Saturday, April 01, 2006


One of the issues which has been seized upon to discredit Australia's past has been the "stolen generations" - the idea that whites forcibly removed Aboriginal children from their parents in order to commit a racist genocide.

I won't attempt here to make a detailed response to the theory. I simply want to present a single primary source material: an account of her experiences by "Cecily", an Aboriginal girl who grew up in Bega in NSW in the 1960s.

Cecily is not a doctrinaire leftist, and so simply tells things as they appeared to her. The picture we get is not the ideologically convenient one of oppressor whites and victimised Aborigines, but of something much more complex.

Cecily's removal from her family was not without its problems, including, as you might expect, difficulties in terms of belonging and identity. The removal was not, though, motivated by racism, nor by any attempt to deny Cecily her Aboriginality.

Cecily's account is taken from a book The Colour of Difference published by The Federation Press (2001). I encourage you to read the entire piece, but for those who want a brief summary Cecily's story is as follows.

Cecily was abandoned as a baby by her mother. She was raised for a time by her grandmother and an aunt. A white Sunday school teacher invited her to stay at her home for periods of time, which Cecily enjoyed.

At the age of six, Cecily began to suffer illnesses from poor diet, and at the same time her grandmother began abusing alcohol and her aunt moved away.

The grandmother arranged for the Sunday school teacher to foster Cecily. The white family accepted Cecily except for one of the brothers, though he eventually accepted the situation also.

Cecily's life wasn't perfect. At times she wished she was white, and other Aboriginal children teased her for living with a white family. Also, when she reached adolescence, she became more concerned with questions of her real family identity.

At the age of 15 she decided, with the support of her foster mother, to stay with her Aboriginal mother and her brothers and sisters. However, she witnessed a shocking incident of domestic violence and went back to live with her foster family.

However at age 17 "the pressure within me started mounting again. I was trying to establish my identity."

She went to live with her Aboriginal aunt and finally returned to live in her Aboriginal community near Nowra. She met her Aboriginal father's brothers (he had died in a car crash) and put some of the missing pieces of her life together, so that "I felt like I belonged".

What can we conclude from Cecily's story? Simply, I think, that there was no easy solution for Cecily's plight. There was no one in her own community to look after her properly, and so she grew up within a white family. This was not an ideal situation, as she needed to feel connected to her own family and her own community.

The role of whites in all this, though, was not racist or genocidal - far from it, in fact, as Cecily herself is gracious enough to recognise.


  1. I assume that most people who felt obliged to get involved in the lives of Aborigines did so with good intentions. But I think we can look back and say that it's always a mistake to try and mould others in our own image. It rarely leads to a healthy conclusion for either party.

  2. It seems to be one of the few approaches that worked.

    Unfortunately it does not seem to be the experience of a large number of those who claim aboriginality.

    bringing them home

    The policies of early last century were a combination of caring, paternalism, and eugenics.

    Of course we've moved a long way since then. But decrying the mistakes Australia made is to cheapen the impact of the errors on those that suffered them.

    Of course many of those in insitutions, like many other unfortunate australians, suffered brutality at the hands of keepers that should never have been within a snifters of a caring profession.

    Let's just hope things are different now.