The Bringing Them Home report, first presented at the Melbourne Reconciliation Conference ten years ago, documented the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families through much of the 20th century with the aim of bringing about the demise of their race. The wounds have still not healed.
The film Rabbit-Proof Fence told the story of Molly Craig, a 14-year-old Aboriginal girl kidnapped with her younger sister and cousin by a state policeman in 1931. This was not because the children had committed crimes or were neglected but because it was the policy of A.O. Neville, Western Australia’s “Chief Protector” of Aborigines (1915-1940): to enforce the Aborigines Act by transporting them 1,500 miles to a government settlement and telling them to forget family, language and home.
The monumental cruelty is to some extent masked by Molly’s refusal to submit to incarceration, escaping to find and follow the rabbit fence she’d observed during their long train journey with the slender hope it could lead them home. It becomes an adventure story of great courage and perseverance as the three youngsters embark on a very long walk to freedom. A story of tragedy but also triumph.
Bringing Them Home explains why this happened, how Neville and other state “protectors” hoped to create racially purer British colonies by eradicating those with Indigenous heritage.
One girl recalled, “Every morning our people would crush charcoal, mix it with animal fat and smother that all over us, so that when the police came they could only see black children”. Children with darker skins were safer because they were left at home, while those with lighter skins, like Molly, were removed to ensure their relationships would be with fairer-skinned people. Through the normal mating process each generation would become increasingly light-skinned and eventually indistinguishable from non-Indigenous people. That was the theory.
In May 1937 a newspaper reported Neville saying “the pure black will be extinct” after being segregated, while “half-castes”, although increasing in number, would be absorbed into the white population. “Perhaps it will take 100 years, perhaps longer, but the race is dying”, he said.
It was estimated between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities around Australia in the period 1910-1970. Young children were placed in dormitories away from their parents in early years and then sent off to missions as teenagers to work.
Meanwhile, in Berlin on March 31, 1933, Sebastian Haffner, a young lawyer is at work in the government library. The room is “full of extreme silence”. Then the mood changes, a tremor of agitation. The door bursts open and a posse of brown-shirted Nazi storm-troopers floods in. Their leader booms “Non-Aryans must leave the premises immediately”. He means Jews. A brown-shirt stands in front of Haffner’s desk. “Are you Aryan?”
Haffner later wrote, in Defying Hitler, “A moment too late I felt the shame, the defeat … I had not lied, I had allowed something much worse to happen … to have answered the unjustified question as to whether I was Aryan so easily, even if the fact was of no importance to me”. Haffner’s girl friend was Jewish, every day he feared she and her family would simply disappear.
Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl described the fate of Jews. In 1942, when she was 13, her family hid themselves in the secret part of a Dutch warehouse for two years until they were discovered. She was sent to the notorious Belsen concentration camp where she died of typhus just one month before the camp was liberated.
The architect of this eradication policy was German Chancellor Adolf Hitler who in his book Mein Kampf (My Struggle) had explained he aimed to create a purer world by ridding it of Jews and gypsies, later adding the disabled. His National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis), dissolved in 1923, was resurrected in 1926. “The correctness of its ideas, the purity of its will, its supporters' spirit of self-sacrifice, have caused it to issue from all repressions stronger than ever”, Hitler wrote. “A state which in this age of racial poisoning dedicates itself to the care of its best racial elements must some day become lord of the earth.”
Harry Throssell originally trained in social work in UK, taught at the University of Queensland for a decade in the 1960s and 70s, and since then has worked as a journalist. His blog Journospeak, can be found here.