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The protection policy

The removal of Indigenous children from their families and traditional lives began in the late 1800s and continued until the late 1960s and 1970s. During the late 1800s, the Australian government developed and implemented a protection policy. The government hoped that the policy would integrate the Indigenous population into the traditional European society which began in Australia after the First Fleet arrived.

The plan of the policy was to place children into institutions where they would become assimilated into the new culture growing in Australia. The policy was intended to offer these children an education, shelter, religion (Christianity) and integration. To achieve the policy's outcomes the government believed that the children should be totally removed from their previous lives, which meant they had no contact with their family and friends, and were required to forget their traditional life.

The Australian government believed that they were helping the Indigenous people by trying to teach them their (European) ways and ensuring they had a better future. The new European Australians did not understand the Indigenous way of life, and because it was so different from their own lifestyles they did not think it was a suitable environment for children. They believed that they were 'rescuing' these children. Unfortunately their attitudes towards the Indigenous people and the protection of children (by removing them from their family) proved to have devastating affects to the Indigenous population.

Implementing the protection policy and removing children

Indigenous children started to be removed, often by force, from their families after the protection policy was approved in the late 1800s. The children mostly targeted were those who had one parent who was an Indigenous Australian, and another who was European. Indigenous babies and children up to the age of 15 were at risk of being removed from their homes.

Children were sent to missions, which were either set up by the government or the church. Here, they would go to school and learn about European history. After school they would learn new skills that would help them live and work in European society. Girls would be taught to cook, clean and sew, whilst the boys in the mission would learn about woodwork and gardening. The missions supplied children with food, clothes, religion and basic healthcare. They were encouraged to forget everything from their previous life.

The children who were removed from their homes and families during this period became known as the 'Stolen Generation'.

The consequences

The removal of children affected almost every Indigenous family at the time and has had a deep impact on Indigenous Australians to this day. The denial of contact with family and friends meant that the children lost many years of love, affection, care and education about their Indigenous heritage (knowledge about the land, land rights, language and traditional customs). Their families also endured great sadness at the loss of their children.

Many of the Stolen Generation children grew up confused about their own identity. They were receiving instructions to act and think like Europeans, but at the same time looked very different. They were also taught to fear Indigenous Australians. This left many children confused about their place in society.

Once the policy was abolished, or children were of an age that they could leave the mission, many searched for their families. Many never found them as they knew little about their origins. They had lost their families forever. Others who were lucky enough to find their families realised how much they had missed over the years they were at the mission. They often had to learn about their culture from scratch so that they could integrate back into their original society.

Abandonment of the policy

The protection policy and the removal of children slowly stopped during the 1960s and 1970s, even though the board that produced the policy lost its power to remove Indigenous children in 1940. In 1969, the policy was officially abolished. The Government had finally come to the realisation the Indigenous lifestyle and customs could not easily be wiped out and that these children would always be connected to their heritage.

Unfortunately, the abolition of the policy came too late for many children who suffered the consequences of being removed from their family for the rest of their lives. Many children, approximately 10 per cent of the Indigenous children (between 1920 and 1970), were cut off from their lives, their families and their identity. These children were trained to act like European children, which was nothing like their traditional life. Many were retaught about the Indigenous culture, and learned about their ancestors, the lifestyle and the languages.

The stolen generation has been at the centre of much controversy and has been the inspiration of many stories and movies. Molly Kelly, an Indigenous Australian who escaped from mission life, has become the face of the stolen generation. Molly became well known for her 1600 kilometre journey on foot from the mission back to her family. Unfortunately Molly was returned to the mission later in her life. Her mission story was recreated in the movie Rabbit Proof Fence.


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