An Arrernte mother to a newborn recently reflected of her childhood, one where she was removed from her parents, aged 6, and instead raised in foster care and four years later until 19 years of age in the permanent care of a White couple. She has no issue with the White strangers who became her de facto parents but she has issue – a painful one – in having been removed from her biological parents whom she would not see again till she was 19. “They cried for me all the time I was gone. They were capable of raising me, they were good. I don’t know why I had to be removed at all, makes no sense.”
This story reminded me of the Stolen Generations testimonies I read – 45 of them – and of the first testimony I read, that of Bill Simon. Bill was born in 1951 on the Purfleet Mission in Taree, NSW and in 1957 was removed from his family to Kinchela Boys Home in Kempsey. In his testimony is the reflection, “Sometime I ask, why all this happened to me? We lost everything…” This question reverberates in every conversation today I have with parents who have had their children removed by protection authorities or who are being investigated and monitored by child protection authorities – one of the biggest bureaucratic industries in the nation.
The latest mantra with the current Stolen Generations is no different to the Stolen Generations that were attributed to have effectively ended in 1969, that children removed from their families should not be returned and that they are better off in permanent placement.
The Purfleet Mission was a place where people’s lives were monitored – you could not leave the mission to go into town or to the beach without the manager’s permission. It was apartheid but in that corral Bill had the love of his family to navigate him through an unfair and cruel world.
The trauma of being separated from your family never leaves you. Bill Simon, “I cried my heart out, you know, it made me that angry because no one was there to help me. I was only thinking about me and my three little brothers all crying out for Mum and Dad. And see, that was the last time I ever, ever seen Dad. We never seen Dad again, he died.”
Bill’s time in ‘welfare’ was one of torment – a sameness that we have heard in every testimony, from all those who were removed and a sameness many of us continue to hear today of children removed.
“If you’d done anything wrong, one of the worst, main offences was to speak back to the White staff.”
The trauma of being removed and dumped into a boys’ or girls’ home, foster care and in many cases even in the permanency of a loving couple, it does not go away.
Bill said, “I was all very, very mixed up in my heart. I didn’t trust anybody.”
He was jailed at 18 years of age.
“It was just like the boys’ home, so it really didn’t worry me because I felt like that was home again, at the jail you see.”
The Arrernte mother has not lost her baby to child protection. She feared she would be a target – because she is Black. Since reconnecting with her community, biological families, she has watched and soaked up even more trauma in aunties and cousins losing their children to protection authorities on grounds that made little sense to her. She could not see the neglect that was alleged, and certainly could not comprehend the ‘at-risk’ headliner that protection workers are indemnified with.
She saw the court system where court orders to remove children are dished out a dime a dozen, the word of the protection workers generally regarded as the gospel. “It is scary in there… our people have no hope in there.”
“No-one is on our side in there, no–one fighting for us, not even ‘child advocates’.”
If there is to be any hope to end the Stolen Generations then there need arise a revolution, certainly not the peaceful one that is already here but going nowhere. The peaceful revolution has been on for years, daily, with the chattering classes – Black and White – yes angry but still not speaking about the immediate return of the majority of children removed and not talking enough about helping vulnerable families to improve their lot and dip into the taste of equality. They skirt around the edges talking only of the facts of trauma and poverty and ways forward are limited, sadly, to only best case scenarios of kinship care and and to loose conversations of aspirational goals for some of today’s impoverished children and for some, but not all, of future generations. This leaves far too many behind, leaves them to rot in their misery and in the injustices no different to the many left behind – the tens of thousands – to rot on the missions and reserves yesteryear.
There needs to be a revolution and a cacophony of voices which unsettle today’s perpetration of the Stolen Generations, of stolen children. Governments need to be rattled to the bone, their sleep unsettled. Diplomacy and civility are not working and the price paid is more children are being removed than ever before to appease assimilation or perish doctrines. If it takes every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation in the nation to unite and demand the release of the children then this is what must be done. If it takes every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation in the nation to sanction the Commonwealth Government, the Office of the Prime Minister, every State and Territory Government and cut all ties – like what was done by the world to apartheid South Africa – till the children removed are returned then this is what must be done. If it takes then every Brown and White organisation in the nation, or as many as, to join in sanctioning Australian governments and their instruments with a cutting of ties then this is what must be done. This is moral propriety, it is about human lives, it is about saving lives. If it takes sanctions and the cutting of ties by Black organisations on Australian, State and Territory Governments then yes, by all means. The mass return of stolen children will happen no how else, no way else. Governments can bring to an end out-of-control government instruments who are destroying lives, wrecking families, who are ensuring that generations unborn will suffer, who are enabling a future of not only more child removals but also of more prisons and of suicide rates that will outstrip today’s shame.
Today’s voices need to speak up stronger than what they are if they are to do in the oppressor, if they are to do in White privilege, if they are to set the standard – and that is help families, not fuck them over.
Records and narratives have to be set straight. The majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not being removed because they are being abused sexually or physically. That’s not true. The so-called shocking rates of alleged sexual and physical abuse are in comparison to non-Indigenous rates – because of acute and chronic poverty the rates for everything negative are worse and more pronounced for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders when compared to non-Indigenous Australians. The proportion of Aboriginal children removed on these grounds is low when compared to the total number removed.
The Stolen Generations started long before 1905 but legislatively they began then and till 1969 – but though many Australians now damn the past attrocities, indict the diabolical eugenics and cruel racism that was involved, the origins-of-thinking that led to the removal of children have still not been washed away. It is known, after records were destroyed and/or lost, that 10,000 children were removed and their lives never the same again but some estimate that many more were taken – maybe even up to 100,000 children in those 64 years though historian Robert Manne has estimated thereabouts 25,000 children were removed. Well, today 16,000 children have been removed – with tens of thousands more monitored by protection authorities. On current trends, if nothing is done, by 2030, 50,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will be removed. Others estimate around 25,000 to 30,000 but sadly I have never been wrong in my estimations – unless something today is done to avert this. While all sorts of folk – brothers and sisters Black, Brown and White, run around report building, dishing up soft recommendations, dealing in cheap talk about ‘cultural appropriateness’ in that White folk need to be culturally appropriate then past mistakes will be repeated. The only authentic cultural appropriateness in any high cultural content people is where the people from that cultural group are the decision makers. Cultural appropriateness is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander management of decisions. Child protection authorities are White run and owned and therefore they are not culturally appropriate, it is impossible to be Black if you’re White, just like it is impossible to be Brown if you’re White, etc. We can understand one another but we cannot be the other and stepping into the shoes of another is not actually an education of the other. Racism proves this.
Yes, we can all help one another and assist each other, and improve the lot of the vulnerable. This does not get in the way of what I have described above. Who leads is one thing and who helps and how they go about that assistance are different and should complement.
If everyone steps up on the abomination of child removals – the inexcusable numbers being removed – then all the rest will be sorted too; the cruel incarceration rates, the horrific poverty levels of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders of whom 40 per cent live below the poverty line, and a significant proportion dirt-poor.
Is this me dreaming that there need be sanctions and voices that say it as it is, that hit the mark, that spell it out, that live what they spell out? Well, I can tell you that those suffering pray for what I’ve just spelled out here, they’re screaming for this because they know they’re screwed without that type of advocacy and of the coming together.