Mr David Harrison is a member of the ‘new’ stolen generation and a former colleague from Canberra. I asked David a while ago if he would write a piece about his life in the care of The Department of Community Services (DoCS) for Blak and Black. David agreed, but asked if he could write a very brief introduction to the ‘new’ stolen generation as a prelude to a post about his life.
David’s request sounded reasonable to me, so it’s over to David for a quick review on the ‘new’ stolen generation.
David Harrison on the ‘new’ stolen generation.
In 1994 the Australian Bureau of Statistics presented a survey which revealed that one in every ten (10%) Indigenous people aged over 25 had been removed from their families in childhood a figure which seems to be confirmed by research since the Bringing Them Home Report.
The [South Australian] government was unable to say how many Stolen Generation people live in the state. — Statement in a 2007 article about the first court-ordered compensation ruling .
Towards the end of the 19th century authorities started to take children away without a legal framework. A framework was established in 1909 with the Aborigines Protection Act.
During the 1960s the process of child removal had slowed down but continued well into the 1970s. Some of the schools and missions who held the Stolen Generations did not close until the early 1980s (e.g. Bomaderry Children’s Home in NSW.
A new Stolen Generation?
Children continue to be taken from their families today. The Department of Community Services (DoCS) has the authority to remove children from their families if they were ‘at risk of significant harm’.
Aboriginal children are almost 8 times more likely to be the subject of departmental intervention, and 9 times more Aboriginal children are on care and protection orders. 10 times more Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care.
“Inter-generational effects of separation from family and culture” are partly to blame, in other words parents who were stolen as kids and who are now passing on this trauma to their own children.
On the day of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations the Aboriginal newspaper Koori Mail reported that the NSW government created “2,500 new foster care places”. The article continued that 12,700 children reportedly are “unable to live with their [black or white] parents due to abuse, neglect or bereavement.”
A Special Commission of Inquiry into the Department of Community Services found that in March 2008 there were 4,458 Aboriginal children in out-of-home care, a number which is equal to four times the number of Aboriginal children who were in foster homes, institutions or missions in 1969, during the Stolen Generations.
From 2001-02 to 2007-08 the number of reports submitted to DoCS increased by 300% to 55,303.
Aboriginal children’s safety is “always grounded in their culture” because they need to remain connected to the communities and be sure and strong in their cultural identity.
Stolen Generation member dies only months after reunion
A 107-year-old member of the Stolen Generations died only months after she was finally reunited with members of her original people in Port Hedland, WA Belinda Dann’s life is a sad example of many other members of the Stolen Generations, many of whom died broken-hearted because they never saw their loved ones again.
Belinda was six years old when she was taken from her mother. Along with sisters she was taken to Beagle Bay mission in north-western Australia. When they asked for their mother they were told she would come which she never did. She married as a teenager and moved to Port Hedland. She remembered her Aboriginal name but did not know who she was and where she came from.
By coincidence one of Belinda’s grandsons mentioned her Aboriginal name in a conversation with an Aboriginal girl who had heard of Belinda and was connected to her people. A 100-year-long search was over. Belinda met her people and, incredibly, started speaking in her native Aboriginal language again. Four months later she died.
We didn’t find our family until I was 11 or 12. —Prof. Larissa Behrendt, Aboriginal academic
We didn’t know we were related. You find it out at 20 or 30, sitting in a pub drinking. —Richard Pittman, Stolen Generations member, taken aged four
‘Not stolen, but rescued’
A significant number of Australians disagreed with the apology delivered in February 2008 to the Stolen Generations by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Here are their main arguments:
- The Stolen Generations don’t exist. Some people simply and flatly deny that children were stolen. They want to see ‘proof’ and claim no-one could ‘find’ them.
- Aboriginal children were ‘rescued’. Supporters claim that Aboriginal children were not stolen but ‘rescued’ from a family and community environment that was “rife with rape, incest, drug and/or alcohol abuse and insanitary living conditions” . The Aboriginal children were ‘given a chance’.
I’ve asked my granny if she thought she was rescued. She replied, “I didn’t need rescuing from my mother’s love.”—Che Cockatoo-Collins
- ‘We did not do it’. People who refuse to apologise to the Stolen Generations feel that they or their ancestors had no part in what happened, hence shared no responsibility for the pain caused.
- An apology leads to compensation claims. Many people fear that after the apology “a flood of compensation claims will be forthcoming” running to “millions of dollars”