Notes for paper presented to Albany seminar 'ImpressionsAlbany's History and Heritage'
24 April 1997
Note the significance of heritage and family history to the Stolen Generations eg included in terms of reference of Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), significance in tracing family and facilitating reunion process.
Australians hold a fundamental belief that the family is the cornerstone of our society and that the bonds between parents and children are sacrosanct. We believe that:
any government intervention in the family unit and the bond between parents and children is justified only in exceptional circumstances, principally where the child's survival is seriously threatened in some way e.g. extreme cases of neglect, physical, sexual abuse etc.
this intervention can only occur through a carefully structured and monitored legal process involving professional child workers and the courts. This process must ensure that family rights are protected and that if a child is placed in substitute care, the child's 'best interests' must at all times be the paramount concern.
Most of us have these convictions and processes in mind when we encounter the experiences of Stolen Generations children.
We can't help concluding that the children's family arrangements and their living conditions must have been so bad that they had to be taken away, and so they were better off, they had a better way of life, they got a good education and so they had the chance to become 'useful members of society'. And we reassure ourselves that removal was not just aimed at Aboriginal children but that the same thing happened to many white children.
From our perspectives in the 1990s we just can't believe it could have been otherwise.
In this paper I will be examining these conclusions in the light of my research and findings on the history of removal of Aboriginal children across Australia.
My analysis will focus on the experiences of Noongar children in the south west of Western Australia from the beginning of this century to the 1950s. During this period the most draconian system of removal of Aboriginal children operated.
By stepping away from our 1990's perspectives and looking at the Stolen Generations in the context of their times and in a particular region, we can see more clearly what happened to these children and why. This gives us a dramatically different picture of what happened.
What we see is a system which went against all of our treasured convictions about just and right practice for Australian families and children.
This system discriminated against Aboriginal children on the basis of race and it contrasted in almost every way with the state child welfare system of the period which enshrined the principles I referred to earlier. Instead of helping and protecting the best interests of Aboriginal children the system removed, controlled, managed and concentrated them, principally to protect and promote wider community interests.
We see a government failing dismally in its duty of care to protect the best interests of these children. They were forced to live in substandard conditions in coercive, artificial and restrictive institutional environments. They were under-nourished, poorly educated, unhealthy and unloved, and cut off from their Aboriginal heritage and mainstream society. It was impossible for them to learn how to lead full and meaningful lives outside. Instead, they learned institutionalised behaviours which fitted them for adult life in institutions.
In 1996 the WA government told the HREOC Inquiry that all Aboriginal people in WA had been affected by the enforced separation of children from their families. Evidence to the Inquiry from across Australia has provided moving accounts of the tragic consequences of experiences of the Stolen Generations.
We have no precise statistics for numbers removed here, but it is estimated that over a similar period in NSW 5500 children were taken, that is, 1 out of every 6 Aboriginal children, compared with 1 out of every 200 children removed from non Aboriginal families. In 1983 around 1800 Aboriginal children were in some form of substitute care in WA; this constituted over 50% of the total number of children while the Aboriginal population is only 2.3% of the WA population.
The removal system 1905-64
clearly set out in WA statutes in the Aborigines Act and its amendments (1905 -1964) 
1905 Aborigines Act:
set up a special system of controls over Aboriginal families and children; including controls over marriage, freedom of movement, where families could camp, employment and guardianship of children
features of removal system:
the Chief Protector of Aborigines had legal guardianship over Aboriginal children born outside of legal marriages, the majority of Aboriginal children, from birth
police officers had legal authority to remove any of these children under 8 on their own initiative; there were no legal criteria setting out conditions for removals and no court committal process
Chief Protector had the power to detain children in institutions to age 16 (extended to 21 in 1936) and could also send children employment under his supervision and control their wages
placement of children:
institutionalisation of children continued despite shifts in child welfare practice (see below); from 1950s begin to adopt and foster children in white families
limited financial allocations set out in legislation, result that funding of institutions far below that for other state run institutions eg prisons, state children's homes and the lowest of all states; failure to protect interests of children (fiduciary duty of state)
as adults came under wide ranging restrictions of 1905 Aborigines Act, including those relating to guardianship and control of their children
contrasts with WA 1907 Child Welfare Act:
legal guardianship of children rests with natural parents, child could only be removed for strictly legally defined reasons (eg lengthy definitions of what constituted neglect) to protect its best interests, case had to be proved through a court committal process, then guardianship may be transferred to the Director of Child Welfare, some contact between parents and children allowed
legal ruling in 1909 that 1907 Child Welfare Act did not apply to Aboriginal children and no such children to be sent to State institutions but to be dealt with by the Aborigines Department.
mainstream child welfare practice:
already at turn of century child welfare practice was looking to alternatives to institutional care of state children, turning from institutional care to placing children in foster families and in the 1920s providing supports so child can remain in its own in family.
Thus Aboriginal parents and children had none of the rights and protections that white families had during the period under discussion or that we take for granted now; children of Aboriginal descent lived under the constant threat of being taken legally from their parents, simply because they were of Aboriginal descent; little accountability in this system which
encouraged arbitrary opinion and practice in removing Aboriginal children, provided no role for Aboriginal parents and no process of negotiation in decision making about their children's fate and ensured the trauma of sudden removal by the police:
The job of rounding up these children fell to police ... In many cases Aboriginal women would hide their children and police would use trackers to find them. A police visit was feared because it meant one of two things: all the dogs would be shot or any half-caste child under 12 would be taken away'. (Former police officer writing last year in the West Australian about police practice.)
Woman to 1934 Moseley Royal Commission described how in 1930 police arrived without warning and forced her husband, herself and their 5 children into the police car:
... [they] didn't give us a chance to pack anything or have our tea... We arrived at M at sun-down and they let me go to the shop to get some fruit and then they drove us to the police station and wanted to lock us all up in a cell. The children were hanging around their father screaming and I rushed off to see if I could get help but.. the policeman caught me and dragged me back to the cell ... we kept telling the children not to be frightened and they quietened down after a time.
The next morning they set off for Moore River Native Settlement. The children were taken from their parents and placed in the compound dormitory.
of particular importance to note that the very nature of the legislation in giving total power over children to government officers and not specifying criteria to protect the children's best interests meant that it could be used for other purposes which conflicted with these concerns.
this laid the basis for the treatment of Aboriginal children by the government in ways that would never have been tolerated for white children
imperatives of settler society as take over land and resources have been well documented along with enduring aim of assimilation of some form of indigenous people in Australian colonies
little success in changing adults so focused on children, endeavour to absorb them into settler economy, break ties with their Aboriginal ways of life and to transform into 'useful workers'; at same time rescue children from poor living conditions in which families forced to live following loss of their lands
particular focus this century on children of mixed descent: ambiguous views as the 'white man's child', 'half-British', 'as great a claim upon the white population as upon the black', duty to help
yet intolerance of them as adults, in particular believed Aboriginal mothers and their way of life to be harmful to their children so essential to take them away, Chief Protector Prinsep 1902:
It is a most undesirable thing for half-castes to be allowed to grow up uneducated, and in all the wandering habits of their black mothers which can only end in their becoming not only a disgrace but a menace to our civilisation.
J Isdell Pilbara, WA Legislative Assembly, debate on 1904 Aborigines Bill:
leaving children with their Aboriginal mothers is 'wrong, unjust and a disgrace to the State'. It 'is maudlin sentiment' to consider their feelings 'They forget their children in 24 hours and as a rule... are glad to be rid of them'.
solution: place children in missions to become 'useful workers ... and humble labourers', to have no contact with mothers and not to be allowed to return to their families as they would revert 'to a more evil, because educated, barbarism than before'.
this opinion conflicts with responses of Aboriginal mothers to official enquires in 1902 about whether they would willing hand their children over to missions Prinsep 'natural affections of the black mothers have stood much in my way'. And the emotions expressed in the following letter to Prinsep:
I am afraid that [my wife] will cimit suicide if the boy is not back soon for she is good for nothing only cry day and night/...I have as much love for my dear wife and churldines as you have for yours ... so if you have any feeling atole pleas send the boy back as quick as you can it did not take long for him to go but it takes a long time for him to come back.
Also strong racial prejudice of the period enshrined in White Australia policy, demands for segregation
If Australia is to be a country fit for our children and their children to live in, we must keep the breed pure. The half-caste usually inherit the vices of both races and the virtues of neither. Do you want Australia to be a community of mongrels?
Noongar population 
area: south west corner of Western Australia
population: 1901 WA census 1200 out of original 6000; distribution mainly in inland areas, wheat belt; predominantly of mixed descent
lifestyle: adaptation of Noongar traditions and ways of the coloniser; impact of colonisation left many families in crisis, struggling to survive, some families devastated others able to pull together
slow beginnings in south, focus initially on north; when was implemented from beginning of WWI in south was direct result of government response to strong pressure from local white residents
socioeconomic changes put in train by development of wheat belt, clearing of bush, carve up into farms, new settler population
Aborigines pushed out, had to negotiate another survival strategy seasonal work in farms, living in town fringe camps with no services, increasing numbers - 1911 200 Aborigines in Katanning camp
white complaints about unhygienic, unsightly camps, violence, outbreak of disease, fear of tension over proximity of races:
Australia proud of her White Australia policy, unfortunate had 'black and half-castes, especially the latter' and urged government to 'make the laws about the inter-mingling of races most stringent' (WA 1912)
1913 Katanning Roads Board demands removal to camp site on Carrolup River
crisis point reached when Noongars enrolled children in schools, parents and teachers demanded expulsion, 1914 Education Department supported their demands, they were barred under 1893 Education Act.
White residents now bombard government with demands to remove Aborigines and segregate from the rest of the community. 1915 in Katanning took into own hands police rounded up the people and marched them to Carrolup camp site.
Solution: as stated, nature of legislation that despite rhetoric of protecting Aborigines, it could be used to promote demands which conflicted with Aborigines' interests; the government responded by proposing a plan of concentration and population control of Noongar families gave the impression of decisive action, would do away with white protests, while it did the minimum to alleviate the Aborigines' difficult circumstances
native settlement scheme: remove families from camps and concentrate in isolated farming settlements, adults sent out to work from there or help to maintain the settlement, provide for sick and elderly adults, separate children from all adults for schooling and training.
'clearing houses' contradictory notion to segregate and isolate children, then send out under strict supervision to approved employers, as gained acceptance and were absorbed into the wider community and as adults steeped in old ways died off the settlements would become redundant. This goal was never achieved.
Implementing the scheme:
Carrolup opened 1915 to take in families from Great Southern District
use the full force of the law to round up families and clear the town camps separating parents and children on arrival, individual children taken away, stop ration issue to force families to move, transfer children from missions in Perth
shoe string budget no additional funding provided at all 1916 funding fell to lowest level in thirteen years. Economies made elsewhere eg centralising rations in settlements, close children's missions, poor facilities in settlements
vastly inferior to those provided for non Aboriginal children
facilities - overcrowded, overused, multi purpose, stringent eg toys, bedding, cutlery
staffing - low wages and harsh conditions. untrained eg ex army, police, missionary, hospitals, overworked, stringent conditions of work, strict rules of conduct based on psychiatric hospitals and prisons (1923) eg no familiarity with charges, powers of Superintendents to control them, led to nervous breakdowns, inflicting harsh punishments, rapid turn over of staff
discipline - 1916 Regulations powers to Superintendents to deal with discipline problems especially children running away to rejoin their families, corporal, solitary confinement up to 14 days, one girl 64 days over 12 months, shame eg shave heads, transfer to another settlement.
living conditions - in dormitories in compound separated from Aboriginal adults but under strict control of white staff, separation from siblings in the institution, locked in at 5 every evening reportedly fought, battered the doors, little bedding or covering, clothing, emotional care, relations with other children
education and training - denial of contact with culture (language), no school until 1917, oversize classes, from 1922 not educated to State School standards only 3 R's, no toys, strictly vocational, training in form of work around the settlements eg older girls sewing clothes, for children and for other government departments, controlled release of young people to work under strict supervision, institutionalisation, loss of identity,
diet - 'Dickensian', evening meal 4.30 tea, bread and jam
health - 1917 nurse appointed, ravages of disease, 1921 alarming levels of TB, 56 with measles leading to several deaths with complications of pneumonia, flu epidemic, 1922 whopping cough
1922 in interests of economy and expediency Carrolup River Native Settlement closed and inmates transferred to Moore River Native Settlement near Moora, land taken over by local farmers, Aboriginal concern about cutting ties with families and their country expressed as 24 girls broke out of dormitory and escaped but rounded up, 104 mainly children travelled by train June, letter from Aboriginal man printed in Great Southern Herald July stated:
Tucker very bad. Eat mainly bush foods, no school for the children , no nothing. Little girls from Carrolup never undress from time leave here till I com 'way. No good to me. I leave pretty quick.
Conditions deteriorate further:
expenditure dropped by 2000, 300 in buildings for 200, increasing population into 1930s with Depression, 1934 Moseley Royal Commission Moore River Native Settlement a 'woeful spectacle', buildings over-crowded, vermin ridden, no vocational training except chores for staff, diet lacked fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs, milk, health seriously affected, imprisonment of children in the Boob barbarous and must be stopped, in its present condition it had 'no hope of success' with the children
During 1930s harshest response to the 'Aboriginal problem' advocated in Perth and enshrined in 1936 amending legislation.
Noongar population now 4500, over 50% children, living in waste land reserves lacking even the most basic facilities, originally intended as temporary camps now accommodated over two hundred permanent residents. One man commented to the press:
'You work hard but you can never get anywhere. You try to improve your place but you still can't get any of the privileges that the white people get'.
Aborigines' protests eg William Harris, the leader of a deputation of Aboriginal family representatives from the south to the West Australian Premier in 1928, stated:
We want to live up to the white man's standard but in order to be able to do so we should be exempted from the Aborigines Act and allowed to live our lives in our own way.
Mainstream response was alarm about the possibility of the racial tensions and violence and the future of such an outcast peoples in a white Australia. Again the government was pressured to take action to 'remove the problem'. By 1930s The Perth medical practitioner, Dr Cecil Bryan, made the following statement to the Moseley Royal Commission in Perth in 1934:
The mating of half-castes with half-castes means nothing more than the perpetuation of the black and coloured element against which we are all of us so set. If we want to do the fair and just thing by these half-castes and their progeny, and if we have any desire to save our own children from the terrible problem presented in the United States today, and growing worse with the minutes as they tick by, we will do all in our power to prevent the mating of a half-caste with a half-caste, and especially with a black. We will on the other hand do all in our power to displace the black strain by an infiltration of white blood. I am not advocating the marriage of white with half-caste. I am dumb on that aspect. What I am advocating is the mating of half-caste with a coloured person who has more white blood in him or her, with one who, as an quadroon or an octoroon, is higher up on the white scale. (Moseley Royal Commission: Minutes and Evidence of the Royal Commission, 1934, section 1032.)
The government responded by adopting the policy of biological absorption:
this advocated state intervention to strictly regulate Aborigines' choice of marriage partners so as to produce children with progressively less Aboriginal features. Combined with social engineering programs involving the wholesale removal of mixed race children, this would ensure the breeding out of Aboriginal physical characteristics and cultural practices and over several generations Aboriginal mixed race population would completely disappear.
The reopening of Carrolup 1938 was part of this policy:
the new superintendent concentrated on removing unemployed adults and children from town camps Annual Report:
'thereby cleansing the towns and districts of the worst type of natives. His actions had a wholesome effect ...'
1940 500 people there
conditions remained deplorable, described by volunteer missionary worker:
There are no sheets on the beds... They are locked up like fowls after an early tea every night, winter and summer - no light, no fire, no recreation at all - just an animal existence ... I have never seen kiddies with such dull, unhappy eyes, hang-dog expression and surly looks. It is a veritable prison to them.
school closed during war, reopened 1945 under auspices of Education department, remarkable results with children, within 3 years fame of Carrolup child artists all over Australia
However, with the end of WW2 attitudes began to change in 1951, following mounting political pressure Carrolup closed and changed to farming institution for boys Marribank Farm school, boys remain and other boys sent from MR and took in some state wards, girls transferred to Wandering and Roelands Missions, adults sent out on their own, Aboriginal parents would not send children there, closed after a year and handed over to Baptists Aborigines Mission.
Like most areas of Aboriginal administration the system had serious inbuilt flaws which hindered the achievement of its aims of transformation: race based views which limited expectations of what children could achieve, limited resources, inadequate staff, the psychological trauma of removal, the effects of institutionalisation, ongoing prejudice in the wider community etc
From the 1950s steps were taken to bring the treatment of Aboriginal children more in line with mainstream state child welfare principles and processes. Nevertheless removals and institutionalisation continued. But that is another story.
Paper has exposed some difficult issues in our past. My intention has been to promote understanding of the issue and to clarify community debate.
In particular I am endeavouring to bring about a fit between our interpretations of what happened and the experiences of the Stolen Generations as told to the HREOC Inquiry and as supported in the historical record.
I also hope to encourage your interest and support for heritage and history issues relating to the Stolen Generations. There is much that can be done cooperatively to ensure that they have access to all the records needed to trace their families eg church records. Also support for the establishment of a fully equipped Aboriginal LinkUp service in WA to reunite Stolen Generations with their families.
1 See Appendix One for more details.
2 For more on Noongar history see Haebich, A. 1992, For Their Own Good. Aborigines and Government in the South West of Western Australia 1900-40, UWA Press, Nedlands.
1905 and 1911 Aborigines Act
(2) no complaint to be made without authority of Chief Protector of Aborigines (1911 Act)
(c) providing for the care, custody and education of children of Aborigines and 'half-caste's
(d) enabling an Aboriginal or 'half-caste' child to be sent to and detained in an Aboriginal institution, industrial school or orphanage
(e) for the control, care and education of Aborigines and 'half-caste's in Aboriginal institutions, and for the supervision of Aboriginal institutions
(f) prescribing the conditions on which any Aboriginal or 'half-caste' children may be apprenticed to or placed in service with suitable persons
Regulations GG 12/5/1918
Regulations GG 1919
Regulations GG 26/11/1929