Stolen Generations: Never the same again
Footage of Beagle Bay Mission. Historical black-and-white footage of Aboriginal children. Daisy Howard tells us of her experience of being removed, and being robbed of the opportunity of having a strong relationship with her sister May. Summary by Romaine Moreton.
Stolen Generations is a documentary that humanises the inhumane practice of removing children from their families. 'Stolen generations’, a term coined by Peter Read, refers to the assimilation practice of the Australian Government throughout history designed to remove the physical and cultural presence of Indigenous peoples from Australian society and cultural consciousness, and was informed by sciences such as eugenics, which the film explains. It became a less acceptable way of dealing with the Aboriginal population after the Second World War.
Stolen Generations offers a solid theoretical foundation while providing an emotional insight into the consequence of the implementation of the policies, and the children who endured them. The destruction of the familial, cultural and social fabric of Indigenous communities as the intention of the Australian Government throughout the history of colonisation, is demystified by Johnson’s documentary. The befuddlement of the children, now adults, as they try to translate the experience of being removed, means that the intensity of the experience is still being processed by those caught up in the administration of child removal. These experiences are also well documented in the Bringing Them Home Report, that provides personal accounts of children removed, and the confusion into which they were condemned. Testimonies in Stolen Generations show that, isolated and alienated within a strange culture, Indigenous children subjected to the cruel policies of removal are still healing, and some were never able to reconnect with their birth families.
The three main characters in this film are Bob Randall, Daisy Howard, and Cleonie Quayle, who give different accounts of the same policy.Stolen Generations takes us through the history of social theory that eventually led to children being stolen, and Johnson’s instigation to find answers to her own questions which thankfully, provide questions for the wider audience.
Stolen Generations Synopsis
A documentary using historical and interview footage to tell the story of three people removed as children from their families, who are now one of the many referred to as the Stolen Generations. The tapestry of life experiences is woven around the filmmaker’s own personal questions of identity, and an administration put in place with the sole purpose of annihilating Aboriginal peoples.
Notes by Romaine Moreton
This clip portrays the experiences of Daisy Howard, a member of the Stolen Generations who was taken from her family at the age of 2. The clip begins by showing archival black-and-white footage of Indigenous children at the Beagle Bay Mission in Western Australia lining up to go into a church. The clip then cuts to a modern scene of Daisy Howard and the film’s director, Darlene Johnson, walking into the same church. An interview with Howard and narration by the director are intercut with more archival footage shot at the Mission, including scenes of an Indigenous couple getting married. The clip concludes with scenes of Howard reunited with her sister May and other family members.
Educational value points
- The clip features a member of the Stolen Generations, Daisy Howard, who was taken at the age of 2 from her family and home in Halls Creek in WA to an institution. The removal was part of government policies in all states and territories from about 1910 to 1970 to remove children of mixed Indigenous and non-Indigenous parentage from their families. At the age of 11 Howard was sent from the institution to the Beagle Bay Mission. She never saw her mother again, and it was 50 years before she was reunited with her sister May.
- The Stolen Generations was the focus of a national inquiry commissioned in 1995 and headed by Sir Ronald Wilson, a former High Court judge and president of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, and Mick Dodson, the Commission’s Social Justice Commissioner. The inquiry visited every state and territory, receiving testimony from 535 Indigenous Australians. Its official report, Bringing Them Home, was released in 1997.
- The site of the Beagle Bay Mission school and the church (built in 1918) is about 120 km north of Broome in WA, and is the traditional land of the Nyul Nyul people. Trappist fathers arrived in the area in 1890, and in 1901 were replaced by fathers and brothers of the Pallotine order. In 1907, the St John of God sisters began a mission school at Beagle Bay and in 1918 the church shown in the clip was opened. It was built by monks and Indigenous people. Dormitories housed Indigenous children who had been taken from many parts of the Kimberley region. There were also a large school and workshops. The Mission handed over control to the community in the mid-1970s.
- The experiences that Daisy Howard recalls are similar to many testimonies recorded in the Bringing Them Home report. The overwhelming majority of those removed were separated from, and not permitted to have contact with, their family, community and culture. Many had their names, religion and even birth dates changed.
- This clip is from an SBS-funded documentary, Stolen Generations, written, directed and narrated by Darlene Johnson. The film focuses on the history of the Australian Government policy of removing Indigenous children from their families, and features personal testimony of those who were taken. Incorporating archival footage and interviews, the film sets out to explain and explore the policies that gave rise to the practice of removing children, as well as giving the viewer emotional insight into the pain that resulted. The film won a Golden Gate Award in 2000 and an award at the Créteil International Film Festival in 2001.
- The clip highlights the work of Indigenous filmmaker Darlene Johnson. A Dunghutti woman from New South Wales, she has specialised in Indigenous issues, both in her studies and in the subjects of her films. Her interest in the ways in which Indigenous Australians negotiate two worlds is an underlying theme in her films, which range from her first drama, Two Bob Mermaid (1996), and her award-winning Stolen Generations (2000) to Following the Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), a documentary she wrote and directed on the making of the film Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002). After Stolen Generations she wrote an Indigenous protocol for filmmakers for SBS.
Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia
This clip starts approximately 27 minutes into the documentary.
Archival black-and-white footage of Indigenous children at the Beagle Bay Mission in Western Australia shows them lining up to go into a church. Soft, haunting music accompanies the scene.
Daisy Howard and Darlene Johnson walk into the same church.
Daisy is interviewed. Her interview is intercut with more archival footage and photos of life on the mission and of Daisy at that time. The clip ends with modern-day footage of Daisy and her sister May.
Daisy Howard, a member of the Stolen Generations Church was part of our life on the mission, you know? We used to come to church every day. But when you’re small, you don’t really know. You don’t understand, really, like, what they were doing. So, you know, in a way, we was happy to come here. Getting on the truck and coming, you know, for a long drive somewhere but we didn’t know that that long drive was going to last for, you know, like this. We’d end up, you know – for a lifetime, really. What made it hard was that we had people controlling us all the time, telling us this and that and we didn’t really have our own mind to speak what we wanted to say. We had someone saying it for us or what, you know, but it wasn’t us speaking.
Darlene Johnson, filmmaker When Daisy was 16 she married a man who was also on the mission. Other stolen children were afraid of falling in love. Their Aboriginal names had been replaced with English names. They knew how easily that could end up marrying their own brother or sister. Some didn’t find out until it was too late. After many years on the mission, all of Daisy’s links with her family had been lost.
Daisy I really feel for May, you know. I know she’s my sister. I really love her. But it took so long for us to get together, like, that’s the first time yesterday, like, we ever talked properly. We never ever talked like that before. So in all those years, that’s what I was missing out on.