A portrayal entitled The Taking of the Children on the 1999 Great Australian Clock, Queen Victoria Building, Sydney, by artist Chris Cook.

The Stolen Generations (also known as Stolen Children) were the children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments. The removals of those referred to as "half-caste" children were conducted in the period between approximately 1905[1] and 1967,[2][3] although in some places mixed-race children were still being taken into the 1970s.[4][5][6]

Official government estimates are that between one in ten and one in three indigenous Australian children were forcibly taken from their families and communities between 1910, and 1970, affecting all regions of the country.

Emergence of the child removal policy

Numerous 19th- and early 20th-century contemporaneous documents indicate that the policy of removing mixed-race Aboriginal children from their mothers related to an assumption that the Aborigines were dying off. Given their catastrophic population decline after white contact[7], whites assumed that the full-blood tribal Aboriginal population would be unable to sustain itself, and was doomed to extinction. The idea expressed by A. O. Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines for Western Australia, and others as late as 1930 was that mixed-race children could be trained to work in white society, and over generations would marry white and be assimilated into the society.[8][9][10]

European Australians believed that their civilisation was superior to that of indigenous Australians, based on comparative technological advancement.[citation needed] Some adherents to these beliefs considered any proliferation of mixed-descent children (labelled "half-castes", "crossbreeds", "quadroons", and "octoroons")[9][11]: 231, 308  (these terms are now considered derogatory to indigenous Australians) to be a threat to the nature and stability of the prevailing civilisation, or to a perceived racial or civilisational "heritage".[11]: 160  The Northern Territory Chief Protector of Aborigines, Dr. Cecil Cook, argued that "everything necessary [must be done] to convert the half-caste into a white citizen".[12]

Walter Baldwin Spencer[13] reported in the 1920s, that many mixed-descent children were born to Aboriginal women and white fathers; the latter worked on construction of The Ghan railway and left the women and children when the project was completed.[citation needed]

Northern Territory

In the Northern Territory, the segregation of Indigenous Australians of mixed descent from "full-blood" indigenous people began with the government removing children of mixed descent from their communities and placing them in church-run missions, and later creating segregated reserves and compounds to hold all Indigenous Australians. This was a response to public concern over the increase in the number of mixed-descent children and sexual exploitation of young Aboriginal women by non-Indigenous men, as well as fears among non-indigenous people of being outnumbered by a mixed-descent population.[12]

Under the Northern Territory Aboriginals Act of 1906, The Chief Protector of Aborigines was appointed the "legal guardian of every Aboriginal and every half-caste child up to the age of 18 years", thus providing the legal basis for enforcing segregation. After the Commonwealth took control of the Territory, under the 1918 Aborigines Ordinance, the Chief Protector was given total control of all Indigenous women regardless of their age, unless married to a man who was "substantially of European origin", and his approval was required for any marriage of an indigenous woman to a non-indigenous man.[12]

Policy in practice

The Victorian Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 included the earliest legislation to authorise child removal from Aboriginal parents. The Central Board for the Protection of Aborigines had been advocating such powers since 1860. Passage of the Act gave the colony of Victoria a wide suite of powers over Aboriginal and "half-caste" persons, including the forcible removal of children, especially "at risk" girls.[14] Through the late 19th and early 20th century, similar policies and legislation were adopted by other states and territories, such as the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Qld), the Aborigines Ordinance 1918 (NT), the Aborigines Act 1934 (SA), and the 1936 Native Administration Act (WA).[15]

As a result of such legislation, states arranged widespread removal of (primarily) mixed-race children from their Aboriginal mothers. In addition, appointed Aboriginal protectors in each state exercised wide-ranging guardianship powers over Aborigines up to the age of 16 or 21, often determining where they could live or work. Policemen or other agents of the state (some designated as "Aboriginal Protection Officers") were given the power to locate and transfer babies and children of mixed descent from their mothers, families, and communities into institutions for care. In these Australian states and territories, institutions (both government and missionary) for half-caste children were established in the early decades of the 20th century to care and educate the mixed-race children taken from their families.[16] Examples of such institutions include Moore River Native Settlement in Western Australia, Doomadgee Aboriginal Mission in Queensland, Ebenezer Mission in Victoria, and Wellington Valley Mission in New South Wales, as well as Catholic missions such as Beagle Bay and Garden Point.[17]

The exact number of children removed is unknown. Estimates of numbers have been widely disputed. The Bringing Them Home report says that "at least 100,000" children were removed from their parents. This figure was estimated by multiplying the Aboriginal population in 1994 (303,000), by the report's maximum estimate of "one in three" Aboriginal persons separated from their families. The report stated that "between one in three and one in ten" children were separated from their families. Given differing populations over a long period of time, different policies at different times in different states (which also resulted in different definitions of target children), and incomplete records, accurate figures are difficult to establish.[citation needed] The academic Robert Manne has stated that the lower-end figure of one in 10 is more likely; he estimates that between 20,000 and 25,000 Aboriginal children were removed over six decades, based on a survey of self-identified indigenous people by the television station ABS.[18]: 232  According to the Bringing Them Home report:

In certain regions and in certain periods the figure was undoubtedly much greater than one in ten. In that time not one Indigenous family has escaped the effects of forcible removal (confirmed by representatives of the Queensland and WA [Western Australia] Governments in evidence to the Inquiry). Most families have been affected, in one or more generations, by the forcible removal of one or more children.[19]

The report closely examined the distinctions between "forcible removal", "removal under threat or duress", "official deception", "uninformed voluntary release", and "voluntary release".[20] The evidence indicated that in numerous cases, children were brutally and forcibly removed from their parent or parents,[21] possibly even from the hospital shortly after birth, when identified as mixed-race babies.[22] Aboriginal Protection Officers often made the judgement to remove certain children. In some cases, families were required to sign legal documents to relinquish care to the state. In Western Australia, the Aborigines Act 1905 removed the legal guardianship of Aboriginal parents. It made all their children legal wards of the state, so the government did not require parental permission to relocate the mixed-race children to institutions.[23]

In 1915, in New South Wales, the Aborigines Protection Amending Act 1915 gave the Aborigines' Protection Board authority to remove Aboriginal children "without having to establish in court that they were neglected." At the time, some members of Parliament objected to the NSW amendment; one member stated it enabled the Board to "steal the child away from its parents." At least two members argued that the amendment would result in children being subjected to unpaid labour (at institutions or farms) tantamount to "slavery".[24] Writing in the 21st century, Professor Peter Read said that Board members, in recording reasons for removal of children, noted simply "For being Aboriginal."[24] But the number of files bearing such a comment appear to be on the order of either one or two, with two others being noted only with "Aboriginal".[25]

In 1909, the Protector of Aborigines in South Australia, William Garnet South, reportedly "lobbied for the power to remove Aboriginal children without a court hearing because the courts sometimes refused to accept that the children were neglected or destitute." South argued that "all children of mixed descent should be treated as neglected."[26] His lobbying reportedly played a part in the enactment of the Aborigines Act 1911. This designated his position as the legal guardian of every Aboriginal child in South Australia, not only the so-called "half-castes".[26]

The Bringing Them Home report identified instances of official misrepresentation and deception, such as when caring and able parents were incorrectly described by Aboriginal Protection Officers as not being able to properly provide for their children. In other instances, parents were told by government officials that their child or children had died, even though this was not the case. One first-hand account referring to events in 1935 stated:

I was at the post office with my Mum and Auntie [and cousin]. They put us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome. They put the mums in there as well. But when we'd gone [about ten miles (16 km)] they stopped, and threw the mothers out of the car. We jumped on our mothers' backs, crying, trying not to be left behind. But the policemen pulled us off and threw us back in the car. They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were chasing the car, running and crying after us. We were screaming in the back of that car. When we got to Broome they put me and my cousin in the Broome lock-up. We were only ten years old. We were in the lock-up for two days waiting for the boat to Perth.[20]

The report discovered that removed children were, in most cases, placed into institutional facilities operated by religious or charitable organisations. A significant number, particularly females, were "fostered" out. Children taken to such institutions were trained to be assimilated to Anglo-Australian culture. Policies included punishment for speaking their local indigenous languages. The intention was to educate them for a different future and to prevent their being socialised in Aboriginal cultures. The boys were generally trained as agricultural labourers and the girls as domestic servants; these were the chief occupations of many Europeans at the time in the largely rural areas outside cities.[15]

A common aspect of the removals was the failure by these institutions to keep records of the actual parentage of the child, or such details as the date or place of birth. As is stated in the report:

the physical infrastructure of missions, government institutions and children's homes was often very poor and resources were insufficient to improve them or to keep the children adequately clothed, fed and sheltered.[27]

The children were taken into care purportedly to protect them from neglect and abuse. However, the report said that, among the 502 inquiry witnesses, 17% of female witnesses and 7.7% of male witnesses reported having suffered a sexual assault while in an institution, at work, or while living with a foster or adoptive family.[27]

Documentary evidence, such as newspaper articles and reports to parliamentary committees, suggest a range of rationales. Apparent motivations included the belief that the Aboriginal people would die out,[citation needed] given their catastrophic population decline after white contact, the belief that they were heathens and were better off in non-indigenous households,[28] and the belief that full-blooded Aboriginal people resented miscegenation and the mixed-race children fathered and abandoned by white men.[29][non-primary source needed]

Effects on members of the Stolen Generations

Although the stated aim of the "resocialisation" programme was to improve the integration of Aboriginal people into modern [European-Australian] society, a study conducted in Melbourne and cited in the official report found that there was no tangible improvement in the social position of "removed" Aboriginal people as compared to "non-removed". Particularly in the areas of employment and post-secondary education, the removed children had about the same results as those who were not removed. In the early decades of the program, post-secondary education was limited for most Australians, but the removed children lagged behind their white contemporaries as educational opportunities improved.[30]

The study indicated that removed Aboriginal people were less likely to have completed a secondary education, three times as likely to have acquired a police record, and were twice as likely to use illicit drugs as were Aboriginal people who grew up in their ethnic community.[30] The only notable advantage "removed" Aboriginal people achieved was a higher average income. The report noted this was likely due to the increased urbanisation of removed individuals, and greater access to welfare payments than for Aboriginal people living in remote communities.[30] There seemed little evidence that removed mixed-race Aborigines had been successful in gaining better work even in urbanised areas.

By around the age of 18, the children were released from government control. In cases where their files were available, individuals were sometimes allowed to view their own files. According to the testimony of one Aboriginal person:

I was requested to attend at the Sunshine Welfare Offices, where they formerly (sic) discharged me from State ward ship. It took the Senior Welfare Officer a mere 20 minutes to come clean, and tell me everything that my heart had always wanted to know...that I was of "Aboriginal descent", that I had a Natural mother, father, three brothers and a sister, who were alive...He placed in front of me 368 pages of my file, together with letters, photos and birthday cards. He informed me that my surname would change back to my Mother's maiden name of Angus.[31]

The Bringing Them Home report condemned the policy of disconnecting children from their "cultural heritage".[citation needed] One witness said to the commission:

I've got everything that could be reasonably expected: a good home environment, education, stuff like that, but that's all material stuff. It's all the non-material stuff that I didn't have — the lineage... You know, you've just come out of nowhere; there you are.[20]

In 2015, many of the recommendations of Bringing Them Home were yet to be fulfilled.[32] From 1997 to 2017 the percent of indigenous children living in out-of-home care has risen from 20% to 35%[33]

Public awareness and recognition

This section focuses too much on specific examples. Please help improve this section by adding sources that evaluate within a broader context. (March 2017)

Historian Professor Peter Read, then at the Australian National University, was the first to use the phrase "stolen generation". He published a magazine article on the topic with this title, based on his research. He expanded the article into a book, The Stolen Generations (1981).[3] Widespread awareness of the Stolen Generations, and the practices which created it, grew in the late 1980s through the efforts of Aboriginal and white activists, artists, and musicians (Archie Roach's "Took the Children Away" and Midnight Oil's "The Dead Heart" being examples of the latter). The Mabo v Queensland (No 2) case (commonly known as the Mabo case) attracted great media and public attention to itself and to all issues related to the government treatment of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia, and most notably the Stolen Generations.

In early 1995, Rob Riley, an activist with the Aboriginal Legal Service, published Telling Our Story. It described the large-scale negative effects of past government policies that resulted in the removal of thousands of mixed-race Aboriginal children from their families and their being reared in a variety of conditions in missions, orphanages, reserves, and white foster homes.[34]

The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families commenced in May 1995, presided over by the Commission's president Sir Ronald Wilson and its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Dodson. During the ensuing 17 months, the Inquiry visited every state and Territory in Australia, heard testimony from 535 Aboriginal Australians, and received submissions of evidence from more than 600 more. In April 1997, the Commission released its official Bringing Them Home report.

Between the commissioning of the National Inquiry and the release of the final report in 1997, the government of John Howard had replaced the Paul Keating government. At the Australian Reconciliation Convention in May 1997, Howard was quoted as saying: "Australians of this generation should not be required to accept guilt and blame for past actions and policies."[35]

Following publication of the report, the parliament of the Northern Territory and the state parliaments of Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales passed formal apologies to the Aborigines affected. On 26 May 1998, the first "National Sorry Day" was held; reconciliation events were held nationally, and attended by a total of more than one million people. As public pressure continued to increase on the government, Howard drafted a motion of "deep and sincere regret over the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents", which was passed by the federal parliament in August 1999. Howard said that the Stolen Generation represented "the most blemished chapter in the history of this country."[36]

Activists took the issue of the Stolen Generations to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. At its hearing on this subject in July 2000, the Commission on Human Rights strongly criticised the Howard government for its handling of issues related to the Stolen Generations. The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination concluded its discussion of Australia's 12th report on its actions[37] by acknowledging "the measures taken to facilitate family reunion and to improve counselling and family support services for the victims", but expressed concern:

that the Commonwealth Government does not support a formal national apology and that it considers inappropriate the provision of monetary compensation for those forcibly and unjustifiably separated from their families, on the grounds that such practices were sanctioned by law at the time and were intended to "assist the people whom they affected".

The Committee recommended "that the State party consider the need to address appropriately the extraordinary harm inflicted by these racially discriminatory practices."[38]

Activists highlighted the Stolen Generations and related Aboriginal issues during the Sydney 2000 Summer Olympics. They set up a large "Aboriginal Tent City" on the grounds of Sydney University to bring attention to Aboriginal issues in general. Cathy Freeman is an Aboriginal athlete who was chosen to light the Olympic flame and won the gold medal in the 400 metre sprint. In interviews, she said that her own grandmother was a victim of forced removal. The internationally successful rock group Midnight Oil attracted worldwide media interest by performing at the Olympic closing ceremony in black sweatsuits with the word "SORRY" emblazoned across them.[39]

In 2000, Phillip Knightley summed up the Stolen Generations in these terms:

This cannot be over-emphasized—the Australian government literally kidnapped these children from their parents as a matter of policy. White welfare officers, often supported by police, would descend on Aboriginal camps, round up all the children, separate the ones with light-coloured skin, bundle them into trucks and take them away. If their parents protested they were held at bay by police.[40]

According to the archaeologist and writer Josephine Flood, "The well-meaning but ill-conceived policy of forced assimilation of mixed-race Aborigines is now universally condemned for the trauma and loss of language and culture it brought to the stolen children and their families."[18]: 233 

Australian federal parliament apology

It has been suggested that this section be split out into another article titled Apology to Australia's Indigenous peoples. (Discuss) (October 2015)
Kevin Rudd on screen in Federation Square, Melbourne, apologising to the stolen generations.
Crowds viewing a public broadcast of the federal parliament's apology in Elder Park, Adelaide.
Mike Rann, Premier of South Australia and President of federal Labor, at National Sorry Day in Adelaide to the stolen generations.
Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples. Taken at Parliament House, Canberra.

On 11 December 2007, the newly installed Labor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced that the government would make an apology to Indigenous Australians, the wording of which would be decided in consultation with Aboriginal leaders.[41] On 13 February 2008, Rudd issued the apology on the second day of parliament in Canberra.[42]

Stances on the proposed apology

For more than a decade since the Bringing Them Home report was submitted to Liberal Prime Minister John Howard, he and his coalition colleagues consistently rejected calls for a formal government apology, though some coalition government members stated that they were personally sorry for the outcomes of the policy. They were concerned that a formal apology could be construed as an admission of deliberate wrongdoing, rather than acknowledging that the originally stated intentions of the government were believed to be in the interests of the children and their futures. Howard and his supporters were concerned that such an apology would suggest that the government would be admitting liability in any duty-of-care legal proceedings.

When Rudd announced his intention to issue an apology, the Liberal Party split on the issue in 2008. Its leader Brendan Nelson initially said that an apology would risk encouraging a "culture of guilt" in Australia. However, support for an apology was expressed by other senior Liberals, such as Malcolm Turnbull, Peter Costello, Bill Heffernan, and former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.[43] Former Liberal minister Judi Moylan said: "I think as a nation we owe an apology. We shouldn't be thinking about it as an individual apology — it's an apology that is coming from the nation state because it was governments that did these things."[44]

Nelson later said that he supported the government apology.[45] Following a party meeting, the Liberal Party as a whole expressed its support for an apology, and it achieved bipartisan consensus. Nelson stated: "I, on behalf of the Coalition, of the alternative government of Australia, are [sic] providing in-principle support for the offer of an apology to the forcibly removed generations of Aboriginal children."[46]

Lyn Austin, chairwoman of Stolen Generations Victoria, expressed why she believed an apology was necessary, recounting her experiences as a stolen child:

I thought I was being taken just for a few days. I can recall seeing my mother standing on the side of the road with her head in her hands, crying, and me in the black FJ Holden wondering why she was so upset. A few hundred words can't fix this all but it's an important start and it's a beginning[...] I see myself as that little girl, crying myself to sleep at night, crying and wishing I could go home to my family. Everything's gone, the loss of your culture, the loss of your family, all these things have a big impact.[47]

Apology text

At 9:30am on 13 February 2008, Rudd presented the apology to Indigenous Australians as a motion to be voted on by the house. The form of the apology was as follows:[48][49]

I move:

That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations—this blemished chapter in our nation's history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
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 the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

— Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia, 13 February 2008, at a sitting of the Parliament of Australia.

The text of the apology did not refer to compensation to Aboriginal people as a whole, nor to members of the Stolen Generations specifically. Rudd followed the apology with a 20-minute speech to the house about the need for this action.[50][51] The government's apology and his speech were widely applauded among both Indigenous Australians and the non-indigenous general public.[52][53]

Opposition leader's parliamentary reply and reaction

Crowds turn their backs part way through Brendan Nelson's apology reply.[54]

Brendan Nelson also delivered a 20-minute speech. He endorsed the apology but in his speech Nelson referred to the "under-policing" of child welfare in Aboriginal communities, as well as a host of social ills blighting the lives of Aboriginal people.

The Alice Springs Crown Prosecutor Nanette Rogers with great courage revealed to the nation in 2006 the case of a four-year-old girl drowned while being raped by a teenager who had been sniffing petrol. She told us of the two children – one a baby – sexually assaulted by two men while their mothers were off drinking alcohol. Another baby was stabbed by a man trying to kill her mother.[55]

Nelson's speech was considered controversial and received mixed reactions. Thousands of people who had gathered in public spaces in Canberra and Melbourne to hear the apology turned their backs on the screens that broadcast Nelson speaking. In Perth, people booed and jeered until the screen was switched off. In Parliament House's Great Hall, elements of the audience began a slow clap, with some finally turning their backs. There were similar reactions and walk-outs in Sydney and elsewhere.[54]

After the ceremony, the House of Representatives unanimously adopted the proposed apology motion. Six members of Nelson's opposition caucus — Don Randall, Sophie Mirabella, Dennis Jensen, Wilson Tuckey, Luke Simpkins, and Alby Schultz — left the House in protest at the apology.[54] Peter Dutton was the only Opposition front bencher to abstain from the apology.[56]


Tom Calma, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, gave a speech formally responding to the government's apology.[57]

Senate consideration

Later that day, the Senate considered a motion for an identical apology. The Leader of the Greens, Senator Bob Brown, attempted to amend the motion to have it include words committing parliament to offering compensation to those who suffered loss under past indigenous policies, but was opposed by all the other parties. The original motion was passed unanimously.[58][59]

Legal status and compensation

The legal circumstances regarding the Stolen Generations remain unclear. Although some compensation claims are pending, a court cannot rule on behalf of plaintiffs simply because they were removed, because, at the time, such removals were authorised under Australian law. Australian federal and state governments' statute law and associated regulations provided for the removal from their birth families and communities of known mixed-race Aboriginal children, or those who visibly appeared mixed.[citation needed]

Compensation claims have been heard by the NSW Supreme Court's Court of Appeal in Williams v The Minister Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 and New South Wales [2000] NSWCA 255 and the Australian Federal Court in Cubillo v Commonwealth of Australia [2000] FCA 1084. In Williams, an individual (rather than a group of plaintiffs) made claims in negligence arising from having been placed under the control of the Aborigines Welfare Board pursuant to s 7(2) of the Aborigines Welfare Act 1909 shortly after her birth, and was placed by the Board with the United Aborigines Mission at its Aborigines Children Home at Bomaderry near Nowra, NSW. The trial judge found that there was no duty of care and therefore that an action in negligence could not succeed.[further explanation needed] This was upheld by the NSW Court of Appeal in 2000.

In relation to whether the action in NSW courts was limited by the passage of time, the Court of Appeal, reversing Studdert J, extended the limitation period for the non-equitable claims by about three decades pursuant to s 60G of the Limitation Act 1969 (NSW): Williams v Minister, Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (1994) 35 NSWLR 497.

The apology is not expected to have any legal effect on claims for compensation.[60]

Historical debate over the Stolen Generations

Nomenclature and debate over the use of the word "stolen"

The word "stolen" is used here to refer to the Aboriginal children having been taken away from their families. It has been in use for this since the early 20th century. For instance, Patrick McGarry, a member of the Parliament of New South Wales, objected to the Aborigines Protection Amending Act 1915 which authorised the Aborigines' Protection Board to remove Aboriginal children from their parents without having to establish cause. McGarry described the policy as "steal[ing] the child away from its parents".[24]

In 1924,[61] the Adelaide Sun wrote: "The word 'stole' may sound a bit far-fetched but by the time we have told the story of the heart-broken Aboriginal mother we are sure the word will not be considered out of place."[62][63]

In most jurisdictions, Indigenous Australians were put under the authority of a Protector, effectively being made wards of the State.[64][65] The protection was done through each jurisdiction's Aboriginal Protection Board; in Victoria and Western Australia these boards were also responsible for applying what were known as Half-Caste Acts.

More recent usage has developed since Peter Read's publication of The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal Children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969 (1981), which examined the history of these government actions.[3] The 1997 publication of the government's Bringing Them Home – Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families[66] heightened awareness of the Stolen Generations. The acceptance of the term in Australia is illustrated by the 2008 formal apology to the Stolen Generations,[67] led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and passed by both houses of the Parliament of Australia. Previous apologies had been offered by State and Territory governments in the period 1997–2001.[68]

There is some opposition to the concept of the term "Stolen Generations". Former Prime Minister John Howard did not believe the government should apologise to the Australian Aborigines. Then Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs John Herron disputed usage of the term in April 2000.[69] Others who disputed the use of the term include Peter Howson, who was Minister for Aboriginal Affairs from 1971 to 1972, and Keith Windschuttle, an Australian historian who argues that various abuses towards Australian Aborigines have been exaggerated and in some cases invented.[70][71] Many historians argue against these denials, including to Windschuttle in particular.[72] Anthropologist Ron Brunton also criticised the proceedings on the basis that there was no cross-examination of those giving their testimonies or critical examination of the factual basis of the testimony.[73]

History Wars

Main article: History wars

The Bringing Them Home report provided extensive details about the removal programs and their effects. Sir Ronald Wilson, former President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission and a Commissioner on the Inquiry, stated that "when it comes to the credibility of those stories, there is ample credibility, not from the cross-examination of the children themselves, but from the governments whose laws, practices and policies enabled these forced removals to take place. We had the support of every State government; they came to the Inquiry, came with lever-arch files setting out the laws from the earliest days right up to the end of the assimilation policy, that is up to the 1970s and more importantly, senior government offices attended. In every case, these senior officers acknowledged that there was a lot of cruelty in the application of those laws and policies."[73]

In April 2000, Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron tabled a report in the Australian Parliament in response to the Human Rights Commission report which stated that, as "only 10% of Aboriginal children" had been removed, they did not constitute an entire "generation".[69] The report attracted media attention and protests.[74] Herron apologised for the "understandable offence taken by some people" as a result of his comments, although he refused to alter the report as it had been tabled.

Historian Peter Read referred to the children affected as the "Stolen Generations". Another historian, Robert Manne, defended that terminology, making the analogy that other people refer to the "generation that lost their lives in the First World War" without meaning over 50 per cent of the young people at the time; rather, people use that phrasing as a metaphor for a collective experience. Similarly, he believes, some of the Aboriginal community use the term to describe their collective suffering.[75]

Genocide debate

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There is ongoing contention among politicians, commentators, and historical, political, and legal experts as to whether the forced removals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children that occurred during the Stolen Generations can be accurately described as genocidal acts and particularly whether they meet the definition of genocide in article II (e) of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.[76][77][78] While it is generally not disputed that these forced removals occurred, the contention surrounds whether they were enacted with the intention of destroying the Indigenous people of Australia. There is further contention as to whether those responsible for the Stolen Generations should be criminally liable for genocide. In response to a submission by the National Aboriginal and Islander Legal Services Secretariat to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Commissioner Johnston considered whether the policies and practices of the Australian Governments pertinent to the Stolen Generations constituted a breach of the Convention but concluded that "[i]t is not my function to interpret the Convention or to decide whether it has been breached, particularly since the policies involved were modified in 1962 somewhat and abandoned by 1970".[79] The Bringing Them Home report concluded that:

The Australian practice of Indigenous child removal involved both systematic racial discrimination and genocide as defined by international law. Yet it continued to be practised as official policy long after being clearly prohibited by treaties to which Australia had voluntarily subscribed.

However, in the subsequent case of Kruger v Commonwealth, the High Court judges rejected the claim of the plaintiffs that the Aboriginals Ordinance 1918[80] authorised genocide as defined by the Convention and ruled that there was no legislation to implement the Convention under Australian municipal law at the time. One of the recommendations of the Bringing Them Home report was that 'the Commonwealth legislate to implement the Genocide Convention with full domestic effect'. While genocide has been a crime under international law since the commencement of the Convention in 1951, in accordance with Section 51(xxix) of the Australian Constitution, it has only been a crime under Australian law since the commencement of the International Criminal Court (Consequential Amendments) Act 2002,[81] and so the Stolen Generations cannot be considered genocide under Australian law because the Act is not retrospective.[82] In its twelfth report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Australian Government argued that the removal policies and programs did not constitute a breach of the Convention.[83]

Sir Ronald Wilson, then President of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, commissioner of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, and co-author of the Bringing Them Home report, argued that the policies resulting in the Stolen Generations constitute attempted genocide by the government, as it was widely believed at the time that the Aborigines would die out.[84]

Manne argues that the expressed views of government bureaucrats, such as A. O. Neville, to assimilate the mixed-race children into the white population by means of "breeding out the colour", and therefore eventually resulting in the full-bloods being "forgotten", bore strong similarities to the racial views of the Nazis in 1930s Nazi Germany.[85] Manne points out that, though the term "genocide" had not yet entered the English language, the policies of Neville and others were termed by some contemporaries as the "die out" or "breed out" policy, giving an indication of their proposed intent.[85] He also states that academics "generally acknowledge" that the authors of the Bringing Them Home report were wrong to argue that Australian authorities had committed genocide by removing indigenous children from their families. Social assimilation has never been regarded in law as equivalent to genocide.[85]

Though historian Paul Bartrop rejects the use of the word genocide to describe Australian colonial history in general, he does believe that it applies to describing the Stolen Generations. Bartrop and US scholar Samuel Totten together wrote the Dictionary of Genocide, for which Bartrop wrote the entry on Australia. He said he used as the benchmark for usage of the term genocide the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which is also cited in the Bringing Them Home report.[86]

Historian Inga Clendinnen suggests that the term genocide rests on the "question of intentionality", saying: "There's not much doubt, with great murderous performances that were typically called genocide, that they were deliberate and intentional. Beyond that, it always gets very murky."[86]

Representation in other media


Feature film and television drama



Notable people


The White Stolen Generations

Main article: Forced adoption in Australia

The term white stolen generations is used to distinguish this group from the Indigenous stolen generations. It is estimated that around 250,000 Australian-born non-Indigenous children were removed from their mothers from the 1930s to 1982 in what was widely seen by society as a whole at the time as a positive thing for both the mothers and the children. The mothers were sometimes drugged, tied to beds, or told their babies had died. Many hospitals engaged in what is now known as institutionalised baby farming, whereby babies born to those deemed "unfit" to be parents were taken and adopted into the middle classes.[92][93][94]

Organisations such as the Apology Alliance and Adoption Loss Adult Support have actively campaigned for a parliamentary apology similar to that given for the Aboriginal Stolen Generations. In 2001, then treasurer of NSW Michael Egan made a statement of public acknowledgement in the NSW Parliament. In October 2010, West Australian Premier Colin Barnett delivered a parliamentary apology on behalf of state institutions involved in the aggressive adoption practices. Prime Minister Julia Gillard made a personal public apology.[92][93][94]

See also


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Further reading and external links

Bibliography and guides

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission


Academic sources