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The question of genocide and Indigenous child removal: the colonial Australian context

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Most academic debate about the stolen generations of Aboriginal children in Australia's past has focused on the twentieth century, when government agents directed official attention to the removal of Aboriginal children from their family groups. This article focuses on the earlier colonial period in Australia, from 1788 to 1901, when generations of Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their Aboriginal family groups. Aboriginal children were popularly considered to be more “controllable” or susceptible to assimilation than Aboriginal adults. Consequently, by the late nineteenth century, government officials in various Australian colonies encouraged the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and their retraining in manual labour. This idea of containing an “Indigenous threat” by removing and retraining Aboriginal children clearly guided the “Stolen Generation” policies of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This paper examines the unity of colonial Australian discourse about Aboriginal child removal and makes some observations about the scale of Indigenous child removal in the colonial era. It argues that the use of a conceptual framework centred around genocidal discourse provides the most effective way of understanding the motivations behind Indigenous child removals in Australia's past.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-12-01

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