Friday, February 08, 2008

Back in Black

Okay, so I am back from my tropical island. It was a great success. Things well well, I actually had fun, and the Little Dude was a little subdued but basically fine.

And I have come home to great news! The new Australian government is making its first order of business an apology to what we call the Stolen Generations. And the opposition, totally opposed in John Howard's day, is going to support it. Bipartisan support. A truly national event.

A fact that is not widely known about Australia is that, in the decades between about 1910 and 1970, thousands of Aboriginal children were taken from their parents. In some cases, this was genuinely because of neglect, abuse or concerns that mixed race children would be better off being included in white society.

But overwhelmingly, the main reason was part of the policy of assimilation. We genuinely (and very conveniently) believed that white races were superior, that Australia's Indigenous people were gradually dying out and that mixed race children, in particular, should be "rescued" from their parents and adopted into white society. It was part of a much wider policy in which Aboriginal people were not full citizens and many were under the control of protectors, marriages were supposedly controlled to gradually "breed out the colour" and that taking children from their parents was, essentially, being cruel to be kind. Somewhere between one in ten and one in three children were taken from their parents, many to homes where they were beaten and abused and prepared for a lifetime of menial labour.

There has been over a decade of argument about this in Australia. The Stolen Generations report in 1997 brought it all out in the open and called for a national apology. John Howard and his Coalition government argued that it had not been on racial grounds, that in many cases the children were taken for good reason and that, in any case, contemporary Australians should not take responsiblity for the actions of the "past" (even thought the 1960s is well within the lifetime of many Australians).

Outsiders might be surprised about how "stuck" Australia has been on this issue. We have gone around and around in circles for over a decade. And somehow, I feel like all the debate missed the point. Quibbling about how many were taken, in which exact circumstances, the exact extent of the impact is a trivial and pathetic approach. Like a drunk arguing about exactly how many drinks we've had on any one occasion, we have been defensive and shambling and only hurting ourselves. Just as we can be proud of our own and our ancestor's achievements, we can be ashamed and sorry for their and our failings.

The reality is that white society did a terrible, monstrous wrong to those children and their parents and their whole culture. We were wrong. We owe them an apology at the very least. And we finally have a government, and an opposition who admits it. We are going to apologise on 13 February.

My heart is very light. I am going to take the morning off work and go to parliament house. If my Indigenous brothers and sisters are willing to hear an apology, I will make them one and it will be heartfelt. And then we will dance on the lawns of parliament house.


Blogger Sailor said...

Welcome back- and good for you, for all of Australia. I'm very impressed, that's an admirable thing in a person, but for a country, it's even more difficult to get there, so kudos to you all!

9:13 PM  
Blogger Mu Ling said...

I know a bit about this, though not much, since I live in the USA. This is very good news, and you wrote about it so eloquently.

8:36 AM  

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