Australia was an active participant in international eugenic dialogues and movements (Garton, 2010), and the country was greatly concerned with the promotion of “fit” and preventing the “inferior” of multiplying during the late 19th and early 20th century. This resulted in policies engaged with the removal of mixed race Aboriginal children from their parents, in order to solve the “problem involv[ing] Aboriginals, Asians and white people producing offspring that interfered with official aspirations for a ‘pure’ white British race” (Solonec, 2013, p.6). It also manifested more broadly in government plans including surveying schoolchildren to keep track of the population, proposals for sterilization, and the development of unique institutions, such as the experimental orphanage Hopewood House which ran on eugenic principals, and eugenics competitions (Wyndham, 2003). Academics, physicians, lawyers, educators, and feminists, others concerned with “reform”, and associations such as the Racial Hygiene Association of NSW (founded in 1926 by the feminist Ruby Rich (1888-1988) (Rees, 2012)), which eventually became the national Family Planning network of Australia, all supported eugenics and eugenic policies in Australia. Many of these same supporters also attended international eugenics conventions (Wyndham, 2003).
It was believed at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century that mankind could be classified in a hierarchy based on civilization. Aboriginals were thought to be related to Neanderthals (Zogbaum, 2003), and were thus “inferior” to Northern Europeans. Eventually, it was believed that ‘full-blood’ tribal Aboriginals would die off – many were already dying at the time due to diseases brought by the Europeans. These viewpoints also supported the idea that eventually one could “eliminate all Aboriginal characteristics” (Zogbaum, 2003, p.122) through mixed-descent children of Aboriginal and Europeans. The goal was to “populate Australia with ‘good white stock’: legitimately born white infants, who could be called upon to defend the Empire. White Australians were not considered a homogenous grouping, but a continuum that ranged between the ‘racially superior’ elite and ‘racially inferior’ degenerates” (Cole, 2013, abstract). Managed miscegenation was therefore proposed as a form of national cohesion, as it would create blood kinship and ideas of community sentiment and values (McGregor, 2002).
Between 1915 and 1940, A. O. Neville, a man fixated with the idea of eugenics, served as the Chief Protector of Aborigines (Solonec, 2013). During his term, he developed two main ways of controlling the population: 1) a “huge biological experiment” (Zogbaum, 2003, p.122) developed “by deciding who Aboriginal people under his control could marry” (Solonec, 2013, p.76), and 2) by encouraging “assimilation” of those offspring already born. The former method dissipated in use in Australia after World War II, when “authorities moved away from the notion of ‘biological’ assimilation to one of ‘cultural assimilation’” (Solonec, 2013, p.76). Neville defended his policies saying that “they have to be protected against themselves whether they like it or not. They cannot remain as they are. The sore spot requires the application of the surgeon’s knife for the good of the patient, and probably against the patient’s will”(Zalums & Stafford, 1980).
Policies and legislation aimed at the removal of children were developed and enforced between 1909 and 1969 (although in some places, until the 1970s), in order to culturally assimilate mixed-descent individuals into contemporary Australian society (NSDC, 2014). Policemen or Aboriginal Protection Officers were given leave to locate and transfer children from their communities into institutions, and could use surveillance, discipline, and punishment to do so (NSDC, 2014). These half-caste institutions were run under both the government and as missionary institutions (Zogbaum, 2013), and often children in them ended up receiving a lower standard of education, or none at all, in essence teaching those children that they were second-class (NSDC, 2014). However, there is also evidence of other eugenic practices, such as a number of sterilizations on intellectually disabled women and girls (Parker, 2013). Children were also taken from white, unwed mothers during the late 19th century, and those babies were fostered out to white, married, employed couples (Cole, 2013). Illegitimacy was seen as a threat to ‘race improvement’, and such ‘feebleminded’ mothers would not be able provide ‘moral’ environments for their children (Cole, 2013). By placing children with new families, it was believed that their ‘tainted biology’ could be neutralized (Cole, 2013). Most cases of child removal, whether from unwed mothers or mixed families, were justified as being in the children’s best interest.
The forcible removal of mixed-Aborigine children resulted in what is now known as the “Stolen Generations,” and started a grieving process across many generations (NSDC, 2014). Both children and parents suffer from severed cultural connection to family and country (NSDC, 2014). The impact of these policies is still felt in many communities in Australia today.
Cole, C. A. (2013). Stolen babies – broken hearts: forced adoption in Australia, 1881-1987. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Oalster. (edsoai.859107917).
Garton, S. (1995). Sound minds and healthy bodies: re-considering eugenics in Australia, 1914-1940. Australian Historical Studies, 26(103), 161-181.
Garton, S. (2010). Eugenics in Australia and New Zealand: Laboratories of Racial Science. The Oxford Handbook Of The History Of Eugenics, doi: 10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195373141.013.0014
McGregor, R. (2002). ‘Breed out the colour’ or the Importance of Being White. Australian Historical Studies, 33 (120), 286-302. National Sorry Day Committee, Inc. (2014). The History of the Stole Generations. Retrieved from http://www.nsdc.org.au/stolen-generations/history-of-the-stolen-generations/the-history-of-the-stolen-generations
Parker, M. (2013). “Forced sterilization”: clarifying and challenging intuitions and models. Journal of Law and Medicine, 20(3), 512-527.
Rees, A. (2012). ‘The quality and not only the quantity of Australia’s people’. Australian Feminist Studies (27), 71-92.
Solonec, C. (2013). Proper mixed-up: Miscegenation among Aboriginal Australians. Australian Aboriginal Studies (2), 76-85.
Wyndham, D. (2003). Eugenics in Australia: Striving for National Fitness. London: Galton Institute.
Zalums, E., & Stafford, H. (1980). A bibliography of Western Australian Royal Commissions, select committees of parliament and boards of inquiry, 1870-1979. Australia: E. Zalums & H. Stafford.
Zogbaum, H. (2003). Herbert Basedow and the Removal of Aboriginal Children of Mixed Descent from their families. Australian Historical Studies, 34(121), 122.