Who spoke out at the time?
The policies and practices of separation and removal as described in the report were never universally approved as sometimes believed. They were in fact implemented in the face of clear and unequivocal warnings about the potentially disastrous and tragic consequences that may flow. From as early as 1874 warnings were sounded about the threat to family structures and systems; the links were clearly identified between the removal of young girl children for domestic work, and slavery; about the lack of responsibility, authority and supervision of those involved in the forcible removal of children, and about the repressive conditions in which children were held.
It is not true to say that people "did not know". People did know, but the warnings went unheeded. Following are some excerpts from the report of some of this evidence.
At Darlington Point I have heard an aborigine, who was highly educated, explaining in the best of English how the aborigines were plundered of their rations, robbed of their lands, and reduced to the position of slaves. I do not say the man was right in all his contentions, but when you meet men who understand all these things, you cannot expect them calmly to submit to an order to take from them their girls or boys and to place them in an Government institution.
Mr Scobie MP, during parliamentary debate on the Aborigines Protection Bill, 1915
... is prejudical to a healthy development of character and the rearing of children as good and useful men and women. The one fatal and all-sufficient objection to the massing of children together under the necessary conditions of barrack life is, its utter variance from the family system recognised by nature in the constitution of human society as the best suited for the training of the young.
1874 Public Charities Commission Inquiry
... girls of tender age and years are torn away from their parents ... and put to service in an environment as near to slavery as it is possible to find.
Australian Aborigines Progressive Association, 1928
... the aboriginal inhabitants are treated exactly in the same way as the wild beasts or birds the settlers may find there ... Their goods are taken, their children forcibly stolen, their women carried away, entirely at the caprice of the white men.
The Queenslander newspaper, 1883
Kidnapping of boys and girls is another serious evil ... Boys and girls are frequently taken from their parents and their tribes, and removed far off whence they have no chance of returning; left helpless at the mercy of those who possessed them, white people responsible to no-one and under no supervision by any proper authority ... Stringent legislation is required to prevent a continuance of abuses concerning the women and children.
Archibald Meston, 1896
In many things the white people mean well, but they have so little understanding. My experience has convinced me that, psychologically, the Native Department is working on the wrong lines ... The same law that applies to the white race should apply to the native races in that particular. I think that is most essential. Our native mothers have all the natural feelings of mothers the world over, and to many of them the administration of the Native Department, by men only, is stark tragedy.
Gladys Prosser, a Noongar mother, in an interview to Perth's Sunday Times. Later quoted in a speech to the Legislative Council by Hon. H Seddon. Hansard 22 November 1938
They are captured at all ages, as infants in arms, perhaps not until they are grown up, they are not safe until they are dead.
Mary Bennett, reporter giving evidence to the Royal Commission into the conditions of Aborigines, early 1930's
In most instances I should prefer to see the children left with their parents ... the system of dealing with the parents should be improved in order that they might keep their children. In her opinion government administrations were forcibly removing children 'because it was cheaper than providing the same system of support which operated for neglected white children'.
Bessie Rischbieth, giving evidence to the Royal Commission into the conditions of Aborigines, early 1930's
The general opinion of station people is that it is a mistake to take these children out of the bush. They say that the aboriginal mothers are fond of their children and in their own way look after them and provide for them and that when they grow up they are more easily absorbed and employed than those who have been taken out of their natural environment and removed to towns.
The Mission Representatives say that if the girls are left in the bush they only became the prey of white men and mothers at a very early age. My experience has been that removing them to towns and to institutions does not overcome this trouble and only accentuates and increases it.
Chief Protector of Aboriginals, to Commissioner of Public Works, 27 August 1932
There is not and never should be occasion for the Children to be taken away from their parents and farmed out among white people.
J C Genders, editor of Daylight (magazine), 1924
I know many stock breeders who would not dream of crowding their stock in the way that these half-caste children are huddled.
John McEwen, Minister of the Interior, after visiting the Half-Caste Home in Darwin, 1937
Last updated 2 December 2001.