The stolen generations:
implications for Australian civilization, citizenship and governance
Robert van Krieken ARC Large Grant 1999/2000
The stolen generations: implications for Australian civilization, citizenship and governance
This project will examine the history of the stolen generations - those indigenous Australian children removed from their families - in order to explain how assimilationist policies and practices now identified by leading analysts as a form of cultural genocide were understood as a means of advancing civilization and citizenship and as improving the government of the Australian population. It will outline the significance of this history for our current understandings of Australian citizenship, our self-perception as being more civilized than previous generations, and the ways in which forms of liberal governance have developed from the beginning to the end of the 20th century.
Aims and significance
The aims of the project are to analyse the history of the polices and practices related to the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, in order to explain:
1 that history in relation to surrounding political, social, and economic conditions. The focus will be on three major turning points: the beginnings of systematic removal around the turn of the century, the acceleration and intensification of removal in the 1930s, and the gradually emerging critical interpretation of these policies and practices as well as their effects.
2 the precise relationship between the treatment of indigenous and non-indigenous children by government and non-government agencies, identifying both similarities and differences.
3 the role played by these policies in relation to Aboriginal families and children within a changing configuration of concepts and practices of civilization, citizenship and governance in Australian society during the 20th century
Whether or not one agrees with Robert Mannes recent suggestion that the official response to the question of the stolen generations is the most important contemporary public issue of our time (emphasis added), it is certainly one of the most important contemporary issues in Australian public life.
The project will both benefit from and develop my previous research into the history and sociology of child welfare, as well as my published studies of critical approaches to liberal conceptions of government and theories of processes of civilization in Western state formation, with particular reference to the specificity of the Australian case as a settler-colony.
Although there were criticisms of Aboriginal child removal from its inception, they only began to gain wider currency among non-Indigenous Australians from the 1980s. Peter Read drew attention to the history of the removal of Aboriginal children in 1982, and since then there has been a growing body of literature examining both the details of the policies and practices, and their effects, including the work of Anna Haebich, Tony Austin and Rowena MacDonald. Most recently the report of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing Them Home, has brought the issue into national public debate and raised a number of significant political, philosophical and ethical questions concerning Australian national identity and the relations between government and its various subjects. It is now timely to provide more detailed research input into those debates, with a close examination of the history of child removal that moves towards a deeper understanding and explanation of the ways in which assimilationist policies and practices now identified by leading analysts as a form of cultural genocide were understood as a means of advancing civilization and citizenship and as improving the government of the Australian population.
The project will be organized around three central concepts: civilization, citizenship, governance. Its significance lies in its demonstration of the contribution the interplay between these three concepts (with their associated bodies of literature and controversies) can make to current public debates, deepening both our historical and conceptual perspectives on Australian social and political life. It focuses on these three concepts for the following reasons:
1) Civilization was perhaps the most central concept around which relations between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians were organized since they first encountered each other. Europeans regarded themselves as the bearers of civilization, and all that they wished to change in Aboriginal culture and social life was seen as quintessentially barbaric, diametrically opposed to what all humans beings should regard as civilized. So-called half-caste Aborigines were seen as lying on the boundary between civilization and barbarism, and this ambiguity was an important element of the political will to transform them into different sorts of Australian citizens. The policies and practices of child removal are thus usefully understood as a civilizing offensive
2) Aboriginal child removal was also regarded as part of a process of making Aboriginal children properly Australian, fit to take their place in Australian social life as citizens equal in status to non-indigenous Australians. Indeed, it was often presented as the proper compensation for their dispossession, the only appropriate contribution which White Australians could and should undertake in order to make up for part inhumanities. The logic of assimilation which governed the child removal policy, seen in its most developed form in the writing of Paul Hasluck, was at the same time a theory of citizenship, and it is only possible properly to understand contemporary debates on this topic with an analysis of the internal logic of assimilationist policies and practices.
3) The policy of child removal was exactly that: a policy pursued by governments hoping to govern their populations more effectively, in order to achieve particular effects. It is important, then, to analyse changing policies and practices of Aboriginal child removal, and the current critiques of those policies and practices, as part of a changing logic of governance. The question to be addressed here is whether the relation between governments and citizens should be seen in terms of an opposition between dominance and control on the one hand, and freedom and autonomy on the other. The history of state intervention into family life, in relation to non-indigenous children as well as indigenous children, is a useful lens through which to examine this issue.
There is an expanding field of study which attempts to develop a social scientific conception of civilization and processes of both civilization and decivilization, one which builds on the work of Norbert Elias and attempts to move beyond the progressivist and colonial understanding of civilization simply as the steady worldwide triumphal march of Christian European culture. The argument is that it is possible to identify processes of civilization in which changing patterns of social relations and networks of interdependence have gradually transformed the personality structures, identities and habitus of modernizing countries, so that violence of all sorts is gradually subjected to greater and more sophisticated forms of management and control. For example, the concern over recent decades to identify and prevent various forms of child abuse, along with an increasing interest in childrens rights, would, in this approach, be identified as consistent with a process of civilization of the relations between adults and children. The concept decivilization, in contrast, is used to refer to those processes of change which result in an increase in violence, between individuals, social groups, communities, or nation-states and a breakdown in the stability and consistency of on-going social relations. Again, the Holocaust is often the key example, and one with which Elias himself was concerned, but the concept has also been used to analyse the civil war in the former Yugoslavia, events in Rwanda, and the upsurge of ethnic conflict throughout the world.
What remains unexplored in this literature is the extent to which civilizing offensives, the self-conscious attempts to bring about civilization, have revolved around essentially violent policies and practices; in this case, the removal of children from their families largely for the social engineering purpose of gradually and systematically annihilating Aboriginal cultural identity. At the time, however, these policies and practices were constructed by most, although not all, observers as contributing to the welfare of Aboriginal Australians, and this intersection of welfare and violence raises the possibility that processes of civilization and decivilization, rather than being mutually exclusive, can run alongside each other, so that a society can be said to display both civilized and barbaric characteristics at one and the same time. On the other hand, it may be possible to describe the move away from the systematic removal of Aboriginal children since the 1970s as itself part of a civilizing process, an increasing recognition of the human rights of Aboriginal Australians and of the inhumanity of those policies and practices. The project will identify how these two approaches to this history can be weighed up against each other, as well as the implications for theories of civilization and decivilization more generally for our contemporary understanding of what it means to be a civilized Australian citizen within society containing a variety of cultures.
A central part of the project will also be the parallels and affinities between the policies and practices concerning indigenous and non-indigenous children, which in turn cast light on the diverse logics and strategies of liberal governance. My previous research has shown that the concept of rescuing the rising generation had been central to European church and state agencies practices in relation to the children of the poor and the working class since the sixteenth century, and was a central element of the modern States conception of the intersection of family life and liberal citizenship. The removal of Aboriginal children was largely based on pre-existing philosophies, policies and institutional practices concerning unacceptable, problem groups in all the Western European countries and their colonies, so that it is possible to chart the connections and affinities between the racism of removing Aboriginal children for their Aboriginality, and the class ideology underlying the removal of non-indigenous children for the immorality and viciousness of their impoverished surroundings. The significance of this is not a claim that there was some sort of equitable distribution of state violence between indigenous and non-indigenous families, but that it indicates a certain degree of isomorphism between race,class and gender (Guillaumin, Stoler), that anxieties concerning the rapid reproduction of half-caste Aboriginals on the border between white and black cultures in many respects followed the same logic of governance underlying the fears of the equally sexually dangerous and prolific non-respectable working-class, especially women, on the fringes of the metropolis. The boundaries between individual and familial freedom and a particular reason of state were clearly drawn and forcefully backed up, even though they shifted over time and worked in different ways in relation to indigenous and non-indigenous populations, so that a central aim of the project is to trace and explain both the similarities and the differences, along with identifying the central conceptual and practical significance of the regulation of reproduction, fertility and childhood in liberal governance and state-formation.
The general substantive background to such a study is provided by the recent work of Russell McGregor, Pat OMalley, Ros Kidd, Elizabeth Povinnelli and Tim Rowse, all of whom have developed conceptually sophisticated analyses of the overall relations between indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians which will form the backdrop to the projects more specific focus on child removal. McGregors analysis of the transition from a dying race approach to construction of the half-caste problem is particular important, as is OMalleys critical analysis of the concept of indigenous governance and Rowses analysis of liberal, neo-liberal and advanced liberal approaches to indigenous affairs. Raymond Gaita, Judith Brett and Robert Manne have also made brief recent contributions directly related to the stolen generations question, and the project will also expand on questions which they have raised.
In summary, the project aims to contribute to the quality of Australian culture by providing significant conceptual advances in relation to the implications of the history of Aboriginal child removal for:
1 our current self-perception as civilized human beings, our understanding of barbarism, the meaning of guilt and shame about events in a nations past, and an examination of the need for a decolonized conception of civilization.
2 our understanding of citizenship and the relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians within current conceptions of the Australian nation and state.
3 current conceptions of good government and the relation between a government and its people, the changing boundaries of that the relationship, and the rights and responsibilities of states and their subjects.
As well as contributing to the research process itself, these conceptual innovations will make a significant contribution to discussions in social policy, politics and law about the role of the removal of indigenous children in the process of reconciliation between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. The project will generate a number of conference papers and publications:
1) at least three conference papers,
2) two journal articles, and
3) one monograph (publishers contract to be negotiated during 1998).
4) To make the projects results quickly and widely available, they will also be placed on a Web site to be established early in the project, linked to the major related sites, including:
Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation: <www.austlii.edu.au/car/>
Reconciliation and Social Justice Library: <www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjlibrary/>
Centre for Citizenship and Human Rights: <arts.deakin.edu.au/cchr/>
Aboriginal Studies WWWVL: <www.ciolek.com/WWWVL Aboriginal.html>
Sociology WWWVL: <www.ixpres.com/lunatic/soc.html>
The direct application of research results will thus be promoted by this project through this dissemination of its results in publications, in print and electronic form, at national and international conferences, as well as in teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. It will also contribute to the production of high quality graduates by developing my capacity to teach and supervise research in this and related areas.
An additional aim is that the project will promote international research links by forming the foundation of a comparative analysis, possibly with Canada, Russia, South Africa, USA, New Zealand. There is also the potential for a comparison between the Australian and German cases, given my research relationship with colleagues in Germany. Its completion will significantly improve my capacity to design and execute such a larger project together with my overseas colleagues, and thus my capacity to attract funding for a follow-on project.
RESEARCH PLAN, METHODS, TECHNIQUES AND PROPOSED TIMING
I will undertake this research by investigating the main primary sources: State and Commonwealth parliamentary papers and debates, the Commonwealth Government archival holdings in the Australian Archives, contemporary newspapers and periodicals, magazines, relevant commissions of inquiry, as well as autobiographical and biographical writings. These materials are essential to the projects precise identification of the policies formulated and practices followed, and the relationship of different forms of Aboriginal child removal to surrounding political discourses and social conditions, as well as its explanation of the major turning points in the development of child removal policies.
Much of the primary data are available in Fisher Library, others are held in the Australian Archives in both its Darwin and Canberra Regional offices. The Australian Archives material includes papers of the Secretary to the Cabinet (1906-1968), Attorney-Generals Department, Department of External Affairs (1901-1916; 1921-1970; 1941-1951), Home Affairs (1901-1916; 1928-1932), Prime Ministers Department (1911-1971), Department of Home and Territories (1916-1928; 1951-1968), Interior (1932-1939, 1939-1972), Social Services (1939-1972), Post-War Reconstruction (1942-1950), Aboriginal Affairs (1972-1990) and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (1964-1990). Much of this material is kept in the Darwin Regional office because of the Commonwealths responsibility for the Northern Territory from 1911.
A preliminary conceptual analysis of the leading writers whose work informed Aboriginal affairs policies, such as Spencer, Bleakley, Cook, Tindale, Neville, Elkin will have been completed during my University of Sydney Extended Research Secondment in 1998, and the project will extend this work to examine the writings of more minor characters in the story, those lesser officials who either preceded or worked alongside, perhaps beneath the more famous characters and would have played an equally, perhaps a more significant role in the operations of child removal. Colin Macleods book on his experiences as a Patrol Officer are an obvious example of this sort of perspective, and the project will identify others, requiring an examination of the primary materials already mentioned.
In relation to the intensification of Aboriginal child removal in the 1930s, the project will seek to identify what it was about Australian political, social and economic life in that period which underlay the development of the New Deal and a heightened concern assimilation. My preliminary research suggests that an important element of any explanation is likely to be Australias changing position on a world political stage, both in relation to its mandate over Papua New Guinea and more generally in its capacity to take an active role in international bodies (the role of E.H. Stanner in London appears significant here). This perspective should also be part of the projects explanation of more recent developments.
In relation to the question of processes of civilization and decivilization, the project will be drawing on the work of Norbert Elias, one the few social scientists to have seriously studied the history of European state formation in terms of civilization, and it will establish the relationship between his studies and this specific case. The project will also be informed by the work of other scholars who have developed his work in relation to the question of decivilization, modern barbarism, colonialism and the treatment of cultural difference, including Abram de Swaan, Stephen Mennell, Ian Burkitt and Hans-Peter Waldhoff, as well as the critique of the concept of civilization by Hans-Peter Duerr and other anthropologists. As well as benefiting from this literature as a conceptual resource, the project will also make an important contribution to it by outlining the ways in which the example of colonial relationships within a settler colony add to the ways in which we understand processes of civilization and decivilization (preliminary work on this has already appeared in my 1997 invited symposium paper).
In relation to the concept of citizenship, the project will utilise the work of Anna Yeatman, Bryan Turner, Iris Marion Young and Jessica Benjamin to examine both how this history illuminates the problems and issues in the idea of universal citizenship, and to analyse the ways in which the more recent changes in the perception of this history might or might not be part of a new conception of differentiated citizenship. An important element of this thread will be an account of the relationship between treatment of indigenous and non-indigenous children by government and non-government agencies, and an examination of the significance for our understanding of citizenship of the paradox of the states relation to its subjects, especially in relation to family life and childhood. It will also address the ways in which these historical materials illuminate current debates concerning the relationship between different types of citizenship rights and membership, such as human versus civil rights, as well as that between the respective obligations and duties of governments and citizens.
The project will approach the concept of governance through the work of Michel Foucault and a number of scholars who have embarked on developments of his concept of governmentality in a variety of arenas, particularly Nikolas Rose, Pat OMalley, Tim Rowse and Barry Hindess. It will draw on these debates to identity the underlying logic of government characterizing the different stages of child removal throughout the century, as well as to indicate how the example of child removal suggests changes in the ways in which we understand government. The work of Zygmunt Bauman on modern state formation and the Holocaust, and especially his arguments concerning the logic of assimilation also forms a useful bridge between this literature and the discussions of civilization/decivilization and citizenship. The project will also engage with the critical analyses of this body of scholarship, including my own work and that of Bruce Curtis and Boris Frankel.
1) Jan-June 1999: Literature survey, collection and preliminary analysis of primary data, particularly archival material in the Australian Archives in Darwin, identification, collection and preliminary analysis of other primary data: parliamentary material, newspapers and magazines, government reports, commissions of inquiry, non-government agency material, writing first conference paper and initial revision for publication. Establishment of Web site.
2) July-December 1999: Collection and preliminary analysis of archival material in the Australian Archives in Canberra, identification, collection and analysis of minor administrative writings, biographical and autobiographical material, continued analysis of non-government agency material. Writing second conference paper and initial revision for publication. Update of web site.
3) Jan-June 2000: Release from teaching to undertake critical analysis of data, planning and writing first draft of monograph, collection of any remaining primary material crucial to the analysis. Update of web site.
4) July-December 2000: Final writing and revision of research results for publication, final revision of journal articles, final revision of web site.