Rabbit Proof Fence
The diary from February mentions the film, "Rabbit Proof Fence"
. One of the themes I took from the film, was that individuals when outside of the influence of the government institutions/system, were unconcerned about the girls race or colour. The people the girls met along the fence, both black and white, either had empathy for their plight, or just offered kindness through food and water.
It was only when individuals put on a suit or a uniform that they adopted the racism inherent in the Australian institutions of the time. The police officer even apologises about it, but carries through the immoral actions anyway. The theme being, that without the coercion of the state, individuals act morally and with compassion.
In the film the only one that defied the state was Moodoo, the aboriginal tracker, even though he was wearing of a white mans uniform. He showed the moral courage to defy the state, despite the state attempting to assimilate him.
It was a stark and distressing film, but also uplifting at the courage and resilience of the three girls. Seeing Molly Craig and Daisy in later life at the end of the film only reinforced that internal strength they displayed at such a young age. Despite the coercion, oppression and racism of government, and the tyranny of the majority; there is always hope for humanity while individuals continue to show the courage and defiance of Molly and Daisy.
The Stolen Generations
The Washington Post "Outlook" section for Sunday 2nd February 2003 had an article on the Stolen Generations called "A Long Trek To The Truth". The article starts with the movie, "Under The Rabbit Fence" and the editors wish to determine the historical truths behind the movie. The Australian political scientist and historian, Robert Manne was asked to author the article.
Rabbit Proof Fence is based on the true story or three Koori girls who are abducted from their family as part of the institutionalised removal of half-caste women from traditional aboriginal settlements in the 1930's. I have not seen the movie, but from the article this is the further description of it;
""Rabbit Proof Fence" is an absorbing drama, as might be expected of a film by Phillip Noyce, a director who is as well known in Hollywood as he is in his native Australia. In general, it is a faithful account of a real incident, based on public records and on a memoir written by the oldest girls daughter. But us us also much more than that. In showing that the girls were seized from loving mothers who suffered overwhelming grief, and that the architect of the removal policy was a man driven by the vision of a society cleansed of so-called half-castes, the film offers a clear and controversial interpretation of Aboriginal child removal policies in 20th Century Australia."
This policy of forced removal continued until 1970 though it was placed under less confrontational names like "assimilation" and for a large number of Australians it is an episode in Australian history which is swept under the carpet and not thought about. Phillip Knightley in his history of Australia wrote;
"It remains one of the mysteries of history that Australia was able to get away with a racist policy that included segregation and dispossession and bordered on slavery and genocide, practices unknown in the civilized world in the first half of the twentieth century until Nazi Germany turned on the jews in the 1930's"
The Australian rationalization for the dispossession of Aboriginal land in the 1700's and 1800's was that the Koori people had no clear view or understanding of land possession. The lawyers in the colonies claimed the Koories had no right to the land as they bestowed no labor upon it. This is in direct contrast to an elder Koori on the Murray River who was recorded by George Robinson as stamping on the ground and saying "Belonging to me, Belonging to me, My country."
One of the attempts by the Koori people to tell the British of their Aboriginal laws and culture was a young Western Australian, Yagan of the Nyungar people near Pinjarra. He had learned English and attempted over a period to impart Aboriginal knowledge to the British. In 1834 a raiding party of British soldiers under Captain James Stirling slaughtered a sleeping camp of eighty Nyungar people. Yagan was shot by a young William Keats, his head cut off, smoked for preservation and then sent to London as a trophy. In 1997 a group of Aboriginal elders located the head in a cemetary in Liverpool, England and retrieved the head. A statue of Yagan is now in a Perth Park. However the head of Yagan's statue has been sawn off several times.
Earlier massacres were sometimes as part of land clearing other times as part of the Koori wars as Aboriginal peoples fought back against the dispossession and injustices against them. The Kamilaroi tribe had been dispossessed and their women kidnapped. They attacked local farmers and their stock that were grazing on their land. Colonel James Nunn mounted a raid that found three hundred Aboriginals at Snodgrass Swamp which they massacred. Three hundred men, women and children were killed over three days. To celebrate their victory, the swamp was renamed Waterloo Creek.
Massacres continued with two known massacres in the 1920's, the last being in 1928 in the Western Australian town of Stuart. In Tasmania or Van Diemens land as it was known originally, the massacres and pressure on the Aboriginal people were such that until recently Tasmania maintained that no Aboriginals remained on the island.
Chief Protector A.O Neville
With the Nulla Nulla Station massacre and Coniston Station Massacre of the 1920's ending in Royal Commissions that ruled in favour of the Aboriginal people, a new way was found to remove the Aboriginal people from Australia. It was believed by Australian authorities that the Aboriginal people were dying out and that those Aboriginals with white blood in them should be saved. A.O Neville was an English born Australian in the Western Australian public service with the Orwellian title of "Chief Protector of the Aboriginals in Western Australia". His protection was to be a reign of terror.
Neville was not the first protector to institutionalise the kidnapping of Aboriginal children, Western Australia changed its laws in 1905 to allow for the removal of half-caste children from Aboriginal mothers to Church missions or State camps. This was obviously an immoral law which other states also enacted. James Isdell was the protector for the north of Western Australia who, while aware of the letters being written to newspapers in the south by Aboriginal mothers detailing their grief after having their children removed from them; Isdell felt that those mothers would not feel the grief any more deeply "than a bitch, the loss of a pup".
Neville was promoted to Chief Protector in 1915. Unlike the Nazi's, Neville's process of absorption was not based on maintaining purity, it revolved around skin colour. His view was based on the absorption of Australians of mixed caucasian and Koori becoming indistinguishable from the caucasian Australians and thus being accepted in white Australian society. The program became known as "breeding out the colour" or colloquilly as "f***ing them white". Neville spoke of his beliefs at a national conference on Aboriginals,
"Are we going to have a population of one million blacks in the Commonwealth or are we going to merge them into out white community and eventually forget there were Aboriginies in Australia?"
Neville's viewpoints were also espoused in newspapers, including Brisbane's Telegraph in 1937 after the first national Native Welfare conference;
"Mr Neville [the Chief Protector of WA] holds the view that within one hundred years the pure black will be extinct. But the half-caste problem was increasing every year. Therefore their idea was to keep the pure blacks segregated and absorb the half-castes into the white population. Sixty years ago, he said, there were over 60,000 full-blooded natives in Western Australia. Today there are only 20,000. In time there would be none. Perhaps it would take one hundred years, perhaps longer, but the race was dying. The pure blooded Aboriginal was not a quick breeder. On the other hand the half-caste was. In Western Australia there were half-caste families of twenty and upwards".
Neville's policy put into practice is described in the Washington Post article;
"The Western Australian archives reveal much about Neville's half-caste policy. Under this system the preferred minimum age for the removal was 6, especially in the case of girls. Removals occurred without any reference to the courts; the selection criteria were solely age and racial caste, never parental neglect. Neville was aware that his policy occasioned great suffering among Aboriginal mothers. In 1919, he warned the commissioner of police that it was unwise to notify a local station "beforehand of the date upon which the children are to be taken away, as this would undoubtedly lead to the mother hiding the youngsters.""
Neville's absorption policy was adopted as a national goal, in 1918, the Australian government enacted laws which legalised segregation and outlawed white men living with Aboriginal women. Protector's were by law capable of removing Koori children without having to establish through a court that the child was neglected. Knightly writes of the Federal laws;
"Control of all Aboriginal children was removed from their parents and given to government-appointed white superintendants"
This Australian Government based control legislated the kidnapping of children as Australian national policy. In the words of the "Bringing Them Home" report;
"In the name of protection Indigenous people were subject to total control."
Welfare officers would enter Aboriginal towns and settlements and with the support of State police officers to keep the parents at bay would kidnap children from their parents. When welfare trucks came to Aboriginal towns, the parents told their children to run and hide, other Aboriginal parents crushed charcoal on their children's faces to make them appear darker. Not only were the mothers grieved by the loss of their children, they were also ashamed that they were unable to protect their children from governmental and civil service tyranny. A group of Aboriginal mothers from Broome petitioned the Western Australian Royal Commission in the 1930's with;
"would you like to think that when you send your children to school that you would never see them again?"
Despite the political double speak of "protection", "assimilation" and "amalgamation" Aboriginal activists called it what it was. The protest meeting in 1938 of Aboriginal activists called protection;
"You have almost exterminated our people, but there are enough of us remaining to expose the humbug of your claim, as white Australians, to be a civilised, progressive, kindly and humane nation. By your cruelty and callousness towards the Aborigines you stand condemned " If you would openly admit that the purpose of your Aborigines Legislation has been, and now is, to exterminate the Aborigines completely so that not a trace of them or of their descendants remains, we could describe you as brutal, but honest. But you dare not admit openly that what you hope and wish is for our death! You hypocritically claim that you are trying to "protect" us; but your modern policy of "protection" (so-called) is killing us off just as surely as the pioneer policy of giving us poisoned damper and shooting us down like dingoes!"
Bringing Them Home "Bringing Them Home"
was the 1997 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's report. This report details many of the experiences of the stolen generations from early 1900's to the 1970's. Many of the experiences which are given are as numbered confidential evidence. Several hundred indigenous girls passed through the Cootamundra Girls Home and were sent out to work as domestics. Confidential submission 617 was removed from her family at 8 years of age along with three of her sisters. She recalls;
"When the girls left the home, they were sent out to service to work in the homes and outlying farms of middle class white people as domestics - On top of that you were lucky not to be sexually, physically and mentally abused, and all for a lousy sixpence that you didn't get to see anyway. Also, when the girls fell pregnant, their babies were taken from them and adopted out to white families, they never saw them again."
Confidential evidence 549 was removed from his Northern Territory family in the 1930's;
"When anybody come to pick up a worker they used to line us up and they'd make you flex your muscles. If you were big and strong they'd pick you - like a slave market. I was sent out at 11. I worked there for seven and a half years, never got paid anything, all that time. We used to bring the cattle in ... we didn't get nothing. So I had to join the army to survive."
Confidential submission 640 was removed from her family in 1949 and went through Sister Kates Home. In her evidence she told of being raped by the owner of the farm she was sent to work on. Telling the matron of Sister Kates about the rapings did not help her plight;
"When I returned to the home[Sister Kate's Home, WA] I was feeling so used and unwanted. I went to the Matron and told her what happened. She washed my mouth out with soap and boxed my ears and told me that awful things would happen to me if I told any of the other kids. I was so scared and wanted to die. When the next school holidays came I begged not to be sent to that farm again. But they would not listen and said I had to."
She ran away from the Home but once back in the Home she was sent back to the farm to work where she was raped and beaten by the farmer and one of his workers.
"When they returned me to the home I once again went to the Matron. I got a belting with a wet ironing cord, my mouth washed out with soap and put in a cottage by myself away from everyone so I couldn't talk to the other girls. They constantly told me that I was bad and a disgrace and if anyone knew it would bring shame to Sister Kate's Home. They showed me no comfort which I desperately needed. I became more and more distant from everyone and tried to block everything out of my mind but couldn't. I ate rat poison to try and kill myself but became very sick and vomited. This meant another belting."
She gave birth to a daughter from these rapings which the authorities promptly took from her and then fostered out to a white family. She was finally united with her daughter after her daughter sought out her birth mother. Sexual molestation occurred often. The report claims that three in ten girls and one in ten boys were sexually molested in foster homes.
Confidential evidence 382;
""I grew up Oodnadatta area" with my grandmother and she would see the missionary coming - she would run away with me. She would keep running away and the police - would come sometimes and shoot the dogs and that and my grandmother would run in the creek and hide me away till about really dark and come back home - I might [have] been about 10 or 11 years - we seen one missionary coming - one of my auntie roll me up like a swag sort of thing, you know, and hid me away - but I must have moved and he got me out and he said to me "I'll give you a lolly and we'll go for a ride, go to Oodnadatta" ... they put me on a train and my grandmother was following the train ... she was running behind the train, singing out for me - then I was singing out "I'll be back", I thought I was going for a holiday or something."
Confidential evidence 529;
"We were told our mother was an alcoholic and that she was a prostitute and she didn't care about us. They [foster family] used to warn us that when we got older we'd have to watch it because we'd turn into sluts and alcoholics, so we had to be very careful. If you were white you didn't have that dirtiness in you - It was in our breed, in us to be like that."
To finish on one that shows hope, Confidential submission 252;
"I was very fortunate that when I was removed, I was with very loving and caring parents. The love was mutual - My foster mother used to take me and my sister to town. Mum used to always walk through Victoria Square and say to us, "Let's see if any of these are your uncles". My sister and I used to get real shamed. I used to go home and cry because I used to get so frightened and could never understand why my mum would do this to us, when it made us upset. Only when I was near 29 did I realise why - I know my foster parents were the type of people that always understood that I needed to know my roots, who I was, where I was born, who my parents were and my identity - I remember one day I went home to my foster father and stated that I had heard that my natural father was a drunk. My foster father told me you shouldn't listen to other people: "You judge him for yourself, taking into account the tragedy, that someday you will understand"."
I am an Australian living in the United States as a permanent resident.
I am a software developer by trade and mostly work in Java and jump between middleware and front end.
I originally worked in the New York area of the United States in telecommunications before moving to Washington DC and
working in a mix of telecommunications, energy and ITS. I started my own software company before heading out to
Arizona and working with Shutterfly. Since then I have joined a startup in the Phoenix area and am thoroughly enjoying myself.
I do a lot of photography which I post on this website, but also on flickr. I have a photo-journalistic website which lists
the modernist and contemporary restaurants in phoenix. I have a site on the Australian Flying Corps [AFC]
which has been around since the 1990s and which I unfortunately
lost the .org URL to during a life event; however, it is under the www.australianflyingcorps.com
The AFC website has gone through several iterations since the 90s and the two most recent are Australian Flying Corps Archives(2004-2002)
Australian Flying Corps Archives(2002-1999)
which are good places to start.