The State of Victoria’s Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 included the earliest legislation authorising the removal of children from Aboriginal parents. Other states and territories soon followed suit.
These rather odd, by today’s standards, Acts were motivated by various things including a desire to protect children from neglect and abuse, a belief that Aboriginal people would die out given a significant decline in their numbers post contact with white people and the belief that full-blooded Aboriginal people resented miscegenation and the mixed-race children fathered and abandoned by white men.
It was for this latter reason that most of the children removed from Aboriginal Communities between 1869 and 1970 were half-castes.
The exact number of children removed is unknown and estimates made have been widely disputed.
As my reader might imagine this policy of removing children from their families and communities was extremely contentious. It remains contentious to this day.
Over time the children removed under the various Acts became known as the Stolen Generations and demands for an apology (and indeed compensation) for their removal grew. After decades of political and public debate, on 13 February 2008 the then Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, apologised to the Stolen Generations and said ‘Sorry’.
The apology was by way of a motion put before the House of Representatives (Lower House) in Parliament. The motion had bipartisan support and was passed, though the Leader of the Opposition’s speech included many qualifications and was met by protests. An identical motion was later passed by the Senate (the Upper House).
The actual ‘apology’ document, depicted here, signed by the Prime Minister, can be seen in New Parliament House. A transcript of the document can be seen here – http://www.australia.gov.au/about-australia/our-country/our-people/apology-to-australias-indigenous-peoples.
It is important to note that while the Prime Minster tendered the apology on his own behalf, on behalf of the Government and the Parliament, he stopped short of claiming to speak on behalf of the Australian people.
While many of the people supported the apology many did not, wondering at the value of an apology by individuals who did nothing wrong – taking on the sins of their fathers, as it were – if indeed they were sins at all as opposed to misguided good intent. Others saw the apology as an indulgent stunt by the Prime Minister for his own political purposes.
Similar apologies have been given to Aboriginal people in New Zealand and Canada.
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