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    Stolen Generations

    by Sid (Faisal)
    12th February, 2008 at 8:16 pm    

    “For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.”

    These are the words Kevin Rudd, Australia’s new prime minister, will say tomorrow in a formal public apology to Australia’s Aborigines for the “indignity and degradation” they have suffered. The apology is being viewed as a watershed in Australia.

    This public act of contrition is directed mainly at the so-called Stolen Generations. These were young Aborigines taken forcibly from their families by the authorities and placed in foster homes. It was an official attempt to dilute indigenous culture, and the practice persisted from 1910 until the 1970s. One-hundred thousand children were affected. But Rudd’s text aslo refers to the “past mistreatment” of all Aborigines, not just the “Stolen Generations” of children forcibly removed from their families.

    “To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

    For the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.”, Rudd will say.

    There are some 470,000 Aborigines in Australia (population 20 million). They remain the country’s most impoverished community, their life expectancy is 17 years lower than the national average. They suffer from higher rates of imprisonment, heart disease, infant mortality and domestic violence.

    For John Howard, former hidebound conservative prime minister, sorry seemed to be the hardest word. He refused to say it in the 11 years he was in power, arguing a formal apology would reinforce a sense of victimhood in Aboriginal communities, and that modern-day Australians were not the authors of the policy, so had nothing for which to apologise.

    Much as I admire the sentiment behind Rudd’s apology, I can’t help feeling that this is, ultimately, no more than gesture politics; an empty platitude to assuage the collective shame of Australian history.

    Will there be any real policies to back up the formal apology? Unfortunately not. The federal government has ruled out the possibility of any financial compensation for the Stolen Generations, in spite of widespread anger and resentment, for which Rudd will, most certainly, not be saying sorry.

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    1. Hannan — on 12th February, 2008 at 8:52 pm  

      This news is a triumph for activists who have campaigned for decades. Australia watchers will also note how Oz is moving away from the Anglo sphere of influence through such moves, with China for instance recognised as a strategic partner (under Howard). This news could enhance Oz credentials across non-white Asia and even prompt progress elsewhere where adivasis have had a tough time. Small moves.

    2. Rohin — on 12th February, 2008 at 9:09 pm  

      That picture’s a little disturbing.

      Many friends have gone to Australia to set up a new life (thanks Patsy Hewitt!) but there are things about the country I find more disturbing than that photo.

      America, the UK, many white Western countries have shameful histories of racism. They have left most of this behind. Whereas in Australia I have found even quite otherwise normal, middle class people still harbour real hatred towards ‘abos’. I’m glad to see this sort of gesture, but what does it really achieve?

    3. Sunny — on 13th February, 2008 at 12:03 am  

      Well done for posting this… I read this today and was thinking about doing this too. This alone makes me like Rudd a million times better than that monkey John Howard earlier. He was the most pompous leader around.

    4. Bazza — on 13th February, 2008 at 2:35 am  

      As an Australian I can say that this is a great moment in our history. We have had a backwards loking government for the past decade with no vision for the future other than to fall in line as a patsy to the US and embracing ultra conservative values.

      Now we again have a future forward looking vision for our nation, from this small step we hope to heal the rift between Aboriginal and ‘white’ Australians.There are many more such steps for us still to undertake but this is the most significant. I don’t know who ‘Robin’ has met in Australia but they are not the Australians I know.

    5. digitalcntrl — on 13th February, 2008 at 3:12 am  

      I believe a similar phenomenon occured over here in the states with Native Americans. There children were similarily taken way in order to “civilize” them.

    6. digitalcntrl — on 13th February, 2008 at 3:14 am  

      Unfortunately such damage is not easily repaired. Native Americans in the US have the highest rate of alcholism. Most live in abject poverty despite generous govt aid.

    7. Desi Italiana — on 13th February, 2008 at 3:17 am  

      I remember an Australian teacher I worked with, and the issue of Aborigines came up. She said, “I don’t understand what their problem is. We give them money- what more do they want?”

    8. nodn — on 13th February, 2008 at 4:05 am  

      “Much as I admire the sentiment behind Rudd’s apology, I can’t help feeling that this is, ultimately, no more than gesture politics; an empty platitude to assuage the collective shame of Australian history.”

      I agree totally, Sid. Anyone with sense knows that authorities are always wrong, and this is no exception… apologies now won’t bring back the Stolen Generations.

    9. steve — on 13th February, 2008 at 5:34 am  

      For a large proportion this SHOULD be the Prime Minister’s apology



      We apologise for giving you doctors and free medical care, which allows you to survive and multiply so that you can demand apologies.

      We apologise for helping you to read and teaching you the English language and thus we opened up to you the entire European civilisation, thought and enterprise.

      We feel that we must apologise for building hundreds of homes for you, which you have vandalised and destroyed.

      We apologise for giving you law and order which has helped prevent you from slaughtering one another and using the unfortunate for food purposes.

      We apologise for developing large farms and properties, which today feed you people, where before, you had the benefits of living off the land and starving during droughts.

      We apologise for providing you with warm clothing made of fabric to replace that animal skins you used before.

      We apologise for building roads and railway tracks between cities and building cars so that you no longer have to walk over harsh terrain.

      We apologise for paying off your vehicle when you fail to pay the installments

      We apologise for giving you free travel anywhere, whenever.

      We apologise for giving each and every member of your family $100.00 and free travel to attend an aboriginal funeral.

      We apologise for not charging you rent on any lands when white people have to pay.

      We apologise for giving you interest free loans.

      We apologise for developing oil wells and minerals, including gold and diamonds which you never used and had no idea of their value, yet they seem to mysteriously occupy sacred sites.

      We apologise for developing Ayers rock and Kakadu, and handing them over to you so that you get all the money.

      We apologise for allowing taxpayers money paid towards daughters’ wedding ($8,000.00 each daughter)

      We apologise for giving you $1.7 billion per year for your 250,000 people, which is $48,000.00 per aboriginal man, woman and child.

      We apologise for working hard to pay taxes that finance your welfare, medical care, education, etc to the tune of $1.2 billion each year.

      We apologise for you having to approach the aboriginal affairs department to verify the above figures. For the trouble you will have identifying the “uncle toms” in your own community who are getting richer and leaving some of you living in squalor and poverty.

      We do apologise. We really do.

      We humbly beg your forgiveness for all the above sins.

      We are only too happy to take back all the above and return you to the paradise of the “outback”, whenever you are ready.

    10. fugstar — on 13th February, 2008 at 10:43 am  

      Nothing can bring back what the cut throats destroyed, or fully heal that which they mutilated (indigenous dignity) and balance the ‘original sin’ of white theft of the land (using a christian paradigm, because they are).

      Pennance in the form of white welfare ideas tends to make things worse, whether its in the realm of international dvelopment or regeneration.

      Where im from the first step of repentance is to promise never to do it again. However i dont see australia doing anything but act as a honky imperial watchman in Asia. I look forward to their deviation from that doomed destiny.

    11. flygirl — on 13th February, 2008 at 11:26 am  

      Rohin #2, while it is gesture politics, basic sort of progressiveness has been missing for a long time from public discourse. As a bare minimum it is a long overdue, very public acknowledgment of past wrongs which has so far been swept under the carpet like so much detritus, an “interesting sociological phenomenon” to be used in political buck-passing.

    12. NONO — on 13th February, 2008 at 1:41 pm  

      Steve, where’s your apology for going there in the first place?!

    13. Sunny — on 13th February, 2008 at 1:58 pm  

      Agree with flygirl in #11.

    14. Charles Letterman — on 13th February, 2008 at 2:39 pm  

      The Australian government has made a formal apology for the past wrongs caused by successive governments on the indigenous Aboriginal population. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, apologised to all Aborigines for laws and policies that “inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss”. But the Aborigines want more. They want money and are calling the apology a ‘cut-price sorry’.

      Back in 1998, in a meeting with Tony Blair, the Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto offered “an expression of deep remorse and heartfelt apology to the people who suffered in the Second World War”. But Britain’s war veterans wanted more. They had been hoping for an apology from the entire government as well as further compensation on top of that received in 50 years ago.

      Two years ago Tony Blair expressed his “deep sorrow” for Britain’s role in the slave trade. But representitives of those with ancestors victimised by the slavery wanted a formal apology (which Blair ruled out) and, of course, financial compensation.

      So what’s the point? Most country’s governments have been violent and oppressive at some time in their history. Where does the guilt stop?

      In fact, all of these apologies are meaningless. The groups are obviously resigned to their martyrdom, and nothing short of a financial pay-out will really satisfy them. And no modern day leader has the right to apologise for wrongs committed by previous generations anyway, however horrific.

      My suggestion is that these powerful governments concentrate on dealing with the poverty and oppression happening around the world this very minute, rather than worrying about past misdemeanours that are cemented into history, and impossible to correct.


    15. Ravi Naik — on 13th February, 2008 at 3:41 pm  

      We are only too happy to take back all the above and return you to the paradise of the “outback”, whenever you are ready.

      What you have offered is peanuts compared to the crime of destroying several generations of indigenous people of Australia. More than money, I think they deserve respect and a public acknowledgement of past wrongs. Is that too hard for you to swallow - you are nothing more than a spoiled brat.

    16. Anas — on 13th February, 2008 at 3:52 pm  

      When will Australia apologise to us for ‘Neighbours’and ‘Home and Away’?

    17. nodn — on 13th February, 2008 at 4:09 pm  

      lol Anas! They never need to do that! When will Englaqnd apologise for Eastenders?

    18. cjcjc — on 13th February, 2008 at 4:11 pm  

      I generally don’t have time for apologies for long past wrongs - and I quite liked John Howard.

      But the actions for which this apology is being made are still within living memory, and if this does anything at all to help aboriginal/settler relations (is that how I should put it?) then I’m all for it.

    19. Anas — on 13th February, 2008 at 4:13 pm  

      lol Anas! They never need to do that! When will Englaqnd apologise for Eastenders?

      Soon I hope.

    20. fugstar — on 13th February, 2008 at 5:15 pm  

      but at the end of the day its only the people those oppressed people who can re-eorganise and get back their dignity. no colonial-settler government can really give you that. Govt can instigate a meticulous public inquiry though and adapt its educational programming if it likes.

    21. Vasey — on 13th February, 2008 at 10:07 pm  

      ‘lol Anas! They never need to do that! When will Englaqnd apologise for Eastenders?’

      I didn’t realise that anyone had stupid enough to import that tripe into their nations!

    22. flygirl — on 14th February, 2008 at 12:31 am  

      This coincides with a number of things: the _Little Children are Sacred_ report tabled last yeat, the subsequent “Intervention” and the change of government. It is to be hoped that indigenous issues will now remain in the forefront of public consciousness, rather than something to have a whinge or hair tearing session about every few years.

    23. RedScot — on 14th February, 2008 at 12:46 am  

      When Sid states that the Rudd government has ruled out compensation for the members of the Stolen Generation he is strictly speaking accurate - no payments will be made to individuals (tho’ there are cases of individuals successfully suing thru the courts and Tasmania has a compensation fund). However, the government has promised to substantially increase funding for the needs of all the Aboriginal peoples of Australia. Funds to spent on housing, health and education in order to overcome the terrible poverty and neglect suffered for so long.

    24. flygirl — on 14th February, 2008 at 1:55 am  

      Indeed, Red Scot, but State governments, many of whom apologised years ago, may be liable (and indeed some will pay) compensation.

    25. pmoff — on 14th February, 2008 at 5:02 am  

      STEVE! Man, you sound traumatised over the money we ‘give’ indigenous australians.Look at it like this maybe: gross national revenues are about $370 billion, we give $4b ‘away’ to aborigines. it’s still cheap rent. Flip it around abit and personalise it some: that big flat with ocean views you might be renting should cost you $370/week, but you’re only paying $4. Bargain.

    26. JayDub — on 14th February, 2008 at 7:44 am  

      Lots of talk ABOUT Aboriginal people on this website. I can’t seem to find any of you who actually asked them what they think about this. For starters, look at http://www.abc.net.au/ballarat/stories/s2161178.htm and http://www.abc.net.au/ballarat/stories/s2160242.htm for starters. It’s not about compensation. It’s not about making whitefolk feel better about themselves. Lots of media assumptions that Aboriginal people only live in the ‘outback’… not the cities and suburbs. Yeah, we’ve seen the racist emails and txts about the ‘real apology’… the thing is, my feeling is the country has turned a corner. All the Aboriginal people of the Stolen Generations I spoke to emphasised this was about allowing them to get closure on a terrible chapter and to move on. And the white folk? We feel less of that ‘whispering in our hearts’ and more that we have the right to forge a new destiny free of the hangover of the old colonialists.

      The old nasty race-warriors/race-baiters/race-haters?

      Those mob just look old and busted. Beta-videos in a Youtube world. We’re moving on - and growing up.

    27. Desi Italiana — on 14th February, 2008 at 8:29 am  

      Comments #9 and #14 only illustrate what a big freaking deal it must be for Australians to even come close to thinking that something effed up was done to the Aborigines.

    28. Tom Clark — on 14th February, 2008 at 9:29 am  

      Sid’s original comment piece understandably addresses the question of compensation, but it overboils the egg by claiming there would be no practical follow-through on the apology:

      “Will there be any real policies to back up the formal apology? Unfortunately not.”

      As it happened, Rudd announced important new policy in housing and in early childhood education, with quite serious resource implications.

    29. Sofia — on 14th February, 2008 at 10:31 am  

      I don’t know if compensation is the way forward. There needs to be real political will to help sort out the social problems caused by longterm racist policies.

      We can scoff at this current “gesture” but has the Queen apologised for Britain’s role in India (jalianwalah bagh)…

    30. Sid — on 14th February, 2008 at 10:39 am  

      Tom Clark, glad to hear there will be broader policies by the Rudd government to help Aborigines in general. But to be precise, my last paragraph is in relation to compensating the many thousands of Aborigine families who were the victims of forced separartion of children from their families in order to “breed them out”. This practise went gone for the better part of the last hundred years. No compensation is forthcoming to these people.

    31. The Dude — on 14th February, 2008 at 12:34 pm  


      I’d rethink your last paragraph if I were you. White Austrialians would loss everything if your last paragraph came to pass. Steve….on second thoughts are you in fact a member of the first Austrialians?

    32. Desi Italiana — on 14th February, 2008 at 6:49 pm  

      Why is it that every time the issue of indigenous peoples come up, compensation is the main focus? The Australians I knew were really assailed about the reparations/compensation factor, and this was the argument against any potential governmental move that attempted to help/improve the Aborigines’ conditions. Why is that such a big deal? Is it because it’s too hard to think about other issues? Is the compensation part the easiest strawman to shoot at?

      And it’s not like you are forking over 50% of your paycheck.

    33. Desi Italiana — on 14th February, 2008 at 6:51 pm  


      “I don’t know if compensation is the way forward. There needs to be real political will to help sort out the social problems caused by longterm racist policies.”

      I’m sorry to sound so harsh, but how the hell do you think “social problems” will be rectified and addressed without money? Out of thin air? “Political will” is symbolic; you need resources to give body to “political will.”

    34. alan — on 14th February, 2008 at 10:14 pm  


      If aliens turned up and took over this planet but decided to tolerate us as long we learned their language and adhered to their customs then I think it would take us some time to appreciate the fruits of progress and accept our new role.

      A more down to earth example would be WWII - If the Japanese had won and taken over - how long would Australians have resisted ? Would you have had the good sense to become a docile subject race, worship the emperor and have your women offering ‘comfort’ to the invaders?

    35. alan — on 14th February, 2008 at 10:18 pm  

      I too don’t believe in gesture politics, but the bottom line is that Australia can easily afford to make life a little easier for the aborigines.

      As Australians used to enjoy saying to the British - stop whinging.

    36. Katherine — on 17th February, 2008 at 2:55 pm  

      Steve’s post, apart from being outrageously hateful racism is also complete steaming horse-shit. As John Quiggin said over on Crooked Timber just a few hours ago: “It’s well known among those who’ve actually studied the subject that expenditure for services to aboriginal communities is less than for white communities with comparable difficulties.”

      The stupid, racist Australian Liberal politicians who circulated this vile screed have been made to look as stupid as they obviously are.

    37. Katy Newton — on 17th February, 2008 at 5:48 pm  

      Funny how the people who complain about the idea of indigenous Australians and native Americans getting compensation for the way their societies were shat on and their children stolen are the same ones who think that anyone who comes to this country should respect our culture and be grateful for our hospitality. Anyone else spotting the glaring inconsistency here, or is is just me?

    38. Don — on 17th February, 2008 at 6:18 pm  

      ‘…or is is just me?’

      Hope not!

      Steve’s post struck me as cut and paste job from somewhere ugly.

    39. Don — on 17th February, 2008 at 6:28 pm  

      Should have googled first, it is indeed all over the place, like a rash.

      Steve, if you can’t even be bothered to compose your own bigoted idiocies, you’re in the wrong place.

    40. digitalcntrl — on 17th February, 2008 at 7:28 pm  


      “I’m sorry to sound so harsh, but how the hell do you think “social problems” will be rectified and addressed without money? Out of thin air? “Political will” is symbolic; you need resources to give body to “political will.”

      I would disagree with the both of you. Unfortunately the only people who can uplit native americans/aboriginals are native americans/aboriginals even if it was not they who created the problem. You look at native americans in this country despite free college education most do not attend college. Most native american tribes operate casinos at substantial profit yet most of the tribes still live in abject poverty. Fundamentally it has to do with a lack of confidence in their socities, something purely in their pysche.

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