Wednesday, February 13, 2008


I didn't watch the apology this morning (I didn't remember the library bag for school, what hope did Kevin Rudd have?) but I watched some of the post-apology activities. I then read this letter written by Wilson Tuckey to remind us all that the nation is not universally behind this action.

Apart from amazement that people like Tuckey even still exist, let alone represent people democratically, a few things seem self evident to me at this point. A process for compensation that leaves the courts out of it seems essential. The excessive cost of dragging each application through court benefits no-one but the legal profession, and seriously, they aren't desperate for the extra cash. And by compensation, I mean both for the stolen generations and for the stolen wages. I know there has been some movement in this direction in some states but it needs to be unified and well directed. It will all end up cheaper for everyone in the end if it is done this way.

The other point that comes to mind is the other children taken from their parents - those from overseas as well as those taken for similar reasons to the aborigines from white parents. A good friend of my father-in-law's was taken from her mother and separated from her siblings and dragged up through foster care. I believe her mother had a mental illness. I completely acknowledge there was in many places a qualitative difference between the Aboriginal children taken and these, not least because I don't believe that all the people responsible for Aboriginal stolen children even believed they were doing right thing. There is no doubt it was used, in places, as a method of oppression. However, there remains an injustice to those others. WA has acknowledged that in its steps towards reparations. And more importantly, it is not merely an historical issue. The question of when, why and how authorities should remove children from their parents is raised every time another child suffers at the hands of their guardians.

So it seems to me that all of these people who were taken from their families, for good reasons and bad, need to be heard. We need not only to apologise for the mistakes of the past, but we need to learn from them too. We also need to wade through all the failures and find the successes. There were people who did benefit from all that mess. We don't diminish the suffering of the disasters by acknowledging the successes, or even partial successes.

There can be no doubt that, sadly, some kids still need to be taken from their parents. We do this badly, we need to work out how to minimise the pain deriving from these terrible circumstances. And I am prepared to bet serious money that long term foster care does not feature in such a solution. Nor,of course, do most of the horrific scenarios that many indigenous people suffered. And perhaps acknowledging these people as a gold mine of invaluable experience and instruction might go some small way to rebuilding the self esteem of a people.

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