3.2 Consequences and effects of the Aboriginal Protection Act 1869. The Aboriginal Protection Act of 1869 (hereinafter "the Act") made Victoria the first Australian colony to promulgate a framework in which to officially regulate the lives of Aboriginal people. According to the National Archives of Australia (2008), "This Act gave powers to the Board for the Protection of Aborigines which subsequently developed into an extraordinary level of control of people's lives including regulation of residence, employment, marriage, social life and other aspects of daily life" (Aboriginal Protection Act, p. 2).
The Act was passed during a period in Australia's history when the country was seeking to implement more enlightened laws for almost everyone else concerning the right to a popular and universal vote and the need for a free public education for all citizens - except Aboriginal people. In this regard, the Archives notes that, "For Aboriginal people, however, there was no such progress. The powers this Act gave to the Board for the Protection of Aborigines developed into controls over where people could live, where they could work, what kinds of jobs they could do, who they could associate with and who they could marry" (Aboriginal Protection Act, p. 3). The Act of 1869 was just the beginning, though. In this regard, Broome notes that, "Aboriginal children of mixed descent were always in danger of being taken from their mothers. The Western Australian Aboriginal Act of 1905, the Northern Territory Aboriginal Ordinance of 1911, and the Queensland State Children's Act of 1911, made the Chief Protector of Aborigines the legal guardian of all Aboriginal and 'half-caste' children. He had the right to remove them from their parents to an institution" (p. 1387).
According to Broome (2002), this approach to dealing with the indigenous people of Australia became standard over time.".. As protectors scoured the camps for light-skinned children to remove them and absorb them into the general population. The policy reached its height in the 1930s when increasing numbers of children were rounded up and sent to missions or south to Adelaide, far from traditional influences" (p. 138). In some cases, these forcibly removed Aboriginal children were subjected to the worst environments conceivable, including sexual and physical abuse (including flogging and death) (Attwood & Markus, 1999), as well as being denied freedom of movement in their own homeland (Broome). The impact of these early policies on the Aboriginal people of Australia today remains severe: "Although Aborigines are comparatively less disadvantaged in the early 1990s than they were a decade earlier, their hospitalisation and death rates were still four times higher, their infant mortality was three times higher and their life expectancy was about 20 years lower than other Australians" (Broome, p. 218).
Moreover, these historic disparities in treatment have resulted in some other adverse social outcomes as well. For instance, Broome emphasizes that, "Such disadvantages create stress and emotional problems. These are increased by alcoholism and substance abuse, cultural change and a breakdown in traditional values among some people" (p. 218). Although cultural change is a natural concomitant of life in the modern era characterized by globalization, these changes have been less than desirable among many Aboriginals and have contributed to an inordinately high incidence of violence and sexual abuse among these people. As Broome points out, "In 1990 the Queensland Aboriginal Coordinating Council reported some Aboriginal communities had very high rates of domestic violence, an alarming use of pornographic mail-order videos leading to sexual abuse of children, and rates of assault, rape and homicide 50 times higher than the average Queensland rate" (p. 218).
4.1 Public awareness. Over the past four decades or so, the Australian general public has become increasingly aware of what transpired with the Aboriginal people of Australia over the past two centuries. According to Wilson, "Since the mid-1970s, Aboriginal adults who were taken from their families as children have increasingly used mass media to tell other Australians about the experiences and the ongoing effects of separation on generations of Aboriginal families. At the same time, historians have uncovered archival evidence that separation was nationwide and systematic" (p. 79). Indeed, in his essay, "The Return of the Stolen Generation," Read (1996) reports that public awareness concerning the manner in which the states and territories of Australia have historically treated the people who were there before them has reached a peak in recent years:
Aboriginal singer Archie Roach was one of many thousands of Aborigines removed from his parents when he was a child. By the age of sixteen he was living homeless and hopeless on the so-called Charcoal Lane, in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Other children, removed like Archie Roach from their parents when they were babies, were raised by non-Aboriginal parents, or in an institution. In Australia such men and women have become universally known as the Stolen Generations and their lives and histories seem at present to be the most frequently discussed topic in the whole of Aboriginal Australia. (p. 8)
This increased recognition of the institutionalized abuse and maltreatment of hundreds of thousands of people for no reason other than their race has raised public awareness to the point where some observers suggest that simply saying "we're sorry" is not enough and more substantive reparations are needed to set things straight today, and these issues are discussed further below.
4.2 Acknowledgement and apology. When someone steps on another's foot, saying "I'm sorry" is just good manners (and an effective way to avoid a tort claim). When it comes to what has happened to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, though, apologies will only go so far. As Brooks emphasizes, "The perpetrator of an atrocity ultimately has the responsibility of coming forward with an appropriate form of reparations. In so doing, the perpetrator must give due respect to the victims' needs or desires. This, of course, is a moral responsibility, part of the perpetrator's atonement" (p. 156). Guilt is a tough burden for a collective society to carry for long periods of time, and it would therefore appear to be in any nation's best interests to right such longstanding wrongs and this appears to be the case with the recent national initiative as exemplified by Prime Minister Rudd's speech on February 13, 2008. In fact, according to the Australian, "The Prime Minister used the word 'sorry' three times in the 360-word statement read to parliament. He said there came a time in history when people had to reconcile the past with their future. 'Our nation Australia has reached such a time and that is why the parliament is today here assembled. To deal with this unfinished business of the nation. To remove a great stain from the nation's soul and in the true spirit of reconciliation to open a new chapter in the history of this great land Australia'" (quoted in Kevin Rudd's national apology to Stolen Generations at p. 4).
The research showed that the Aboriginal people of Australia have a rich and colorful history that extends back 40,000 years. Four thousand centuries of continuous occupation would appear to carry some hefty legal rights concerning ownership and fundamental civil rights, but these issues were simply ignored when the British arrived in the 18th century and laid claim to what they wanted and needed at the time. What is all the more baffling about what took place was the fact that these were the same people whose heritage included the Magna Charta and the common law. The institutionalized abuse of thousands of Aboriginals based on the Australian government's legal right to do so would appear spurious at best and criminal at worst. The "stolen" in the "stolen generations" term is operative here. These Aboriginal people have a right to far more than a simple "sorry," even if it was used three times in the speech by the prime minister, and more tangible reparations are clearly in order. Perhaps a comparable approach to that in place in the U.S. today is in order, where the Native Americans are slowly but surely taking back their country by using casinos to transfer wealth from the newcomers back to where they believe it belongs.
Aboriginal Protection Act. (2008). National Archives of Australia. [Online]. Available: http://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item.asp?sdID=22.
Attwood, B. & Markus, a. (1999). The struggle for Aboriginal rights: A documentary history. St. Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin.
Australia. (2008). U.S. government: CIA world factbook. [Online]. Available: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/as.html.
Brooks, R.L. (2004). Atonement and forgiveness: A new model for black reparations. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Broome, R. (2002). Aboriginal Australians: Black responses to white dominance, 1788-2001. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.
Burgmann, V. (2003). Power, profit, and protest: Australian social movements and globalisation. Crows Nest, NSW: Allen & Unwin.
Henderson, M. (1999). Forgiveness: Breaking the chain of hate. Wilsonville, or: Book Partners in Brooks at p. 153.
Kevin Rudd's national apology to Stolen Generations. (2008, February 13). Australian. [Online]. Available: http://www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,23206140-2,00.html.