The Guardian April 12, 2000

Howard Government's history rewrite

by Marcus Browning

The interpretation and recording of history on the surface of it may appear 
academic and neutral, but it is in reality an ongoing contest which takes 
place on an ideological and political battlefield, a central part of the 
class struggle. This is the motive force behind the Howard Government's 
attempt to deny that there ever were Stolen Generations of Indigenous 

Doomed by history as they are, the ruling elite is constantly having to 
claw back lost ground and rewrite history to favour and glorify their own 

Its class allegiance  to the big pastoralists and transnational mining 
corporations  makes the Government's strident racism inevitable.

It is also why Howard tried to formerly dispossess Indigenous Australians 
in the draft preamble to the the constitution he wrote with redneck poet 
Les Murray, and why he dragged out the "black armband of history" line 
penned by noted history professor to the ruling class, Geoffery Blainy.

The Government denial came from the Minister for Aboriginal and Torres 
Strait Islander Affairs, John Herron, in a submission to the Government's 
response to the Stolen Generations. His submission said that there "never 
was a generation of stolen children".

Whipping up racism also serves the Government's immediate political aims. 
As ATSIC Chairman Geoff Clark pointed out, "It's obvious there's going to 
be an election soon ... there's obviously a bigger agenda and I believe 
that's probably an election agenda."

The Government is striving to pick up the race vote in rural Australia that 
has been going to the One Nation party, and is hoping to bury the GST as an 
issue leading up to its imposition on July 1.


Strong protests against the Government's position have been voiced from 
many quarters.

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council has called for Herron's resignation, saying 
his words fly in the face of all documented evidence. "What the Government 
is doing is distorting known facts", said Land Council Chairman Rod Towney.

The Land Council says that while it can longer accept Howard's empty 
pledges of heartfelt regret it will accept an apology from him for Senator 
Herron's appalling track record in Aboriginal affairs.

"Senator Herron's work in the Aboriginal community is so paltry that he is 
known as `Mr Nowhere Man'. He should resign in shame and Howard should 
apologise to the community for his actions whilst in office."

ATSIC issued a statement last week briefly summing up the plight of the 
Stolen Generations:

"The laws resulted in many Aboriginal children being removed from their 
families, traumatising many generations.

"The children were not only isolated from their families and their country 
but were forbidden to speak their language or practice their culture.

"Education was very basic.

"Excessive physical punishments were common.

"Children were often sexually abused.

"Many never received wages.

"Authorities failed to care for and protect the children.

"The Stolen Generations resulted in devastation for the community, 
families, parents and children. Its effects have been felt by many 
generations and are still impacting on the community today."

The statement calls on the Australian Parliament to formerly apologise to 
Indigenous Australians for the devastating consequences of the laws and 
policies which led to the separation of Aboriginal and Torres State 
Islander children from the their families.

The ACTU also condemned the Government's act of denial. "The policy of 
removing Aboriginal children from their families is a dark part of our 
history", said ACTU Secretary Greg Combet. "It is widely accepted that the 
family losses have effected all generations since, not just one generation.

"How can we achieve reconciliation when our elected leaders deny that 

A letter obviously written with a controlled fury by Aboriginal AFL 
footballer Michael Long, appeared in The Age newspaper. It pins the 
issues, and the Howard Government's history rewrite, to the wall:

"How do I tell my mother that Mr Howard said the stolen generation never 
took place? How does he explain to me why none of my grandparents are 

"How do I explain to my mother, who was the most loved, trusting mother 
figure to all who knew her that Mr Howard is just the same as the people 
who were in power back then, cold-hearted pricks.

"How do I tell my mother that her grandchildren were never affected by the 
stolen generation, that they don't know their aunties and uncles, their 

"Does Mr Howard understand how much trauma my grandmother suffered? It 
ripped her heart out, what she went through. Even when she died her baby 
was never returned home.

"If you put yourself in their shoes  I have three children  and people 
come knocking at my door, grabbing my children, putting them in the back of 
a truck, yelling and screaming. Over my dead body, Mr Howard.

"Back then my mother had no choice but to go. It was wrong. It did happen. 
It was government policy.

"My mother was taken when she was a baby, taken to Darwin and put on a boat 
 she had never seen the sea before  screaming and yelling, not knowing 
what was happening and then crying herself to sleep. I call that trauma and 
abuse. I am so angry that anyone could do this to a child just because 
their skin was a different colour.

"Mr Howard, I can't tell my mother because she has been dead for 17 years. 
Who is going to tell her story, the trauma and lies associated with her 
people and their families?

"Mr Howard, if you just walked in their shoes you would understand.

"I am all for reconciliation.

"Mr Howard, I am part of the stolen generation. It's like dropping a rock 
in a pool of water and it has a rippling effect, so don't tell me it 
effects only 10 percent. No amount of money can replace what your 
Government has done to my family."

Back to index page