Keith Windschuttle: Accused by Australian historian of ignoring facts about the Stolen Generations

Historians in the News

[Peter Read is research professor in the department of history at the University of Sydney.]

LAST week marked a week for which some of the Stolen Generations have waited all their lives. The 1997 Bringing Them Home report polarised the nation. Prime minister John Howard's strong refusal to give an apology continued for the life of his government. An apology, promised first by Kim Beazley, later by Kevin Rudd, finally occurred in the federal Parliament last Wednesday.

Keith Windschuttle is one of the few historians to question seriously the accepted account of how Aboriginal children were removed in large numbers under fundamentally racist policies.

In these pages recently, while acknowledging some biological assimilation programs as obnoxious, he attacked my portrayal of events in NSW. He wrote, "Don't let facts spoil the day", but as usual his too-hurried research lead him into error.

What was happening in southern Australia? Conscious from the 1870s that the part-Aboriginal population was rapidly increasing, Victoria and NSW were trying the policy of the "designated reserve" from which Aboriginal people either could not or would not want to leave. But by the first decade of the 20th century it was clear that the policy was failing. Arable land in southern Australia was wanted by new settlers, the harsh regimes of some reserves were causing the residents to vote with their feet.

So a new policy, an exact opposite to the first, was evolving by 1910. This was progressively to reduce and ultimately to close the reserves by expelling the adults and removing the children. That is the context in which Robert Donaldson, the Protection Board's chief inspector from 1916, uttered the notorious words: "There is no difference of opinion as to the only solution of this great problem: the removal of the children. In the course of the next few years there will be no need for the camps and stations; the old people will have passed away, and their progeny will be absorbed in the industrial classes of the colony."

That was the context of a new policy which Windschuttle ignores, the reason why Aboriginal schools were created only up to 1918 and the reason why the removal rate of children accelerated after that time.

Windschuttle, on the basis of his rushed reading, asserts that not many babies were taken. But babies were commonly directly removed from stations without being listed on the files that Windschuttle uses. Nor does he consider the children born to unmarried Aboriginal mothers in public hospitals in the major cities. Such mothers had virtually no chance of keeping their children, but how many such babies were lost to the Aboriginal people in this way are unknown. Joy Williams, who developed a mental illness while a state ward and subsequently sued the NSW government, was one of them. Born in Crown St in 1942 to a stolen generation mother, she was immediately transferred to the Bomaderry home for Aboriginal babies. She has no record in the files that Windschuttle consulted.....

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Lorraine Paul - 2/20/2008

My mother had a saying about people like Windschuttle and his admirer, failed politician, John Howard!

"None so blind as those who will not see!"