On Saying Sorry

On Wednesday the Rudd Government will offer a formal apology to the so-called Stolen Generation. The Prime Minister said this official “sorry” will come from the Parliament, not the people. And the Liberals have decided to hop on board with all this, although of the former PMs who will attend, John Howard will not be one of them.

So what is one to make of this government initiative to say sorry to the Aboriginal community? A number of questions arise. For example, if my great-great-great-great-grandfather stole the bicycle of your great-great-great-great-grandfather, am I required to make restitution to you? In other words, how much guilt and/or apology is needed on my part when dealing with something my forebears have done years ago, or generations ago?

Indeed, does it even make any sense for me to ask for forgiveness for something I have not done, but some previous family member may have done? Saying sorry may be just a symbolic gesture, but what exactly is it symbolising? Saying sorry obviously implies that you believe that you – or someone else at least – has done something wrong. And that is where things start to get a bit hairy.

Has there in fact ever been a “Stolen Generation”? The answer to this question seems to depend on which side of the ideological fence you are on. For the Left, not only was a whole generation “stolen,” but the entire thing amounts to nothing less than “genocide”. But the actual facts of the case are still being debated.

It seems, for example, that many well meaning people, including Christian missionaries, were acting out of some very high motives here. Aboriginal children who were being abused, neglected, abandoned, ignored or otherwise mistreated were indeed taken away. But the ones doing this would have regarded all this as a rescue, not theft.

We know of very real cases of child abuse and neglect, even horrific sexual assault, that is still taking place in Aboriginal communities today. Is seeking to help them and deliver them from these appalling conditions just a case of white superiority and genocide against blacks?

Andrew Bolt has long been challenging some of the myths of the “Stolen Generation” and the need to say sorry. His most recent column on this is worth referring to. Bolt argues that the evidence for a “Stolen Generation” is very thin indeed. He challenges his opponents to actually provide some hard evidence for this official policy of “genocide” but he is still waiting. Says Bolt:

“To Rudd and other Say-Sorries it simply doesn’t matter that there’s no evidence any Australian government had a policy to steal children just because they were Aboriginal. See the evidence they’ve ignored. In Victoria, for instance, the state Stolen Generations Taskforce concluded there had been ‘no formal policy for removing children’. Ever. In the Northern Territory, the Federal Court found no sign of ‘any policy of removal of part-Aboriginal children such as that alleged’. In Tasmania, the Stolen Generations Alliance admitted ‘there were no removal policies as such’. In South Australia, the Supreme Court last year found no government policy to steal Aboriginal children there, either. Rather, stealing black children had been ‘without legal authority, beyond power and contrary to authoritative legal advice’. But none of that evidence matters to Rudd.”

As mentioned, political correctness has become so prevalent, and the myths of the “Stolen Generation” so widespread, that we are now abandoning a whole new generation of Aboriginal children to further neglect and abuse. Bolt continues, “Rudd’s apology is happening and all I can hope is that he can still hear a little voice telling him he has a duty to truth, and to the Aboriginal children today who will suffer if he lies. Because suffer they will. Already we read almost monthly of Aboriginal children who are bashed, raped or killed because social workers and magistrates are too scared by the ‘stolen generations’ to ‘steal’ them.”

As Bolt says in an earlier column: “In December, for instance, we learned why a 13-year-old girl who’d been pack-raped was taken away from her white foster parents and sent back to her lawless and drink-sodden Aboriginal settlement – where she was promptly pack-raped again. As a welfare official involved in the case explained: ‘Two new social workers (had) expressed the view, which was repeated many times to the investigating committee, that putting an indigenous child with white foster parents was another stolen generation . . .’ Enough, for God’s sake.”

Bolt continues to challenge his critics to come up with ten actual names of children “stolen” by whites. No one has yet provided even these ten names. But Bolt provides real names of real children who were rescued from a pretty grim life. Says Bolt,

“I’ve asked, for instance, why I’d say sorry to Lowitja O’Donoghue, the Stolen Generations Alliance’s co-patron. O’Donoghue in fact was dumped at a children’s home by her footloose Irish father, to be educated by missionaries. For what should I say sorry to Peter Gunner, who sought compensation in the Federal Court for being ‘stolen’? Gunner, in fact, was sent to a home in Alice Springs with the written permission of his mother, to get a schooling. For what should I say sorry to Topsy, named by Manne as a ‘stolen’ child? Topsy, in fact, was just 12 when she was found, riddled with syphilis and far from hospitals, schools or police, with her parents unknown. For what should I say sorry to Mary Hooker, another Stolen Generations Alliance spokeswoman? Hooker, in fact, was removed with three of her 11 siblings because welfare officers thought she was neglected and ‘I was raped by my brother’.”

“For what should I say sorry to Lorna Cubillo, who claimed compensation? Cubillo, in fact, was just seven, with no parents or even known guardian when she was found at a missionary-run ration camp in the bush, and sent to a home and school in Darwin. For what should I say sorry to Molly, portrayed in Rabbit Proof Fence as a girl stolen to ‘breed out the colour’? Molly in fact was taken into care with the agreement of her tribal chief after warnings that she was in danger of sexual abuse and had been ostracised as a half-caste by her tribe. For what should I say sorry to Archie Roach, famous for his song Took the Children Away? Roach, in fact, said yesterday he was removed when he was three because ‘word got around’ he was neglected — his parents weren’t there, and his sister was trying to care for him. For what should I say sorry to all the ‘stolen children’ like these – activist Robert Riley, whose mother dumped him at a home; author Mudrooroo Narogin, who turned out to be neither stolen nor Aboriginal; claimant Joy Williams, whose mother gave away her illegitimate girl; bureaucrat Charlie Perkins, whose mother asked a boarding school to help her gifted boy; and ‘stolen generations’ leader Annette Peardon, whose mother was jailed for three months for neglecting her children.

Saying sorry may not be a bad thing if some genuine harm or damage had taken place. But saying sorry seems rather silly if in fact a fair amount of good was undertaken by our forebears in the interests of protecting vulnerable Aboriginal children.

Certainly not every case of a child being taken away was done for the best of motives. And surely plenty of mistakes were made. But if the Federal Government wants a blanket apology for past actions, then it should be made crystal clear just what evil actions in fact took place.

Misplaced guilt feelings, political correctness, and national self-loathing are not sufficient grounds to engage in such an apology. It seems the jury is still out in terms of the actual evidence. In which case, why even go down the road of having a national apology?


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