The removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families gained national attention in Australia following the Bringing Them Home Report in 1997. However, the voices of Indigenous parents were largely missing from the Report. The Inquiry attributed their lack of testimony to the impact of trauma and the silencing impact of parents’ overwhelming sense of guilt and despair; a submission by Link-Up NSW commented on Aboriginal mothers being “unwilling and unable to speak about the immense pain, grief and anguish that losing their children had caused them.”
This book explores what happened to Aboriginal mothers who had children removed and why they have overwhelmingly remained silent about their experiences. Identifying the structural barriers to Aboriginal mothering in the Stolen Generations era, the author examines how contemporary laws, policies and practices increased the likelihood of Aboriginal child removal and argues that negative perceptions of Aboriginal mothering underpinned removal processes, with tragic consequences. This book makes an important contribution to understanding the history of the Stolen Generations and highlights the importance of designing inclusive truth-telling processes that enable a diversity of perspectives to be shared.
Anne Maree Payne works in the School of Communication at the University of Technology-Sydney.
Chapter 1: Motherhood, Truth-Telling and the Bringing Them Home Inquiry
Chapter 2: Untold Suffering? Motherhood and Silence
Chapter 3: ‘To the Exclusion of the Rights of the Mother’: The Impact of Aboriginal ‘Protection’ Legislation
Chapter 4: ‘Strange Anomalies’: Limitations on Aboriginal Mothers’ Access to Social Security
Chapter 5: ‘Forcible Removal Through Employment’: The Impact of the Requirement to Work on Aboriginal Mothers
Chapter 6: Monitored Motherhood: The Impact of State Surveillance and the Threat of Intervention in Aboriginal Families
Chapter 7: ‘Sitting in Judgement’? Views About Aboriginal Mothering
Chapter 8: For Their Own Good? Diverse Perspectives on Aboriginal Child Removal
Chapter 9: Beyond Silence: Aboriginal Mothers’ Experiences of Children Removal in the Stolen Generations Era
This is a moving and thoughtful investigation into the absence of the voices of Aboriginal mothers before the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry, reported in 1997 as Bringing Them Home. Have Aboriginal mothers been silent because of the intense pain of their loss, as many have understandably thought? Or have some chosen to be silent? If they have chosen silence, why did they do so? Have the burdens of child removal policies fallen most heavily on women, both as removed children and as mothers? Is their silence always the outcome of oppression? Or might silence be a site of resistance and a strategy to wrest back control? What Anne Maree Payne learns from interviewing Aboriginal mothers, from Aboriginal autobiographies and, indirectly, from the testimonies in the Report, deepens our understanding of the tragedy of colonialism for women and men across the Aboriginal community. At the same time, the book demands hard questions about the limits of restorative justice and rights-based advocacy; about the strengths but also the costs of ‘speaking out’. Yet there are stories of hope too – mothers, families and removed children who find some peace and justice when they find each other. There have been some conditions in Australia and internationally where mothers have felt able to speak. The voices of the Aboriginal mothers in this book demand deep listening.
This heart-breaking and compelling book illuminates the experiences of Aboriginal mothers in the history of the Stolen Generations. Payne exposes fault lines in the production of knowledge that we have about this long episode in Australia’s past – the cost of speaking, the price of silence and the limited terms on which non-Indigenous Australia has engaged with it. In exposing these fault lines and bringing Aboriginal mothers’ accounts of coercive child removal into the foreground, the texture of our understanding of the Stolen Generations is greatly enriched.