I have also seen that children are neglected in three other similar Aboriginal communities. Child abuse doesn't have a colour, and if it is happening then it is happening, and it needs to be dealt with. (au.christiantoday.com)
Today, as an Aboriginal woman, I am here to disagree with a recent article by John Pilger, where he says children in outback NSW are "being taken in a scandalous and largely unrecognised abuse of human rights that evokes the infamous 'stolen generation' of the last century". (His terminology is wrong, it should be "Stolen Generations"). (www.theguardian.com)
Before I get into why I am against anyone using the term "Stolen Generations" to compare the children of this century to the children of the last century when the situation was different, I want to explain what it actually means to me personally.
The Stolen Generations – my family's story
My great great grandmother Colleen Rowan, referred to as Chloe, was one of the first group of children to be taken in Queensland in 1905. According to the Government's Assimilation Policy of the time, every half-cast child was to become a ward of the state. Chloe was light-skinned because she was born after her mother, Sissy, had been raped by an Irish man named Jack Rowan. (Wow, we have an Irish ancestor!)
My family story says that Sissy was a very loving mother. She would roll the child in the mud every time officials would come, to make her look darker. But eventually Chloe and nine other kids from the tribe were taken the same day from her traditional home near Roma in Qld to a 'Misson/Outstation' in St George, Qld. There, the Nuns taught her English but were horrible to her and beat her if she would ever speak her own language; and they spat on her and even raped her with objects!
When she was 14 years old she was sold to the Westaway family on the Sunshine Coast where she was their "maid" for many years (yes Australia had slaves too!). This family came to love her, and they gave her a large piece of land as a wedding gift when she married my great great grandfather, Charlie Chilly. Originally from the Gubbi Gubbi / Kabi Kabi tribe of the Sunshine coast, Charlie was regarded as the best stockman working on a neighbouring property.
But "their" land was taken from them because Black people weren't allowed to own anything back then. Very sad.
Everyone in the family described Chloe as a very hard woman who hated other women because of what the nuns had done to her. She became even more bitter when Charlie passed away leaving her with seven sons and a daughter. She worked hard ironing and washing people's clothes just to put food on the table and to "keep her kids" – literally - otherwise they would have been taken. Her daughter, my great Nan, was effectively left to raise her brothers.
Let's get the facts right about today's situation
Back then you could say indigenous parents lived on the edge and lived in fear; but its a far reach to say it nowadays. The story of the real "Stolen Gen" really hurts me because of what Chloe went through; it means sadness for good parents of that time who were just unfairly victim to Government policies aimed at breeding the black out of us; it means stolen wages of our hardworking men and women; and above all, it means hurt and pain and injustice.
By contrast today, in general, Black Australia has come a long way, even if we still have a lot more work to do to "close the gap" with education and health issues. Luckily in my family, none of my grandmothers wanted us to be full of hate and resentment. We were taught that we are now in control of our own circumstances and we must do better for ourselves so "the white man" can't have the power to bring us down. We were made to believe that it is up to us to make it.
It was a culture shock for me, who came from the sunny coast, when I saw people on a community. I had no idea they lived like that. Even though my mother was a drug addict, my grandparents and aunts and uncles raised me so that I never really saw that side of life. We were poor and Pop worked hard, but I had mainly a good life.
Pilger, in his article, has many facts plain wrong. He says, for example, "Most Aboriginal families live on the edge" and his photo accompanying this statement reinforces rampant racism. . The actual statistics are that 75% of aboriginal families live in major or regional cities, and of the rest, it is only a small minority who live in problem communities. More Aboriginal kids attend University every year, and more Indigenous business-people are becoming entrepreneurs, particularly in mining. (www.creativespirits.info; www.abc.net.au)
I also cannot follow Pilger's emotive argument that somehow the Government is responsible for the conditions he saw in one of the fringe dwellings, because of a policy of removing children it sees in danger. This "logic" makes NO sense. From what I see, the opposite is true. There are too many kids who would benefit from being removed into caring families who can teach them a better way of living.
The amount of neglect and child abuse I saw in the year I lived in my husband's community was horrendous and no one was scared of being caught! Some in the community would confront others about not looking after their kids properly, but would be screamed at and told it would be "Stolen Gen all over again" if the kids were ever taken! How frustrating!
I am not alone. On the volunteer-based website about Aboriginal matters, "Creative Spirits", Dr Lara Wieland is quoted as saying that she originally could not understand why a person could neglect their child and still be heartbroken if that child were removed. She now understands that these people, in their heart, really didn't realise that what they were doing was so bad because "dysfunction had become normal". When they do realise there is another way, some parents bring their children to the local towns and beg good-hearted families like hers (and ours) to take their kids and bring them up "properly". (www.creativespirits.info)
My husband, Eddie, once thought his family was "normal" living out on the community. When he met me, I let him know loud and clear that this lifestyle wasn't OK! I was shocked that he was an alcoholic and I made him choose me or the grog (smart choice: he picked me.) This year will mark his fifth year of sobriety.
Misusing emotive words damages the next generation
I know the "Stolen Gen" has left lasting effects on the aboriginal people, but I would like to say that "enough is enough" and that excuse can't be used any more. It is used to scare white people off; perhaps this is what Pilger was told. I am totally against this attitude - it is an insult to the actual "Stolen Gen" like Chloe to say that it is happening again when it's not.
If children are being removed in this century it's because the parents are exposing them to the dysfunction that they themselves have become a part of and the cycle keeps going because no one wants to speak out. They mistake this lifestyle for Aboriginal culture, but the true culture is to respect the elders.
The elders have no authority any more, and many them have died out. To make matters worse, the kids are taught that the "white" doctors, nurses, police offices, teachers and welfare workers are the enemy. This discourages them from telling anyone that they have been abused, or to seek any sort of help or advice. This is also frustrating!
My family shows one example of how we can rise up and start stepping up to the mark and making the change in ourselves.
Ephesians 6:4 (ESV) says "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
Hope for the future: Tisha's children ready for
school on a Monday morning like the majority of Aboriginal families
While writing this, I heard a radio interview with Chief Justice John Pascoe (Federal Court) discussing all sides of these issues, and explaining how the Court circuit will help those in Aboriginal communities "approach the Court without fear, and with the confidence that is attuned to their needs." I hope it works. (www.abc.net.au)
Tisha Williams is an indigenous home maker and mother on the Gold Coast / Tweed. He husband Edward is an indigenous painter, training to be a carpenter and teaches their children his language and dream time stories which have parallels in the Bible.
Tisha Williams' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tisha-williams.html