Childhood 6(3) 1999: 297-311

The 'stolen generations' and cultural genocide: the forced removal of Australian Indigenous children from their families and its implications for the sociology of childhood(1)

Robert van Krieken
University of Sydney


From around the turn of twentieth century up to the 1970s, Australian government authorities assumed legal guardianship of all Indigenous children and removed large numbers of them from their families in order to 'assimilate' them into European society and culture. This policy has been described as 'cultural genocide', even though at the time it was presented by state and church authorities as being 'in the best interests' of Aboriginal children. This paper will outline the results of a study of the development of the policy of forced child removal, its antecedents, its surrounding philosophy and politics, and the emergence of a more critical understanding of it in recent years, as well as examining the more general implications of this history for the sociology of childhood.

KEYWORDS: genocide, Aborigines, Australia, childhood, stolen generation

Modernity legitimizes itself as a 'civilizing process' - as an ongoing process of making the coarse gentle, the cruel benign, the uncouth refined. Like most legitimations, however, this one is more an advertising copy than an account of reality...what it hides is that only through the coercion they perpetrate can the agencies keep out of bounds the coercion they swore to annihilate; that one person's civilizing process is another person's forceful incapacitation. The civilizing process is not about the uprooting, but about the redistribution of violence. (Bauman 1995: 141)

Deficiencies in the treatment of children are almost always understood as somehow 'external' to European culture and civilization, as flaws in the social fabric which have been, and continue to be rectified. Such deficiencies, whatever form they take, might be seen as errors of judgement or interpretation, but always as alien to European civilization itself. It is generally taken for granted that the twentieth century is the 'century of the child' (Key 1909), that there is clearly a harmonious relationship between the unfolding of European civilization around the world and the increasing realization of 'the best interests of the child'.

The latest in a series of profound challenges to this conception of European civilization, and the role of children within it, was raised in the Australian context in May 1997, when a report issued by the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC), Bringing them Home, stressed that the treatment of indigenous Australian children by both State and Church agencies throughout this century falls clearly within the terms of the UN definition of genocide. The definition in the 1948 UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide includes 'forcibly transferring children of the group to another group' committed 'with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such'. The HREOC inquiry arose out of the findings of the 1989 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which focused attention to how many Aboriginal prisoners had a long history of institutionalisation, beginning with their removal from their families. Commissioner J.H. Wootten, in his report on the death ('suicide') of one particular Aboriginal prisoner, Malcolm Smith, spoke of 'a life destroyed, not by the misconduct of police and prison officers, but in large measure by the regular operation of the system of self-righteous and racist destruction of Aboriginal families that went on under the name of protection or welfare well into the second half of this century' (Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 1989: 1), and drew attention to the fact that 'the attempt to "solve the Aboriginal problem" by the deliberate destruction of families and seen by many Aborigines as falling squarely within the modern definition of genocide' (p. 5).(2)

At the time, the practice was presented as promoting the welfare of individual Aboriginal children, because Aboriginal cultural identity was seen as an insurmountable obstacle to the capacity to take a 'normal' part in European-Australian social life. Indeed, many current commentators, including an ex-Prime Minister (John Gorton), still maintain both that the overall effect was beneficial, and that the intentions were good.(3) There have been scattered voices of critical dissent at almost every point of the policy's history. During the passage of the New South Wales Aborigines Protection Amending Bill in 1915, for example, one Parliamentarian said of the forced removal of Aboriginal children that

These people are unfortunate because, in the interests of so-called civilisation, we have over-run their country and taken away their domain. We now propose to perpetrate further acts of cruelty upon them by separating the children from the parents. The mothers and fathers of these children love them just as much as the birds and the animals of the bush care for their offspring, and hon. members would not perpetrate a cruelty of this kind even upon an animal.....To my mind some better method should be adopted. There should be some method of direct control over these children, but the child should not be separated from the mother. (NSW Parliamentary Debates 57 1914-15: 1953)

In 1934, the humanitarian and feminist activist Mary Bennett told the Western Australian 1935 Royal Commission into the Treatment of Aborigines that there was no 'valid justification for the official smashing of native family and community life' and she 'most earnestly' asked that 'the official smashing of native family life may be stopped, and that native families may be permitted to live where they wish within the law'. Bennett was simply arguing for equal treatment, that 'the laws that are enough for the proper conduct of white communities should be enough for the proper conduct of native communities also' (Moseley 1935: 225, 229). Jeremy Long points out that in 1951 one official was quoted as describing the 'most hated task' of the patrol officers as being 'the separation of 'half-caste' babies from their mothers in accordance with a 'cruel government order'' (Long 1992: 83), and in the 1960s historian Charles Rowley described the child removal policy as 'much criticized' (1962: 275), but all these criticisms had little real effect.

It has only been since Peter Read's study on the operation of the policy in New South Wales, published in 1983, and a large body of subsequent historical research, as well as the publication of the reports of two major government inquiries - the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1989) and the HREOC report (1997) - that it has become more widely recognized how destructive and damaging a practice it was. This recognition has sparked a remarkable public debate about whether there is a need for an expression of some sort of 'collective shame' (e.g., Brett 1997; Gaita 1997; Manne 1998), with some political leaders, state governments, religious bodies and citizen groups having issued apologies for the state- and church-sponsored forcible removal of Indigenous children and the effect this has had on Aboriginal individuals and communities. Others, notably the Prime Minister, John Howard and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs (!), John Herron, have remained true to one long tradition in Australian liberalism, and expressed varying degrees of regret while also arguing against dwelling on the unpleasantries of the past. Instead, we are told, we should concentrate on more practical endeavours to improve Aboriginal health, housing education and employment.

Essentially two reasons have been given in Australia for the failure to issue an official apology along the lines of the Canadian apology to their Indigenous peoples:

The first point rests on the presumption that we can have only a positive moral relation to the past, for John Howard is quite content to be proud of other types of actions over which he had no control, it is only the ones we might feel regretful about that he wishes to dissociate himself from. It is, in this sense, a profoundly immature and deeply problematic moral position to take up, since regret is actually an important part of our engagement with and reflection on the past (Postema 1991; Webber 1995). The second point is simply inaccurate, because it is clear that many people at all times throughout this century drew attention to the destructive features of the policy, and in any case demonstration of good intentions does not preclude the possibility of apology for the actual harm caused by particular actions in the past.

However, an official apology would not in itself resolve all the issues, and in this paper I will attempt to go beyond these considerations by reflecting on more fundamental ramifications of this case for the fabric of the Australian moral community, with a particular focus on the treatment of children. The relationship between European and Indigenous Australian children has broader significance because the removal of Aboriginal children was centrally a 'civilizing project', despite the fact that the subsequent critique of that practice is also undertaken in the name of 'civilization'. "Civilization" was the foundation for citizenship in the modern nation-state, with its achievement the key condition for the attainment of citizenship rights. The story of the 'stolen generations' as part of a particularly Australian set of civilizing processes is thus an important example of the multiple meanings of the concepts 'civilization' and 'citizenship', with a number of important implications for the sociology of childhood.

The 'half-caste problem'
By the last quarter of the nineteenth-century, the accepted position in Australian official discourse and practice was that the Aborigines were a 'dying race', and this was based on the notion of the essential 'fragility' of Aboriginal culture in contact with Europeans (Brantlinger 1995; McGregor 1997). Aboriginal culture was defined as simply 'weak' in the face of the robustness of the European way of life - militarily, technologically, economically, culturally, socially, and physically. Some Europeans were distressed and dismayed that this should be so, and it troubled their Christian consciences, but did nothing about the sense of its inevitability. Extinction was thus simply a matter of time, so that the most Europeans could do was to 'smooth the dying man's pillow' (Bates 1944), pursuing what Pat O'Malley has called 'gentle genocide through a program of enforced eugenics' (1994: 52).

Towards the end of the century, however, the picture changed dramatically and produced quite different conceptual and practical concerns. Not only were 'traditional' Aborigines not dying as quickly as anticipated, but as European settlement spread across the continent, so did contact between Europeans and Aborigines, including sexual contact, which of course had its inevitable consequence - children. This sexual contact was relatively prolific in itself, and the resultant mixed-blood population was also very fertile, so that by around the 1890s European Australians were becoming increasingly agitated about what came to be defined as the 'half-caste problem'. 'There was a growing realisation,' writes Russell McGregor, 'that the descendants of a dying race might continue to haunt a White Australia for generations' (1997: 134).

By 1936 Cecil Cook, the Chief Protector in the Northern Territory, was writing, 'My view is that unless the black population is speedily absorbed into the white, the process will soon be reversed, and in 50 years, or a little later, the white population of the Northern Territory will be absorbed into the black' (Commonwealth of Australia 1937: 14). Everything that civilization was meant to have achieved, the distance that was supposed to have been placed between the present and the past, was thrown into disarray with the cultural and biological hybridity characterizing the 'half-caste problem'. Mixed-bloods were said to inherit the 'vices' of both races and few of their virtues, and they were regarded as representing precisely those forms of behaviour which the civilizing process was meant to have overcome, the 'repressed' of modern civilization- idleness, nomadism, emotionality, lack of discipline and productivity, sexual promiscuity, poor bodily hygiene, and a group rather than an individual orientation. As Andrew Lattas has summed it up, 'Aborigines were often constructed as prisoners of unreflexive bodily desires which they could not control or satisfy' and Aboriginal society as 'characterized not by the disciplined freedoms of the mind, but by the violent passions of the body' (1987: 43, 55).(4)

The Australian 'final solution': rescuing the rising generation
There were essentially two elements to the resultant 'civilizing offensive' on the part of both State and Church, both aiming to protect as well as advance civilization by eliminating Aboriginality in this hybrid form from a 'White Australia' completely. The first was to try and regulate the cause of the problem, the sexual intercourse between whites and blacks, through a system of governance of Aboriginal movements and relationships, contained within a legislative apparatus concerning the 'protection' of Aborigines constructed between the early years of the twentieth century and the 1930s.

Second, there was already a particular social technology in place to deal with problems of social discipline among the degenerate convicts and working classes (van Krieken 1992; Kidd 1998: 14-15), and this was what was also turned to in responding to the 'half-caste problem'. The concept of 'rescuing the rising generation' had been central to European church and state agencies' policies in relation to the children of the poor and the working class since the sixteenth century, and was a central element of the modern State's conception of the intersection of family life and liberal citizenship. The removal of Aboriginal children thus drew 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 parallels 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. This is not a claim that there was some sort of equitable distribution of state violence between indigenous and non-indigenous families, but it does indicate a certain degree of isomorphism between 'race,''class' and 'gender', that anxieties concerning the rapid reproduction of half-caste Aborigines 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 (Stoler 1995).

The 'danger' which most exercised European Australian minds was the coming together of two races, rather than the mere existence of Aborigines alongside white Australians. As J.W. Bleakley, Queensland's Chief Protector and Director of Native Affairs between 1913 and 1942, wrote about the missions, '[n]ot only do they protect the child races from the unscrupulous white, but they help to preserve the purity of the white race from the grave social dangers that always threaten where there is a degraded race living in loose conditions at its back door' (1961: 124). Although it often seems that way, the target of these policies and practices was not simply Aboriginality itself, because that was more or less acceptable to European Australians in its traditional, 'full-blood' form, albeit quarantined in the desert regions of the continent. What was so problematic and dangerous was the hybridity of mixed-bloods, their threat to the boundaries between the civilized and the savage. Note, for example, this extract from the Annual Report of the State Children Relief Board in1915: 'Many of such children are so white that, were it not for their presence in camps or in association with blacks, the average individual would characterize them as practically normal. Beneath the skin, however, the taint is more marked, and it is in the correction of degenerate traits and the eradication of demoralised habits that the work of the expert psychologist and educationalist lies...' (State Children Relief Board 1915: 880). The most powerful outrage which any commentary could provoke would arise from the observation that a child who 'looked white' had been seen in an Aboriginal settlement. The danger that 'half-castes' posed was made particularly acute by the fact that it was in fact the conduct of white men and their pursuit of sex with Aboriginal women - perhaps we should say 'girls', most of the time - which underlay the growth in the 'half-caste' population, and the production of an expanding group of people falling 'between two worlds', so that the problem of hybridity and degeneration was in fact already internal to European civilization itself. Rather than attending to this inconsistency in the notion of 'racial purity' and the real source of any 'taint', though, the approach taken was to even more heatedly 'blame the victim'.

The corresponding practical strategy adopted was simply to make the state the legal guardian of all children of Aboriginal descent, overriding Aboriginal parents' common-law rights over their children, who were to be removed at official will and sent to a mission, a child welfare institution or to be fostered with a white family if sufficiently light-skinned. The legislation enabling this was introduced in relatively weak form between 1886 and 1909 in all Australian states, strengthened around 1915, and further reinforced in the 1930s, by which time, in legal terms, the state had become the custodial parents of virtually all Aboriginal children (Haebich 1988: 350).

The actual number of Aboriginal children removed from their families is unclear, partly because the records kept were patchy, with no accounting for Aboriginal children sent to homes not specifically designated for Aborigines; some were removed 'unofficially' and placed in the care of church agencies or individuals. Also difficult to quantify, as Peter Read reminds us, were 'those who went away to white people for a "holiday" and did not return' (1983: 8). Rowena MacDonald suggests that in the period 1912-1962, 'probably two out of every three part-descent children spent some of their lives away from their parents as a result of the policy of removal'. The HREOC report sums up its estimation as lying between one in three and one in ten in the period between 1910 and 1970, and points out both that 'not one indigenous family has escaped the effects of forcible removal' and that 'most families have been affected, in one or more generations, by the forcible removal of one or more children' (HREOC 1997: p. 37).

This assertion of legal guardianship by the state over all indigenous children only ceased in the 1960s. The primary and overarching concern was to 'solve' the 'half-caste problem' by breeding out the colour of both body and mind through this program of social engineering, and in this sense the removal of Aboriginal children meshed with the first strategy of controlling sexual relations and reproduction among adult Aborigines. This was certainly the most strongly articulated argument in the writings of the politicians, administrators and anthropologists central to the development of the various forms of legislative and administrative action. 'Merging', 'absorption' and 'assimilation' into the ways of 'civilization' were the key concepts around which this discourse was organized. In 1936 a conference of the leading authorities in Aboriginal affairs declared its belief 'that the destiny of the natives of aboriginal origin, but not of full blood, lies in their ultimate absorption by the people of the Commonwealth' (Commonwealth of Australia 1937: 3). By the 1950s this kind of conception had been replaced by one more organized around a liberal conception of citizenship, and in 1950 Paul Hasluck told the House of Representatives that 'Their future lies in association with us, and they must either associate with us on standards that will give them full opportunity to live worthily and happily or be reduced to the social status of pariahs and outcasts living without a firm place in the community' (1953: 6).

Within this second conception of 'citizenship as assimilation', it was also possible to regard the state's and church's intervention into Aboriginal family life as advancing the 'welfare' of the Aboriginal population as a whole, by posing a stark and uncompromising contrast between membership of the European community, on its terms, and exclusion from civilization itself. Aboriginal culture and its way of life, especially once it had encountered European civilization, was presented by Hasluck and almost every other administrator in Aboriginal affairs as inherently flawed, fragile and basically worthless, producing only illness, disease, drunkenness, filth and degeneracy in the 'thousands of degraded and depressed people who crouch on rubbish heaps throughout the whole of this continent' (Hasluck 1953: 9; see also Read 1983: 20). Aboriginality was constructed simply as a 'primitive social order' composed of 'ritual murders, infanticide, ceremonial wife exchange, polygamy'(Hasluck 1956: 2), so that for Hasluck and most white Australians, the permanent elimination of Aboriginality from the fabric of Australian social life was self-evidently synonymous with civilization and progress itself, a crucial element of the truth that 'the blessings of civilization are worth having'. 'We recognise now,' said Hasluck, 'that the noble savage can benefit from measures taken to improve his health and his nutrition, to teach him better cultivation, and to lead him in civilised ways of life.... We know that the idea of progress, once so easily derided, has the germ of truth in it' (Hasluck 1953: 17).

The destruction of Aboriginal culture and society, both inexorable and planned, via the assimilation of Aborigines as individuals and as children, was thus posed in terms of a humanitarian concern for the welfare of indigenous Australians, and this interpretation is still an important element of the 'common sense' understanding of the practice of forced child removal. As one newspaper letter-writer put it, '....while the act of removing children from their parents was a tragic trauma for those was done with the intent, while wrong and misinformed, of "improving" the children's lives. It was not done with malicious intent' (Steven de Vroom, North Sydney, Sydney Morning Herald Letters, 27 May 1998).

Childhood, liberalism and genocide
How was such a linkage between welfare and attempted cultural genocide, mediated through policies concerning children and the 'rising generation' possible, and how should we understand it? I will conclude with an attempt at answering this question.

First, it is important to observe that whatever it was about European models of the relationship between state and society which produced Aboriginal child removal is not simply a "mistake" for which apologies might be issued, but something much more deeply rooted in European social, political and legal thought, with profound on-going implications for social relationship in Australia, between as well as among indigenous and non-indigenous people. The model of citizenship and the evolution of individual rights - especially children's rights - underlying much of the debate displays considerable amnesia about exactly how 'colonizing' European social history has been in relation to its own subject populations (Weber 1976), and especially in relation to children and family life (e.g., Hearst 1997). This raises the question of the relative success of European 'internal' colonization in comparison to the overall failure to eradicate non-European identities. The 'community' destroyed by European child welfare policies was defined in class rather than ethnic or racial terms, whereas an ethnically defined community seems to be much more difficult to eliminate, short of physical genocide. So ethnocultural groupings appear to be more resistant to attacks on their citizenship status than class-defined groupings - paradoxically, because they are also the most likely to have such restrictions on their citizenship status imposed on them.

Second, liberal social and political thought rests on a delicate balance between individual rights and some conception of 'the social', or the particular and the universal (Hegel), making it possible for civilisation and modernity to have barbaric effects to the extent that this balance takes particular forms. Discussing the more well-known example of genocide, Detlev Peukert suggested that National Socialism constituted 'a particularly fatal form of the tense relationship that runs through the entire history of social policy between...the 'normality' that is to be fostered and required and...the 'non-conformity' that is to be segregated or eliminated' (1989: 129). His general argument was that National Socialism drew on a general Fortschrittsoptimismus that 'final solutions' could be found to various 'social questions' so that 'an alliance of science and interventionist social engineering could put paid to all outstanding causes of social unease' (1991: 134-5). What made this 'gardening' (Bauman 1987) conception of social policy so problematic was the combination of an organic conception of society, the Volksgemeinschaft, and the absence of 'the ideals of equal rights, emancipation, self-determination and common humanity' (Peukert 1987: 248). This is what is striking about the sheer disgust which European Australians have tended to feel for Aborigines (Read 1983: 20). Paul Hasluck, for example, gave the House of Representatives this folksy advice, that '[w]e have to give attention to hygiene. So long as natives are not living in a way that makes them physically acceptable - to put it crudely, so long as natives live in a way that makes them smell - then there is no hope for them. We have to improve their hygiene in order to make them acceptable' (Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates 8(New Series) 21st(1st) 6 October 1955, p. 1333).(5)

Australian Indigenous child removal policies and practices were not, of course, unique, and comparable histories can be identified in other settler-colonies. There was a parallel concern in Canada, for example, with assimilation and the elimination of Indian culture (Miller 1996; Fournier & Crey 1997; McGillivray 1997). Canada's first Prime Minister, Sir John MacDonald, said that 'The great aim of our civilization has been to do away with the tribal system and assimilate the Indian people in all respects with the inhabitants of the Dominion, as speedily as they are fit for the change', and in 1917 Indian Affairs officer Duncan Campbell Scott said 'I want to get rid of the Indian problem....Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic, and there is no Indian question, and no Indian department' (in McGillivray 1997: 143). But there were also important differences. In the Canadian context, for example, the strategy adopted was residential schooling (for roughly a third of the status Indian population) rather than outright removal, and Canadian observers have been more critical of the post-1950s trend towards utilisation of the mainstream child welfare system. Suzanne Fournier and Ernie Crey have argued that under the residential school regime, despite their mistreatment and racist abuse, 'at least the children stayed in an aboriginal peer group; they always knew their First Nation of origin and who their parents were, and they knew that eventually they would be going home'. The child welfare system, on the other hand, was experienced as a more effective form of 'child abduction'. 'Aboriginal children,' wrote Fournier and Crey, 'typically vanished with scarcely a trace, the vast majority of them placed until they were adults in non-aboriginal homes where their cultural identity, their legal Indian status, their knowledge of their own First Nation and even their birth names were erased, often forever' (1997: 81). There are thus both important similarities and differences between the organised (governmental and non-governmental) policies and practices relating to Indigenous children in different national contexts, then, which need to be examined alongside and in addition to the issues dealt with here.

However, the specific significance of the Australian 'stolen generations' history is that it indicates that the problem is not simply one of a dominance of communal identities over individuals, with all the negations of individual freedoms and rights which that entails. In fact, it shows how the two are interlinked and that we are by no means not out of the woods with the introduction of the factor 'liberalism'. It is useful to distinguish here, as Tim Rowse does, between different versions of liberalism, between what Rowse call 'juridical' liberalism, focused on 'a sometimes militant concern to unfetter individuals from pernicious social bonds and to imagine individuals and to act towards them in terms of their abstract universal equivalence from the point of view of the state' (1999: 127), and a 'sociological' liberalism which instead conceives individuals as integral parts of collectivities as well, with their communal identity an essential rather than expendable element of their relationship to the state. Aimed as juridical liberalism was towards assimilation into a mono-cultural form of citizenship, the removal of indigenous children was structured around an individualised conception of well-being and welfare, but it was this assimilationist focus on individuals which helped undermine communal identity, in turn inflicting significant long-term psychological and social violence on the individuals who make up communities.

Zygmunt Bauman has identified the more generalizable features of what he calls the 'assimilatory project' within European state formation, and the centrality of that project to the very nature of the modern state. It was part and parcel of the process of dismantling older, deeply rooted forms of communal life which provided alternative, sometimes oppositions frameworks of social power. Assimilation, he suggests, 'was an exercise in discrediting and disempowering the potentially competitive, communal or corporative sources of social authority' (1991b: 106). As part of the liberal political and legal program to secure the modern state's 'monopoly of law-making and coercion' (p. 111), assimilation was organized around a tolerance of individuals based on a profound intolerance of differing collective cultural identities, so that 'tolerant treatment of individuals was inextricably linked to intolerance aimed at collectivities, their ways of life, their values and, above all, their value-legitimating powers' (p. 107). The price to be paid by individuals for entry to liberal citizenship in the modern state, at least in its juridical form, has always been to leave all their previous communal cultural identities behind, apart perhaps from some remnant in the form of quaint customs wheeled out at ceremonial occasions.(6)

Liberal models of individual rights can never, on the one hand, really detach themselves from an accompanying conception of 'society as a whole' to which individuals are to be 'assimilated'. Indeed, the rhetoric of liberal democracy tends to draw attention away from the models of society and community which are in fact being drawn upon, making their problematic effects that much harder to perceive, let alone respond to. On the other hand, when combined with an organic, mono-cultural, and unitary conception of citizenship and community, individualistic liberalism has a strongly normalising edge to it which can, in situations where the boundaries between the 'normal' and the 'pathological' communities are drawn strongly enough (as with racial divisions), have effects very similar to more authoritarian regimes based on quite different political philosophies.

There is in fact, then, a powerful tension at the heart of liberal understandings of children and their place in society, between 'the best interests of the child' and 'the best interests of society'. If we simply assume that the two work in harmony, the former will almost always be defined in terms of the latter. This is what John O'Neill has described as the 'cultural knot' in children's culture and what he calls 'contractualist' liberalism, making it possible for us to both 'celebrate children's growth, their happiness, health, and intelligence' at the very same time that we 'render the lives of vast numbers of children deadly, diseased, ignorant, and ravished by every kind of exploitation' (1995: 1). Rather than simply being an error in judgement, a mistake for which Australians today should or should not apologise, the policies and practices surrounding the 'stolen generations' reveal two much more fundamental flaws buried deep within 'civilized', 'juridical' liberalism,: the difficulty which its 'juridical' or 'contractual' individualism - the conception of human beings as 'disembodied, defamilialized, and degendered' criticised by O'Neill (1995: 3) - produces for a comprehension of individuals as socially located, inter-generational, inter-subjective beings, their essentially communal identities 'stretched' over time both backwards and forwards (van Krieken 1997), and its mono-cultural and organicist conception of 'society', which allows only for assimilation to a single, individualised and de-communalised 'way of life'. It is only to extent that both these features of 'juridical' liberalism are addressed that we can hope for any degree of certainty that similar histories will not re-emerge in relation to any group without the protection afforded by a visible and publicly respected cultural and political presence.

1. This is revised and extended version of a paper first given during the Sociology of Childhood sessions at the 14th World Congress of Sociology in Montreal, 26 July-1 August 1998. Parts are drawn from another article in the British Journal of Sociology (van Krieken 1999), and I would also like to thank Jens Qvortrup, Ivar Frønes and Virginia Watson, as well as those at the Montreal sessions, for their comments and suggestions.

2. The first reference to 'cultural genocide' I have come across is by an External Affairs officer, Phillip Peters, in a memo on Paul Hasluck's address to the Anthropology section at the 1959 ANZAAS congress. Hasluck was Minister for Territories (1951-1963), came close to becoming Prime Minister, and later became Governor-General, exercising a strong influence on Australian political culture and public debate. He is particularly significant as probably the leading Australian 'theorist of assimilation', alongside the anthropologist A.P. Elkin. For useful discussions, see Thomas (1994) and Rowse (1999). Peters comments that Hasluck's statement suggests 'that cultural genocide is a prerequisite of full assimilation of the Aborigines into the non-Aboriginal community', making 'no reference to the wishes of the Aborigines as regards their future' and failing to 'envisage any alternative which might allow Aborigines to preserve some of their customs and culture'. Peters was also unimpressed with Hasluck's response to criticism: 'Mr Hasluck attacks those who, unaware of the complexities of the problems facing Aborigines, are bold enough to criticise Government policy. The implication seems to be that Govt policy, like the laws of the Medes and Persians, is unalterable and profoundly wise. It may be difficult to argue this point to overseas critics' (National Archives of Australia, A1838 557/1). Hasluck was fond of attributing criticism of the management of Aboriginal affairs to a Communist plot (1988: 97). I am grateful to Susan Taffe (1995) for drawing my attention to this memo, and also for providing me with her copy of it, since I was unable to locate it personally in National Archives.

3. John Gorton wrote that '[o]n the whole I take the view the churches took at the time. It was the right thing for them to do, to try and look after Aboriginal children' (Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 1998)

4. The dynamics of the situation in Australia were different from those in Indonesia analysed by Stoler (1995) because of its character as a settler colony.

5. In the Hasluck papers in the National Library of Australia, there is a draft of a report by an Inter-Departmental committee on 'Matters Affecting Native Welfare', where the following recommendation 'That any aboriginal who has reached a standard of general education which makes his attendance at a secondary school advisable should be admitted to a "State" secondary school' has added to it, in Hasluck's writing, the following emendation: 'provided that his standard of personal hygiene and mode of life make him acceptable' (NLA MS 5274 Hasluck Papers, Box 32).

6. As Hasluck put it: 'the loss of any valid and distinctive aboriginal culture is certain in the course of time. The ancient pride can remain - and in fact may grow. Those people of Scottish ancestry who delight in strange capers at Hallowe'en, and those people of Irish origin who whenever they do something fine exclaim "It must be my Irish blood" are examples of the sort of cultural pride I had in mind. But how real are the bagpipes and the kilts and the poetry of Burns as a cultural force in Australia? The Scot and the Irish and the English are "assimilated", not "integrated into Australian life. I look to a future when a person whose great grandfather was an Australian aboriginal will be as proud of the fact as a Scot is rightly proud of his barbaric ancestry' (Hasluck 1959: 15). The argument for a distinctive cultural identity he dismissed as so much romanticism, such as is expressed in 'the Moomba Festival in Melbourne, in the vogue of the Central Australian paintings and in the sale of factory-made koala bears and boomerangs' (p. 15).