Challenging state aggression against Indigenous Australians


Chapter in

Subversive Action: Extralegal Practices for Social Justice, edited by Nilan Yu and Deena Mandell, Wilfrid Laurier University Press, Toronto, 2015.

In September 1973, a 7 year-old Aboriginal girl, Nola, was collected from her white foster parents in Darwin and returned to her family who lived on a remote Northern Territory outstation. For years her Indigenous parents had unsuccessfully sought her return. I was the social worker who handed the young girl to her father and was subsequently suspended from the public service. My suspension resulted in the first strike by social workers in Australia. I will describe Nola’s return to her family and reflect upon the initial aftermath of Nola’s reunion with her community and the impact it had on social workers and others involved.

In the latter part of this chapter, I will discuss the relevance of Nola’s return to the on going struggle of Indigenous Australians to retain custody of their children and look at some wider social justice policy issues.

Setting the scene

After working as a social worker in the Department of Social Security in Brisbane for 6 months, in 1965 I transferred to the Welfare Branch (1) of the Commonwealth Department of the Interior in Darwin. The population of the city at the time was about 20,000, many of whom were public servants or armed services personnel. Significant sections of the population had Greek, Asian, continental European or Aboriginal origins and many families combined some or all such origins. People of total Aboriginal descent (2) lived mainly on Bagot Reserve opposite the air force base or on the fringes of the town. About a kilometre down the road from Bagot Reserve, the conservative Aboriginal Inland Mission ran a series of cottages in which a foster couple would care for children of part-Aboriginal descent (Cummings 1990). It was run along lines not dissimilar to the Kalin Compound of the 1930s described by Xavier Herbert in his semi-biographical Poor Fellow My Country. Children of part- Aboriginal descent were separated from their mothers by police or Welfare Branch officers and taken to Kalin Compound to be raised as whites in large dormitories – their Aboriginal mothers were not allowed into the Compound. Speaking Aboriginal languages was forbidden. Some mothers managed to keep in touch by talking to their children through the back fence.

The full extent of government and institutional policies of removing children of partial Aboriginal descent from their Aboriginal communities became known in the 1990s as the ‘stolen generations’. The century long policy of removing children of part- Aboriginal descent was finally revealed by the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families in their Bringing them home report in 1997. But this is getting ahead of the story….

In 1965 the Federal Liberal Coalition Government was firmly committed to the policy of assimilation. Assimilation was defined at the 1961 meeting of Federal and State Ministers in charge of Aboriginal Affairs:

The policy of assimilation means in the view of all Australian governments that all Aborigines and part-Aborigines are expected eventually to attain the same manner of living as other Australians and to live as members of a single Australian community, enjoying the same rights and privileges, accepting the same responsibilities, observing the same customs and influenced by the same beliefs, hopes and loyalties as other Australians. (cited in Pittock 1969, pp.12-13).

In 1965 the definition was changed in response to pressure:

…so that now the policy officially seeks (rather than means) that all persons of Aboriginal descent will choose to attain (rather than are expected eventually to attain) a similar (rather than the same) manner and standard of living. The words ‘observing the same customs’, are omitted, and so too is reference to their ‘being influenced by the same beliefs’. (Pittock 1969, p. 13) (italics in original).

After 23 years of unbroken rule by the conservative Liberal coalition, the Whitlam Labor Government was elected in December 1972. Whitlam had campaigned using the slogan ‘It’s Time’ and not the least of the foreshadowed changes were in the area of Aboriginal affairs and social welfare more generally. Gordon Bryant, who for years had been an executive member of the Federal Council of Aboriginal Advancement, was made Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The incoming government spoke about introducing Aboriginal Land Rights and replacing the policy of assimilation with one of integration and self-determination. It was considered that under such policies Indigenous Australians would be free to choose the aspects of other cultures they wished to adopt and those of their own culture they wished to retain.

In Darwin, in 1965, I found the Government’s policy of assimilating Aborigines was dramatically on display in the five stages of galvanised iron Kingstrand housing on Bagot Reserve. The first stage was a tin shed with a dirt floor and external fireplace, gradually evolving to a concrete floor, then a concrete floor with a floor covering. The advanced houses had internal stoves and cupboards to store food and clothing, floor to ceiling walls, beds and mattresses and even toilets. The superintendent of the Reserve was supposed to assess the level of understanding of European sophistication incoming Indigenous families had ‘achieved’ and assign them accordingly to one of the stages. Families would progress through the various stages. The actual process of assigning people to a house was much more haphazard than that. There was an added contradiction in that families were encouraged to eat in a communal dining hall.

During the 1960s the long-serving Director of Welfare, whose brother-in-law was a federal minister, closely supervised the minutiae of life on Aboriginal settlements.

I had come to Darwin fully convinced that an individual (neo-Freudian or psychodynamic) casework approach was the most useful approach. In 1968 I returned to work at the Department of Social Security in Brisbane, convinced there was little that individual casework had little to offer Indigenous people in the Territory. The 3 years I spent in Darwin convinced me that the focus of social work should be directed towards working with the community to solve the issues they identified. The senior people in the Welfare Branch rejected such an approach. After returning to Brisbane I undertook an Honours degree in Anthropology and Sociology and a Research Masters Degree in Social Work that involved working with the financially impoverished Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community of South Brisbane.

I transferred back to the Welfare Branch in May 1973 after it had been moved to the newly established Department of Aboriginal Affairs. An energetic Canberra public servant had been installed as Director of Welfare. It appeared that exciting times lay ahead.

The story of Nola (3)

Nola was born in September 1966 at an outstation on the Cadell River, 50 kilometres from the Aboriginal settlement at Maningrida in Arnhem Land. She had arrived some weeks prematurely and was taken by her mother, Nellie, to Maningrida hospital and then flown to Darwin hospital. Initially Nola suffered intermittent bouts of ill-health and spent her first 8 months either at a government-run children’s home or at the hospital, depending on her state of health.

The hospital’s senior social worker made several requests for the Welfare Branch to locate an Aboriginal family with whom Nola could be fostered. The Branch at the time would only place children of Aboriginal descent with close relatives and often would refuse to pay foster allowance or would pay a lesser amount than they would pay a white foster family. The justification provided to me at the time was that it was common for Aboriginal families to take in children of relatives and in any case it cost less to raise an Aboriginal child in an Aboriginal family than in a white one. There was no active attempt to recruit Aboriginal families into the foster program and the Branch found no Aboriginal family for Nola.

The hospital’s senior social worker wanted Nola out of the government run home because she feared that Nola was not receiving sufficient individual attention and could become institutionalised and so she recruited a white foster family, Mr and Mrs Brown. It was several months before anyone from the Welfare Branch called on the Browns to see how they were managing with Nola. On 4th July 1967 the hospital’s senior social worker wrote to the Director of the Welfare Branch as follows:

It is again stressed that the need for long-term plans for Nola is imperative, so that when she is sufficiently robust to return to Maningrida, adequate arrangements are available for her care. The possibility of arranging for her to be cared for at Maningrida by another Aboriginal woman could perhaps be kept in mind, depending on her own mother’s ability to care for her. (File No. AW363)

Nola’s father Jack had initially agreed to the temporary fostering of Nola but in early 1968 when she was about 18 months old Jack considered she should be well enough to come home and demanded that Nola be returned to her family. The superintendent of Maningrida, John Hunter, urged Nola’s return. But reserve superintendents, whilst being the Welfare Branch’s senior personnel on the spot, were under the control of the Branch’s Director. During the 1960s and early 1970s the Director of the Welfare Branch ignored superintendents’ views unless they concurred with his own.

In July 1968, on the second visit by an officer from the Welfare Branch, the Browns were advised that Nola would shortly be returning to Maningrida. Mr Brown approached the acting Director of the Branch, Ted Evans, who instructed that Nola was not to be returned to her family until a full review was carried out. There was nothing on file to indicate the need for a review. The senior officer at Maningrida had urged Nola’s return. A review was not carried out. The welfare officer who had been visiting the Browns was told she would not need to visit so often. She had made only two visits to the foster child in 13 months. For several years, following Ted Evans’s direction, the only contact the Browns had with the Branch was the receiving of the fostering payment.

In 1969 Nola’s brother Jack John was born. He too did not thrive, and was brought to Darwin where he stayed until early 1973. The Nursing Sister and Superintendent Hunter reported that on his return to his family Jack John progressed satisfactorily and suggested that if Nola was to be returned it should be as soon as possible.

In May 1973, I had been promoted to a class 2, acting 3 social work position in charge of welfare services in the top half of the Northern Territory. In June of that year Elizabeth Lovett, the class1 social worker who had been working with Jack John and Nola, brought their files to my attention. I put plans in place to ensure that Nola had some contact with her 12 year old brother Leo who was brought in from Maningrida. When Elizabeth Lovett informed Mr Brown that Leo was coming to town so that Nola could have contact with members of her family he said he did not think that was a good idea as Nola had ‘No time for the Aboriginal race’. Despite such advice the visit went ahead.

Mr Brown feared that despite his earlier success in convincing Ted Evans to stop Nola’s return to her family, the situation had changed and Nola might really be going home. He therefore contacted Gordon Bryant, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. The Minister’s secretary asked me to meet the Minister in Alice Springs. The Director of Welfare told me to stay in Darwin and he went to Alice Springs in my stead to discuss the case with the Minister. Gordon Bryant ordered that Nola should not be removed from the Browns but that Jack should be assisted through Aboriginal Legal Aid to initiate an action in the Supreme Court against the Branch to regain custody of Nola.

I discussed the options open to us with several social workers (but not Miss Lovett because she had to work closely with the Browns). It was agreed that if there was public consternation I would be the ‘fall guy’ who acted alone. I met and discussed the case with Bill Ryan, the Director of Aboriginal Legal Aid, and with one of Aboriginal Legal Aid’s lawyers. We were looking to reunite Nola with her natural family and for a way to do it that would distance the Minister and the Director from any direct responsibility for the return of Nola. In addition, Bill Ryan was the son of a Gurindji mother and a white father. Methodist missionaries on Croker Island had brought him up and as a result he was strongly opposed to Aboriginal children being raised in non-Aboriginal families. I had known Bill before he became Director of Aboriginal Legal Aid when he had worked with the Welfare Branch as a welfare officer.

Weighing on my mind was the obvious public service and political pull the white foster family had already displayed. There had also been a couple of court cases in the previous decade where Northern Territory Aboriginal parents had not been able to regain custody of their child after a relatively short period of separation (for details see Tomlinson 1978, Ch. 6). Another major influence was the considerable number of Aboriginal children who had been removed from their Aboriginal communities on one pretext or another, being brought up in a white environment. We were determined that this would not happen to Nola.

My commitment to challenging European views about what was in Aboriginal people’s best interests began in 1963 whilst an undergraduate student I had spent a month visiting several Aboriginal communities in North Queensland at the suggestion of an Aboriginal leader associated with the Federal Council of Aboriginal Advancement (Taffe 2005). I sat with community leaders and discussed the issues that troubled them most. The taking of children, low wages, poor rations, white police and superintendents refusal to listen to them and the racial discrimination they encountered from other Australians topped the list. By the time I returned to the Territory I had worked full time for two years on a community work project with the Indigenous community of South Brisbane and was committed to work with the Aboriginal community on the issues that troubled them. I was then and am now indebted to the many patient Indigenous people who made a considerable effort to teach me to understand events from their perspective. Recovering children from the white system was a major priority and we hoped that Nola would be the first of many to return home.

A plane ticket was organised to bring Jack in from Maningrida supposedly so he could initiate lodging his Supreme Court action against the Branch. There was no doubt in the mind of those associated with the plan that Nola and Jack would return to Maningrida in an Aboriginal Legal Aid chartered airplane because we trusted Bill Ryan to carry through on the plan.

Elizabeth Lovett collected Nola from the Browns’ house and informed Mr Brown that Nola would be seeing her father. When Jack, Leo and Nola turned up at the agreed meeting spot, I was meeting Jack for the first time. Jack said to me, ‘I have my daughter back. Now I will take her to Maningrida’. At this point I should have declared that his statement formally terminated the fostering arrangement and that Nola was back in the custody of her parents who were her legal guardians. (Prior to this point of time, this declaration would not have effected Nola’s return to her family because the Branch’s Director would not have let it happen and there would have been no way of getting Nola back to her community. I don’t know why I did not seize that opportunity. I suppose it was confusion about involving Elizabeth and the desire to stick strictly to the agreed plan. So I told Elizabeth I would take Nola back to the Browns and the plan unfolded as we had agreed it would.

I took Jack, Nola and Leo to rendezvous with Bill Ryan and then filled in a couple of hours to give Bill – along with Jack, Leo and Nola — time to be on his way to Maningrida en route to Cadell River (Nola’s home community). Later I went to the Browns’ house and told Mr Brown I had left Nola at Bagot Reserve and subsequently could not find her. I left a note at the Director’s house saying something similar.

Everything was pretty quiet for the next 13 days and it appeared we had been successful. By 13th September, Superintendent of Maningrida, John Hunter, had advised the Branch’s head office that Nola had taken to Maningrida ‘like a duck to water’. Crown Law advised (according to a file note) that it would not be possible for the Branch to have Nola returned to Darwin ‘…in view of the fact that the custody of Nola apparently lay with her mother and natural father’ (File No. AW 363).

The Press

After the fortnight’s lull all hell broke loose. The story broke on the front page of The Australian under the banner ‘Aboriginal girl abducted from Foster Parents’ (4). In the stories that followed, Nola was supposed to have been raped, married to an old man, stabbed with a spear and all of this was supposed to have occurred at the hands of her own people. None of these allegations was true.

Around the world many journalists wrote of Nola and her return to Cadell River. Most accounts were lurid regurgitations of the original line run in The Australian. American and Dutch people sent the Minister money to buy her back, believing that Nola’s family only wanted her back so that they could sell her. The libellous statements printed by the media would have been inconceivable had they been made describing whites because they would sue for libel.

By far the most comprehensive and accurate journalistic account of Nola’s removal from her European foster home was written by Gerri Willesee and was published on 12th November 1973 in a most remarkable place: Woman’s Day (pp. 2-5 & p.13). Willesee had (a month after Nola’s return) spent a fortnight living in Nola’s community at Cadell River as well as speaking with her European foster parents in Darwin. Willesee described the outstation as a hive of activity, with art and craft work, hunting, fishing, cultural ceremonies and a 30 hectare fruit and vegetable garden. She wrote that ‘Despite Press reports to the contrary, there is no communication problem between Nola and her family. Nola is slowly learning Burera (her Aboriginal language) and her brothers all speak English as well as she does (p.5)’.

Willesee makes the point that ‘The loss of Nola has been made worse for the Browns by their belief in many completely untrue stories about Aboriginal people and customs’ (p.13).

The aftermath

On 5th October 1973 five public service charges, (institutional charges outside of the civil and criminal justice systems) were laid against me and I was suspended from duty. The charges related to refusing the directions of the Minister and misleading the Director of the Welfare Branch. On 8th November 1973 I was reinstated but demoted to a class 1 social work salary. On 2nd January 1974, following the Branch’s refusal to reinstate me to my original position, the Branch social workers, with the exception of Elizabeth Lovett and one other, staged the first social work strike in Australia. It lasted 3 weeks. (Elizabeth felt that I had erred in not giving the Browns an opportunity to say goodbye to Nola.) The striking social workers had several other demands, namely: replacing the grocery voucher system of welfare relief with a cheque system, codifying the basis on which determinations of granting or refusing welfare assistance were made, employing more social workers, introducing 50 new Aboriginal welfare officers to work along side the social workers and –giving foster payments to Aboriginal families looking after children other than their own at the same rate as other foster parents. In the short term none of these demands were met.

Gordon Bryant, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, instructed his Departmental Head in October 1973 that in future ‘… there should be no placement of Aboriginal children with European foster parents except in an emergency and then only for short periods’ (Telex ABAUS85262 to ABAUS AA62471 on 22/10/73). (Whilst this was one of the demands of the strikers, this instruction has never been fully implemented.) This Minister also issued the Aboriginal Legal Aid Service with the instruction that henceforth ‘…it must confine itself to its role of legal assistance to Aboriginal people and general subjects such as land rights.’ Bryant’s instruction limiting the Aboriginal Legal Service power to support political and social initiatives, which had been set down as part of the Service’s original charter, interfered with Indigenous Australians capacity to become truly self-determining.

That Bryant, who had for so many years championed unpopular Aboriginal causes, argued that an Aboriginal girl should stay in the custody of a white foster family when her natural parents were legally entitled to have her returned, presents a bit of an enigma. He was under attack from many public service and parliamentary opponents and was soon to lose his portfolio. He became Minister for the Australian Capital Territory in late 1973.

After Bill Ryan announced he had been involved in transporting Nola home, several white Aboriginal Legal Service board members launched an attack on him and the directions the Aboriginal Legal Service had recently taken. Ken White (2005), an experienced journalist who worked in Darwin at the time, in a chapter entitled ‘The Abduction of Nola Brown’, details some of the activities of the two white lawyers working for the Aboriginal Legal Aid at the time. He suggests that after witnessing the ferocity of local white opinion about the return of Nola, the lawyers joined in the criticism of Bill Ryan. Some of the whites associated with Aboriginal Legal Aid called a meeting of the governing council when Bill was out of town. The governing council decided to replace him with a more compliant Director less likely to upset the wider community.

Following the uproar in the press about Nola’s return to own community, most States of Australia undertook detailed reviews of all the Aboriginal children in foster care. This was only the start of the process and it took determined vigilance by Aboriginal child care agencies and other Aboriginal individuals and agencies to keep the various State-run children’s departments from slipping back into running a white fostering system for Aboriginal children. Ken White (2005 p.70) notes that even after Gordon Bryant’s instruction that Aboriginal children should only be fostered with Aboriginal families the Adoption section of the Welfare Branch in the Territory interpreted the instruction to apply only to children of total Aboriginal descent.

Nola returned to her traditional country and from reports I received over the years was happy to be with her family. She eventually married and had children, none of whom needed to be looked after by the State.

It’s all in the past people say

It is important to ask whether what happened to Nola was something that happened only in the Northern Territory in the sixties and seventies or whether it occurs elsewhere.

There are two parts to this question and the Bringing them home report clearly shows that the removal of Aboriginal children from Aboriginal communities, particularly those of partial-Aboriginal descent, occurred in many parts of Australia throughout the 20th century and most probably before that. The film Rabbit-Proof Fence dramatically recounts such removals in Western Australia whilst dealing with the senior administrators of the removal policy in a most sympathetic manner.

Given the widespread nature of the policy of such removals, one has to ask what it was that drove whites to remove Aboriginal children from their communities. The motivations driving these removals were no doubt varied: sometimes it was missionary zeal and sometimes a desire to ‘save’ the children from the impoverished living conditions their parents were forced to endure following their displacement from traditional land. At other times white fathers had disappeared and Aboriginal mothers had died or become incapacitated. There was a clear government policy to remove Aboriginal people from their land to make way for white settlers. It was believed that eventually Aboriginal people would die out and that removing children of partial-Aboriginal descent would remove one obstacle to the extinction of an Aboriginal presence.

The second part of the question is: Could it happen in the second decade of the 21st century? The short answer is that Aboriginal children are being fostered in white homes now because of the failure of governments to attract sufficient Indigenous families into the foster care programs and to adequately fund them. As fostering costs rise, governments are becoming more interested in allowing foster families to adopt children.

Welfare workers in New South Wales are removing Aboriginal children from their homes in numbers far greater than during the Stolen Generations and the recruitment of Aboriginal staff has done nothing to stem the tide… 4,000 Aboriginal children are now in state care in NSW.

This compares with about 1,000 Aboriginal children in foster homes, institutions and missions in 1969.

Black children are being removed at 10 times the rate of white children…the primary reason for removal is not abuse but neglect (Overington 2008 p.1).

In addition, half the children in custodial institutions in Australia are of Indigenous descent. Aborigines comprise only 3 per cent of the Australian population. ‘Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show the national rate of Aboriginal juvenile incarceration has risen to a startling rate of 31 times the non- indigenous rate, up from 27 times in 2008’ (Robinson 2013). The Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda puts the rise in young Indigenous people being in prison and juvenile detention down to over-policing of Aboriginal kids and harsh sentencing by country magistrates (ABC Summer Breakfast 2013). I would argue that widespread racism directed towards Aborigines has to be recognised as a major contributor to a situation where, for example, 70% of the juvenile prisoners in Western Australia and nearly all juveniles in Northern Territory prisons are Aboriginal (Robinson 2013).

Social workers are employed in the child welfare, court and corrections system, they are implementing policies that are resulting in increasing numbers of Aboriginal children being taken out of Indigenous communities. This is happening because they are not questioning the directions of their superior officers. They are unmindful of the importance of the Nuremberg Judgement, which stated that following orders does not absolve one from responsibility for one’s actions. They should be working along side Indigenous leaders to maintain children in their own communities. Social workers are citizens who should not divert their eyes from what their country is doing to Indigenous Australians. There are many governmental policy failures involving Indigenous Australians in the first 2 decades of the 21st century, listed below, which Australian social workers should attempt to address.

I go along with the suggestion often attributed to Thomas Jefferson that “When injustice become law, resistance becomes duty”. However, there are limits as to what an individual or a group of social workers can do. The need to maintain the capacity to continue working in the profession means that being criminalised has to be avoided. But this does not justify connivance or silence. Speaking out and refusing to obey directions, may mean your promotional prospects are greatly diminished but your dignity is enhanced and you will be able to face yourself in the mirror the next morning.

Challenges facing Indigenous Australians

Indigenous Australians have some similar difficulties to other poor Australians in obtaining adequate health, disability, educational and other services. The present government admits that there is a 17 year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and other Australians. Australia is the only developed country in the world not to have eradicated trachoma, a disease almost exclusively confined to the Indigenous population.

Australia will, in 2013, start to introduce a national disability program. By its nature it will commence in the cities so people living in rural and remote regions will be the last to see the benefits flowing from this program. Aborigines, in particular, but also other rural and remote dwellers, have more disabilities and poorer health than city dwellers (Tomlinson 2003 Chs. 6 & 7).

Shortly before the 2007 election, the Conservative Government launched an ‘Intervention’ into 73 Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, ostensibly to safeguard Aboriginal children from sexual abuse or neglect and to protect women from being assaulted. The police and the army were sent into remote Aboriginal communities. The Government suspended the Racial Discrimination Act in order to quarantine half the social security payment made to Indigenous people. The amount quarantined was placed on a ‘Basics’ card that could only be used for approved purposes at certain stores. Compulsory town leases and health checks were also imposed. (Altman and Hinkson 2007).

Labor came to power in 2007 promising to continue the Intervention for a year before reviewing it. A committee was set up, headed by Aboriginal leader, Peter Yu, that recommended winding back most of the compulsory aspects of the Intervention except where it could be proven that Indigenous people were incapable of handling money. Labor ignored the report; rather, Labor has moved towards providing incentives for the use of the Basics card whilst allowing people to request they not be required to have a Basics card. At the same time this government has expanded the parts of the Northern Territory and elsewhere in Australia where Aboriginal and other ethnic groups are cajoled into a paternalistic administration of their social security. It has reinstated the Racial Discrimination Act and so cannot specify any particular ethnic group that is forced to participate. What it does instead is select geographical areas where particular ethnic groups predominate and legislates to force all residents of those areas to participate in its paternalistic form of social security.

Some Aboriginal people have supported the introduction of the Basics card but many are critical (Concerned Australians 2010). Between 2007 and 2011, I wrote 7 articles opposing aspects of the Intervention for the e-journal On Line Opinion(5). In these articles I pointed to the long history of colonial intervention allegedly aiming to save Aborigines, particularly children, from their community when in fact governments and others were pursuing other ends.

Many have asked why governments from the 1970s with their billion dollar budgets dedicated to Indigenous affairs have not been able to lift Aborigines out of poverty. Professor Altman (2010) suggests that despite the assertions of this and previous governments that they are implementing evidence-based policy, they are actually imposing ideologically driven policies which link Indigenous violence to economic marginalization, inadequacies in Aboriginal culture and ‘passive welfare’. Altman further asserts that right-wing think-tanks, such as the Centre for Independent Studies, are closely linked to senior public servants driving the Intervention (pp.266- 7).

The Northern Territory Government report, which the Conservative Government claimed had inspired the Intervention, was released on 15th June 2007. The 500 pages of legislation, which supported the Intervention, were introduced on 7th August, passed without amendment and given Royal Assent 10 days later. It would not be possible to draft 500 pages of legislation in that time. Altman is correct; there is a powerful group of neoconservatives in the public service and on both sides of politics, in the media and in right-wing think-tanks, working hand in glove. These racist forces are driving both the government and the opposition.

It is the task of all anti-racists, including social workers, to confront and expose them if Indigenous Australians are to receive anything approaching social justice.


I wish to thank Penny Harrington for her extensive editorial assistance and continuing encouragement.


(1) This Branch had several name changes post 1973 but throughout this chapter it is referred to by its original name.

(2) Since the 1980s people of Aboriginal descent who identify as Aboriginal and who are accepted by their community as being of Aboriginal are considered to be Aboriginal. The terms “total Aboriginal descent” and “part-Aboriginal” are used here to denote a distinction that was widely maintained in the Northern Territory in the 1970s.

(3)  Many people of Aboriginal descent do not use the Aboriginal name of those who have died. As some of the people referred to in this story have passed away, the Aboriginal names of people of total Aboriginal descent are not mentioned here.

(4)  The author was Jim Bowdich who had lost the editorship of NT News to Murdoch’s News Limited in 1972. As part of the sweetener, Bowditch was appointed a News Limited stringer for The Australian in Darwin, paid for any stories the newspaper accepted. His wife was of part-Aboriginal descent.

(5)  The articles dealing with the Intervention are categorized by the journal as relating to ‘Indigenous affairs’.


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