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Aboriginal Children:
A "Lost Generation"

By Rebecca Burke and Tracy Lay,
Bairnsdale Secondary College,

[ Artwork of Aboriginal Children ]

In this essay, we will be discussing the way that the Aboriginal people were treated in the years between 1885 and 1969. We will also be discussing the way that Aboriginal children were taken away from their families and forced to work as domestic servants and to live on the white peoples' government-controlled missions and reserves. This article will give some information about the shameful history of white Australians. In the state of New South Wales, Aboriginal tribes have been forced to leave their tribal lands and go onto government-controlled reserves. It was commonly believed by white settlers that the Aborigines would soon die off, and the reserve land would be sold and used for farming -- but, by the start of the 1900s, a new generation of Aboriginal children was growing up in the reserves. This fact, combined with the large-scale arrival of white immigrants from Europe, changed the Aboriginal life forever.

When it became clear that the Aboriginal people would not die off, the protection board for the Aborigines decided to break up all Aboriginal communities. They would then sell the land to the newly arrived Europeans for farming. The board started by taking away all the rights from Aborigines to own or use reserve lands; the Aborigines could own nothing. The reserves were made a training ground for Aboriginal children to become servants. The protection board had plans to remove Aboriginal children from their reserves and place them under the control of white employers. After these children were removed, they were never allowed to return home.

The white society thought it would be in the best interest of the child to remove her from the corrupting influence of her Aboriginal family; they would send the girls to an institution or foster home, and train her to become a servant. There were no rules or regulations for the treatment of the Aboriginal children who were sent to work.

In the middle of the twentieth century, Aborigines worked for flour, sugar, and tea rations on the cattle stations of northern, central and western Australia. Aboriginal women on cattle stations often worked harder than the men, who were mostly stockmen. The women not only had hard domestic chores -- such as cooking, cleaning, washing, and caring for children -- but, they also worked as cattle drivers; with camel teams; as shepherds; road repairers; water carriers; house builders; and, gardeners. If they tried to escape, they were captured and beaten.

It was the women who were responsible for keeping Aboriginal groups together in camps and on these properties. They cared for their children and for their men. The older women taught traditional skills and customs to the younger generation. Most girls who were removed from their white employers ended up in Sydney working for the middle-class white people. These girls usually were awakened before 5:30 AM to do all of the household jobs. Employers had the girls working seven days a week. They only got paid a small amount, and often got nothing. The middle-class whites didn't allow the girls to show any affection to white people, since they said it was like black rubbing off onto white. The Aboriginal people were just there to work.

[ Map of Australia ]

The forced removal of indigenous children happened in every state and territory of Australia. The separation of Aboriginal children started in Victoria and New South Wales as early as 1885 and, in some states, was not stopped until the 1970s. About 85% of Aboriginal families have been affected in some way, either by having children taken away from them or by being forced to make major decisions to avoid having their children taken. Mothers of some Aboriginal children would cover their fair-skinned children with black clay, hide them in trees, behind sand dunes, or in hollow logs. Families were moving constantly, to keep one step ahead of "welfare." Some families said that they were Italian, Maori, or Greek, leaving their true identity to themselves to escape the strict control of the white "protector."

The removal of these children from their families affected more than just a few people. In New South Wales, the government estimated that, in New South Wales alone, there were at least 8,000 Aboriginal children who had been taken away from their families between 1885 and 1996. Aboriginal children were often taken for being "neglected." The missions and reserves were often the places where the Aborigines would eventually die off.

The children in the institutions were the most neglected children in Australia. Many had to sleep in dormitories with about nineteen to twenty-five other girls in each of dormitory. If any of the girls wet the bed, she would get her nose rubbed in the wet sheet and then receive a beating. The food they ate was so bad that sometimes the meat was infested with maggots. They were not supplied with shoes; in order to keep their feet warm, children would jump into the cow dung. They would practice this behavior often at Roelands Mission, because during winter it got very cold. In Kinchela Boys' Home, which was based in New South Wales, the boys often suffered sexual and physical abuse.

Often the white people would send Aboriginal women out into the white community, and if they came back pregnant, the rule was to keep each woman for two years and then take the child away; sometimes mother and child would never see each other again. The white society thought it would be in the best interest of the child to remove her from the corrupting influence of her Aboriginal family. There were no rules or regulations for the treatment of the Aboriginal children who were sent to work. The children then grew up in a white community knowing nothing of the Aboriginal culture and environment.

Young Aborigines were soon forced from their homes to travel the state looking for work. For the first time, many whites met with Aborigines and realized what poor conditions they were forced to live under. Even with this evidence, it was not until 1967 that Aboriginal people had a vote about their treatment in society. The protection of the welfare system remained in place until 1969.


Lousy Little Sixpence; Producers: Alec Morgan and Gerald Bostock; Director: Alec Morgan.
Australian Encyclopedia; Publisher: Webster Publishing, 1996.
The Waiting: A National Black Oral History; Author: Stuart Rintoul.
Meridith Winkie. Job: National Inquiry into Human Rights Equal Opportunity Commission, G.P.O Box 518, Sydney, New South Wales 2001.
Jim Brooks. Job: National Inquiry into Separation Of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families; E-Mail: <>

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