In his book, A rape of the soul so profound, Peter Read writes:
'So who are the Stolen Generations? They may well say, with a single collective voice:
Why of course we are the children taken away from our families and put into the Aboriginal institutions, and who didn't return for years and years. Everyone knows that …
But we are also the children who were taken away who died in the institutions, or in mental hospitals, or in jail, or on the streets, and never came home at all.
We are the people who still do not know where our home is.
We are the mothers and fathers, aunties and uncles, grandmothers and grandfathers, cousins, brothers and sisters who never saw our children again …
We are the children who were adopted and fostered who grew up thinking we were Indian, or Filipino, or Maori, or Indian …
We are unemployed, we are the coordinators of Aboriginal organizations, we lead national companies, we manage childcare agencies, we write books …
What do we Stolen Generations have in common then? We Stolen Generations are the victims of Australia-wide policies which aimed to separate us from our parents, our family, our neighbourhood, our community, our country and our rightful inheritance as Aboriginal citizens of Australia. We are the victims of a policy which - if it had been successful - would have put an end to Aboriginality forever. Not just ours - everyone's. And we are still hurting.'
The separation of Aboriginal children from their family and community dates back to the earliest missionary and 'protection' activities in the colony of Victoria, designed to get children away from 'tribal influences'.
The Port Phillip Protectorate was established in 1839, with George Augustus Robinson appointed as the Chief Protector. Assistant Protectors served in locations around Victoria (including Narre Narre Warren, Franklinford, Mount Rouse and 'Mitchellstown'), where they established stations, each of which had a school and a rations depot.
The 'care' of Aboriginal children by church and government agencies in Victoria was not covered by legislation until 1869. The Aborigines Protection Act 1869 authorised the making of regulations by the Aborigines Protection Board (established in 1860) on a wide range of subjects including 'the care, custody and education of the children of aborigines'. The Act allowed the Board to separate boys under 14 and girls under 18 from their parents and house them in dormitories on the Lake Hindmarsh, Coranderrk, Ramahyuck, Lake Tyers and Lake Condah reserves.
The Aborigines Protection Act 1886 marked a shift in the activities of the 'protectors' towards the 'full blood' Aboriginal people in Victoria, who were believed to be a 'dying race'. The legislation also had provisions aims at 'merging' the 'half-caste' Indigenous population into the mainstream community. Once 'half-caste' children were removed from the missions and their families, they were not allowed back for visits without official permission.
Following the passage of the 1886 legislation, many children of 'mixed descent' were made wards of the state, and put under the control of the Department of Neglected Children.
Unlike other states, notably New South Wales and Western Australia, Victoria did not have institutions designed specifically for Aboriginal children. (Although, a high number of Aboriginal children removed from their families were placed at Ballarat Orphanage.)
A report commissioned by the Victorian government in the 1950s, carried out by Charles McLean, led to the new Aborigines Act 1957 and the establishment of the Aboriginal Welfare Board. These initiatives reflected the policy of assimilation in Victoria. McLean's visits to various Aboriginal communities around Victoria resulted in the removal of some children. One source states that, not long after Mr McLean visited the community at Mooroopna as part of his review, 24 children were taken away.
Perhaps more relevant to the fate of Indigenous children in Victoria was the passage of the Children's Welfare Act 1954. This legislation, and its new definition of children 'being in need of care and protection' led to a rapid rise in the number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children coming into 'care'.
'I clearly remember being put in line-ups every fortnight, where prospective foster parents would view all the children. I wasn't quite the child they were looking for. Bringing them home report - confidential evidence 133, Victoria: man removed at 6 months in the 1960s; institutionalised for 3years before being fostered by a succession of white families.'
The Children's Welfare Act 1954 had a significant impact on children living in Aboriginal communities in Victoria. According to Barwick, 'During 1956 and 1957 more than one hundred and fifty children (more than 10 per cent of the children in the Aboriginal population of Victoria at that time) were living in State children's institutions.'
During this period, many Indigenous children who were removed from their families were placed at the Ballarat Orphanage, regardless of the location of their family and community.
The 1967 constitutional referendum led to the creation of the Federal Office of Aboriginal Affairs, which changed the funding and governance arrangements of state government interventions into the lives of Aboriginal Indigenous children. From this time, the Aboriginal Welfare Board in Victoria was funded by federal grants.
Around this time, the language again shifted, from 'assimilation' to 'integration'. However, the landscape remained more or less unchanged, with the states continuing to operate through the established structures and organisations of Aboriginal policy.
The election of the Whitlam government in 1972 on a policy platform of Aboriginal self-determination brought further changes in terms of Aboriginal child and family welfare.
The Victorian government abolished the Aboriginal Welfare Board in 1968, replacing it with a Ministry for Aboriginal Affairs.
From the early 1970s, the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) became involved in child welfare and child protection cases, appearing in the Children's Court on behalf of Aboriginal children.
In 1977, Victoria was the first state to establish a community-controlled and operated 'child care' service - VACCA. Other Aboriginal children's services organisations followed in other states and territories. In the early 1980s, these organisations formulated the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, and lobbied for it to be adopted into the policies, practices and laws relating to child protection in Australia.
These initiatives resulted in a marked decrease in the number of Aboriginal children in children's homes in Victoria by the late 1970s.
The report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that of the 99 deaths it investigated, 43 of these people had been separated from their families as children.
In 1995, the Commonwealth Government established the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families. Its report, 'Bringing them home' was handed down in 1997.
The Federal Government apologised to the Stolen Generations in 2008.
27 July 2015
Cite this: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/vic/E000158
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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