April 11 2016
By Stephanie Chan
Bare. Numb. Cold. That’s all that’s left. They told you your name was no longer and you’re given a new name and a new birth certificate. Your roots are raw, and stinging from being ripped out with no warning. In this place so unfamiliar, your memories begin to twist out of shape. They tell you things about your parents. They’re bad people. They’re dead. They don’t love you. Just as your wounds are closing up, you are taken to another mission. It happens again, new name, new birth certificate. By this stage you are beginning to believe what they are saying. Maybe your parents were bad people, who don’t care about you. So many questions unanswered, where are my parents? Who am I? Again and again new names, new birth certificates. You’re re-born over and over again, with new places and new faces. So many changes, that you can’t recall anything real.
This is was the reality for the stolen generation.
I sat down with Chief Executive Officer at Connecting Homes: A service for the Stolen Generation, John Dommett. He took me on a journey through our history and showed me what it was like to be a child of the stolen generation. Being thrown around places called missions that institutionalised children, removing them from their family in the hope that their bloodline would breed out.
John reminded me that these were real people, people that are still dealing with the affects today.
“They’re still grieving their loss, so they’re becoming dysfunctional so they don’t know how to parent… So what we see today is a direct result of what has occurred in our past,” he said.
The effect of the stolen generation and how it’s still affecting people today is something that is not discussed in many schools.
This is contributing to what is prolonging our efforts to close to gap.
Image: Aboriginal Elder Nancy Hill-Wood from Sydney holds a protest banner in front of Old Parliament House on February 11, 2008 in Canberra, Australia. Source: Andrew Sheargold.
Religious Education co-ordinator at Catholic College Sale, Jeff Hobbs works with students of Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds. He explains that most Aboriginal families in Sale, Victoria live in poor areas and have a reputation of being “no hopers” and “down and out”.
“There is little consideration given by most people in town as to why they might be like that or why they don’t just “get their act together” and get a job. Most of the students don’t draw instant parallels with the stories and the real life of our town,” he said.
History teacher at Catholic Ladies’ College in Eltham, Victoria, Jess Gibson explains that Australian Indigenous history is introduced in year 9. During this time students learn about topics such as the first Australians, colonisation and Aboriginal warriors.
“In terms of the stolen generation, it’s spoken about but it’s not thoroughly researched,” she said.
“We stereotype but you’ve got to look at where these problems arose from… that’s how a lot of people’s perspectives is [towards Indigenous Australians], that it’s everybody has this problem and it’s the occasional few that don’t. There’s too much generalizing going on as well,” Gibson said.
The media feed many stereotypes we have about Aboriginals.
In 2012 the Public Health Advocacy Institute of Western Australia did a study where they collected Indigenous health-related issues covered in the media. This included injury, alcohol, environment and health, obesity and child health.
The articles were separated into three categories, negative (eg abuse, racism, discrimination, inequality ect), positive (eg successful and healthy) and neutral.
The results are shown below and are heavily skewed towards the negative category.
As a result there is a strong sense of dissonance between the Aboriginals students learn about in school and the Aboriginals they see in the media and everyday life. There is a lack of understanding of why some Indigenous Australians are disadvantaged, marginalised and substance abusers.
Curriculum manager of Humanities and Social science from the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA), Pat Hicks explains that the curriculum outlines knowledge and skill that should be taught in schools and doesn’t require students to undertake particular activities.
“Students are taught to understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures in history and in other areas of the curriculum. Schools decide on activities that may result from this,” she said.
As a result, there is variation in what is taught and learn about Indigenous Australian history.
We need to start this discussion as early as possible to create an understanding to ultimately create a relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.