When the welfare officers came to take three-year-old Archie Roach from his tin-lined house in 1)Framlingham in southeastern Australia, they told his mother they were 2)escorting him to a picnic. His aunt tried to 3)scare them off with a gun, but it wasn’t 4)loaded. Institutionalized in a Melbourne orphanage, young Archie was told his family had died in a fire. His 5)minders tried to force his hair straight, breaking comb teeth in his 6)frizzy curls. It was a vain attempt by whites to make an 7)Aboriginal child more like them. It didn’t work, and the combs weren’t the only 8)casualties.
Roach, now 54, is one of an estimated 100,000 Aborigines, living and dead, who make up Australia’s so-called Stolen Generation. At that time 9)Indigenous people were seen as an inferior race and those considered “not of 10)full blood” were encouraged to become 11)assimilated into the broader society so that eventually there would be no more Indigenous people left. Under a government policy that ran from 1910 to, unbelievably, 1971, as many as 1 in 10 of all Aboriginal children were removed from their families in an effort to “civilize” them by assimilation into white society.
The policy of “stealing” Aboriginal children, mostly those with some white blood, was devised in the early 1900s when 12)eugenic theories were widely 13)touted. In Australia, government administrators thought that by bringing mixed-blood Aborigines into the white world, the color could be “14)bred out of them” over a few generations. Meanwhile the fully black population, regarded as 15)irredeemably primitive, was expected to simply die out. The practice was not widely discussed until 1997, when an official inquiry found consistent patterns of physical and sexual abuse of the “stolen” children, of exploitation in the labor market and of social 16)dislocation that led many into 17)alcoholism, violence and early death.
Roach, who was taken from his family because he had a white grandfather, knows what they went through. His third set of 18)foster parents treated him well, as an equal to their own three children. But his life was shattered when Roach, 14, received a letter from his sister Myrtle, who had tracked him down through welfare agencies. Their mother, supposedly dead, had passed away the previous week. Furious that he’d been lied to his whole life, Roach ran away from home and spent the next 14 years drinking, sleeping in parks, playing the guitar to earn enough for the next bottle. Finally, he 19)dried out and began writing and singing songs, including his 1987 hit, Took the Children Away, which launched him on an upward musical career. But, he says, “I still feel the pain, every day. Sometimes it threatens to 20)engulf me.”
Dr Jane McKendrick, a 21)psychiatrist at Melbourne University who has worked with Aboriginal communities for 17 years, says a ‘high proportion’ of people from the Stolen Generations were either psychologically, physically or sexually abused while in care. Feelings of depression, anxiety, 22)posttraumatic stress and suicide are commonplace among victims. She notes that 50% of deaths investigated by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in 23)Custody were of people who have been removed from their families as children.
Many Aboriginal and 24)Torres Strait Islander people who were placed with white families did not find out about their background until late in life. Finding their 25)estranged families and returning to their birthplace can be the start of a painful process 26)marred by feelings of cultural alienation. One of the people interviewed for the Bringing Them Home Report said: “A lot of people say that they don’t know what exactly they are, whether they’re white or they’re black. Where exactly they belong.”
The impact of the Stolen Generations has also passed on to the next generation. Dr McKendrick reported that “when (Aboriginal people who were removed) come to have their own children they’ve really got no idea how to parent in either the conventional Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal way…so their children are very often removed from them (by welfare agencies) which sets up this terrible cycle which goes on for generations.”
While many Aboriginal groups feel they can never be adequately compensated for the loss of their families, since the Bringing Them Home Report was released there has been a strong campaign for an official apology by the Australian Government. One of the key recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report was an official apology from the government, as well as financial compensation for the suffering caused by the government. The project aimed to “civilize” Aboriginal children. However, the pain brought by the so called “civilization plan” would last forever.