Umm, sorry about the genocide
February 12, 2008 7:54 AM   Subscribe

A Nation Apologizes. (Sydney Morning Herald.) Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal children. Here the history told from an Aboriginal perspective in Archie Roach's great song "Took The Children Away." (Youtube) (song lyrics).
posted by fourcheesemac (77 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh, to early to proofread.

Here IS the history (or I suppose it could be "hear the history"). Keep your tissues handy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:57 AM on February 12, 2008

I mean, um, TOO early to proofread. Godammit.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:58 AM on February 12, 2008

Wow. In and of itself, an apology is great, and long overdue. But - there are many lovely sentiments expressed in the apology, how are they going to enact them?
posted by goo at 8:11 AM on February 12, 2008

Well, goo, it's good to admit we need them, for a start.
posted by Jilder at 8:15 AM on February 12, 2008

Another moving song: Brown Skin Baby (They Took Me Away) by Bob Randall.
posted by goo at 8:15 AM on February 12, 2008

Yeah, jilder, it is. This is exciting, please don't get me wrong, but action is even more exciting.
posted by goo at 8:19 AM on February 12, 2008

It occurs to me that my post title invites a discussion of the ethics of such "apologies," and of course that's cool. It's a controversial subject, though, and it bears pointing out that it is at least my impression that this gesture is, in and of itself, deeply meaningful to many Aboriginal people because it was so long in coming and took so much effort to obtain, especially given the long silence of the Howard administration. So, yes, it doesn't change the history. But reconciliation depends on truth being told; there is no forgiveness without accountability. I don't think this is an empty gesture, and I wish the US would take its cue.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:21 AM on February 12, 2008

The Guardian ran a piece about this yesterday, which I was going to post, and now don't have to.
posted by triv at 8:24 AM on February 12, 2008

Also, from a linguist's point of view, we need not separate "language" and "action" so starkly. An apology is a kind of action in its own right. It doesn't end the misery of Aboriginal poverty or cultural trauma by itself. But it is a step in that direction. It effects change, as such. No one can be an Australian citizen and not be held accountable for what a government does or says (just like so many Americans feel like Natalie Maines, embarrassed by what is done in our name).

Australia has a pretty strong sense of national shame over its genocide, far more deeply felt than the comparable sentiment in the US. And Aboriginal culture is in its own way as fond of formality in discourse as the British culture that powers Australian national institutions. "Sorry" doesn't always cut it, but it never hurts. It's an action as well as a word.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:26 AM on February 12, 2008

This video is pretty good, note "Sorry, The First Step" spelled out in candles. Another op-ed article with some interesting discussion thrown in.

I don't know enough about the issue to make a reasoned judgement, but this is pretty brave and unusual in modern times, in my opinion.
posted by triv at 8:27 AM on February 12, 2008

The wording, "we say sorry", sounds odd. Shouldn't it be, "We are sorry"? Or was there zero chance of that phrase ever being uttered?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:29 AM on February 12, 2008

Perhaps some perspective is needed. The Bringing Them Home report, is a document detailing the impact of that the policy of forced family seperations had on indigenous people. It's very first reccomendation is an apology. To quote:

The first step in any compensation and healing for victims of gross violations of human rights must be an acknowledgment of the truth and the delivery of an apology. Van Boven's principle 15 concerns `satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition' including, as necessary,

(a) Cessation of continuing violations; (b) Verification of the facts and full and public disclosure of the truth; (c) An official declaration or a judicial decision restoring the dignity, reputation and legal rights of the victim and/or of persons connected with the victim; (d) Apology, including public acknowledgment of the facts and acceptance of responsibility; (e) Judicial or administrative sanctions against persons responsible for the violations; (f) Commemorations and paying tribute to the victims; (g) Inclusion in human rights training and history textbooks of an accurate account of the violations committed in the field of human rights and humanitarian law; (h) Preventing the recurrence of violations ...

My emphasis. It's a ten year old report. It took ten years for an Australian government to have the balls to make the simple declaration that yes, previous governments have wronged our native peoples. Absolutely nothing can be done by a government until it can at least admit what the problem is. Everything until then just seems like empty gestures.
posted by Jilder at 8:36 AM on February 12, 2008

This is very historical, but probably especially so because it was such a sticking point for so long that the previous Prime Minister refused to apologise throughout his eleven year reign.

Apparently, all government school teachers have been instructed to tune in so their students can watch the apology, and this has been extended to universities & technical colleges, but on a more voluntary basis.

I know I'll be doing my best to watch it live.

Anybody know what time it'll be broadcast?
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:40 AM on February 12, 2008

It took ten years for an Australian government to have the balls to make the simple declaration that yes, previous governments have wronged our native peoples.

You say that as if we've had multiple governments in that time. We had one, and it's not so much that Howard didn't have balls; more the fact that he was such a total wanker.

This is probably the first big act of the new Labor / Rudd government, and they can't be accused of having wasted any time in doing it.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:43 AM on February 12, 2008

Ubu: I like to pretend that the Howardbot was more than one guy. That way I can blame my countrymen for a few, probably well-meaning mistakes, rather than repeating the same greedy, xenophobic one over and over again. There's only so much my fragile little spirit can take.

Looks like 8.55am AEDT. That makes it 7.55 in Brisneyland...heeeeeeey, I may even be awake for it. Less than six hours. More special coverage by Auntie here.
posted by Jilder at 8:51 AM on February 12, 2008

Ten years of a John Howard Liberal government, sure. He promised never to apologise, and he didn't.

There are parts of the recommendation that haven't been fulfilled - there's no real acceptance of responsibility. It's quite well-worded wrt leaving themselves open to claims for compensation.

I hope kids today are being taught the truth - we certainly weren't at primary school in the 80s.
posted by goo at 8:52 AM on February 12, 2008


Christ, what an asshole. I'm going to have to head in to the office early!
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:53 AM on February 12, 2008

also: why are we all awake?

*goes back to bed*
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:53 AM on February 12, 2008

This is excellent. Sure, it's "only" an apology, but 1) it's a necessary first step (and important to the victims), 2) as fourcheesemac said, words are actions too, and 3) if apologies are so easy, how come so few governments (or other institutions) ever make them?

Thanks for the post.
posted by languagehat at 9:10 AM on February 12, 2008

In the unlikely event that anyone reading this thread hasn't yet seen it, I highly recommend watching "Rabbit Proof Fence." It is an amazing movie, not only for its true-life tale of one particular family's suffering and struggle to reunite but also for the extraordinary performances of the film's child actors. Netflix it now, I beg of you.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:11 AM on February 12, 2008

Well, finally.

The thing about an apology, though, is that it's most effective when you don't do that shit again.

I could swear there was a FPP a while back about a new law (or policy?) that was going to be sending...cops? (my memory of this FPP is very fuzzy, and a cursory search isn't turning it up) or social workers into Native communities to take kids away if there was alcohol abuse/use in the family. Like I said, very fuzzy memory of this. Anyone?
posted by rtha at 9:30 AM on February 12, 2008

rtha: google Northern Territory Intervention.

It was, in fact, Stolen Generations mk 2 - a political stunt by Howard to simultaneously quasi-legitimise the stolen generations, discredit state & territory governments, make the federal government look big & powerful & decisive, and finally, drive yet another wedge into the opposition's vote.

It failed. Just as Howard did in the election.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:37 AM on February 12, 2008

I could swear there was a FPP a while back about a new law (or policy?) that was going to be sending...cops? (my memory of this FPP is very fuzzy, and a cursory search isn't turning it up) or social workers into Native communities to take kids away if there was alcohol abuse/use in the family. Like I said, very fuzzy memory of this. Anyone?

That was about a program proposed by Howard, right before the election, which he subsequently lost.
posted by delmoi at 9:41 AM on February 12, 2008

I highly recommend watching "Rabbit Proof Fence."


I really hate it when, in some other forums, when terrible racial atrocities are being discussed, you'll get some quasi-racist that pops up and says 'Yeah, but what about...' and follows up with some imaginary or percieved minor slight to white people.

But I am about to do the same thing insofar as it this policy doesn't just appear to have applied to Aboriginal familes. I watched a documentary recently about the Child Migrant Policy in which children from the UK and Ireland were also taken from families deemed unsuitable, often by religious orders like the Christian Brothers and the Sisters of Mercy, and then transported to Botany Bay and put to work in the task of populating Australia.

Presumably, they were there as an attempt to avoid the numerical dominance of the Aborigines, but the children and families concerned appear to have had their lives just as blighted.

As I said though, I don't offer this up as some kind of 'but we've suffered too...' excuse. Rather, I'm curious about the extent that the child migration policy was part of a larger single policy, and whether all of this stuff is generally known about and acknowledged in Australia?
posted by PeterMcDermott at 9:44 AM on February 12, 2008

PeterMcDermott: would those whiteys have been transported around the early 1800s?

I'm a bit hazy on the Stolen Generation dates, but I think this was happening to aborigines in roughly the 1930s to 1950s.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:51 AM on February 12, 2008

John Howard apologised 8 years ago fer Chrissakes:

Good evening. My name is John Howard and I’m speaking to you from Sydney, Australia, host city of the year 2000 Olympic Games.

At this important time, and in an atmosphere of international goodwill and national pride, we here in Australia - all of us - would like to make a statement before all nations. Australia, like many countries in the new world, is intensely proud of what it has achieved in the past 200 years.

We are a vibrant and resourceful people. We share a freedom born in the abundance of nature, the richness of the earth, the bounty of the sea. We are the world’s biggest island. We have the world’s longest coastline. We have more animal species than any other country. Two thirds of the world’s birds are native to Australia. We are one of the few countries on earth with our own sky. We are a fabric woven of many colours and it is this that gives us our strength.

However, these achievements have come at great cost. We have been here for 200 years but before that, there was a people living here. For 40,000 years they lived in a perfect balance with the land. There were many Aboriginal nations, just as there were many Indian nations in North America and across Canada, as there were many Maori tribes in New Zealand and Incan and Mayan peoples in South America. These indigenous Australians lived in areas as different from one another as Scotland is from Ethiopia. They lived in an area the size of Western Europe. They did not even have a common language. Yet they had their own laws, their own beliefs, their own ways of understanding.

We destroyed this world. We often did not mean to do it. Our forebears, fighting to establish themselves in what they saw as a harsh environment, were creating a national economy. But the Aboriginal world was decimated. A pattern of disease and dispossession was established. Alcohol was introduced. Social and racial differences were allowed to become fault-lines. Aboriginal families were broken up. Sadly, Aboriginal health and education are responsibilities we have still yet to address successfully.

I speak for all Australians in expressing a profound sorrow to the Aboriginal people. I am sorry. We are sorry. Let the world know and understand, that it is with this sorrow, that we as a nation will grow and seek a better, a fairer and a wiser future. Thank you.

-John Howard, July 3, 2000

The comments section after this transcript is a hoot:
posted by uncanny hengeman at 9:52 AM on February 12, 2008

It's acknowledged a lot more now than previously, for sure. As I said above we learnt none of it through primary school in the 80s - Aboriginal people had had their land taken away from them but the Stolen Generations weren't even touched on. I first learnt of it through reading Sally Morgan's My Place and then John Pilger's A Secret Country in my late teens (mid-90s), both of which I think were important consciousness-raising works for white Australians. It was after these books had been around for a while that the reconciliation movement really started to take off.

There has been a lot of derision of the black armband view of history, particularly as the Howard govt was faced with the Bringing Them Home report and couldn't see past compensation as the consequences of the truth being told.

As for the British children sent to Australia - I learnt of them through the excellent mini-series The Leaving of Liverpool and through random magazines articles and such over the years, but no I don't think their stories are particularly well-known either. I would be surprised if there was a direct, concrete link between the two policies.
posted by goo at 10:01 AM on February 12, 2008

I really hate it when, in some other forums, when terrible racial atrocities are being discussed, you'll get some quasi-racist that pops up and says 'Yeah, but what about...' and follows up with some imaginary or percieved minor slight to white people.

Not wanting to have a go, Peter (because I respect your posts way too much), and not wanting to shit in this thread. This is a day I'd never thought I'd see.

British kiddies stolen during and after WWII, often lied to and told the rest of their family was dead. Institutionalised and forced into labour, if you want to get really hysterical about it.

In fact, I went to a Christian Brothers school and I'm lead to believe a lot of the poor bastards cleared virgin bush and were involved in large earth moving projects, which made it such a glorious campus by the time I got there. In between getting diddled and beaten by those charming men of the cloth.

Hardly a "perceived minor slight." Jesus, man.

But it only gets mentioned every now and then as a comparison so, erm, there ya go.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:08 AM on February 12, 2008

Oops I meant to link to the whole Wikipedia article above: History wars. It gives a good overview of how controversial Australia's indigenous history has been.
posted by goo at 10:19 AM on February 12, 2008

Ubu and delmoi - thanks.
posted by rtha at 10:28 AM on February 12, 2008

ha. The other John Howard. I always liked him better.
posted by b33j at 12:22 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

UbuRovois: It failed. Just as Howard did in the election.

I did not know this (the first part, not the second). That's good news.

PeterMcDermott: would those whiteys have been transported around the early 1800s?

Wasn't it post World War Two?
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:35 PM on February 12, 2008

Sorry Uncanny, I can't work out if you're serious or not but for anyone that is confused, the quoted speech was by John Howard the actor not John Howard the prime minister.
posted by figment at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2008

Apparently, during Brendan Nelson's speech, most of the crowd in Federation Square turned their backs on him.

Anyway, an inspiring and welcome moment.
posted by Jimbob at 3:05 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

It failed. Just as Howard did in the election.

I did not know this (the first part, not the second). That's good news.

oh, what i meant was that it failed as an election strategy. howard was tempting rudd to say he'd end the intervention; classic wedge politics that worked for him in previous elections.

rudd's strategy was to mimic all of howard's policies, but make them about 5% more palatable. thus,

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin says she wants to ensure Indigenous Australians are consulted more as part of the takeover of Northern Territory Aboriginal communities.

She says the new Labor Government supports the intervention, but with some minor changes.

"The number one issue that we've indicated since we were elected that we wanted to add to the intervention is really to bring Indigenous people in the Northern Territory into the process," she said.

"We do think it's very important that Indigenous people are able to contribute."

posted by UbuRoivas at 3:13 PM on February 12, 2008

Just finished the live parliamentary telecast. Today, I am proud of my government, which is a first!

I, like the thousands of us who made the Sydney cross-harbour Sorry walk in 2001, sincerely hope that this first step, a long time in the coming, leads to some real forces of change for this section of Australian society.

I was particluarly impressed that the PM put the onus for action on both sides of parliament by forming a joint commission, extending the issue beyond bullshit bipartisan politics.
posted by elphTeq at 3:28 PM on February 12, 2008

I was particluarly impressed that the PM put the onus for action on both sides of parliament by forming a joint commission, extending the issue beyond bullshit bipartisan politics.

And it's a shame Nelson seemed to spend most of this speech going on about all the great improvements for Aboriginal people in the last ten years...the brave, patriotic, kind-hearted people who were responsible for the policies of the past...the success of the Northern Territory intervention...

Dick head.
posted by Jimbob at 3:46 PM on February 12, 2008

There was an exquisite moment of schadenfreude last night on the ABC Lateline when Tony Jones pressed Tony Abbott (the opposition minister for indigenous affairs!!!WTF!!!). After a decade of refusing to apologise in government the look on his face as he had to eat his previous words was priceless. Watch it if you care to see him squirm.
An apology is right and long overdue. Sadly, a decade of Howard saying he won't apologise because it would open the door to compensation has lead a lot of people to feel uneasy about this apology, and to view compensation as undeserved and to be avoided.
It probably doesn't help that a few extremist aboriginal activists are bandying around claims for $10b in compensation payments.
I think all Australians would seek a future where indigenous Australians suffer no disadvantage due to their birthright, but there is little agreement on how to deliver such an outcome. I wish I knew.
posted by bystander at 4:21 PM on February 12, 2008

Today is a great, historic day. It's a day of national significance. I'm proud of my Government. I haven't felt proud of my Government for a very, very long time.

And it only gets better; WorkChoices starts down the road of going the way of the Dodo today as well.
posted by Effigy2000 at 4:47 PM on February 12, 2008

After a decade of refusing to apologise in government the look on his face as he had to eat his previous words was priceless.

Yes, it was almost worth eleven years of Howard just for that moment of pure televisual gold.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:47 PM on February 12, 2008

And Nelson's speech was... bizarre. He don't get it, he just don't get it.
posted by mattoxic at 4:49 PM on February 12, 2008

Nelson's speech is available via the ABC site

Brendan Nelson's address (6.3 MB)

Utter fool
posted by mattoxic at 5:18 PM on February 12, 2008

Wilson Tuckey and (surprise, surprise) John Howard boycotted todays meeting of Parliament. Tuckey was there for the Prayer but left before the PM issued his apology.

Christ, what assholes.
posted by Effigy2000 at 5:47 PM on February 12, 2008

The Bringing Them Home report suggests there were Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their parents from 1910 through to 1970. (wikipedia)

1970? So recent. Of course, Aborigines weren't counted in the census officially until 1971. And this is why this apology is so important - because we aren't talking about something that occurred a century or more ago. We aren't that far removed from the outcome of these policies that destroyed several generations of Aboriginal communities.

Brendan Nelson is an apologist for closed-minded bigotry everywhere. To even say on this day that some Aboriginal children benefited from this scheme is the height of stupidity and callousness.

Thanks to the Australian public for putting Kevin Rudd in office so that things like this might be said and change can be believed in.
posted by crossoverman at 6:09 PM on February 12, 2008

Yeah Wilson Tuckey has long overtaken Bob Katter in the race to be the most batshitinsane member of federal parliament. Which leads me to wonder whether Katter was in attendance, and who the others in the "small group of Liberal MPs" who weren't there might be. I was hoping the motion would go to a division, just so names could be recorded.
posted by Jimbob at 6:11 PM on February 12, 2008

From today's Crikey!:

Editor of The National Indigenous Times Chris Graham writes:

As a member of the Canberra parliamentary press gallery, I had the substantial honour of sitting in the House of Representatives chamber this morning to watch the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd deliver the long-awaited national apology.

I started out inspired. I left halfway through Brendan Nelson's speech almost in tears, and white-hot angry. But I'll get to that.

All of the living Prime Ministers, save for one of course, entered the chamber a few minutes before the scheduled start. Keating, Whitlam, Fraser and Hawke came in together, and a packed public gallery full of black faces gave them a standing ovation.

And then Wilson Tuckey turned up. It was only for the Lord's Prayer, which began proceedings. Wilson left the chamber before the 'sorry'. It seems a strange thing for a Christian to do, but at least he had the decency not to flaunt his contempt and disrespect in the faces of hundreds of members of the Stolen Generations, who sat only metres away in the public gallery.

Unfortunately, Chris Pearce, the Member for Aston, wasn't so forgiving. Pearce sat and casually flipped through a magazine throughout Rudd's entire speech. At the part where Rudd was talking about the tragedy of infant mortality ­ the "little ones" in Rudd's words,­ Pearce was cracking a joke to the rather uncomfortable looking member of parliament sitting next to him.

In fact, Pearce was so against an apology, that he also sat and read through his own leader's entire speech. When Rudd finished and received a standing ovation, Pearce was the only member of parliament to remain seated. It begs the question, why did he even show up?

As to Nelson's speech, I got up and walked out just after the bit about "nepotism, the "squandering of resources", and the s-xual abuse of children. Several black journalists ­there as guests of the gallery followed me.

It turns out we weren't alone in our disgust. While the chamber itself remained quiet and respectful ­-- an irony, in the circumstances -- the thousand or so people in the Great Hall of Parliament stood, turned their backs on the massive TV screens, and began a slow clap. Several hundred people reportedly walked out.

Outside, thousands of people on the lawns of parliament booed, hissed and chanted.

Shortly after the chamber emptied, I ran into Valerie, an Aboriginal woman I've known for quite a few years. She was removed as a child, placed as a domestic with a white family, and then repeatedly raped (over several years) by her 'protectors'.

Valerie thought it ironic that Nelson chose to speak of the sexual abuse of Aboriginal children by Aboriginal men, but mentioned nothing of the s-xual abuse of Aboriginal children by those who removed them "for their own benefit".

"This was supposed to be our day, Stolen Generations. He had to go and try and ruin it by saying that," Valerie told me.

But the important words here are "try and ruin it", because Nelson didn't succeed.

His speech, ultimately a homage to the conservatives inside and outside his party, will be remembered for what it was. Dog whistling. That Nelson chose to do so during a national apology occasion is a personal tragedy of epic proportions. I feel genuinely sorry for him.

The power of Rudd's words,­ not Nelson's -- will endure. Rudd spoke of building bridges and historical truths. Of dark chapters and of bright futures.

"This is not the black armband view of history. It's just the cold, uncomfortable, confronting truth," said Rudd.

Nelson, by contrast, spoke of s-xual abuse, 'nepotism' and squandering of Aboriginal resources. He claimed it was the work of other generations.

Someone else's fault.

Rudd inspired. Nelson tried to divide. Rudd will be remembered. Nelson won't.

So where to from here? Of course, Rudd must deliver on his promises to halve the infant mortality gap. He must deliver real health, housing and education to Aboriginal people and having defined his leadership so early on this issue, I have little doubt many in the media will seek to hold him to account.

Rudd's talk of a bi-partisan committee headed by himself and the Leader of the Opposition to tackle Aboriginal disadvantage is a good gesture. Now if the Opposition can only find itself a leader, then there's hope on that front.

For Indigenous Australia, the talk over the next generation will be of a treaty, or a national settlement.

Whatever you choose to call it, Australia has an opportunity, not to mention a mood, for change.

The challenge that confronts us all now is whether or not we, as a nation, are mature enough to face this now, or whether we condemn future generations of our children to deal with this issue, and all the tragedy and misery that will inevitably ensue if we fail to act.

Given the sincerity of Rudd's speech, and the genuine support of many of his colleagues, there's some reason for optimism.

Let's hope Rudd's right, that we are at a new beginning.

posted by wilful at 7:00 PM on February 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

I was quite amused when K Rudd asked the Brendan Nelson to be part of the bipartisan committee and the camera panned to Nelson, who had a very telling "oh no!" expression on his face. I didn't even bother to listen to Nelson's speech, I've seen him on Lateline etc a few times and it didn't seem likely that he would say anything worthwhile or even rise to the occasion.
posted by dhruva at 7:59 PM on February 12, 2008

I'm stunned that Nelson could deliver such a speech aimed at apologising not to the stolen generations but to the conservatives in his own party. He has no spine.

Nelson only really became leader after those conservatives backed him over Turnbul- who himself said an apology was necessary and the right thing to go.

Fuck I hope a new conservative party is formed in Australia, it will become the unelectable bucket for all the Hanson-ites and weirdos and pull their views out of the mainstream debate.
posted by mattoxic at 8:51 PM on February 12, 2008

The feeling is that Nelson is a bit of a sacrificial lamb for the Liberal party - the first guy to becomes leader of the opposition after an election loss pretty much never manages to pull off a victory - they spend their whole term justifying the pas policies of their party, and wearing the blame for electoral defeat.

Nelson's job is to soak up the last remnants of the Howard era; a Chux wipe to wipe away the grime before being thrown out and replaced. That's why Costello (and Downer) told them all to go fuck themselves after the election. They didn't want that job. And I don't think Turnbull really wanted to be the new leader of the opposition either. He wants to be the next leader of the opposition once Nelson's clean-up job is done, and he's punted off to the backbench and obscurity.
posted by Jimbob at 8:58 PM on February 12, 2008

I'm so happy this apology has been made. For years I was ashamed to be Australian because of our dinosaur politicians, and in the short time that Rudd has been in power, I feel he has represented our nation's beliefs, and done more for our nation than Howard did in years.

Nelson, on the other hand... what the heck was he thinking?!
posted by indienial at 9:28 PM on February 12, 2008

British kiddies stolen during and after WWII...I went to a Christian Brothers school

Are, there you are, right on cue. Aggrieved White Australian #3477865. Here's a clue by four for you:

The apology for the forced, unwelcome and unnecessary removal of Aboriginal children has absolutely nothing to do with anything that happened to British kiddies or to you. It happened to them. It's a completely separate issue. Apologising for it doesn't diminish anything else that happened to anybody else ever in any way shape or form.

Has other bad stuff happened to other people at other stages in history? You betcha. But this isn't about all that other stuff - it's about this one thing, and just this one thing. That other stuff doesn't take away from this one thing - doesn't make it one iota less heinous or wrong - and shouldn't be lumped in with this one thing. Go talk about your other stuff someplace else. Maybe you can take Brendan Nelson with you and you can work out a way to mention Anzacs in there someplace.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:32 PM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

Surely any apology regarding British children would have to know...the British?

Anyway, thank you for bringing up ANZACs obiwanwasabi. As a country, we love to hang on the achievements of the past. Think of the ANZACS - so brave, patriotic, heroic...mateship, all that. And we then claim those as our national characters, and wave our flags on ANZAC day and take trips to Galipoli, even though the relevant events happened 90-odd years ago have have nothing to do with anything going on in Australia right now. But we still claim the actions of a past generation as our own, if we feel it's a good thing.

But when the actions of a past generation were bad? Nope. It wasn't us. We didn't do it.

Then there are the WWII veterans who are still pissed at the Japanese, who are still demanding an apology (and in some cases, yes, compensation) from the Japanese government for their treatment in that war. Even though, by the logic applied by some to the apology to the Stolen Generations, it would seem to have nothing to do with the current Japanese government or the people of Japan.

And, yes, there are the British children, who people are demanding an apology for (although mainly, I suspect, as a counterpoint to the stolen generations apology, to try and prove some pathetic point about how good the blackfellas have got it compared to whitefellas). Yes, of course they deserve a sorry. But that takes nothing away from the events of today.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Either we join as a nation and celebrate our successes and acknowledge our failures,

Or we only remember the successes and stand as hypocrites,

Or we throw out the idea of a national identity all together and stop going on about "mateship" and "a fair go", or any kind of shared history or progress.
posted by Jimbob at 9:50 PM on February 12, 2008 [11 favorites]

fair go, mate, you're starting to sound like those tall poppies in canberra with that kinda pollie-waffle.

our real shared history is accadacca, the chisels & brockie, and the new monaro is all the progress a bloke could ask for. and maybe a cabana for the barbie, if the quinella comes in today.
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:07 PM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Our nation has suffered a great tragedy, as Monaros are once again no-longer rolling off the production line down at Elizabeth.
posted by Jimbob at 10:14 PM on February 12, 2008

And uncanny, are you still around? Inquiring minds need to know which John Howard you really thought that quote was from :)
posted by Jimbob at 10:16 PM on February 12, 2008

Monaros are once again no-longer rolling off the production line down at Elizabeth.

We all know who's to blame for that, right? Bet the little weasel's a Ford man.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:21 PM on February 12, 2008

History of British Child Migration (also deals with exporting kids to Canada and British colonised Africa)

When I was at primary school in Melbourne in the early '90's, I'm pretty sure we learned about this stuff- 'My Place' was in fact one of the books we read in class, I believe. I know I was pretty familiar with the idea of the Stolen Generation/white Australians as dispossessors by the time I was a teenager, but I struggle to remember where I came across it all, school or books or family.
posted by jacalata at 12:13 AM on February 13, 2008

What a fantastic tone to set in a new parliament. I have a feeling that the next three years are going to be fascinating.
posted by Lucie at 2:29 AM on February 13, 2008

It probably doesn't help that a few extremist aboriginal activists are bandying around claims for $10b in compensation payments.

10 billion bucks actually seems to me merely a reasonable amount given the genocidal nature of the policy and the numbers affected.

thanks for all the interesting stuff in the thread . . .
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:01 AM on February 13, 2008

given the genocidal nature of the policy

The policy was about taking children away, not of killing them (or are you using a non-general interpretation of the word? Most people equate it with murder t'would have thought.). Although I think the general sentiment of the apology has a varying width of symbolism, depending on who you are, the actual murdering rampages of the very early days are not, to my understanding, within the ambit of the expression of sorrow by the government for past government sanctioned practices of removing children from families. But of course this was a unique and sincere occasion and a lot of associated feelings derived from myriad past and current prejudice and injustices are connected in an emotional, if not written or verbalised, sense.

Brendan Nelson is an embarrassment to himself, his party and our country. So in spite of the fact that I have never voted Liberal (that's with a capital 'L' as in a proper noun), to the extent to which he is a symbolic figurehead (a laughable yet depressing term of description for a one such as he) of a certain ethos within my country, I apologise.
posted by peacay at 4:03 PM on February 13, 2008

peacay: genocide is about "killing" a race or ethnic group. While this can be achieved by literally killing its members, it isn't strictly necessary to murder them. Destroying their culture & watering down their blood is another means to that end.

There was a comment or link posted above, which I can't find now, quoting the NT Protector of Aborigines (?) back in the '30s, saying "It's great! Every generation will be less and less black the more we intermarry & assimilate these people with whiteys. Within ten generations, the blacks will no longer exist!"

I call that genocide.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:23 PM on February 13, 2008

Yeah, it's semantics and is beside the point of course. I tend to equate the stolen generation policy more with ethnic cleansing than genocide -- I'm not sure that it can be decided conclusively and again, it's of no great significance where it is pigeon-holed in a definition sense. The bigger picture is the one which is in focus.
posted by peacay at 4:40 PM on February 13, 2008

And uncanny, are you still around? Inquiring minds need to know which John Howard you really thought that quote was from :)

Sorry, I meant the actor, but didn't want to give it away too quickly. That's why I said the comments section was funny. Coz a lot of the peeps thought it was real.

"Why the hell do ya want an apology he's already said sorry can't you read you morans!" type stuff.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:33 PM on February 13, 2008

What UbuRoivas said. The wiping out of a culture is a key tool of larger genocidal schemes. Nothing does so more efficiently than taking away the children. What white settlers, up to and including the Australian state, did to Aboriginal Australians was a genocide, as was what settlers in North America did to Native Americans. There were institutionalized systems designed to wipe out a people who stood in the way of white settlement and ownership. That was the conscious and explicit motivation, the theme of a great deal of public and official discourse. Aboriginals were treated (and often still are) as less than fully human. Stigmatization is a necessary part of mass tolerance of genocide. Inarguably, in both Native America and Aboriginal Australia, one can talk about the machinery of the state being used to get rid of a people, defined in specifically racialized terms as subhuman and thus not deserving of the rights of white people, including the right to own and live on their own land, speak their own languages, and pass on their culture to their children.

So the sense in which I used the word is very precise. The genocide of indigenous peoples is the greatest shame of colonial modernity, to me, other than the parallel genocidal effects of chattel slavery (which often ensnared indigenous peoples as well as African slaves in the US). Maybe in the long run the environmental catastrophe of industrial modernity, which is genocidal in the broadest sense (or auto-genocidal) will eventually loom as the truly great failure of the capitalist era in world history, and even then the effects have been felt first and most severely by indigenous peoples.

Genocide. It's not just for Nazis.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:46 PM on February 13, 2008

(and indigenous people were routinely enslaved in the Caribbean and Central and South America too)
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:48 PM on February 13, 2008

slightly related: The former journalist [Maxine McKew] who ended John Howard's political career used her first speech to Federal Parliament to champion wage equality for women.

*takes great big breaths of sweet fresh air*
posted by UbuRoivas at 10:19 PM on February 13, 2008

What UbuRoivas said.

What everyone else said. Black people gooood. White people baaaad.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:47 PM on February 14, 2008

I'm a bit conflicted. I support the apology, I want to arrive at a system where we can treat people equally regardless of their heritage.
However, I don't see the current policies are getting any closer to this goal, but I am at a loss for ideas about how to improve it. What can I do as an individual, and what should we be doing as a country to deliver justice to indigenous Australians?
posted by bystander at 4:30 AM on February 15, 2008

uncanny, no

That's indigenous people the target of genocidal policies; white Australians the author of those policies, for which they are now apologizing properly, which is good. This is not a generic situation of reverse discrimination. It's acknowledgment of genocide.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:21 AM on February 15, 2008

What can I do as an individual, and what should we be doing as a country to deliver justice to indigenous Australians?

I have absolutely no bloody idea. As I've said before on Metafilter, I can't personally think of many ways to bring opportunity to indigenous Australians, raise the standard of living to that of whitefellas, without sacrificing culture and traditional lifestyle. There are simply no economic opportunities were most indigenous people are living, and what opportunities there are are not large enough to adequately service the populations. But if we give up on the idea of communities, outstations, living on country - well, we've seen what's happened before when we've taken people off their land and made them live in towns and cities.

Look at Wadye - a thousand miles from anywhere, an artificial settlement where people from half a dozen different tribes have been put, an average of 14 people living in each house, no economic opportunities in the area for people to take on if they wanted to. Nothing to do but drink and take other drugs - then, come November, the wet season cuts it off from the rest of the country for 4 or 5 months. Even the little tracks out into the bush and the outstations are cut off, so people can't even go hunting and fishing. The alcohol and drugs stop arriving, and people go spare.

I'm not saying there's no hope...I just have trouble personally thinking of any grand, workable solution. But education and the provision of equitable services, the services every Australian expects, can help a huge amount. Communities that have made the decision to go dry often show great improvements, but that relies on some tough, responsible community leaders. Efforts to encourage kids to go to school, like the construction of swimming pools that kids can only use if they attend school in some desert communities, have had an incredible impact. Giving people something to do out there in the wilderness. All these things help greatly, and in the last decade we have seen some successes when trying these sorts of efforts, although there generally the sorts of things whitefellas scoff at as "handouts to the abos".

But as for a real fix, I really don't know.
posted by Jimbob at 4:55 PM on February 15, 2008

the construction of swimming pools that kids can only use if they attend school in some desert communities, have had an incredible impact.

On Elcho they set up a dance club (a disco, yeh? but it sounds so outdated) for the kids & teenagers, but they could only attend if they also went to school. It's a "dry" island, by the way, so it was just for the dancing, not getting pissed & hooking up. And the kids' utter love of dance (see that Zorba the Greek clip recently?) ensured that school attendance went through the roof.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:24 PM on February 15, 2008

What can I do as an individual

-Don't forward those emails.
-Don't tacitly accept the knowing asides and winks and behind-the-hand whispers.
-Call people out on their petty bigoted remarks. Don't just smile and be silent.
-Learn the name of your local traditional peoples and where feasible learn some of the language and promote their names and culture if you have the opportunity to influence things like street and park names or scouting groups and the polysuch. Harass your local council to change their approach in this regard.
-Find out about any indigenous groups in your locality (or wider area if needs be) and attend their plays or activities and then share about them with your friends.
-If you know about or hear about any indigenous person excelling in any sporting, academic or service capacity, then nominate them for an award and/or write an article about them and submit it to your local paper.
-Put 'doing some desert time' on your long term goals list.

These are just some random thoughts - if you think about it seriously, after asking the question, there could be a ton of stuff that you as an individual could do. It's more a question of getting the motivation and energy than there being insufficient avenues of potential positive action.
posted by peacay at 9:16 PM on February 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


- I've never gotten anything that I could imagine as 'those' emails
- I never hear knowing asides or whispers
- Nobody I know makes bigoted remarks*
- Most names where I live seem to be Aboriginal already. But I haven't lived anywhere long enough to get near a council anyway (and don't plan to in the near future).
- eh, I guess I don't go to any cultural stuff and I'm not really more interested in Aboriginal stuff than any other. But that one does seem reasonable.
- Really? That sounds awful. 'Oh look at the talented Aboriginal, see her play soccer!'. I'm not going to nominate the Aboriginal girl in my team any sooner than I would another player.
- What do you mean by desert time? Just visiting it? Cause that's on my list, but I don't see what positive effect it could have.

None of those suggestions seem very useful to me. Am I just not understanding what positive effects they could have? It seems to me like the local (to me) Aboriginals are not the ones that need help, and there isn't anything I can do about the ones in the dead end communities in the desert.

*Actually, that's not true, but all the ones I can think of come from actual Aboriginals, and I'm not about to tell them to stop it.
posted by jacalata at 10:17 PM on February 15, 2008

Really? That sounds awful

What?! Did I say "go out and find some random aborigine and make them your pet paternal project"?. It's just a damn thought, not a prescription. It's about a little bit of encouragement and some recognition. If you think that it's a patronising gesture to make a tiny effort to help someone to be rewarded for their efforts then I don't know what to say to you. It's not offered as tokenism - although of course, these things will always be scrutinised closely - it's meant more about helping someone to develop pride in their achievements. You are of course free to disagree.

I did say these were random thoughts ----- more along the lines of : "here's a list that rolled out of my head over a 30 second concentration span; perhaps this might spark some further thoughts of your own"

The 'desert time' or learning some of the language or promoting local indigenous names is more of a generalist philosophy or approach: I mean of course becoming better acquainted with the culture. If we can converse about the peoples and their backgrounds then we can, as individuals, be something of a voice in support.

The 'desert time' is shorthand yeah - I haven't done it but I've always thought it important, somewhere along the line, to go and spend some time with some desert dwelling indigenous peoples. Why? To become edumacated, to try to get some better understanding of their life, their problems, their hopes, their history. Also, no doubt, easily parsed as tokenism if that's the way you want to view it, but to me, as an individual, my only potential contributions to make 'the situation' better are to become better informed, develop some empathy, make positive contributions to discussions or in the opportunities presented in my local community.

Look, these may be all piecemeal offerings in one sense but really, as individuals, it's nigh on impossible to effect change (beyond voting and harassing your parliamentarians) with the deadend communities (as charming an expression as that may be) in the centre or to the great big problems of health, education, housing and employment. All I think about is that our general attitudes have to change. We have to eradicate the prejudice and thus the birth-delivered chips on the shoulders that face all indigenous peoples here, whether in the centre of Australia or the centre of a city. To do this, it seems to me, we need to have better educated people willing to voice opinions, counter bigotry, seek out and contribute to their respective local groups as and when they are able.

And your list would be ... ?
posted by peacay at 11:03 PM on February 15, 2008

My list goes something like "It seems to me like ... there isn't anything I can do". And that's why I generally avoid these conversations, because saying that makes me feel like a bad person. But I parsed bystander as having the same feeling, which is (to me) echoed by Jimbob, and felt emboldened. I am not specifically trying to be obstructionist, but I honestly have no answers. I'm totally ready to give up and say 'hey, not my problem, I'm not going near politics, fuck the whole world anyway', but every so often I get motivated enough to come across as a jerk somewhere and say 'but really, what COULD I do, when this and this and this don't seem appropriate and I'm not going to make my whole life about this?'
posted by jacalata at 2:03 AM on February 16, 2008

I parsed bystander as having the same feeling, which is (to me) echoed by Jimbob

Oh I agree pretty much with the sentiments expressed about big picture items. Unless you want to specifically take on a trade with the intention of going out there as a calling, it's hard or pretty well near impossible to have any effect. Jimbob has been fairly eloquent and accurate on this topic here and previously both in terms of airing some of the problems and expressing the same inadequacies I think many of us feel.

That's why I had my little brainstormy offerings about the personal level as opposed to the humungous.

Look, I think we all here are generally of a similar attitude (giving everyone the benefit of the doubt) : we know there are big problems and as a country we have to face them and that a personal first step is to not be prejudiced or a condoner of bigotry. Having that empathetic and realistic view is in way doing something.

If getting all activist locally is not your thang or you think it's bullshit, fine. I don't have any answers, I've just made some unthoughtout suggestions from whitebread central. But it's going to be a painful time if local activities aren't your cup of tea, devoting your life a la being a social worker or the like out in the communities isn't in the cards, yet you feel a strong sense of guilt for not doing something to help. I'm not sure what to suggest in that situation. I find it difficult to 'read' you properly, you seem to want to do something but not if that something requires you to put in effort. You don't have to make it your life's work but if you hope to improve the plight of aboriginal people on a personal level then you have to connect with them somehow.
posted by peacay at 5:13 AM on February 16, 2008

or just pay your taxes & let the government sort it out. that's what the government's for.

oh, and since i'm aboriginal, as you all should know by now, you're connecting already!
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:35 AM on February 16, 2008

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