Monday, 3 August 2015

Stolen?



I will admit that I cringe when I hear the words “Stolen Generations”.  It makes me uncomfortable, because like most of the issues surrounding Aboriginal affairs, what I have to say will affect those who are close to me, and not always in a positive way.  Offence can be taken in just a few words, and although I am loathe to cause any harm to those I love, it has become a choice between a moment of possible offence, vs a much greater harm and problem we need to face.  Unlike most of the topics that come up with regard to what we should be ashamed about when it comes to Aboriginal affairs – domestic violence, drug or alcohol addiction, imprisonment, poverty, racism, homelessness – I don’t know anybody that qualifies as ‘stolen’, nor am I related to anybody who is, yet I am familiar with the term, and know people that use it to describe their own situations.

For anybody who wonders, I want to clarify my understanding of the term ‘stolen generation’ for you.  The “Stolen Generation”, in simplified terms, refers to a policy of removals of Aboriginal and part-Aboriginal children from their families and cultures, to be raised in white society as a means of eventually ‘breeding out the Aboriginal’.  At first, it was claimed to be a ‘White Australia’ policy, but then after the public failure of several court cases, justification for the claim – despite the lack of legal success to back it up – came by widening the narrative a little more, to explain how a law that did not exist was actually a secret conspiracy to falsify tales of neglect, and carry out their diabolical plan with the full support of the legal system instead.   

As those who have read my blog before would know, I was raised in foster care, by parents who were not Aboriginal and had white skin.  I was not stolen, but instead I was given with open arms by some of my relatives to the Mum and Dad who raised me.  They raised lots of foster kids, some who even had a non-Aboriginal parent and were much lighter-skinned, but they stole none of them.  Instead, the phone would normally ring, often in the middle of the night, with a desperate parent on one end begging for Mums help and the next day we would have a new family member.  Sometimes for a week, other times a few months, sometimes years.

Where the ‘stolen generations’ story becomes a dangerous narrative, is when you have those who use its inability to be debated, due to the highly sensitive matter of the subject, as a means to gain sympathy for those people who should otherwise be encouraged to get help and face the demons of their past.  From my own personal experience, of those who have claimed to be stolen, but instead are easing their need for sympathy for their suffering with a label instead, going along for the ride is not a positive experience.  While the label might earn you quiet respect, and immediately paralyse most people into asking no questions and instead letting you share as much or as little as you like about your background, the longer you avoid your real story – whether that be in order not to have to face some hard truths, or ask some harder questions of yourself – things aren’t going to get better for you.  Having a name for your pain means nothing if it’s a misdiagnosis.

I cannot imagine how difficult it would be to have been completely abandoned, but I do know what it is like to be denied parts of your history.  My biological mother chose to share little of herself and her history, leaving me with gaps that I have spent years trying to fill - but am yet to feel like I’ve succeeded at accomplishing. I’ve walked arm in arm with my biological sister as she made her first tentative returns to Lake Tyers.  I know how frightened she was of being accepted, and we sat for many nights where I repeatedly reassured her not to be afraid, that so many people could not wait to see her and just wanted her in their presence again, but until she had seen it for herself, her apprehension could not be eased by my words alone.  I know this because I feel this way about going to Wallaga Lake - where my mothers family are from – and where I have been only as a very small child.

This is the downside to Adoption and Foster Care for some kids, regardless of skin colour.  Reconnecting can be difficult, heartbreaking, or wonderful – there is just no guarantee of which outcome you’re going to get, and the fear of rejection can be so overwhelming for some that it takes them years to even try.   When the biological parent passes away before the answers can be had, it is a horrible emptiness  and regret that cannot be undone, and makes the journey to find resolve seem that much more difficult and insurmountable. We should provide support and counselling to any people who are affected by these issues, rather than funding a label or narrative that is failing to deal with the deeper issues that are underlying these claims.  

Blaming the white man, or the government for taking your kids away is easier for some of my relatives because they can be supported by others for being a victim, yet I am starting to realise that this is having a terrible cost to the younger generations, as they fall prey to the same answer of covering the pain and suffering we won’t or don’t talk about and resolve with honesty, by easing their confusion or emptiness with alcohol or drugs.  We’ve done ourselves no favours by trading our need for sympathy for that sense of loss or displacement by letting people class us with a label that will explain away our sadness or dysfunction or failures, to avoid talking about the things that are painful and causing us to repeat that pattern again and again.  The problem is, that sympathy is based on a lie, and the real sympathy, understanding and help they need never comes because the trade off for that comfort of a label that explains all your ills without having to look deeper is the eventual realisation that the questions never go away. 

Parents who surrender their children face a suffering all their own.  Since becoming a father myself, I am more in awe of what my biological father did for me, and am thankful that he didn’t pass away before I got to tell him just how much I appreciated how hard it must have been for him to give us away to give us a better life.  I hope never to be in a situation where my life has spun out of control to the point where I have to hand my children to someone more stable than myself to care for them.  But if I had to, I would.  I love them too much to have them suffer along with me when there are options for a better life for them.

I would not be surprised to learn that my biological mother would have considered us ‘stolen’ from her at some point in her life.  From where she stood, it would have seemed the most adequate description of what she was going through during that time.  She did not get a say in where we lived, in fact, was quite vocally opposed in the few small encounters we had during my childhood, and we grew up without a connection to her heritage and culture.  I can only hope that she didn’t go along with the narrative though, because it wouldn’t be true, and it wouldn’t have allowed the real culprits for her suffering to wear the blame. 

Who were those culprits?  Not a secret conspiracy, but instead a culture that valued the opinions of one family over another, over those of the woman who gave birth to us and held us in our arms when we arrived into the world - when it came to making decisions about their children.  A society that was less tolerant, less understanding, and less welcoming of Aboriginal people back then, that resulted in her isolation and allowed her own prejudices against white people to be forever formed and one day drive a wedge between us and cause our estrangement.    It was painful for her, and it must have been awful, and I have no doubt that her suffering led to her struggles with alcohol.  What I can’t make excuses for anymore, is that for decades her choice to slowly kill herself with grog was allowed to go unchecked and unchallenged, excused by those who wanted to ease her suffering with an easy answer that seemed to make her happy but ultimately, didn’t help her into anything more than an early grave.  Heavy drinking devastated her life, and resulted in her enduring her final years spent missing a limb and pushed from place to place in a wheelchair as a result of the diabetes that ravaged her body.  It could have been different, and if we don’t focus on making sure it isn’t for those who are still with us and suffering, then we’re going to continue the cycle of broken hearts, misplaced hate, and never moving forward and closing the gaps that count.

I am also sad that my father didn’t get the help he needed.  Those who did encourage him to do so were shouted down and often ignored, as others around him enabled him and made excuses for him too.  They should have to wear some of the guilt and regret that he felt , for they helped to directly cause it by their actions.  Sad stories don’t need a blame narrative, they need to be dissected, understood and the right help found for the people who are suffering. 

I apologise for all the times I have stood silent and let the narrative go unchallenged in my own circles.  I’ve helped nobody by standing by and letting people focus on finding someone to blame, rather than healing and moving forward. 

43 comments:

  1. So very profound Dallas. While I can't share your pain, as my upbringing was entirely different to yours, at least I now have an understanding of what life has presented to you.

    Thank you for this insight, and in my opinion, you can hold your head up high mate, for you have done yourself and your family proud!

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  2. Such simple logic and so quietly spoken. Thank you Dallas for sharing your story.

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  3. not sure if my comments are showing.....but whilst your story is powerful...it is not representative of what occurred to most Aboriginals under the various protection acts back then....I'm an Aboriginal lawyer and have worked with Aboriginal legal services for several years now and I have personally represented at least over 50 confirmed and verifiable cases of children taken from their parents without consent and many times without their knowledge....and that's just one lawyer from one regional office!!

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    1. I would be interested to know more about this personally. I have read a fair bit about the topic, but it seems that information court cases is scant. I can only find two court cases brought about regarding the stolen generation. Both are mentioned in the wikipedia article https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolen_Generations#Legal_status_and_compensation

      Can you give me information about these cases you were involved with, such as when and where they went to court? I'd like to read the case summary.

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    2. I can't imagine there are too many Aboriginal lawyers who have worked for ATSILS named Martin Doyle out there, but if you are the one that I am thinking of, then I am so glad that you stopped by my blog as I have a question that I believe you can answer!

      How on earth did things go so bad with Iman Operations that less than a year after getting a $5 million contract (plus $800k financing) you have had the administrators called in because you can't pay your creditors? You were CEO at the time when the contract was awarded weren't you? Or do I have the wrong Martin Doyle, Aboriginal lawyer?

      I also like reading case summaries, so am also interested in the information requested above by illy.

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    3. Excellent points Dallas. I was surprised how I couldn't find much info in newspapers or websites about how the company was now in the hands of administrators. This is despite finding many 'feel good' articles being written just a year ago about this wonderful indigenous company and how it was going to provide great employment opportunities for the indigenous community.

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    4. I note Martin mentions Protection Acts. We also have today's Child Protection Act thankfully. Case by case and in the best interests of the kids, many are removed without consent. It is horrible, but so often necessary. For the children.

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    5. Very powerful and profound article Dallas. I am so glad you have the courage and strength to publish that. You have a way with words that cuts through all the distractions and gets to the core of the issue in a direct yet powerful way. For the sake of the younger generations including those who are to come we must find the truth and discuss the real issues. There is too much suffering and worse still by focusing on the sins of the white man in the past and pushing resentments and hatred to the current ones and maintaining a sense of victimhood does not seem to be helpful. It is ensuring that the suffering will never be healed for the benefit of a few. It appears to me that the gap between so called aboriginal and non aboriginal is becoming wider with resentments and disillusionment on both sides.


      I am so glad you have found your voice on this issue. Lets hope it will gain traction so people can ultimately get the help they need and we can build a path to true reconciliation.

      As for martin Doyle - I too would be interested in hearing about confirmed and verifiable cases of true stolen generation cases. Could you also please pass the details onto Andrew bolt? He had been asking for years for just 10 names and details. If you are able to provide that I'm sure he would greatly appreciate it. I'm confused why others have not been able to come up with those names but very interested to know more.

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    6. Note that Martin Doyle doesn't say the cases he represented were part of the 'stolen generation', but instead just that they were done without consent. This is a very different thing, and the shift in definitional scope (otherwise known as wilfully misleading) is often part of the strategy with the social dependency lobby. Turning the needed interventions due to a much higher abuse rate in Aboriginal communities into an argument for more of other peoples money and property/

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    7. @ Black Steam train and Others....I wouldn't dare divulge clients confidential information like that as I'm both ethically and legally required not to...you can take my comments or leave it..i have no motive to make something like that up....and yes..thats me...I WAS THE BLOKE WHO FOUGHT FOR AND WON the multi million dollar contract!!...Over 100 long term unemployed Iman people were given a chance at valuable skills and training and income...I'm very proud of what we achieved!!....again, its a long and confidential story about Iman Ops and it wasn't myself or our board that did anything wrong....we've all been thoroughly investigated and no evidience of any impropriety mine or the boards behalf because there wasn't any....why would you respond to my comment with cheap shots regarding our attempt to create employment opportunities for over 100 Iman people??...are you accusing me of something??......you cant even put your real name to your posts coz your a coward...!!

      As for Alan Grey and the rest of you Morons...its actually written in the HANSARD and Parliamentary debates of the time what the intention of the legislation was...theres so much written evidence now that you just look ridiculous trying to create some kind of alternative reality...It's not some made up BLACK HISTORY....THIS IS AUSTRALIAN HISTORY!!...just because your ashamed of it doesn't mean it didn't happen...OWN UP TO IT!!...nobody needs compensation..but the NATION needs the TRUTH so that we can all MOVE ON!!!...

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    8. And MERV...the only requirement under the Protection Acts of the time for removal of children was that the child be Aboriginal...there was no requirement for neglect etc...

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    9. @ILLY and others...the cases all get resolved out of court because the evidence is overwhelming...when I said 40 to 50 cases I'm actually referring to out of court settlements..

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    10. Thanks for your reply Martin,

      I have read the documents from the 1930's that you mention giving pretty clear evidence of an unofficial policy of removal of children, instigated by individuals abusing their power. It seem that there could have been many, possibly even 100 or more children taken in that manner. However, I haven't really found any information on what (if anything) went on afterwards. This is why I found the Cubillo case so interesting to read through, and would like to find more information of that sort if I can:
      http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/cases/cth/federal_ct/2001/1213.html

      I found this chronology of court litigation:
      http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/journals/ILB/2003/17.html.
      Is this list not correct? It seems to be an old but fairly comprehensive list since it mentions Bruce Trevorrow even though at the time his hearing date hadn't even been set yet, let alone before his payment of almost a million dollars. It doesn't mention any of your cases though.

      Given that the courts are willing to pay close to a million dollars for each victim, that must mean with 40 to 50 successful clients, there must be huge amounts of compensation going through just your branch alone. I am confused as to why the media hasn't picked up on this and seems unaware of any of it.

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    11. your http links don't work.
      Cubilo was an NT case..i know nothing of their legislation....each state controlled Aboriginal policy until 1967...each state took their own approach...I know QLD's, NSW, W.A and VIC very well....its not just the taking of the children that causes the monetary payout..its the damage that occurred whilst in government care (or govt sponsored foster care)..many of the children were raped and brutalized and forced to not practice their culture or language..that is the basis of the damages payout...the actual removal of the child has more to do with liability of the defendant....white people sue for past abuse as a child all the time..just look at the Catholic Church controversy...do you think those victims should just get over it and leave it in the past??

      I know of nobody who has been paid anywhere near 1 million dollars...again I cant specify any figures and its for the same reason that no journalist have picked up on it,,its because settlements are out of court and all parties have to sign a CONFIDENTIALITY AGREEMENT..neither party can disclose the particulars.

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    12. Thanks, I understand what you are saying now. I think the disagreement that exists over this issue is that people are lead to believe that Aboriginals were taken away from their Aboriginal parents for reasons that a child would not have been taken away from white parents.

      I think it is common knowledge that children of any race that have been placed into foster care by the state have often been horribly abused. I don't think anyone would disagree that sometimes the children who the state tried to help, actually ended up worse off than they would have been.

      Anyway, I am very glad to hear that you are helping these people to get the compensation they deserve, and hope you keep up the good work.

      P.S. Bruce Trevorrow is the only person to have proved in a court that he was actually "stolen" in the traditional sense; i.e., removed for no good reason. He was awarded $750,000. It occurred in 1957 and was definitely against the law at the time.

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    13. "Aboriginals were taken away from their Aboriginal parents for reasons that a child would not have been taken away from white parents."

      As far as I can tell, this was exactly the case. Hundreds of children born to Aboriginal parents, who were taken away and re-homed with zero signs of negect or abuse, but merely because it was official policy to "breed out the colour". Have a read of this article (it's quite long, but worth it). (The article also mentions the fact that Andrew Bolt was given this detailed list of over 200 names and cases, but continues to pretend no-one can even name ten.)
      https://www.themonthly.com.au/blog/robert-manne/2011/10/24/1319413522/name-ten-journalism-andrew-bolt

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    14. your exactly right IWML.....but I wouldn't bother trying to convince this mob of anything to do with the facts...

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    15. I wonder why the privalaged feel the right to become abusive when their reason fails them. Andrew has written a leanghty and detailed rebuttal of your "list" and to date no-one can furnish a list of names of chidren who were removed because of their skin colour. To qoute a current academic( breed out the colour) and some how contrive that it is relevant to history is dishonest and dangerous. Please Dallas continue to live the good life , you are an insperation to many more than you know.

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  4. That is the most courageous writing I have read. We all lie to ourselves when the truth is too difficult to confront. It's self preservation, but leads to more anguish. Only when we are strong enough to accept what is real can we deal with it and move on. Get the facts, assess them, cry about them and then continue playing with the cards you've been dealt. We only get one life. Don't waste it pretending. Thanks Dallas.

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  5. The problem, as I see it, is that those who want to hang onto their sense of victimhood can't or won't seek a way of resolving their issues. They become cannon fodder for those who have other agendas and, unwittingly, add fuel to the fire of separation between communities.

    My father left my mum with two kids when I was three. I met him again when I was eight. He never supported us in any way and we often lived hand to mouth when mum couldn't get work. We lived in accommodation that was barely four walls and a roof but we didn't feel deprived. We just accepted it and got on with our lives. many white children have been subjected to the same things that happen to aboriginal children, admittedly under different circumstances, but manage to get past it and make something of their lives. Admittedly, also, they are not caught in a culture of such repression as your mother had to face.

    I admire those, like yourself, who have not let the circumstances of their childhood colour their lives ad finitum. I fell sorry for those aboriginal children who are captive to a " culture" that causes so much pain and suffering. Any offers of help are considered interfering, especially if coming from white people. " We don't want any more stolen generations" is the catch cry. How shameful.

    God bless your father for having the sense to do the right thing for his children. He would be so proud of you and what you have become.

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  6. This can of worms needed to be opened a long time ago Dallas. Over the past 40 years Child Protection Agencies have introduced policies that make removing an aboriginal child in danger far more difficult than removing a white child.
    This has been done due to the furore over the so called " Stolen Generation" and has resulted in aboriginal children being left in conditions you wouldn't leave a dog in. Children have died because of these policies. If you have a strong stomach, read in the Coroners inquest on Deborah Melville in Darwin!
    We are now in the situation of aboriginal children being left in sometimes appalling conditions because no aboriginal foster carers can be found and there is a reluctance to put them with white foster carers.
    Either aboriginal leaders have to stand up and declare that the needs and rights of children come before any cultural considerations or more aboriginal people need to put their hand up to become foster parents.
    If not, we face law suits in the future, from children deemed to be abandoned and will have a lost generation of dysfunctional children.

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  7. The value is in the doing. Your journey of self discovery has brought you to this.
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  8. Very movingly put, Dallas. It's one thing to have figureheads for angry white blokes throwing around terms like 'victimhood' and 'aboriginal industry' in a pejorative way, it's quite another for someone with first-hand experience exploring the various aspects of a highly complex issue in the insightful yet sensitive way that you have here. As someone who was adopted myself, a couple of your observations moved me to tears. Reading Bolt on the subject (or on almost any subject), I am more likely to shed tears of rage! It's all in the tone.

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  10. Thanks for putting a very human face on a very difficult and complex issue..

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  11. Great blog and great comments from the followers. Refreshing to see an honest discussion on the issue with articulate and well expressed views. Keep up the good work.

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  12. Dallas thank you for this thoroughly interesting insight. I must say I truly enjoy the clarity with which you write.

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  13. Dallas, having found you recently I am delighted to hear your voice along with many others who speak with common sense, reason and grace - Anthony Dillon being one of them.

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  14. p.s. you write extremely well and I say that as a writer and editor myself.

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  15. Keep posting Dallas, I very much enjoy reading what you have to say. It's always very well articulated and well reasoned while also being so nakedly honest and from the heart. Very refreshing.

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  16. An interesting insight that puts a bit of perspective on my own family's history. On my dad's side we're of Aboriginal descent.

    While mine and my brother's kids can pass as white, from my generation back, it's as plain as the noses on our faces. In fact it is the nose that a lot of older Aboriginal people point to and tell us "You got the Walker nose."

    From Dad, back they're from the generation where having Aboriginal in your genetic make up was something to be viewed as 'tainted blood'. Dad and his brothers spent most of their youth passing themselves off as Mediterranean or Maori. Seems that was socially more acceptable back in their day.

    Growing up, they spent a lot of time moving around, never staying too long in the one place, until Grandma followed in her own mother's footsteps and found a white man who was willing to marry her and become the legal father of her children.

    We were never too sure what caused her to move around so much, wether it was because her mother did the same thing when she was growing up. We do know both women had a real fear that their children would be taken from them. We also know that GG wasn't really accepted as part of her family group, being the product of a coupling between a white jackaroo and a black woman (Dad was the same- Grandma followed a lot in GG's footsteps).
    GG's mother also apparently had the same fear that her child would be taken away from her as well and travelled throughout most of Queensland. Don't really know much more than that, since GG took all of the family history with her when she passed on.

    I've always though that the problems Dad's family had with accepting themselves and the fear of being taken weren't the product of some secret government of the day conspiracy, rather that they weren't really seen as black by one side or white by the other. It makes a lot of sense when you think that GG's mum mightn't have had a say in keeping her, had she stayed with her family group.

    Whatever the real reason, it was certainly strong enough to create a narrative that grew into something more sinister as it was handed down through the generations.

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  18. Thanks Dallas, you've described the "sanctimonious piety of historical or cultural victimhood” (Edward Said) that silences critics, validates dysfunction, and shields the disaffected from the very healing that would allow them to dream again. I don't want to partner with the victim narrative in this nation anymore...its not producing the dividends and its prolonging the pain. Well done for speaking once again from the heart.

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  21. Yes, what better way is there to solidify your argument than by 'poisoning the well', Martin? Such claims as the ones you make have been refuted enough for me to conclude that you are full of it.

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  23. Excellent writing Dallas ! Great to hear the true story, as it was, instead of all the BS that gets told. I wish you well.
    Thank you.

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