Australian Aborigines: History, exploitation and victimization
Seeking the White Root, An Australian Story, is a historical novel, beginning with an actual shipwreck which occurred off the southern coast of Australia in the mid-1800's. The survivors were assisted by Aboriginal people, an event that profoundly affected their lives and those of future generations.
The story is about Jane, a descendent of the survivors, who was born more than a century later on a sheep station. After the child's parents die, her aboriginal nanny carries her to the rainforest. The little blond child lives happily for five years with her Aboriginal family in the bush until she is violently uprooted and returned to white society. This event, although it happens to a white child, was not unusual for the Aborigine in the not so distant past. Much of Jane's life parallels the Aboriginal victimization.
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There is evidence from rock drawings in South Australia that the Aborigines have inhabited the great island continent of Australia for some 45,000 years. There also seems to be evidence of a much longer inhabitance, but this has not been accepted by all levels of science at this time. Captain James Cook claimed the whole east coast of Australia for the British in 1770. Since that time the lives of the Aboriginal peoples have changed dramatically. There are numerous and well documented cases of massacres and mass poisonings of the Aborigines in the 1800s. From the late 1800's until well into the mid-1900s, many official laws and acts were passed, both in various states and nationally, "protecting" the Aboriginal children. For the most part these laws were ways to forcibly remove the children from their parents, without any legal recourse for the parents in the Australian courts. Additionally the children were, in many cases, subjected to extremely degrading circumstances. Laws supporting the rights of Aborigines did not start to be enacted until the mid 1970s. Slowly during the 1980s, organizations and government programs were formed to provide funding and counseling to assist Aboriginal children to find their long-lost families. Unfortunately, the damage that was inflicted will not soon be erased. An entire culture was nearly exterminated. The stories of pain and suffering are difficult for us to hear, but they are not exaggerated. Acknowledgement of these untoward practices by the government has been slow in coming.
The following Associated Press article was taken from the Minneapolis Star Tribune in September 1997.
Unofficial apology offered to Aborigines
Premier is first to express regrets over adoption policy
MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - A policy that sought to "save" Aborigine children by forcibly taking them from their parents spawned lasting trauma and resulted in a "stolen generation," Australia's premier said Monday in an apology.
John Howard offered his regrets personally, not on behalf of the government, for the policy that removed an estimated 100,000 children from their parents between 1910 and the early 1970s in the belief that the Aborigines were a doomed race.
Light-skinned children were given to white families for adoption. Dark-skinned children were put in orphanages.
"Personally, I feel deep sorrow for those of my fellow Australians who suffered under the practices of past generation towards indigenous people," Howard told delegates at the Australian Reconciliation Convention.
Howard's apology drew strong applause at first from the nearly 2,000 delegates. But many booed and shouted when he said, "Australians of this generation shouldn't be required to accept guilt and blame for past actions and policy over which they had no control."
A number of Australia's whites believe they have no reason to apologize for past wrong-doing. Others say a heartfelt general apology is warranted, along with compensation.
A report issued Monday by federal human rights commission recommends that Australia's governments set up a fund to compensate victims of the adoption policy. The federal government has said it will reject the idea.
It also rejects the report's assertion that the adoption policy could be considered a form of genocide as defined by a 1946 U.N. resolution.
Australia's 303,000 Aborigines, who were given full citizenship in May, 1967, lag behind other Australians in access to jobs, education and health services.