Children in New South Wales who suffered poverty or fell foul of the law or lost parents through illness, death or abandonment have always been vulnerable to being taken away from their families by government authorities and placed in care. However, New South Wales was the first jurisdiction in Australia to develop a special system to separate Aboriginal children from their families. This special system worked in addition to the ordinary child welfare system, meaning that, throughout the 20th century Aboriginal children in New South Wales were much more likely to spend their childhoods in care than were non-Aboriginal children in similar circumstances. They were raised in this way to remove their sense of belonging to Aboriginal communities.
The New South Wales Aborigines Protection Board began removing young Aboriginal people from reserves and stations it controlled and 'apprenticing' them as domestic servants and farm labourers to wealthy households in the 1880s with the consent of parents. In 1909 the Aborigines Protection Act gave the Aborigines Protection Board the right to 'apprentice' children in this way, without needing the consent of parents. This law, and subsequent amendments to it, placed the Aborigines Protection Board in loco parentis over all Aboriginal people in the state of New South Wales: that is to say, the Board acted as it if was the parent of all Aboriginal people. These powers survived the abolition of the Aborigines Protection Board and its replacement with the Aborigines Welfare Board in 1940, and Aboriginal children continued to be 'apprenticed' until the 1960s.
The Aborigines Protection Board developed two large institutions for children who needed 'training' before they could undergo apprenticeship. These were Cootamundra Girls' Training Home and Kinchela Boys' Training Home. Small children were cared for by the United Aborigines' Mission at Bomaderry until they reached an age to be sent to Cootamundra or Kinchela. Once these children reached the age of fourteen they were 'apprenticed', although after World War II opportunities for Aboriginal children to attend normal high schools improved.
Aboriginal children were also removed from their families by the State Children's Relief Board and Child Welfare Department, through the Children's Courts. Children who were darker-skinned were more likely to be referred to the Aborigines Protection Board. Those children who remained with the State Children's Relief Department or Child Welfare Department were 'treated as white', and often were not told of their Aboriginal identity. These policies are discussed in detail in Naomi Parry's thesis, '"Such a longing": black and white children in welfare in New South Wales and Tasmania, 1880-1940'.
In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s government agencies decided that Aboriginal children could be fostered and even adopted into white families. Welfare authorities removed higher numbers of younger Aboriginal children, believing that placing them in white families would mean the children grew up with white values. It was a conscious effort to eradicate Aboriginal identity. As adoption became more popular, Aboriginal unmarried mothers were amongst those pressured to hand over their babies.
Aboriginal children came into care for a variety of reasons. Some of these reasons were to do with neglect, or losing parents, or the juvenile justice system, but the main reason was the grinding poverty of the reserves and stations where Aboriginal people were forced to live. The Boards underfunded reserves and stations, so conditions were poor, but people were prohibited from moving freely in New South Wales, and often found it hard to work. Aboriginal parents were, until the 1960s, disqualified from receiving most of the government pensions and allowances non-Aboriginal Australian received, making it even harder to escape poverty. Aboriginal communities suffered severe social disadvantage, and this fact was used to justify the removal of thousands of Aboriginal children from their families, and their placement in white homes.
The effects of these government policies have been far-reaching, and were addressed in Bringing them home. These were recognised by the Australian Government in February 2008, when then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to indigenous people for their suffering. Since then Forgotten Australians, Child Migrants, and people who experienced Forced Adoption have also achieved recognition for their suffering, going some way to recognising the human cost of past policies.
28 June 2016
Cite this: https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nsw/NE01008
First published by the Find & Connect Web Resource Project for the Commonwealth of Australia, 2011
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