“They must be helped against themselves”

For the second time I watched Rabbit-Proof Fence this weekend. It tells the story of ‘half-caste’ children who were brought up in camps and homes in an attempt to ‘advance’ them into white society. Thousands of children were forcibly removed from Aboriginal mothers between 1900 and 1971. The film is the true story of Molly Craig, who was taken from her mother in Jigalong in 1931 at the age of 14. With her half-sister Daisy and cousin Gracie Fields, she was taken to the Moore River Native Settlement in Western Australia. Rabbit-Proof Fence tells of their nine week trek all the way home in their bid to be free.

There is a sentence that sticks in my mind from the film. AO Neville – ‘Protector of Aboriginals’ –was a sincere believer in the cause of the pseudo-science of eugenics. Eugenics held that there was an identifiably pure race which could be kept pure, in a positive way by breeding programmes and in a negative way by eliminating the impurities. Neville and his colleague Cecil Cook argued for the forcible removal of part-Aboriginal children from their families in order to ‘breed them white’. In 1937, Cook said:

Generally by the 5th, but invariably by the 6th generation, all native characteristics of the Australian Aborigines are eradicated. The problem of the half-castes will quickly be eliminated by the complete disappearance of the black race and the swift submergence of their progeny in the white. The Australian native is the most easily assimilated race on earth, physically and mentally. The quickest way is to breed him out.

Neville said:

Are we going to have a population of 1,000,000 blacks in the Commonwealth, or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget that there were any Aborigines in Australia?

The sentence from the film that sticks in my mind reminds me of the words of another sincere believer in a cause of our own age. AO Neville passionately insists that the Aboriginals must be helped even against themselves.

If only we would learn from the tragedies of the past.

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