, record players, pianos and telephones decades before many white people. Chapter Five contains details. In the midst of the 1930s Great Depression, the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board used unemployment relief funds to provide its La Perouse Reserve with new buildings designed by the Government Architect, to plant it with trees and shrubs from the Sydney Botanic Gardens, and to connect every home with fresh water and sewerage. The State Government Tourist Bureau thought so highly of the refurbished La Perouse it listed it with Bondi Beach among Sydney’s recommended visiting spots for overseas tourists. In the 1950s, the Church of England’s St Mary’s Hostel for Aboriginal children at Alice Springs, located in a former wartime recreation centre for servicewomen, was another model of its kind that attracted busloads of tourists.

The Best-Concealed Conspiracy in Australian History

On top of the awkward fact that the Aboriginal population grew strongly throughout the period it was supposedly subject to genocide, there is another oddity about the Stolen Generations. Why did this not become a public issue before Peter Read emerged on the scene in 1981? If, as the Human Rights Commission claimed, its origins went back to 1910, why didn’t earlier Aboriginal activists make a fuss? At the high point of Aboriginal radicalism in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the attempt to put an end to Aboriginality by removing children never received a mention in any major agenda of Aboriginal political grievances.

During the lead-up to the successful 1967 constitutional referendum to give the Commonwealth powers in Aboriginal affairs, not one of the political activists campaigning for reform mentioned stolen children as an issue to be rectified. In 1970, neither the ten-point Policy Manifesto of the National Tribal Council, nor the Platform and Program of the Black Panthers of Australia, nor the 1972 Five-Point Policy of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy at Parliament House, Canberra, or any other political manifesto of the time, mentioned stolen children, let alone the genocide that Aborigines had purport­edly been suffering for the previous sixty years. Aboriginal activists of that era proved very adept at gaining attention from the news media and very capable of articulating their case. Black Panthers spokesmen included Gary Foley, later a university lecturer, Paul Coe, subse­quently a barrister, and Dennis Walker, son of one of Australia’s leading literary figures. They and their colleagues were politically astute enough to mount the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns of Parliament House—an inspired piece of political symbolism—yet could not recognise the genocide and child stealing taking place right beneath their noses.

A greater mystery is that some of the best-known of an earlier generation of Aboriginal activists had been in an even better position to see what was going on. In the 1940s and 1950s, William Ferguson, Walter Page and Pearl Gibbs actually served as directors of the Aborigines Welfare Board of New South Wales, one of the very organisations then committing the purported genocide. Yet they never realised what was happening. Of all people, they were the ones who should have identified it first. How could they possibly have missed it? If the Stolen Generations story was true, then at that very time, right across Australia, in all states and territories, scores of white welfare officials, backed by parliamentarians and senior public ser­vants, were forcibly removing Aboriginal children to put an end to Aboriginality. How did these hundreds of white people, for a period of more than sixty years, maintain the discipline needed to keep the whole thing so quiet that Aboriginal activists like Ferguson, Page and Gibbs were oblivious to its existence? Why did no one leak the truth? A conspiracy on this scale must have been the best-kept secret in Australian history. On these grounds alone, the inherent implausibil­ity of Read’s thesis should always have been self-evident.

“The Criminals Who Enacted the Programs”

In presenting a more realistic version of this story, part of my task includes reassessing the reputations of those who worked in the field in those years. We need to know whether the white people who determined Aboriginal policies in the past, and those who provided direct-contact services to Aborigines—welfare workers, missionaries and other members of religious orders, police officers, nurses and matrons in children’s institutions, the managers of Aboriginal reserves and stations—deserve the status they now have. Historians today treat them as little better than the officers and guards at Belsen and Treblinka. They do this even though the historical record reveals that some of the most influential of them emerged from humanitarian organisations, religious societies and political movements that had long worked in support of indigenous peoples. As Chapter Seven demonstrates, although historians have misrepresented the roles of the Chief Protectors A.O. Neville in Western Australia and Cecil Cook in the Northern Territory, their careers as administrators nonetheless leave little to admire. But it is a very different story with most of those employed in the front line caring for Aboriginal children. The determination of some historians to destroy the reputations of the latter people is contemptible.

Free from any risk of defamation suits from their now dead subjects, and speaking from the comfort of tenured university positions with six-figure salaries, academics such as Peter Read, Anna Haebich and Raimond Gaita have written of “the criminals who enacted the programs” and applied labels such as “sinister”, “hated”, “monstrous” and “psychopathic” to people like Emmeline Rutter, Ella Hiscocks, Sister Kate Clutterbuck, Sister Eileen Heath, Amelia Shankelton and Father Percy Smith who spent much of their adult lives under the same roofs and conditions as the orphaned, abandoned and unloved children they worked to save. Similarly, Colin Tatz, a professor of genocide studies, defamed the famous Aboriginal tenor, the late Harold Blair, by associating him with a scheme that ostensibly offered Aboriginal children Christmas holidays by the sea, but whose pur­ported secret agenda was to adopt them into white families.

The Human Rights Commission’s inquiry treated such people unjustly. As I show in several places in this book, the Commission’s public hearings declined to call as witnesses public officials and welfare workers who could have contradicted its predetermined conclusions. The Commission only sought evidence that confirmed its prejudices. It only wanted to hear from those claiming to be stolen children and never gave their “captors” the chance to answer the charges. Yet when some of the latter who were still living came before properly constituted court hearings, they easily disproved the accusations. This was particularly true in the Northern Territory, as Chapter Ten demonstrates in its discussion of the failed test case of Lorna Cubillo and Peter Gunner.

Some prominent Aboriginal people engaged in child welfare have been quietly airbrushed from history because their activities contradict the Stolen Generations thesis. One of them was Aunty Molly Mallett, a member of the Cape Barren Islander community descended from the Tasmanian Aborigines. As Chapter Eleven discusses, Mallett moved to Launceston where she provided government-approved foster care for orphaned and neglected Cape Barren Islander children. From the 1950s to the 1970s, she fostered so many she “lost count”. Even though she had far more experience than anyone else in the plight of these half-caste children, the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry never called her as a witness. Bringing Them Home declined to even mention her role, preferring its readers to believe the children were all placed with white families and in white institutions.

Many of the politicians who decided Aboriginal policy in the period of so-called genocide were anything but faceless. By far the greater number of them owed their allegiance to the “progressive” or Left side of politics. One thing the university historians who established this story kept largely to themselves was that most of the legislation they condemned was passed by Labor governments. In New South Wales, 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 became governor-general. In Western Australia, A.O. Neville was appointed Chief Protector in 1915 by the state’s first Labor government headed by John Scaddan. The 1936 Act that purportedly entrenched Neville’s proposals for “breeding out the colour” was the product of the Labor governments of Phillip Collier and John Willcock.

In contrast, when a proposal for “breeding out the colour” was put to the conservative government of Joseph Lyons in 1933, it wanted nothing to do with it. As noted in the preface, this proposal has been wrongly linked to the question of child removal when, in reality, it was wholly confined to controlling the marriage of adult Aborigines of part descent. As Chapter Seven records, the Lyons government treated it with disdain. In August 1934, the responsible minister, J.A. Perkins, told the parliament:

It can be stated definitely, that it is and always has been, contrary to policy to force half-caste women to marry anyone. The half-caste must be a perfectly free agent in the matter.

Not one of the historians of the Stolen Generations has ever quoted this statement. It disproved yet more of their claims about the genocidal objectives of Commonwealth government policies in the 1930s.

Some prominent radical political activists of earlier eras were com­plicit in policies and activities that historians and the Human Rights Commission now characterise as racist and genocidal. For instance, in the 1967 constitutional referendum, one of the leading campaigners for the “Yes” vote was Faith Bandler, then a familiar figure in radical and Communist Party circles. In January 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd awarded Bandler Australia’s highest civilian honour, the Companion of the Order of Australia, for her work on behalf of racial minorities. It is not widely known today but in 1959 Bandler adopted an abandoned two-year-old Aboriginal boy into her non-indigenous family. She raised him until he was twelve. At the time, none of her Aboriginal political colleagues thought she was doing anything wrong. To accuse Bandler of committing a racial crime for this act, let alone being a party to genocide, would be absurd and offensive. We should offer the same presumption of innocence until proven guilty to everyone else who acted from similar motives, whatever their political background or racial origin.

When their track records are examined more closely, many of those white people engaged in Aboriginal affairs a century ago become unexpectedly familiar. They were the religious and political evangelicals of their time, determined to do good works for others in order to give meaning and substance to their own lives. They bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the white lawyers, academics, social workers, journalists and political activists who do the same today. In short, accusers and accused are the same kind of people. The big difference is that those charged with crimes against humanity actually did something tangible to improve Aboriginal lives. Their accusers have offered only bogus history, feigned compassion, and empty symbolic gestures.

Today we inhabit a censorious age in which the present generation presumes it alone has wisdom and virtue. We pride ourselves on our moral and intellectual superiority to all the generations before us. We assume the right to condemn the past for not sharing our currently fashionable moral postures. Nonetheless, all those in the past respon­sible for Aboriginal policy and child welfare still deserve a proper hearing, with their names and reasons fully disclosed so we can judge the decisions they took in the light of the prevailing attitudes and oppor­tunities of the time, as well as what we know about their characters through the full record of their public lives.

Ultimately, however, it is the reputation of the nation that is at issue. Thanks to the determination of academic historians and state education curriculum boards, Australian schoolchildren have by now largely succumbed to the prevailing version of this story. Many have learnt to despise their own country for this episode and to be ashamed of the Australian past. Australians abroad are saddled with a reputa­tion for racism comparable to white South Africans in the era of apartheid. Aboriginal people themselves are taught the arrival of the Europeans brought so much violence and heartbreak they should never allow themselves to be fully reconciled to Australian society.

The philosopher Raimond Gaita has claimed that, if the Bringing Them Home report is accurate, the case for genocide is over-determined. My book argues that the only thing over-determined is the case against genocide. Not one of the major contentions made by the Human Rights Commission, or the bevy of academic historians upon whom it relied, stands up to scrutiny. Bringing Them Home is probably the most unreliable and deceptive public document ever produced in this country. Unfortunately, it has also been one of the most influen­tial. It claimed to have uncovered a whole class of victims, children forcibly removed from loving parents whose lives were thereby ruined. In reality, the greater victims have been those generations of Aboriginal children who, thanks to the report’s subsequent influence on social workers, child welfare officials and children’s court magis­trates, have since been left too long in violent, destitute and sexually abusive families for fear of creating a “new” Stolen Generation. An historical fiction has created a real-life social catastrophe, whose appalling consequences are now verified by government and judicial inquiries, time after time.

Black and White Perspectives on the Apology

“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 fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.” Here was the word, used twice in two quick sentences by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, that everyone in those ranked, packed galleries had come to hear. There was, quite audi­bly, the exhalation of breath. That same release—the hope of an expul­sion, really, of a national burden—could be felt across the country, in public gatherings before giant screens in places such as Melbourne’s Feder­ation Square and Sydney’s Martin Place, to clubs and parks in small towns and school classrooms everywhere.

—Tony Wright, Age, Melbourne, February 14, 2008

For all the reasons given in this book, I believe the parliamentary apology by Prime Minister Rudd in February 2008 was indulgent and unwise. In the short term, of course, the massive and favourable media coverage made it a public relations success for him and his govern­ment. It satisfied the millions of suburban voters who have always had goodwill towards Aboriginal people, who wanted racial reconciliation and an end to bad feeling over this issue. But in describing Aboriginal child welfare policies of the past as the “great stain” on the nation’s soul, Rudd not only defamed a great many people from his own side of politics, but did no favour to Aborigines either. He added further fuel to the politics of permanent grievance on which the hard men of Aboriginal activism have long thrived. The apology confirmed Aboriginal people’s core identity as victims of injustice rather than potential beneficiaries, like everyone else, of the prosperous, liberal, democratic, egalitarian society estab­lished here since 1788.

It is clear, however, that my views on the topic are very much in the minority, and are likely to remain so for some time. The above account from Tony Wright in the Age captured quite accurately the popular response. Throughout the country, there was a collective sigh of relief from the majority of white people at the discharge of what had felt like a national burden.

A small minority of whites, however, were anything but relieved. Among the members of Australia’s intellectual culture, the failure of Rudd to use the term genocide or to offer any reparations remained burning issues. The philosopher Raimond Gaita insisted that aca­demics, journalists and lawyers would not drop their demands:

Even if Kevin Rudd believes (as clearly he doesn’t) that some of the Stolen Generations were victims of genocide, it would have been foolish for him to have said so on the day when he offered them a prime ministerial apology. It would have been unnecessarily offensive to many Australians who would understandably have been hurt as much as they would have been scandalised …

It is, however, inconceivable that Abo­rigines and their fellow Australians will stop thinking for long about which concepts are necessary to describe their past truthfully. Discussion of genocide will then be unavoidable. It would be a “moral, intellectual and political disaster” if academics and others were to censor themselves because minds slam shut or to refuse to discuss outside academe whether the Aborigines were the victims of genocide.

Even though this book disputes all Gaita’s other interpretations of this topic, what he says here is true. The charge of genocide does hurt and does scandalise most Australians. And all those white academics, journalists and lawyers who have supported the accusation are determined to persist with it, no matter what.

Aboriginal political leaders initially greeted the apology with high emotion. The visitors’ gallery of Parliament House was packed with Aboriginal identities, who gave the Prime Minister a standing ovation. Many, including Lowitja O’Donoghue, wept throughout his speech.

After the moment had passed, however, it is doubtful that the apology changed any Aboriginal minds at all. Later that morning, O’Donoghue and Aboriginal spokesman Patrick Dodson gave interviews to journalists, calling for a more material response. According to the Age:

Mr Dodson described the apology and Mr Rudd’s speech as a watershed. ‘The sincerity that he brought to that has moved many hearts of indigenous people across this country,’ he said. But he added: ‘Any group of people who have been treated badly under laws made legitimately by the Crown deserve to pursue compensation judicially, legally or politically and they deserve our support.’

Ms O’Donoghue, while declaring herself ‘very proud’ of Mr Rudd for keeping his promise to apologise, also took issue with the government over its refusal to compensate people taken from their families. And she warned that extra money to tackle indigenous disadvantage in areas such as health and education should not be a substitute for compensation.

Other Aboriginal activists treated the event with cynicism. Gary Foley, one of the radical identities of the 1970s and now a historian and lecturer in indigenous studies at Victoria University, was interviewed by the Melbourne Historical Journal:

“How do you think the apology should be taught at universities? »

“I think it should be taught in Political Science classes as an example of the duplicity and deceit of politicians. And it should be taught in psychology classes in terms of how a nation appeases itself of its guilt. And it should be taught in drama school as a classic example of Australian political comedy. And it should be taught in driving school as a magnificent example of defensive driving and evasive tactics and manoeuvres. It should also be taught in kindergartens as a fairy tale.”

Meanwhile, out on the streets where Aboriginal people congregated, some young men had little time for irony. The Northern Territory News reported:

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s national apology to the stolen generation has sparked a spate of racial violence in Darwin. Five people had to be admitted to hospital after one brawl. The Caucasian men were attacked by a group of 10 Aboriginal men, who demanded that their victims ‘say sorry’. A 28-year-old Territory woman watched helplessly as her friend was king-hit and kicked to the ground outside a Darwin 24-hour eatery on Sunday morning. She said three men ran at them from across the road, when they looked at the group yelling at two women. ‘They just started king-hitting him. They got him on the ground and then two others came over and started kicking him,’ she said. ‘They kept screaming that we were not sorry at all.’

This is an edited extract from the introduction to The Fabrication of Aboriginal History, Volume Three, The Stolen Generations 1881–2008, Macleay Press, $59.95, 656 pages, published in December 2009.

Voir enfin:

Trapped in the Aboriginal reality show

Re-imagining Australia

Marcia Langton

Griffith REVIEW

Jean Baudrillard generated international controversy when he described in his essay ‘War Porn’ the way images from Abu Graib prison in Iraq and other ‘consensual and televisual’ violence were used in the aftermath to September 11, 2001. Strong words – perversity, vileness – sparked in his brief, acute analysis: ‘The worst is that it all becomes a parody of violence, a parody of the war itself, pornography becoming the ultimate form of the abjection of war which is unable to be simply war, to be simply about killing, and instead turns itself into a grotesque infantile reality-show, in a desperate simulacrum of power. These scenes are the illustration of a power, without aim, without purpose, without a plausible enemy, and in total impunity. It is only capable of inflicting gratuitous humiliation.’

This made me think about the everyday suffering of Aboriginal children and women, the men who assault and abuse them, and the use of this suffering as a kind of visual and intellectual pornography in Australian media and public debates. The very public debate about child abuse is like Baudrillard’s ‘war porn’. It has parodied the horrible suffering of Aboriginal people. The crisis in Aboriginal society is now a public spectacle, played out in a vast ‘reality show’ through the media, parliaments, public service and the Aboriginal world. This obscene and pornographic spectacle shifts attention away from everyday lived crisis that many Aboriginal people endure – or do not, dying as they do at excessive rates.

This spectacle is not a new phenomenon in Australian public life, but the debate about ‘Indigenous affairs’ has reached a new crescendo, fuelled by the accelerated and uncensored exposé of the extent of Aboriginal child abuse. Shocking accounts of brutal sexual assault and murder – including those by Children’s Court Magistrate Sue Gordon in Western Australia, Alice Springs Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers, and journalists Nicolas Rothwell, Tony Koch and Suzanne Smith – have become almost routine. The 2007 Northern Territory inquiry and report, Little Children are Sacred, by Rex Wild QC and Pat Anderson, was the tipping point.

More than a century of policy experimentation with Aboriginal people climaxed when the Howard Commonwealth government sent a special police taskforce, troops and emergency medical staff into the Northern Territory. On August 7, 2007 it passed more than five hundred pages of legislation – special measures that subvert the authority of the Northern Territory in the most extraordinary federal takeover in Australia’s history.

In some critical respects, the outcome of this renewed debate is what many have been recommending for decades: protective interventions to prevent the abuse, rape and assault of Aboriginal women and children, and decisive action against the perpetrators. The federal legislation and emergency taskforce were a slap in the face for the Northern Territory Government, then led by Chief Minister Clare Martin. It was a bracing ‘vote of no confidence’ in her government’s capacity to deal with the crisis, and the responsibilities for which Territory governments had received generous Commonwealth funding for decades.

Indeed, the redistribution of these funds to the privileged white electorates that kept Martin’s government in power became evident when data from a special project by the Council of Australian Governments at Wadeye revealed how Northern Territory governments have failed to use Commonwealth funds for their intended purposes: ‘far less is spent on [Aboriginal Territorians] per head than is spent on the average Territorian.’ The education deficit was acute – for every dollar spent on each Territory school child, 47 cents were spent on each Aboriginal child at Wadeye. ‘To those most in need the least is provided,’ the study concluded.

Although the Northern Territory Government receives special funding to improve the lot of its disadvantaged population, it was the Commonwealth rather than the Territory Government which became the villain in the public debate about the Emergency Intervention. There is a cynical view afoot that the intervention was a political ploy – to grab land, support mining companies and kick black heads, dressed up as concern for children. Conspiracy theories abounded; most were ridiculous.

Those who did not see the intervention coming were deluding themselves. It was the inevitable outcome of the many failures of policy and the flawed federal-state division of responsibilities for Aboriginal Australians. It was a product of the failure of Northern Territory governments for a quarter of a century to adequately invest the funds they received to eliminate the disadvantages of their citizens in education, health and basic services. It was made worse by general incompetence in Darwin: the public service, non-government sector (including some Aboriginal organisations) and the dead hand of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) all presided over increasingly horrible conditions in Aboriginal communities.

The combined effect of the righteous media campaign for action and the Emergency Intervention has been a metaphorical dagger, sunk deep into the heart of the powerful, wrong-headed Aboriginal male ideology that has prevailed in Indigenous affairs policies and practices for decades. My hope is that, as the evidence mounts of the need for a radical new approach, the shibboleths of the old Left – who need perpetual victims for their analysis to work – will also be dismantled.

IN 2006 AND 2007, Howard government ministers and advisers made several decisions. They would no longer stomach a policy regime whose many failings resulted in endemic poverty, alienation and disadvantage, and sickening levels of abuse of Aboriginal women and children. They rolled out a policy revolution. With the dis-establishment of ATSIC and the removal of elected commissioners whose public reputations were in tatters following allegations of rape, corruption and incompetence, a new order swept in.

The appointment of professionals and business people to an advisory National Indigenous Council led by Dr Sue Gordon put new emphasis on ‘practical outcomes’. At the top of the list was intervention in the epidemic of child abuse. Gordon was appointed to head the intervention taskforce, an initiative that has fundamentally altered the balance of federal-state relations in Indigenous affairs. This, whatever one may think of its shortcomings, may be the greatest opportunity we have had to overcome the systemic levels of disadvantage among Aboriginal Australians.

The events of these two years have been remarkable. Extraordinary characters have been drawn into a circle of hell, complete with political chicanery, a Dante-esque dance of old enemies once divided by gender and politics, and disingenuous public performances by a voyeuristic audience. The former prime minister, John Howard, and his Indigenous affairs minister, Mal Brough, played a key role; however, much more interesting were the actions of several of the divas involved in delivering long-awaited attention to Aboriginal children in remote communities: Nanette Rogers, Sue Gordon, Clare Martin and Marion Scrymgour. Watching events unfold has been alternately exhilarating and distressing.

Rogers had been the Crown Prosecutor in Alice Springs for over twelve years, committed to social justice issues since her days as a young solicitor in Redfern. In 2006, her patience with the criminal justice system in the Northern Territory, and its capacity to deal with child victims of violence and rape and abuse, snapped. Her comments on May 15, 2006 were reported globally – BBC News led with the story: ‘Abuse rife at Aboriginal camps … horrific levels of sexual abuse in remote Aboriginal communities, including the rape of a baby.’

Rogers was no stranger to these issues. In 1993 she described the failure of the system to deal with these victims in an account not substantially different from that which shocked the world when, thirteen years later, she denounced the system that allowed rapists and murderers to escape punishment and continue their violent activities. As a young solicitor with the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Service, she and veteran campaigner Jane Lloyd presented a paper at an Institute of Criminology conference on rape. They set out the plain facts, which were already widely known and acknowledged: ‘About one-third of the Aboriginal female population in the Northern Territory is being gravely assaulted (including sexually assaulted) in a year.’

Reading that paper again after so many years, it struck me that most of the factors contributing to the astonishing rates of rape and violence against women and children – ‘rivers of grog’, easy access to pornography, a lackadaisical approach in the court system with a callous disregard for victims – informed the current intervention.

The notes supporting Rogers’ nomination as a Northern Territory finalist for 2006 Australian of the Year observed, ‘The accumulated effect of defending men who abuse women and children weighed her down and Nanette became a prosecutor and coordinator of a Victims’ Support Unit. In doing research for her doctoral thesis, she identified the emphasis placed on customary law in placing the offender in the best light, at the expense of the voice of the victim. She found that violence against women and children had become entrenched in many communities and that many crimes go unreported, the victims too afraid to speak out. Nanette took the difficult decision to release her findings to the public so as to raise awareness of this crucial social and legal issue.’

The aspects of the crisis Rogers brought to public attention are undeniable and yet they are denied repeatedly by some Aboriginal men and women who ignore these issues in favour of pursuing theoretical definitions of rights. Like their supporters in groups such as Women for Wik, few have ever lived in the desperate remote area communities they seek to represent and seem to be oblivious to their actual conditions.

THE ROLE PLAYED BY the media must be acknowledged. A few journalists raised public consciousness about the state of affairs in distant Aboriginal communities. The media blitz following Rogers’ heartfelt speech in 2006 was a blow to self-satisfied participants on both sides of the debate: the romantic defenders of Aboriginal ‘self-determination’ and the uncivil deniers of the right of Aboriginal people to coexist with settler society. Nicholas Rothwell summed up the reality that many had ignored, dismissed or denied: ‘Domestic violence and sexual assaults against women and children define the boundaries of human experience in many of the larger and more troubled bush communities – and these dreadful plagues are constantly reported, yet no action ensues.’

In June 2006, ABC journalist Suzanne Smith began reporting the evidence that the Aboriginal community at Mutitjulu, near Uluru, was being terrorised by a ‘predatory paedophile’ who traded petrol for sex with young girls and ‘other men in the community, many with convictions for violent crime, made it difficult for people to expose the sexual violence, the drug trade and the petrol trafficking’. Rogers’ colleague Jane Lloyd was working with the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yangkutjatjara Women’s Council and added, ‘They also target children who do not have strong family, who come from dysfunctional families. So these men are not going to be challenged by the fathers, by the uncles of these children’. Mantatjara Wilson, an Aboriginal elder, explained, ‘We live in a war zone, a big war. We are living in Australia but it is just like the war in East Timor. We suffer rapes, kidnaps, murders, arson, the torching of houses’.

When, on May 15, 2006, Tony Jones introduced Rogers to a national audience, he twice warned the viewers of Lateline that her accounts of violence were extremely graphic and might (should) offend viewers. ‘Why do you think there’s been such a long silence about this particular issue in central Australia?’ he asked. Rogers replied with a triple volley: ‘I think there are a number of reasons for that. The first is that violence is entrenched in a lot of aspects of Aboriginal society here. Secondly, Aboriginal people choose not to take responsibility for their own actions. Thirdly, Aboriginal society is very punitive, so that if a report is made or a statement is made implicating an offender then that potential witness is subject to harassment, intimidation and sometimes physical assault if the offender gets into trouble because of that report or police statement.’

At this point, Federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Mal Brough was still hesitant. He had told the ABC, ‘Australians may not be ready to hear about children being raped.’ Jones asked Rogers whether she disagreed. ‘Yes, I do. I feel very strongly that everybody needs to know about it.’

She detailed the traumas and horrors and focused on several cases: a four-year-old girl drowned while being raped by a teenager who had been sniffing petrol; two very young children – including a seven-month-old baby – sexually assaulted by adult men, while their mothers were elsewhere drinking alcohol. Both children needed surgery for their injuries. Another baby was stabbed twice by a man attempting to kill her mother. In yet another case, a teenager witnessed his grandfather being stabbed repeatedly in the throat. ‘These kids see violence as an everyday part of their life and many of them become violent themselves.’ Rogers said young men were given status in the community and not held accountable for their actions, and that she had ceased being a public defender because she was ‘sick of acting for violent Aboriginal men’.

Miranda Devine, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, asked, ‘Why did Tony Jones feel the need to ask Rogers, « Are you worried that the information itself may be abused by tabloids and racists even, shock jocks – the sort of people who will take information like this and exploit it? » Are there really people so morally confused that they see opposition to the rape of babies as a « shock jock » phenomenon?’

The question Devine should have asked was, ‘Are there really Aboriginal people so morally confused that they see the rape of babies as normal and not warranting any intervention?’

I am sad to report that the answer to that question is ‘yes’. There are such people, and it is them – rather than snivelling racists or the ‘shock jocks’ who exploit Aboriginal misery for fame – who undermine attempts to prevent the rape of Aboriginal children and other crimes against our most vulnerable citizens.

After these reports a chorus of denialists jumped in to defend ‘Aboriginal culture’, accusing ABC journalists of racism. Brian Johnstone – for many years press secretary to the late Bob Collins, a former Northern Territory senator – was a prominent and vociferous critic. As a journalist with the National Indigenous Times, Johnstone characterised Smith’s report as ‘99 per cent fact free’. He trivialised Rogers’ evidence and Smith’s courageous reporting in a rancorous attack on their integrity, evidence and motives and provided various justifications for the violence they identified and sought to prevent. He suggested the ABC had vilified Aboriginal culture with racist and unsubstantiated reports by ‘journalists who cannot be bothered looking beyond the sensation and mistake a « conspiracy of silence » for a journalistic conspiracy of disinterest’.

Only a man who has never tried to console a rape victim, or her mother, or tried to take a victim to a police station, could utter such nonsense. Johnstone’s tirade followed public reports of the paedophile preying on children at Mutitjulu which six people from the community described. Later, Smith interviewed Mantatjara Wilson and Rex Wild:

Wilson: I know that man sells petrol to children. This huge problem wasn’t started by the children. The problem was started by the people who sell petrol to get children started on petrol sniffing and then induce them to have sex for it.

Wild: We refer to that person, I don’t think by name, but we refer to the Mutitjulu episode, and we do give particular reference to the source of the original idea that there should be an inquiry.

Smith: He says a senior man was preying on under-age girls.

Wild: All we’re saying is an offender is a perpetrator and a child abuser.

Smith: And he says Muntajara Wilson who he describes as an elder from Mutitjulu had the right to speak and was brave to come forward, along with other whistleblowers.

Wild: They should be proud they’re making statements and out there doing something. Of course they should be proud of that.

SEVERAL MONTHS AFTER the first reports of child abuse on Lateline, Clare Martin finally joined the fray. On August 8, 2006, she appointed a Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, co-chaired by Patricia Anderson and Rex Wild, to find better ways to protect Aboriginal children from sexual abuse. What occurred between May and August that year exposed Martin’s rapidly deteriorating relationship with her Aboriginal constituents.

Martin finally settled in Darwin in 1990 after two short periods there as an ABC journalist. She was from a Sydney Catholic family, educated at convents on Sydney’s North Shore and at the University of Sydney. In 1990 she unsuccessfully contested the seat of Casuarina in Darwin’s northern suburbs, where the largely white population had determined the outcome of Territory elections for decades. The Country-Liberal Party was always ready to use ‘race’ issues to ensure it held on to power. In 1995, Martin won the blue-ribbon Country-Liberal seat of Fannie Bay, named for the city’s wealthiest suburb, home to the Casino, Mindil Beach markets, Darwin Turf Club, the Sailing Club and East Point Recreation Reserve.

Martin became Labor leader in 1998 and led the party when it won government for the first time in Territory history on August 18, 2001, with a one-seat majority – of Aboriginal candidate Matthew Bonson. Other Aboriginal candidates also elected for the first time – Marion Scrymgour and Elliot McAdam – joined John Ah Kit in the imposing Territory parliament. But it soon became clear the Martin government would be much like the one it displaced. Labor ‘true believers’ who manned polling booths and kept the flame burning heard whispers that ‘this one is for the northern suburbs’, with no concessions on Aboriginal issues. So it proved to be.

More than six years later, on Sunday, November 25, 2007, counting in marginal electorates added more seats to the crushing tally won by the Australian Labor Party in the federal election the day before. Warren Snowden won an increased majority in his seat of Lingiari, a vast electorate covering much of the Territory. The next day, he and Martin were reported demanding that the Emergency Intervention stop, the Aboriginal work-for the dole scheme be reinstated, restrictions on alcohol sales lifted, and the permit restrictions which had isolated Aboriginal communities from the economy and Australian society, be reinstated. Their call fell on deaf ears, although Snowdon was soon appointed Minister for Defence Science and Personnel.

Later on the day these comments appeared, Martin and her deputy Sid Stirling resigned. Paul Henderson and Marion Scrymgour became the new leaders of the hybrid political formation the Northern Territory has become since it was granted self-government in 1978. Scrymgour became the most senior Aboriginal parliamentarian in Australia – Deputy Chief Minister of a territory in which more than a quarter of the population is Aboriginal.

This was followed quickly by a spill of the chairman’s position at the powerful Northern Land Council. Wali Wunungmurra, a cousin of the East Arnhem leader and former Australian of the Year Galarrwuy Yunupingu, became its chairman. The next day, Norman Fry resigned after eleven years as CEO of the Council. These rapid responses were local earthquakes and signalled the end of a vain, symbolic response to a crisis that demanded practical action.

It is a public secret up north that Martin opposed Yunupingu and all he represents. Her avoidance of the unavoidable responsibility as chief minister to understand Aboriginal society and its customary laws, including those relating to polygyny (marriage arrangements in which an older man has a number of wives) contributed to the loss of confidence in her leadership.

In Arnhem Land, her opposition to Aboriginal customary law is seen as a false conflation of child abuse with customary laws relating to marriage, although the relationship between traditional patterns of conflict may not be irrelevant. The conservative side of politics was no more comfortable with customary law, but after the scale of the crisis became undeniable, it responded with action and money. The conservatives at least understood the relationship between passivity, alcohol, substance abuse, and declining social norms. Their exasperated solution to send in the army, stop alcohol abuse, quarantine welfare to ensure the money was spent on food and close down the work-for-the-dole scheme, the Community Development Employment Program, did not convince Marion Scrygmour, but she agreed something had to be done.

At the time of writing in early December 2007, it remains to be seen whether newly elected Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will honour his apparently heartfelt commitment to the intervention. In the week before the general election, he retreated from his earlier commitment to hold a referendum on Aboriginal rights. The danger now is that old-left thinking will again prevail. I believe that those opposed to the intervention are morally and politically wrong. I fear they represent the small, comfortable white clique in the Territory whose cars bear stickers declaring ‘I fish and I drink and I vote’ and the ‘big men’ in Aboriginal communities who harvest votes for their Labor mates.

I’ve seen the bodies of battered children as well. I’ve looked in the eyes of some of these children and seen the plea for help. We can’t fail children any more.

– Charlie King, Family and Community Services advisory consultant, Lateline, June 18, 2007

BECAUSE OF THE CONFUSED media noise from the Aboriginal commentariat, I am often asked whether the reported crisis is ‘real’. It is, and it has been a crisis for decades in some areas, as many reports have shown and the current inquiry investigating the spate of child suicides at Fitzroy Crossing reminds us.

What I have learnt from trying to answer this question comes not from the question itself, but from those who ask: Turkish taxi drivers, Aussie lawyers, overseas visitors, and other decent family people with a genuine concern for children in an age of global sexual abuse of the most vulnerable. They may have no direct experience of Indigenous affairs and its nasty politics, but they read the newspapers. Those convinced that nefarious intentions drove the intervention often know something about Indigenous affairs – but not much, just enough to adopt a fashionable cynicism and purported horror about the abuse of human rights. The taxi drivers, lawyers and tourists ask first about the fate of the Aboriginal children living in remote communities and then why this situation was allowed to develop.

Until Alison Anderson, another Labor member of the Territory government, elected in 2005, spoke out in late October 2007 in an interview with The Australian, those living in the seventy-three communities affected by the legislation had been silenced by the Aboriginal commentators and their supporters who do not live in poverty and the accompanying crisis of violence, drug and alcohol abuse. Those with long experience in these communities write to me with pleas like this from a woman in Central Australia:

One interesting fact is that in the whole of the remote area out from Alice Springs there is only one Family and Community Services worker. There are positions but they are not filled. Also since there has been no doctor or policeman at Mutitjulu since last year, and Wingellina has had no nurse for ages etc. We would like to contribute to a discussion on the current developments. From my experience I would suggest that anyone who holds a job on a remote community should submit to a criminal record check and also have a check to see what they got up to on their last Aboriginal community. There is a history of people going from community to community criss-crossing the borders and mucking up (fraud, obstructionist behaviour, and general incompetence). They can do this because the turnover out bush and in town means there is no community ‘memory’. Youth suicide is on the increase, childhood and youth obesity is pretty bad. The diet is terrible.

The Australian public cannot understand the scathing criticism of the intervention by the red, black and yellow warriors. This is understandable. The first instinct of an ordinary person is concern about children whose awful situation is now constantly reported. Many members of the Australian public are horrified about their situation. They cannot understand why there is so little concern about the almost unbelievable levels of neglect and abuse of children. The better informed doctors and lawyers who have worked in these communities say, ‘The intervention is not perfect but it is more important to engage in order to improve outcomes than to waste the first nationally agreed, bipartisan opportunity to ensure adequate levels of medical care and policy attention to other critical areas.’ Another correspondent wrote to me:

During the Howard era there was at least an understandable argument made by some along the lines that to highlight the outrages occurring in Territory Aboriginal communities and elsewhere would only encourage political opportunism by the Howard Government … but what justification can there possibly be to override the imperative of acting immediately, whilst ever the vulnerable remain exposed to present danger? … what reason could any sensible person now have [after the Howard government lost the election] to attack the core elements of the intervention intended to safeguard the weak and the vulnerable? There is clearly an attempt being made to engage with Territory Indigenous communities [to] increase community involvement in and control of the measures … Yet from all accounts the (mainly white) naysayers appear more emboldened than ever to continue the fight against the intervention in its entirety. Who are these people, and what do they think they are fighting for?

Another correspondent wrote to me about her conversion from the viewpoint that ‘you can never criticise or attack Aborigines or their culture because it would incite racism against Indigenous people … I now see how this view simply perpetuates the idea that Indigenous people are helpless victims, with no personal responsibility for their actions. I also feel absolutely disgusted with those who hold the view that ideology must come before the plight of children’.

The level of ignorance of the extent of the crisis contributes to the public cynicism questioned by my correspondent. One of the sustained fantasies about traditional Aboriginal society is that, until colonisation, life for Aboriginal people was peaceful and idyllic. The idea that violence – sanctioned and illicit – was the norm has been cast by the defenders of the myth as a racist misrepresentation of a noble society.

I believe those who have attacked those of us who want to deal with the direct and indirect factors contributing to the abuse of children, suffer from a form of ‘Stockholm syndrome’. Psychologists use this term to refer to an emotional bond that develops between hostages and captors. It is a familiar problem for victims of abuse: wives who still love their husbands despite domestic violence; victims of incest still attached to their molesters; prison inmates who turn on each other rather than their guards.

The critics of the intervention have become dependent – from a distance – on perpetuating the lot of those who are suffering the most. A related emotional response is the ‘small kindness perception’ – the search for hope by people trapped in extremely abusive situations. The reconciliation rhetoric offers hope of ‘kindness’ to Aboriginal people trapped in nightmarish conditions from which escape seems unlikely.

There is something else to understand about their rage. Many of the strongest critics of the intervention have a sense of identity and dignity based on being in an oppressed ‘racial’ collective. As Aboriginal people, they feel they share the suffering of other Aboriginal people. I cannot quibble with this basic ontological characteristic of being a member of an oppressed group. The problem arises when there is a presumption of shared experience and willingness to overlook the moral, ethical or even rational view of particular behaviours. Solidarity for its own sake takes pre-eminence, and does not permit a clear-cut rejection of wrong doing.

This line of analysis informs the outrage at the Australian Defence Force (ADF) being used in the intervention. It must have been easy for John Howard’s spin-doctors to predict that the pro-symbolic Aboriginal activists and their supporters would interpret the use of the army as another ‘invasion’. Few understand the long history of Indigenous involvement with the ADF. It remains one of their largest employers, and has a long history of working closely with remote communities, in areas of operation larger than many countries.

It was not coincidental that Sue Gordon, the leader of the intervention in many respects, served in the army for many years. Knowledge of ADF experience in Aboriginal communities makes a more benign interpretation possible: rather than being a typical Howard ‘wedge’, it could be that the army was recruited because of its administrative, organisational and logistical competence and experience.

I am not arguing that the use of the army is a tactic I support or would adopt. It is not sustainable in the long term. But this short-term tactic may be the ‘wake-up call’ that leads to sustainable strategies, few of which have been seen in remote Australia and even fewer ever adequately funded. My observations are merely analytical, to help understand the political responses to the intervention and the hysterical opposition to it.

They want to the absolutely wake up to themselves and have a good long think where they’re going and what they’re doing with Aboriginal people. Nothing is going to be left once all the elders go. What Aboriginal culture is going to be left alive?

– Dawn Bradbrook, resident of Mutitjulu, wife of a senior traditional owner, Lateline, June 21, 2006

WITH THE EXCEPTION of experienced native title and land rights practitioners, and a small number of anthropologists, Aboriginal customary law is not well understood. There is little real understanding of how the violent abuse by Aboriginal men of women and children has reached such stomach-churning ferocity and regularity. The use of customary law as a defence by legal counsel representing Aboriginal rapists and murders is the truly offensive insult to Aboriginal culture and people.

Aboriginal society is sliding into a terminal state of under-development. While the crisis intensifies, the rhetoric is generally symbolic. There has been heated discussion about ‘practical’ versus ‘symbolic’ reconciliation – some argue for one but not the other, some claim we can have both. Others, including my friend and colleague Noel Pearson, director of the Cape York Institute for Leadership and Policy, understand that this is a false dichotomy, and that there is a ‘radical centre’ in which both practical and symbolic aspects of the problem of Aboriginal under-development and its history are implicated.

There are those who cling to ideas of reconciliation and still hope that recognition of Aboriginal culture will save them, their own kin are dying too young as a result of illness, alcohol and drug-fuelled violence and suicide. On the other side, neo-conservatives steal Pearson’s ideas and impose punitive measures on entire populations trapped in alcohol and substance dependency, deprive them of economic capability and subject them to a miserable, violence-ridden existence on the margins.

While Patrick Dodson and others cling to ideas of reconciliation and plead for recognition of the culture they hold dear the rhetoric remains much as it was twenty years ago, with a focus on ‘unfinished business’, ‘cultural identity’ and ‘honest talk’ and this soft, essentially meaningless tirade of euphemisms and metaphors is pitted against the hard politics of community life.

I was present at the first meeting at the Gumatj settlement at Dhaniya in Arnhem Land when the former Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough and his adviser, Russell Patterson came to discuss Galarrwuy Yunupingu’s objections to the legislation and the intervention. On the verandah of his house on the shores of the bright blue sea of Port Bradshaw, Yunupingu and Brough talked as Pearson and I listened. Yunupingu spoke about his never-ending responsibilities to care for family members who failed to make the shift from dependency to self– sufficiency. He did not discuss money in his dealings with the men from Canberra. At the next meeting, secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Dr Peter Shergold visited Gunyangara as well. No strings were attached and there was no coercion, as the red, black and yellow warriors alleged, assuming that this man could be manipulated. Yunupingu himself had worked out the clever solution to the land problem which he set out in a Memorandum of Understanding. But as he has said in later interviews, he wanted services for his community on an equal basis to the rest of Australia and was thinking about his obligation to people who knock on his door night after night asking for food for their hungry children.

At the time of Dodson’s criticism of this agreement in a speech at the Brunswick Town Hall on October 12, he did not know that Yunupingu had also proposed a referendum to recognise Indigenous rights in the Constitution. Pearson, who had convinced Howard of the need for a referendum on Aboriginal rights, sought to warn Dodson, before his speech that there was much more at stake than had been reported.

A fortnight after Dodson’s address, Yunupingu confronted opponents of the intervention in a lecture at the University of Melbourne Law School on October 26. He appealed for realpolitik. He does not regard reconciliation as a process, but considers it will come about as a result of argument, negotiation and agreement, when both parties meet as equals, neither asking special favours of the other: ‘Reconciliation does not come about because we agree to sit down and talk. Reconciliation only comes about when we have talked and reached an understanding. It is at the end of that process, when we shake hands and go off into our day-to-day lives. That is when we are reconciled; reconciliation does not come just from turning up to a meeting place.’

Yunupingu explained his decision to sign the memorandum to resolve his opposition to the five year lease imposed over the Gunyangara township by the legislation. His solution was a simple, elegant one that overcame the potential human rights abuse of the compulsory acquisition provisions in the new statute: the Gumatj Association, a corporation of traditional owners, would issue the lease. Three months earlier, Dodson had argued in The Age:

A more effective proposal [than the intervention] would be to transfer community settlements to the Northern Territory Government under a ninety-nine-year lease arrangement. This transfer would enable the delivery of a wide range of citizenship services to Indigenous communities while providing a development approach for housing investment. It would also seek to offer a long-term vision for a partnership with Indigenous communities where they would be given an increased role and responsibility over their lives and futures. In such a possibility, and in such a vision, sexual abuse, violence and dysfunction within Indigenous communities where they would be given an increased role and responsibility over their lives and futures …

After two weeks of intense negotiations, Yunupingu achieved all of this and kept control of his land. At the same time, he was successful in setting the Howard government on an unexpected course towards constitutional reform and economic empowerment, which is unlikely to be repeated.

IT MIGHT APPEAR that the divide between Aboriginal people in the northern and remote areas and those in the big southern cities has never been starker. This is true to an extent. Ad hominem attacks were rare when we tackled amendments to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act in 1987, the Native Title Act in 1993, and again in 1997. When they did erupt, they came from Aboriginal people with well-known personal agendas. We dismissed them as self-serving, their rhetoric aimed to please an ineffectual crowd of followers.

This time, the harsh, personal attacks have some intellectual content, and however shallow, cannot be ignored. The disinformation, lies, slander and defamation revolve around several assumptions: that John Howard ‘wedged’ us and we were naïve victims of electoral politics; that financial or other inducements were offered to benefit us personally; that we were coerced into adopting the positions that we have publicly expressed. None of these is true. They are easy to disprove. But the court of public opinion is a kangaroo court, not one amenable to facts.

The day after Yunupingu’s Melbourne address, Joel Gibson reported breathlessly in the Sydney Morning Herald that the prime minister had driven a wedge between prominent Aboriginal activists over the intervention. There are, as some journalists are delighted to report, two camps on these matters, one concerned with symbolic outcomes and the other with the practical. In reality, the two camps are divided by historical issues: those who have lived through the many tragedies and their aftermath in remote Australia committed to preventing the destruction of their societies in a haze of alcohol and drug abuse; and those with cosmopolitan urban experience who have allowed libertarian leanings, and deep political disappointment, to confuse their logic. Whether the motives of the latter group were a general suspicion of John Howard, hatred of his government’s record or motivated by a genuine concern for the fate of the children is difficult to determine from the public record.

There are critics with a genuine concern about the extent and implementation of the intervention and the achievement of its stated outcomes, including prominent residents of remote communities, but their response has been to support the intervention and advocate measures to ensure its sustainability. To understand the false dichotomy in which ‘reconciliation’ politics were pitted against the steps needed for Aboriginal economic development, it is helpful to examine a few ideas that may turn the tide of misery.

A sustained critique, analysis and body of evidence have been launched at this alcohol and drug-fuelled disaster over the past decade by Noel Pearson. The virility of the opposition to the solutions developed by the Cape York Institute is testament to the self-deluding ideology to which Pearson’s opponents cling. They ignore the unassailable facts in hundreds of impoverished Aboriginal communities across remote Australia: radically shortened lives; the highest national rates of unemployment; widespread violence, endemic alcohol and substance abuse; the lowest national levels of education; and lifelong morbidity for hapless citizens suffering from heart disease, nutrition and lifestyle-related diseases such as diabetes.

In Griffith REVIEW 16: Unintended Consequences Pearson set out the main contributors to the ‘descent into hell’ of Aboriginal society four decades after the 1967 referendum recognised our citizenship: removal of Aboriginal stock workers to the fringes of towns; increasing dependence of welfare and an unfettered right to alcohol. He showed how policy changes to remove economic discrimination, improve access to social welfare and ensure that Indigenous Australians had equal rights had damaging consequences.

I came to the same conclusions almost two decades ago. My own research and investigation alerted me to three additional contributing factors driving some communities into the inner circles of hell: illicit drugs, other addictive substances and pornography – all imported into Aboriginal communities since the 1970s. Along with the ‘rivers of grog’ and the debilitating alienation that results from permanent unemployment, they have helped cripple many in the Aboriginal population, and ‘very high rates’ of cannabis use contribute to the epidemic of suicide.

Illicit drugs had a similar impact on black American communities following the civil rights movement. There, the pandemic of illegal drugs brought drug wars, communities bristling with arms, high death tolls and the disintegration of community life, although zero tolerance policies stalled these trends in some places.

The impact of illicit drugs and substances on Aboriginal communities over the last thirty years cannot be under-estimated. Along with the flood of pornography, their contribution to the present disaster demands more than the present intervention can deliver. Gambling also demands urgent attention. In most remote communities, men and women huddle in circles, throwing their money into the ‘pot’, to be lost or won on a single card. Almost all of a community’s income can disappear overnight.

It is these practices – violent anti-social behaviour, excessive and harmful use of drugs, alcohol and other substances, use of pornography (especially in the presence of minors), gambling, and the resultant neglect of family life and children – that Pearson is targeting with his campaign for personal responsibility. Former Health Minister Tony Abbott was right when he said, ‘There is much evidence that the extremes of Indigenous ill-health result from social conditions that no amount of improvement in health services can ever really deal with … Nanette Rogers’ account of the routine sexual abuse of children and horrific violence against women was, as she said, « beyond most people’s comprehension ». Aboriginal people’s incapacity to address these issues was, she speculated, the result of constantly being overtaken by new tragedy: « It might be the suicide, it might be the fatal car accident, it might be the death of the twenty-year-old from heart disease, because of diet, failure to thrive, lots of grog, petrol or whatever. All of those tragedies … overtake a community, » she said. « So yes, it was a dreadful thing that the six-year-old was anally penetrated and killed but then something new takes its place within a very short time. »‘

To expect that people who reel from one traumatic event to another can enjoy the much-lauded Aboriginal ‘rights to self-determination’ while their own community and the larger society repeatedly fail them is an indulgent fantasy. It is also an indulgent fantasy to require ‘consultation’ before intervening to prevent crimes being committed.

It is not just the historical and continuing exclusion from the economy, or lack of intergenerational capital, or vicious governments, but the practices of Aboriginal people themselves that transform mere poverty into a living hell. Australia is enjoying an economic boom driven by the rocketing demand for raw materials, but Aboriginal people – who live in areas from which many of these minerals are extracted – are spiralling into permanent poverty and marginalisation.

WHILE WRITING THIS ESSAY, I appealed to the newly-elected Rudd government to continue the Emergency Intervention and maintain the strategies most likely to stop the horrors that plague Aboriginal communities. In response I was pilloried by Aboriginal people who responded with letters to the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald with sentimental, blame-shifting nonsense. These were later posted on the webpage of Women for Wik, a group of high profile women supporting ‘Aboriginal rights’ who seem, despite extraordinary levels of education and achievement in public life, to be misinformed and misled about the nature of the crisis.

Then on December 10, 2007 another heart-breaking tragedy was reported by Tony Koch: the rape of a ten-year-old Wik girl in Aurukun by three adult and six juvenile Wik males which was treated by the Queensland criminal justice system as barely a cause for concern. District Court judge Sarah Bradley expressed utter contempt for the girl and basic norms of humanity when she imposed twelve-month probation orders, and failed to record a conviction against any of the nine who had pleaded guilty. After all that has been said about the far too many cases like this that end up before the courts, and many, many more that are never reported, it was almost more than I could bear to read Bradley’s sickening statements that this child ‘probably agreed’ to have sex with them.

As is so typical in such cases, several of the nine are from the ruling families of Aurukun where anti-social behaviour, which varies from day to day only in its intensity and detrimental outcomes, is called ‘riots’. If the dysfunctional behaviour was merely riots, rather than murder, rape, incest, assault, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, then there would be no justification for the recommendations over the years to end welfare payments without conditions and government funding without positive outcomes. It would be a fair bet that each of the adults who pleaded guilty to raping this child was receiving a government payment, leading to the conclusion that dysfunctional Aboriginal behaviour is financially supported by government funding.

It is justifiable to conclude that an apartheid regime has been created wherever Aboriginal communities are quarantined by remoteness, welfare dependence, a racist criminal justice system and government officials who entrench this expensive social pathology with dysfunctional policies. The most disgusting of these is judicial leniency in sentencing Aboriginal murderers and rapists. This rewards serial rapists and murderers. Instead of jail sentences that would apply to anyone else, they are freed often after a laughable lecture, or sent to a prison where living conditions are often better than in the communities they come from. They are released into the same communities where their crimes were committed and recidivism takes on a special meaning: the younger sisters or cousins of their original victims are the next in line to be raped.

I have two questions for the Women for Wik (and the cowardly men who hide behind their skirts): what suggestions do you have that could prevent incidents like this that took place in the heart of Wik country? And, will you now cease using the name of the once proud Wik people, who now endure a vicious, violent and miserable existence thanks to the failed sentimental policies you advocate?

IT SEEMS ALMOST axiomatic to most Australians that Aborigines should be marginalised: poor, sick, and forever on the verge of extinction. At the heart of this idea is a belief in the inevitability of our incapability – the acceptance of our ‘descent into hell’. This is part of the cultural and political wrong-headedness that dominates thinking about the role of Aboriginal property rights and economic behaviour in the transition from settler colonialism to modernity.

In this mindset, the potential of an economically empowered, free-thinking, free-speaking Aborigine has been set to one side because it is more interesting to play with the warm, cuddly cultural Aborigine – the one who is so demoralised that the only available role is as a passive player. The dominance of the ‘reconciliation and justice’ rhetoric in the Australian discourse on Aboriginal issues is a part of this.

The first Australians are simply seeking relief from poverty and economic exclusion. Yet, in the last three decades, rational thinking and sound theory (such as development economics) to address the needs of Indigenous societies have been side-tracked into the intellectual dead-end of the ‘culture wars’. This has had very little to do with Aboriginal people, but everything to do with white settlers positioning themselves around the central problem of their country: can a settler nation be honourable? Can history be recruited to the cause of Australian nationalism without reaching agreement with its first peoples?

Paradoxically, even while Aboriginal misery dominates the national media frenzy – the perpetual Aboriginal reality show – the first peoples exist as virtual beings without power or efficacy in the national zeitgeist. Political characters played by ‘Aboriginal leaders’ pull the levers that draw settler Australians to them in a co-dependent relationship. The rhetoric of reconciliation is a powerful drawcard – like the bearded woman at the old sideshow. It is a seductive, pornographic idea, designed for punters accustomed to viewing Aborigines as freaks. It almost allows ‘the native’ some agency and a future. I say ‘almost’ because, in the end, ‘the native’ is not allowed out of the show, forever condemned to perform to attract crowds. The debate that has surrounded the Emergency Intervention has been instructive. It has exposed this co-dependency. It has also revealed a more disturbing, less well-understood fault-line in the Aboriginal world. The co-dependents in the relationship seek to speak for the abused, the suffering, the ill, the dying and those desperately in need who have been left alone to descend into a living hell while those far removed conduct a discourse on rights and culture.

The bodies that have piled up over the last thirty years have become irrelevant, except where they serve the purposes of the ‘culture war’. But in the meantime, the bodies of real people continue to pile up, human lives broken on the wheel of suffering. How much longer will this abuse of Aboriginal people be tolerated? ♦

Voir de plus:

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.

Digital Pass $1 for first 28 Days

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 will be published later this year.

Voir enfin:

Genocide in Australia?

Lucas Marie

Thinking out loud

In the 2001 edition of the academic journal Aboriginal History, editors Ann Curthoys and John Docker wrote:

“Settler-colonies in ‘Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina, the United States, and Canada’ led the way in setting out to achieve what the Nazis also set out to achieve…

the displacement of indigenous populations and their replacement by incoming peoples held to be racially superior.”

The question which I will try to discuss is:

“Should we classify the events of what happened to the indigenous Australian population, from the colonization of Australia, as Genocide?”

The definition of genocide over the past 67 years has adapted and changed and therefore the definition is often contested amongst academics. When a country or state is accused of genocide it’s no light accusation and various opinions are voiced to dispute the interpretation and details of the events. Perhaps this may be because of the many contrasting definitions, or maybe as genocide is such a strong and negative label no country would lightly accept it.

To be categorized with other groups such as: Hitlers Germany, Pol Pots Cambodia and the Hutu’s Rwanda is seen as a terrible blight on ones country, and not many proud Australians would like to see us in this group.

So then, what can we say is or is not genocide?

The United Nations convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide (and I quote from Article 2) as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. Such as;

Killing members of the group

Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group

Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part

Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group

Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group

(Nations, 1948)

Now anyone with some historical knowledge of the colonization of Australia might have had some alarm bells going off when hearing some of these points. I did. However Yehuda Bauer, a leading authority on the Holocaust, argues that the definition in the Genocide Convention contains a fundamental flaw. This flaw she says

“Is the failure to distinguish between policies which aim at cultural suppression and those which seek to achieve their ends through physical destruction”

This to me means that the intention if whether or not a group means to wipe out another groups matters. If the intention is to force another group to assimilate to their culture, (i.e Colonizaion) That this should be thought separately and not just under the one label being Genocide. (Markus 2001, p2)

Professor Andrew Markus of Monash University agrees with Bauer, that the current definition of genocide is too broad and policies of assimilation are being labeled as genocide which he thinks is incorrect. He defines genocide as;

“The attempt to bring about the disappearance of an ethnic or racial group by deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its partial physical destruction and including selective mass killing.”

Under this definition Should Australia be labeled as genocide? Historian Keith Windschuttle in his book The Fabrication of Aboriginal History writes that Australia should not be guilty of Genocide, but perhaps the lesser crime of Ethnocide which Markus defines as;

“The attempt to bring about the disappearance of an ethnic or racial group by suppression of its culture, language, and religion, but stopping short of physical destruction.”

I’m not too sure that Australia’s colonial history fits entirely into Markus’s definition of Ethnocide. We often think of the Aborigines as one ethnic group, but in fact they are made up of various ethnic groups, who have had vastly different experiences. For sure some of the crimes against some Indigenous groups could be argued to be Ethnocide and not Genocide, but perhaps not all of them.

In his 2001 article “Genocide in Australia”, he compares the experience Indigenous Australians endured from the British, and the experience the Jewish peoples had with the Nazis during the second world War. He concludes that the Jewish people endured not only genocide but the more extreme crime of “Holocaust” which he writes is

“The attempt to bring about the disappearance of an ethnic or racial group by deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its total physical destruction and including killing all members of the group.” (Markus 2001, p5)

I’m sure many people would agree that what happened to the Jew’s in World War Two was different to what happened to Aboriginal Australians from the British. If this is true then is it right that the term Genocide be given to both accounts?

the governments official position on this issue is that what happened to the Indigenous populations during Australia’s colonization was not and should not be called genocide, but was in fact a by-product of colonialism from a time where the western world was ignorant to the cultural ideologies of indigenous peoples.

In December 1992 Paul Keating was the first Prime Minister to publically admit the terrible crimes of Australia’s past. He said:

“It begins, I think, with that act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practiced discrimination and exclusion” (Polya, 2008)

This message was not humbly accepted by all Australians. Keith Windschuttle refers to the colonization as a hard step towards “progress. He was actually opposed to the Apology Kevin Rudd gave back in 2008. He says

“The apology confirmed Aboriginal people’s core identity as victims of injustice, rather than potential beneficiaries like everyone else of the prosperous, liberal, democratic, egalitarian society. Which was established here since 1788.” (Windschuttle, 2010)

Funny he should call it an egalitarian society established in 1788. I’m not sure that it was for Indigenous Australians, or the majority of women for that matter. Windschuttle thinks that the apology confirms aborigines as victims and perhaps they are! I would argue that the apology is an important step forward in allowing the victims of injustices to move forward.

Professor Colin Tatz is an Australian scholar who is well known for his writings on Genocide studies. His thinks the Australian governments avoidance of the word Genocide is ridiculous. He says,

“They talk about pacifying, killing, cleansing, excluding, exterminating, starving, poisoning, shooting, beheading, sterilizing, exiling, removing – but, avoid the term genocide. Are they ignorant of genocide theory and practice? Or simply reluctant to taint “the land of the fair go” with so heinous and disgracing a label?” (Tatz, 1999)

If our history fits UN’s definition of genocide, then why don’t we call it as it is?

The he biggest killer of Indigenous Australians was the introduction of many diseases from the arriving convicts and settlers. Diseases such as smallpox, typhoid, tuberculosis, whooping cough, influenza, pneumonia, measles and venereal disease seriously depleted Aboriginal numbers on the continent. The numbers of deaths purely from disease is unknown. However the combination of disease, loss of land and direct violence are estimated to have reduced the Aboriginal population by around 90% between the years 1788 and 1900.

What is contested on this issue, is whether or not these Disease’s were deliberately exposed to the Aboriginals‘ as an act of extermination. Colin Tatz wrote:

“it is likely that infection of the Aborigines was a deliberate exterminating act as no one has yet refuted this hypothesis.” (Tatz, 1999)

Keith Windschuttle disputes this argument. He wonders if the soldiers and settlers even understand enough about “Germ Theory” to know how to spread diseases? And Wouldn’t it have spread purely by making contact with them? A point that has been widely documented is that during the early decades of colonial history, Australian governments had said that they looked forward to a date when Australia would one day be racially pure, home only to the White race. (We all know the time in German history where this sort of racist dogma was also used)

When disease struck the Aborigines, it was thought that they would all eventually die-out. Governments did not actively facilitate this by performing mass killings, but little money and effort was used for aboriginal peoples needs. So, can disease be considered a form of genocide?? Well it depends.. some scholars like Markus say the “killings must be deliberate to be considered as genocide”. So it depends on whether or not the disease was introduced deliberately. Others like Matthew Storey argue that “genocide does not require malice”. I think this is a good point because although the Nazi’s performed terrible crimes, they didn’t think that they were evil people or that what they were doing was evil. They thought they were doing good and believed they had a sacred duty to the world to get rid of the Jews.

For those of you who don’t know what the Stolen generation means here a quick summary. During the early 1900’s there was lots of racial discrimination against aboriginals. Not that I’m saying there isn’t any today as there still is. Though it was much worse during this time, and not only did they not care much about them, but people thought that aboriginals were eventually going to die out from disease. In 1909 an Act called “the Aborigines Protection Act” gave the government the right to take Aboriginal children from their families. In 1915, an amendment to the Act gave the government more power and allowed them to remove any child without parental consent and without a court order.

(The Stolen Generations, 2010)

It’s not known precisely how many Aboriginal children were taken away between 1909 and 1969. And because of poor record keeping many Indigenous people could never find their original family members. Their origins, and their history has in a sense been stolen from them. Hence the term “Stolen Generation”. Almost every Aboriginal family has been affected in some way by the policies of child removal. It’s said that taking children from their families was one of the most devastating practices of Australia’s colonization and it’s had profound repercussions for many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. (The Stolen Generations, 2010) In 1909, C. F. Gale, the Chief Protector in Western Australia, wrote;

“He would not hesitate for one moment to separate any half-caste from its Aboriginal mother, no matter how frantic her momentary grief might be at the time. They soon forget their offspring”

And in 1905 W.E Roth , the Chief Protector of Aboriginals in Queensland said;

“In his view if left to themselves, the half-caste girls became prostitutes and the boys cattle thieves“

(Jones, 2002)

This is the sort of racist rhetoric said by government officials during this time and as I’ve said before their ignorance has negatively affected future generations. They came up with many reasons for why they did this, and much of it is contested, most of the reasons involved the protection of children who they said were being abused by their Aboriginal families.

So, The Stolen Generation as genocide?? Well under the United Nation’s definition it seems everything we know about the Stolen Generation fits there definition of genocide. Then why isn’t it called genocide?

Keith Windschuttle says the “so called story” of the Stolen generations of Aboriginal children, is a myth which was invented by left-wing academics. His conclusion is that the charge of genocide is unwarranted and so is the term stolen generations. He writes:

“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” (Corr, 2002)

He argues that Aboriginal Mothers voluntarily gave their children to the government so that they could have an education which would give them a better chance at life. He does agree that the laws back then were different for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, however he says that the policies to remove children from their parents were the same for black and white families. That if a child experienced violence, sexual abuse, was abandoned, etc then they were removed and this wasn’t based on the families race.

His other reason for the accusation of Genocide being unwarranted is that the United Nations Convention on Genocide, Article 2, defines acts of genocide as those “committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such”. And half-castes (people of mixed race) did not constitute any such group. He says in some places half-castes were treated as Aboriginals and in others they weren’t and that because of this, the accusation of genocide is not consistent and therefore not valid. (Corr, 2002)

I’m not too sure about Windschuttle conclusion, although it’s well known that they did target children of mixed descent, it was believed that these Aboriginal children could be assimilated more easily into white society because of their mixed race. I think that if this can’t be classified as genocide, then it at least warrants the crime of Ethnocide which I defined earlier.

Was genocide committed in Australia? The answer rests largely on the definition used. Even though this isn’t included in the UN’s definition, maybe one of the reasons why what happened to the Indigenous peoples has not been widely acknowledged is because it did not occur in one place at one time. But rather over many years in many different locations across Australia. This is quite unlike many other famous examples of genocide.

I have argued that the labels of ‘ethnocide’ and ‘genocide’ could be given to certain events in the history, however do you think that path is worth going down? Some scholars would say absolutely not, Others say yes and are desperately trying to have it recognized as Genocide. What do you think?

References

“The Stolen Generations.” (2010), http://www.racismnoway.com.au/teaching-resources/factsheets/52.html.

Anonymous. “Australia’s Stolen Generations.” (2006), http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/politics/stolen-generations.html.

Corr, Robert. “Australia’s Genocidal Past.” Keith Windschuttle, denialism and the truth of the whole (2002), http://www.redrag.net/uploads/genocide.pdf.

Hinton, Alexander Laban. Annihilating Difference: The Anthropology of Genocide. London: University of California Press, 2002.

Image. Colin Tatz: playthegame.org, 2005.

Jones, Adrian. “Debates on ‘Genocide’ in Australian History.” (2002), http://hyperhistory.org/images/assets/pdf/genpdf.pdf.

Markus, Andrew. “Genocide in Australia.” Aboriginal History 25 (2001): 57-69.

Nations, United. “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.” (1948), http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html.

Polya, Dr Gideon. “Australian Aboriginal Genocide Continues Despite Historic Apology.” (2008), http://www.countercurrents.org/polya190208.htm.

Tatz, Colin. “Genocide in Australia.” Genocide Research 1, no. 3 (1999): 315-52.

Wikipedia. “Definitions of Genocide.” Wikipedia.org, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Definitions_of_genocide.

Windschuttle, Keith. “Why There Were No Stolen Generations.” (2010), http://www.quadrant.org.au/magazine/issue/2010/1-2/why-there-were-no-stolen-generations

Voir par ailleurs:

Walkabout

un film de Nicolas Roeg

Critique de film

L’histoire

Deux enfants occidentaux assistent au suicide de leur père et sont ainsi abandonnés dans le bush australien. Survivant tant bien que mal dans le désert hostile, ils rencontrent un jeune aborigène en plein « walkabout », cette errance initiatique rituelle.

Analyse et critique

Pour sa première réalisation en solitaire (1), Nicolas Roeg, déjà notoirement réputé dans le milieu du cinéma britannique comme monteur, caméraman ou surtout directeur de la photographie, se rendit en Australie pour y adapter (avec le dramaturge Edward Bond, auteur d’un traitement d’une quinzaine de pages) le roman The Children, écrit sous le pseudonyme de James Vance Marshall par Donald G. Payne. Si la grande ligne directrice de l’intrigue de ce roman de littérature jeunesse est conservée par Roeg et Bond (deux enfants perdus dans le bush rencontrent un adolescent aborigène en plein « walkabout »), l’esprit en est lui substantiellement modifié. En effet, comme son titre original l’indique, le roman de Marshall s’attarde avant tout sur le parcours initiatique des deux enfants, livrés à eux-même suite à un accident d’avion, et qui apprennent grâce à leur impromptu guide à découvrir les dangers et les trésors de la nature pour y survivre. L’essentiel du film est manifestement ailleurs, et comme souvent, les intentions se révèlent dans les différences voulues par les adaptateurs : alors que la société « occidentale » est totalement absente du roman, elle encercle le film de Nicolas Roeg par un prologue et un épilogue signifiants. ; de plus, les enfants ne se retrouvent pas seuls dans le désert par « accident », mais s’y trouvent abandonnés par le suicide de leur père ; enfin, alors que les relations avec l’enfant aborigène sont dans le roman essentiellement axées sur l’initiation et la découverte de la nature, le film y ajoute de manière appuyée une dimension « découverte de soi », érotisation des corps et perte de l’innocence comprises. Pour résumer, et avant donc d’entrer dans le détail, il est donc évident que loin du « gentil » périple initiatique imaginé par Marshall, le film de Roeg dresse un dur portrait de la société des hommes, qui détruit et corrompt ses enfants comme ceux qui lui sont étrangers.

Victime durant le 19ème siècle d’une colonisation britannique bien moins pacifique que ce que l’histoire avait dans un premier temps affirmé, le peuple aborigène avait pendant plus d’un siècle subi la main-mise des colons sur ses terres et sur ses enfants. En 1869, une loi fut en effet érigée pour autoriser la saisie d’enfants métisses à des fins d’assimilation complète, la pratique de la langue aborigène leur étant notamment interdite. L’espèce aborigène était considérée par les colons blancs comme étant à éradiquer, et jusqu’en 1928 (et le massacre de Coniston), les expéditions de « représailles » contre ses représentants n’étaient pas rares. Ce n’est qu’au milieu des années 60 que des mouvements sociaux se dressèrent pour défendre les droits des aborigènes, et face à une mobilisation populaire massive, ils furent enfin recensés comme citoyens australiens suite à un référendum de 1967. Simultanément, grâce notamment aux travaux de l’anthropologue William Stanner venant rompre ce « Grand Silence » visant à délibérément les omettre de la mémoire collective australienne, la politique d’ « enlèvement » des enfants aborigènes à leurs familles prend fin en 1970. Lorsque Nicolas Roeg entame son projet, la question de la place des aborigènes dans la société australienne est donc particulièrement d’actualité. Par ailleurs, son film occupe une place importante dans l’histoire du cinéma australien par la manière dont il traite le personnage même de l’aborigène : jusqu’alors, la place qui lui était réservée était limitée à celle du pisteur primitif ou à l’indigène menaçant… et était d’ailleurs la plupart du temps interprété par des comédiens blancs au visage peint. Le fait d’accorder une place aussi essentielle à un protagoniste aborigène (incarné par un comédien lui-même natif) et de consacrer une bonne partie de l’intrigue (ainsi que le titre du film) à un aspect aussi important de leur culture était donc assez révolutionnaire. A ce sujet, laissons l’écrivain-ethnologue Bruce Chatwin nous résumer le principe du Walkabout tel qu’il le décrit dans son indispensable Chant des pistes : « Je ne me souviens pas du moment où j’ai entendu l’expression Walkabout pour la première fois. Mais il m’était resté l’image de ces noirs « civilisés » qui, un jour, travaillaient heureux dans une station d’élevage et qui, le lendemain, sans un signe d’avertissement et sans bonne raison, prenaient leurs cliques et leurs claques et disparaissaient dans la nature. Ils abandonnaient leurs vêtements de travail et partaient ; pendant des semaines, des mois voire des années ; ils traversaient à pied la moitié du continent, parfois uniquement dans le but de rencontrer un homme, puis ils revenaient comme si rien ne s’était passé. »

Pour l’observateur étranger, le walkabout semble, à première vue, une errance mystique liée à une insaisissable culture étrangère. Mais Chatwin entreprend de se le faire expliquer le principe des « itinéraires chantés », ces labyrinthes de sentiers sillonnant le monde. « Les mythes aborigènes de la création parlent d’êtres totémiques légendaires qui avaient parcouru tout le continent au Temps du Rêve. Et c’est en chantant le nom de tout ce qu’ils avaient croisé en chemin — oiseaux, animaux, plantes, rochers, trous d’eau — qu’ils avaient fait venir le monde à l’existence… (…) En théorie, du moins, la totalité de l’Australie pouvait être lue comme une partition musicale. Il n’y avait pratiquement pas un rocher, pas une rivière dans le pays qui ne pouvait être ou n’avait pas été chantée. (…) En amenant le monde à l’existence par le chant, les ancêtres avaient été des poètes dans le sens grec du mot poiêsis, la « création ». Aucun abori¬gène ne pouvait concevoir que le monde créé pût être imparfait. Sa vie religieuse tendait vers un but unique : conserver la terre comme elle était et comme elle devait être. Celui qui partait pour un walkabout accomplissait un voyage rituel. Il mar¬chait dans les pas de son ancêtre. Il chantait les strophes de l’ancêtre sans changer un mot ni une note — et ainsi recréait la création. »

Ce réseau de lignes invisibles faisait également office pour les aborigènes de voies de communication. « Ce que les Blancs avaient l’habitude d’appeler le walkabout, le « voyage à travers le pays » était, en pratique, une sorte de bourse-télégraphe de brousse, qui permettait de faire circuler des messages entre des gens qui ne se voyaient jamais et qui pouvaient mutuellement ignorer leur existence. »

Cette composante culturelle et mystique du voyage des deux enfants, qui dans son illustration flottante permet à Nicolas Roeg de mettre en place un certain nombre de figures qui deviendront récurrentes de son style atypique, n’est cependant pas ce qui semble intéresser le plus le cinéaste, et le moins que l’on puisse dire est que Walkabout, s’il a le mérite de poser un regard sur le peuple aborigène, n’est à son égard ni indulgent ni optimiste. Dans sa description des aborigènes (et personnage principal exclu), le film se concentre ainsi surtout sur deux des travers les plus notoires dans lesquels sont tombés les aborigènes au contact du monde occidental, à savoir l’alcoolisme et le commerce folklorique, avec ces objets manufacturés « genuinely australian ». Walkabout n’est donc pas un film pro-aborigène, et on peut même douter qu’il soit « pro » quoi que ce soit, car là n’est pas son propos : le regard est froid, et oscille entre une forme implacable de darwinisme (l’inadaptation du mode de vie aborigène les voue à la disparition) et une lucidité guère plus complaisante avec la société contemporaine.

Sur le premier point, Roeg ose d’audacieux montages parallèles sur les gestes du chasseur aborigène (en particulier, lors du découpage d’une proie, avec un boucher blanc en action), comme pour montrer la similitude des comportements humains, mais aussi et en conséquence, la désuétude du mode opératoire de l’aborigène. D’ailleurs, vers la fin du film, le chasseur silencieux, traquant sa proie à sa façon patiente et ritualisée, sera interrompu par une jeep de chasseurs blancs venant abattre froidement du gibier à distance avec un fusil à lunettes. L’aborigène, perclus d’incompréhension et de désabusement, ira s’allonger symboliquement au milieu des ossements de ces bêtes abandonnées, avant d’aller mourir lui-même…

Concernant le choc des cultures, lorsque les enfants rencontrent l’aborigène, on croit un instant que la spontanéité et le besoin feront naître entre eux un dialogue plus fort que les mots. Mais si le petit garçon balbutie quelques termes d’aborigène avec fierté, la différence fondamentale qui existe entre eux ne s’effacera jamais, les cloisons demeureront à jamais (un fameux plan en plongée dans la maison abandonnée illustre ceci à merveille, la chorégraphie des mouvements montrant le garçon noir et la fille blanche se croiser sans arriver à jamais se trouver dans la même pièce). Lors de leur première reprise de contact avec le monde occidental, les enfants seront repoussés par un habitant méfiant, qui ne leur ouvrira pas la porte, qui n’écoutera pas leur histoire et qui finira par les chasser, quand bien même son langage est pourtant le même. L’incommunicabilité est inhérente à l’homme, quel qu’il soit, et les cloisons qui nous séparent ne font au fil de nos vies que se renforcer.

Symboliquement, le film s’ouvre donc (et d’ailleurs se clôt aussi) sur un mur, ou plutôt sur un dédale de murs. Les hommes y courent, se croisent sans se voir, se marchent presque dessus… Quand ils lèvent les yeux, leur horizon est bouché par le béton ; quand ils tendent la main, c’est pour toucher des barrières. De l’autre côté du mur, il y a la virginité aride de la nature, dont le fragile silence peut à tout instant être dévoré par l’intrusion humaine : c’est après avoir éteint sa bruyante radio que le père tirera sur sa fille – laquelle radio demeurera longtemps dans le désert le seul lien des enfants avec leur ancien monde – et le petit garçon n’aura ensuite de cesse d’occuper le vide sonore par des chansons ou des histoires. L’homme peut ainsi presque se voir comme un parasite, dévorant l’espace autour de lui, l’asservissant pour y abandonner ses sinistres vestiges (outre ce paysage sublime griffé par un immonde lotissement entraperçu au détour d’un plan, le film est hanté par les sinistres squelettes de voitures, d’usines ou de maisons abandonnées). Il y a de l’amertume sociale dans ce constat, indubitablement. Mais là où le film de Nicolas Roeg devient carrément cruel, c’est qu’il a laissé entrevoir à ses protagonistes un bout de paradis, pour ensuite l’en priver. L’allégorie de la perte de l’innocence liée au passage à l’âge adulte a pris de multiples formes dans l’histoire du cinéma, mais celle-ci possède une force d’autant plus poignante qu’il s’agit d’entrevoir la beauté, l’innocence ou la volupté dans sa forme la plus pure, pour ensuite redescendre froidement dans un monde laid, cynique et matériel. Si l’épilogue – qui alterne le regard évasif de l’enfant devenue femme (et donc à jamais perdue, en quelque sorte), ces murs désormais infranchissables et ce retour en arrière mental vers l’idéal, le tout sur un poème de A. E. Housman évoquant « le pays du bonheur perdu » – est l’irrémédiable point final du film, la séquence-clé en est évidemment le bain nu de la jeune femme dans cette vasque paradisiaque (2), cet instant évanescent où le monde s’offre dans ce qu’il a de meilleur pour mieux ensuite s’enfuir à jamais. Mentionnons également ces mystérieuses phrases, « en français dans le texte », qui encerclent le film : au mystérieux « Faites vos jeux, messieurs dames, s’il vous plaît » ouvrant la première séquence post-générique répond un « Rien ne va plus » en panneau de fin. Evidemment, le film se délecte de l’équivoque sémantique de cette dernière tournure. S’agit-il d’évoquer la société humaine comme un incertain jeu de roulette ? S’agit-il de dire que le monde ne tourne plus rond ? S’agit-il de prétendre qu’il est trop tard pour revenir en arrière ? Ou s’agit-il d’attendre que la boule s’arrête enfin, pour enfin constater le résultat de nos mises aveugles ? On se gardera bien ici d’apporter une réponse formelle à cette énigme.

Autre point majeur de divergence avec le roman de James Vance Marshal, Walkabout insiste également sur le langage des corps et sur la tension érotique qui naît entre la jeune femme et l’aborigène. C’est lors de bousculades très enfantines que Roeg s’attarde pour la première fois sur des points de l’anatomie des protagonistes dont ils semblent alors prendre conscience, par contraste avec la nudité « naturelle » des familles aborigènes montées en parallèle. Par quelques gros plans, Roeg montre la beauté des corps, la sueur sur la peau du jeune noir ou les courbes naissantes de la fille, et la venue de la nuit fait germer une lubricité non encore canalisée dans leurs esprits ; les branches elles-mêmes en viennent à évoquer la rondeur d’un fessier ou le galbe d’une hanche… Plus tard, c’est presque dans un état de transe que le garçon se livrera à une parade nuptiale mortelle pour sa belle effarouchée. Là encore, Nicolas Roeg se confrontait à un important tabou social dans l’idée même d’une sexualité « inter-raciale », d’autant plus qu’il s’agissait, au-delà de primes pulsions adolescentes, de la reconstitution symbolique d’une cellule familiale « originelle » (la mère blanche / le père noir / l’enfant blond). La scène du bain de Jenny Agutter évoquée plus tôt, suit par ailleurs une séquence quasiment indépendante du reste du film montrant une équipe de scientifiques vaguement œuvrer dans le désert, les hommes n’étant concentrés que sur les cuisses ou le décolleté de leur collègue féminine, là encore probablement pour mettre en parallèle les comportements « primitifs » qui animent aussi bien les occidentaux civilisés que les aborigènes adolescents.

Cela a déjà été rapidement évoqué plus tôt, mais en sus de ce érotisme latent, Walkabout est également parcouru par une réelle tension macabre. Dans le roman, la Mort revêtait une dimension éminemment mystique ressentie seulement par le jeune aborigène, qui en venait presque à mourir par auto-persuasion. Dans le film, baigné dans une atmosphère sonore assez lugubre (entre l’instrument traditionnel aborigène, le didgeridoo, et une partition à la limite du psychédélisme de John Barry), la Mort se voit concrétisée par ces deux suicides « inexpliqués » venant encadrer le parcours des enfants. Entre les deux, ceux-ci évoluent dans un cadre assez oppressant quoiqu’à ciel ouvert, la nature n’étant jamais montré comme un havre de paix, mais bien comme un monde menaçant, de violence et de morbidité, où le soleil est un brasier dévorant, où des reptiles rampants s’entre-dévorent et où la minéralité crée d’insurmontables enceintes. La respiration du film est d’ailleurs donnée par des transitions tenant du formulaire de zoologie, qui confèrent à l’œuvre une étrange et insaisissable pulsation. Car évidemment, par l’étroitesse de son dispositif dramatique, Walkabout est un film qui tient tout entier à la force de son montage et de sa mise en scène. Le premier n’est pas dénué d’audace, et alternant d’impertinents montages parallèles avec des transitions inventives (ces pages qui se tournent pour avancer dans l’histoire du petit garçon) vient donner au film son rythme singulier. La seconde, témoignant du passé de photographe de Nicolas Roeg, propose un travail insolite sur la texture, sur les couleurs, sur les cadrages ou sur la lumière, et loin du simple livre d’images (certains plans étant au demeurant assez sublimes), renforce l’étrangeté d’un film à nul autre pareil.

Plus que jamais, Walkabout demeure une œuvre assez unique, porteuse d’un regard singulier et toujours énigmatique (David Gulpilil lui-même a avoué ne pas posséder toutes les clés de son personnage). Plus qu’une simple randonnée donc, une expérience envoûtante sur des routes peu empruntées, entre anthropologie et mysticisme, qui, si elle peut laisser sur le bord de ses chemins de traverse, ne risque pas de laisser son spectateur indifférent.

(1) Performance avait été réalisé en 1968 en collaboration avec le peintre Donald Cammell.

(2) Pour l’actrice Jenny Agutter, adolescente vedette dans son pays à l’époque du tournage, cette scène fut également une sorte de passerelle vers des rôles plus… adultes ; face à son inhibition, Roeg réunit une équipe de tournage la plus réduite possible, invitant ensuite tout le plateau à aller à son tour se baigner nu…

5 commentaires pour Idées chrétiennes devenues folles: Après le mariage,… le génocide pour tous ! (Australian aborigenes: why there were no stolen generations)

  1. […] Williams, ne pas s’étonner de cet étrange négationnisme à une époque on en voit des génocides partout des historiens tant juifs ou chrétiens que laïques […]

    J'aime

  2. […] le Sénat français un nouveau parlement néo-zélandais vient enfin d’approuver l’avancée incommensurable du mariage pour tous […]

    J'aime

  3. […] voir après les lois liberticides sur les génocides juif et arménien ou l’actuelle mode des génocides et autres mariages pour tous […]

    J'aime

  4. […] voir après les lois liberticides sur les génocides juif et arménien ou l’actuelle mode des génocides et autres mariages pour tous […]

    J'aime

Laisser un commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion / Changer )

Image Twitter

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Twitter. Déconnexion / Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion / Changer )

Photo Google+

Vous commentez à l'aide de votre compte Google+. Déconnexion / Changer )

Connexion à %s

%d blogueurs aiment cette page :