Friday, May 9, 2003

The story of Molly Craig

Last night I saw Rabbit-Proof Fence - the true story of three young "half-caste" Aborigine girls - Molly, her sister Daisy and their cousin Gracie - taken from their mothers and placed in state-run "assimilation" facilities in 1931 Western Australia. The girls escaped and walked nine weeks, and 1500 miles, through the desert - or as the web site puts it, "longer than many of the legendary walks of our explorer heroes" - and along the rabbit-proof fence to get home.

Robert Manne writes on the "half-caste" child removal policies in the first half of the 20th century:

"From the late nineteenth-century to the late 1960s even the dates are somewhat uncertain so little do we know Australian governments, as a practice and as a policy, removed part-Aboriginal children from their mothers, parents, families and communities, often by force ... In the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century educated opinion in Australia seems, generally, to have been of the view that the full-blood tribal Aborigine represented a dying race, doomed in the fullness of time to extinction. It would be quite wrong, of course, to think that this belief about impending Aboriginal extinction was not, in general, held with regret, as a kind of settled scientific fact. Lesser cultures, it was believed, could not survive contact with higher civilisations ... The Perth Sunday Times in 1927 put it thus: "Central Australia's half-caste problem ... must be tackled boldly and immediately. The greatest danger, experts agree, is that three races will develop in Australia: white, black and the pathetic sinister third race which is neither."

"The most important solution of the policymakers and legislators to the problem of the "half-caste" was, however, child removal. In all states and territories, in one way or another, legislation was passed in the early years of the twentieth-century which gave Aboriginal protectors guardianship rights over Aborigines up to the age of sixteen or twenty-one. In all states and territories, policemen or other agents of the state, began to locate and transfer babies and children of mixed descent, from their mothers or families or communities into institutions ... If these children were separated permanently from family; if they were taught to despise their Aboriginal inheritance; if they were even brought up without the knowledge of that inheritance; if they were sent to work as domestic servants or station hands in the hope that they would eventually merge into European society and marry out; if they were sent to foster homes where knowledge of their Aboriginality was denied: all this was done, in my view, not as a social welfare measure, but as an attempt to break the cultural connection between the children of mixed descent and their Aboriginal families and cultures, to drag the children out of the world of the native settlements and camps and prepare them for a place in the lower strata of European society. Because the policymakers and agents of state viewed these children and the worlds from which they had come through racist spectacles seeing nothing but racial degeneration and social squalor they genuinely believed in taking the children from their family and culture, they were acting in the long-term best interest of the children, whatever temporary grief or pain they caused."

These sort of Aboriginal policies - common also in Canada - were supported by anthropologists informed by Social Darwinism and, later, by the eugenics movement. The idea was that "inferior" genes could be eradicated from the gene pool, so that "civilisation" might prevail. This was attempted through practices of forced sterilisation on the medical end, and community separation on the cultural end. It was all very ugly, and every time I think about it I feel physically ill. The Australian Aborigines refer to these decades as the Stolen Generations. Indeed.

The movie ends with the return of the girls to their mother, but, sadly, Molly's story does not end there.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice man, thanks


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