The Stolen Generation

Explore the online exhibtion.

The Policy

During the years between 1902 and 1969 the force removal of Aboriginal children from their parents was an official government policy but also took place outside these time periods. Many members of the community were involved in this process including religious and welfare groups.

The Australian Protection Board was the group who enacted this policy removing children without consent and moving children into missionaries or institutions and some being fostered out.

When the assimilation policies were acted upon Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who were not considered 'full blood' were 'encouraged' to assimilate to become more suited to a 'white' society, seeing indigenous people as inferior. Removal of the children was to bring them up 'white' and dismiss their culture.

Observe the artifacts in the online exhibition to learn more.

(A) Half-caste policy in the Northern Territory

This document is titled ‘Half-caste policy in the Northern Territory’, subtitled ‘Summary of a report by the Director of Native Affairs’ dated 5th of February 1940. The document outlines the total population of ‘half-caste’ Aboriginal people in each state and suggests that there is a problem to be solved regarding the ‘large’ population of ‘half-castes’ especially in New South Wales.

Abbott, CLA (1940). Half-caste policy in the Northern Territory- Summary of a report by the Director of Native Affairs. Retrieved from 10/09/2013.


This document highlights the not so glamorous action taken by the Government to 'fix' what they believed to be a problem with Aboriginal people. The language used in this document is indicative of the time and their views of Aboriginal people as being inferior. Australia's national history is something that people see to be proud of and of course their are many worthy achievements but what cannot be ignored is the events and legislation that resulted in the Stolen Generations. This document challenges the observers construction of national history and opens the curtain to a shameful period lasting decades. The document is not chosen to emit guilt but rather gain an awareness of what hardship Aboriginal people have suffered and continue to do so in finding family members.

(C) Assimilation

This letter is titled ‘Assimilation with the white community', subtitled ‘Reply to Prime Minister Menzies’ invitation to a conference on ‘native welfare,’ dated 24th of August 1951 written by the Premier James McGirr. The letter discusses a proposal for a government body to look after the national welfare for Aboriginal people and states their hope for Aboriginal people to assimilate and act ‘white’.

McGirr, J (1951). Assimilation with the white community- Reply to Prime Minister Robert Menzies' invitation to a conference on 'native welfare.' Retrieved from 10/09/2013


This seemingly innocent document holds a strong message that would effect the history of Aboriginal people. The document states that the government wishes for Aboriginal people to assimilate and become, in European terms ‘respectful citizens.’ The sentiments of this letter reflecting the events that led to the Stolen Generation. The term native welfare on reflection would appear an oxymoron. Again this is a document that reflects racist views of Aboriginal people and a history that until recent times was largely ignored. Pairing this document with the previous artifacts results in a confronting version of our national history.

(G) The Oenpelli Church

This photograph is titled Oenpelli Church of England mission, dated 1928 and taken by J.W Bleakley. This photo is one of 170 images collected by the photographer as a part of his Commonwealth government report, The Aboriginals and Half-castes of Central Australia and North Australia written a tear later in 1929. The photograph captures a large group of Aboriginal people separated by gender and clothed in what could be described as a uniform standing in front of a building.

Bleakley, J.W. (1928). Oenpelli Church of England mission. Retrieved from 9/10/2013.


This photograph at the time of capture was taken to represent a part of national history and the 'intervention' they were eliciting at the time. It could be suggested that the photograph was taken to show officials that the mission was under control and that their interventions were successful displayed by the orderly fashion the Aboriginal people are stood in, all wearing a uniform, presented tidily, all indicators of control and proof of assimilation. Reflecting we can see that this represents a moment of national history helping to tell the history assimilation.

(D) The Case For Yes

This document it titled ‘Case for Yes’ in the 1967 Indigenous referendum, subtitled ‘Argument in favour of the proposed Constitution Alternation (Aboriginals)’. The document outlines what alterations are intended to be made to the constitution that regard the governments ability to make laws to govern to Aboriginal people and alter sections that are thought to be discriminatory.

The Prime Ministers Department (1967). Case for 'Yes' in 1967 Indigenous referendum- Argument in favour of the proposed Constitution Alteration (Aboriginals) 1967. Retrieved 10/10/2013


This document marks the inclusion of Aboriginal people in the constitution. The heading 'Case for Yes' would suggest positive connotations but underlying the decision lies the wish for Aboriginal people to assimilate and become in European terms ‘respectful citizens.’ At first glance it would appear the government is accepting Aboriginal people but reading on it is clear that the government want to have control of Aboriginal affairs and make decisions for Aboriginal people as they see fit. It is interesting to note that Aboriginal children continued to be removed from their families into the 1970's. The referendum claiming to 'accept' the indigenous people but also the government gaining the freedom to possibly legitimise the events of the Stolen Generation. Dissecting this document shows the conflicting interests of the government and the welfare of Aboriginal people conflicting the national mythology of a 'fair go'.

(E) An Education

This photograph is titled 'Indigenous students at a school' dated 1941-1960. The students look to sit attentively perhaps listening to their teacher with pens and paper in their hands. The Aboriginal boys in the background appear to be engaged with all eyes focused on what would be presumed the teacher.

Australian National Travel Association (1941-1960). Indigenous students at school. Retrieved 09/10/2013.


The photograph depicts a time in Australia's national history where the attitude was that the 'white' way is civilised and a push for Aboriginal peoples to assimilate. The photograph shows boys at a school desk looking attentively towards the front. It could be suggested that this photo is trying to suggest that education will result in assimilation in a 'innocent manner depicting the sentiment of the government at the time an aspect of national history often not acknowledged.

(F) Sewing Class

This photograph is labeled 'Sewing Class, Mapoon Mission, 1960'. The Photograph is reproduced courtesy of the State Library of Queensland and the community of Mapoon. The photograph shows a groups of Aboriginal girls of a range of ages appearing to learn how to sew. An older Aboriginal woman in the background uses a machine and the children in the for-front are possibly hand sewing. A toddler and baby are also featured.

Unknown (1960). Sewing Class, Mapoon Mission. Photograph reproduced courtesy of the State Library of Queensland and the community of Old Mapoon. Retrieved 09/10/2013.


This photograph like the artifact below was taken to show the effectiveness of the mission. It would suggest that the mission is effective in assimilating or teaching Aboriginal people to appear white by engaging them in a domestic duty of sewing. The positioning of the female would suggest they are orderly and cooperative with most heads down working. To an unaware individual the photo could appear innoncent especially as the mission is run by religious individuals who as a part of national mythology good citiizens and would be simply helping and teaching Aboriginal people. When looking at the exhibition overall a more realistic viewing of the situation can be taken to see it for what it is rather then through a mythology.

(B) Lola Edwards, a child of the Stolen Generation reunites with her mother.

The video is an oral history told by Lola Edwards who was taken as a toddler and spent her life in institutions where she was expected to learn how to ‘act’ white. Lola reunites with her mother after living in America with her partner for some years after not seeing her mother since she was three years old.

Atayman, B. (2008). Stolen Generations. Retrieved from 12/09/2013

stolen generation


This clip reveals first hand the effects of the Stolen Generation in seeing the reuniting of mother and daughter after many years. It connects the present to the past as Lola Edwards is a middle aged women and could potentially be a students aunty or mother. Again this media challenges our concept of national history and that it is thing of the past. The clip demonstrates the long lasting consequences of the Stolen Generations and the aftermath.

(H) Searching For Family

This newspaper article labeled ‘Searching for family’ demonstrates that Aboriginal people of the Stolen Generations were and are still looking for their families. The article also indicates that children were taken until the late 1970s. Lynnette Baxter writes this personal ad in an attempt to locate her younger sister, sharing family history in hope to reconnect with them.

Creative Spirits (2012). Effects on those who were stolen. Retrieved from 10/09/2013.


This artifact displays the fact that even today Aboriginal people are continuing to attempt to locate family members. This artifact is important as it is portrays the relevance of having awareness of the events that occurred as it is a current issue. It again does not positively add to our national history but provides a reminder about the consequences of previous governments actions.

(I) National Apology to the Stolen Generations

Kevin Rudd delivered this speech on 13th of February 2008. This came after the Bringing Them Home Report ten years earlier. Prime Minister at the time, Kevin Rudd apologised to Australian Indigenous peoples who were part of the Stolen Generations saying sorry to the communities for the laws and policies that caused 'profound grief' and acknowledged their loss.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (2008). National Apology to the Stolen Generations. Retrieved from 13/09/2013.

National Apology to the Stolen Generations


This speech is important as it acknowledges the policies and laws that resulted in the Stolen Generations. The speech provides recognition of the pain that was caused by the government. It marks an important moment in national history as for many years some historians claimed that such events did not occur.