Evaluation of the Bringing them home and Indigenous mental health programs
1.4 A summary of the history of forced removal in Australia
Outlined below is a brief summary of the history of forcible removal of Aboriginal Australians, drawn from the BTH Report (HREOC 1997).
Aboriginal children have been forcibly separated from their families and communities since the very first days of the European occupation of Australia.
1.4.1 The 'protectorate' systemIn the nineteenth century the British government appointed a Select Committee to inquire into the condition of Aboriginal people, in response to reports of massacres and atrocities committed against Aboriginal people. Noting the particularly bad treatment of Aboriginal people in Australia, the Committee recommended that a 'protectorate system' be established in the Australian colonies. Under this system, two policies were to be adopted; namely segregation (by creating reserves and relocating Aboriginal communities to them), and education (focusing on the young and relating to every aspect of their lives). The protectorate system was based on the notion that Aboriginal people would willingly establish self-sufficient agricultural communities on reserved areas modelled on an English village and would not interfere with the land claims of the colonists (HREOC 1997, p23).
1.4.2 Policies of 'merging'The failure of the protectorate experiment in the mid-nineteenth century saw responsibility for the welfare of Aboriginal people assigned to a Chief Protector or Protection Board in each State. By the late nineteenth century it had become apparent that the full descent Aboriginal population was declining, but the mixed descent population was increasing. Government officials theorised that by forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their families and sending them away from their communities to work for non-Aboriginal people, this mixed descent population would, over time 'merge' with the non-Aboriginal population.
In the early twentieth century, removal of Aboriginal children generally occurred by virtue of 'protectionist' legislation. This was preferred to the general child welfare legislation as government officials acting under the authority of the Child Protector or the Board could simply order the removal of an Aboriginal child without having to establish to a court's satisfaction that the child was neglected.
1.4.3 AssimilationThe 1930s and 40s saw a shift in Aboriginal policy from one of 'merging' to 'assimilation'. This shift arose largely as a result of the first Commonwealth-State Native Welfare Conference in 1937, attended by representatives of all the States (except Tasmania). This was the first time that Aboriginal affairs had been discussed at the national level.
From this time on, State began adopting policies designed to assimilate Aboriginal people of mixed descent. The BTH Report points out that:
whereas 'merging' was essentially a passive process of pushing Indigenous people into the non-Indigenous community and denying them assistance, assimilation was a highly intensive process necessitating constant surveillance of people's lives, judged according to non-Indigenous standards. Although Neville's model of absorption had been a biological one, assimilation was a socio-cultural model.
(HREOC 1997, p27)
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From the 1940s the States and Territories adopted changes to their Aboriginal welfare models in accordance with the assimilationist welfare model. The removal of Aboriginal children was governed by the general child welfare law, although once removed, Aboriginal children were treated differently from non-Aboriginal children. State government institutions and missions housing Aboriginal children who had been removed received a financial boost after 1941 with the extension of Commonwealth child endowment to Aboriginal children. The endowment was paid to the institutions rather than to the parents of the removed children.
During the 1950s and 1960s even greater numbers of Aboriginal children were removed from their families to advance the cause of assimilation. Not only were they removed for alleged neglect, they were removed to attend school in distant places, receive medical treatment and be adopted out at birth.
The NSDC points to the fact that there were 'extraordinary contradictions between the stated aims of the removal policies and the actual outcomes' (NSDC 2002, p8). The Committee's report indicates that many children were moved with the promise of receiving an education whilst, for others, non-attendance at school was the stated reason for removal. As they were being trained for servitude, the children rarely received a challenging educational experience and many left the homes barely literate, thereby crippling their chances of gainful employment. A number of those taken because of 'parental neglect' or because they were alleged to be abused were placed in institutions in which they were physically, emotionally, psychologically and culturally abused, and in which significant numbers died (NSDC 2002). Others were placed with non-Aboriginal households to work as domestic servants and farm hands.
By the early 1960s it was clear that, despite the mandatory way in which the assimilation policy had been expressed, Aboriginal people were not being assimilated. Following the successful 1967 constitutional referendum, a federal Office of Aboriginal Affairs was established and made grants to the States for Aboriginal welfare programs. At this time, the policy of 'assimilation' was discarded in favour of 'integration', although the practices themselves changed little. Top of page
1.4.4 Self-determinationThe election of the Whitlam Labor Government in 1972 on a policy platform of Aboriginal self-determination provided the means for Aboriginal groups to receive funding to challenge the very high rates of removal of Aboriginal children.
In the 1980s, the establishment and activism of Aboriginal organisations such as Link-Up (NSW) and the Secretariat of Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) and the growing awareness by welfare workers of the ways in which government social welfare practice discriminated against Aboriginal people forced a reappraisal of removal and placement practice. These Aboriginal services formulated the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle and lobbied for its adoption by State and Territory welfare departments as a mandatory requirement. This Principle has now been incorporated into the child welfare legislation and/or the adoption legislation in the NT, the ACT and all States other than Tasmania and WA, where it takes the form of administrative guidelines (HREOC 1997).
1.4.5 Prominence of the issue of the 'Stolen Generations'The issue of the Stolen Generations rose to prominence in 1987 during the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC). The Royal Commission acknowledged that, of the 99 Aboriginal deaths investigated, 43 had experienced separation from their families, communities and culture as children. The RCIADIC Recommendations made specific reference to addressing the needs of the Stolen Generations (DVC 2003, p7).
The National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children was established in May 1995, in response to efforts by key Aboriginal agencies and communities. They were concerned that the general public's ignorance of the history of forcible removal was hindering the recognition of the needs of its victims and their families and the provision of services. The Going Home Conference in Darwin (1994) provided further impetus - representatives from every State and Territory met to share experiences, to bring to light the history and its effects in each jurisdiction, and to devise strategies to meet the needs of those children and their families who survived (HREOC 2006).
The issue of restitution, compensation and rehabilitation for victims of gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms was also receiving attention on the international stage, with the publication of the 'Van Boven Principles'. These principles arose from a report commissioned by the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities. The report and the ensuing principles recognise a right to remedy for these victims, and that victims of violations may be direct and indirect, thus including the children and families directly affected together with entire communities (HREOC 1997, p240).