Every nation has a skeleton or three in its history cupboard. Australia is no different, except that in recent decades we have not only proclaimed our culpability to the world but have also exaggerated our crimes.
I have vivid recollections of visiting relatives from overseas being gobsmacked, when they learnt that Australian Governments in the past had "committed genocide" by forcibly removing tens of thousands of Indigenous children from their grieving parents in the name of assimilation. This information had come from a visit to our National Museum, and later from ABC and SBS broadcasts.
There is no doubt that our native peoples were badly treated during the colonial era and its aftermath, as were conquered peoples throughout generations of history. British colonialism itself could be brutal, even in its own backyard. (The clearance of the Scottish Highlands is a well-known example.)
In Australia Indigenous people were widely dispossessed of their lands, commonly removed to reserves, and often routinely treated as second-class citizens.
All that said, there is evidence that many commentators and public institutions "gild the lily" on such matters, perhaps due to "colonial guilt" or a desire to highlight their own virtue. In Australia, the choice of appointees to government enquiries has greatly influenced the historical narrative contained in official reports and subsequently in popular belief.
All of this has led to so-called "history wars". Essentially, conservative historians and researchers have for some time been claiming that a lot of popularly and officially accepted revisionist history is based on unchecked claims, which often collapse when tested.
The Bringing Them Home report by the Human Rights Commission estimated that between 1910 and 1970 ten per cent of Indigenous children (50000 to 100,000) were removed from their families under state-sanctioned policies. A message that Australian governments sponsored genocidal stolen generation policies is now taught to our school children. A similar message is promoted to visitors to the National Museum, and by public broadcasters and much of the media. High profile movies such as "Australia" similarly promote the hackneyed stereotype of Aboriginal children hiding to avoid unjustified removal by welfare officers.
The narrative effectively achieved official approval with the Rudd Apology for "mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations". Rudd apologised"especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children", which (according to the National Museum and other organs of officialdom) was driven by" past government policies of forced child removal and Indigenous assimilation."
There have been a range of challenges to the official narrative.
Andrew Bolt has highlighted that a number of prominent Aboriginal people, claimed to have been stolen, were in fact given up. "Charles Perkins was the son of an Alice Springs woman who was deserted by her husband after giving birth to her 11th child, and who begged a priest to at least give her brightest boy an education. Lois O'Donoghue was sent with her siblings to South Australia's Colebrook Home by her white father, when he'd decided he no longer wanted them or his Aboriginal wife".
Keith Windschuttle and other conservative historians argue that the records show that 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". He further argues that "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".
Windschuttle from his archival research for The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Vol 3) puts the national total of child removals from 1880 to 1970 at only 8250 or a mere 92 per year for all reasons. This includes orphaning, neglect, jeopardy and consensual transfers for fostering and education (those dominate the NSW data). Windschuttle's research therefore is hugely at odds with the officially promoted narrative.
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