Edited by Carmel Bird
Marked by a cross drawn in ink at about the place where her navel would be, the child stands in the centre of the group of six tiny girls. Her companions look shyly, sadly, at the camera; but her eyes are downcast. She seems to be oblivious, or at least forgetful, of the photographer, concentrating on a ball that she cradles at shoulder level. This child, with her high-domed forehead and gently pouting upper lip, is an orphan among orphans, Australian children of mixed race.
The person who made the cross has written underneath the picture: “I like the little girl in centre of group, but if taken by anyone else, any of the others would do, as long as they are strong”.
The orphanage was in Darwin, and the photograph of the children appeared in a newspaper in the 1930s, because the Minister for the Interior was appealing for people in Melbourne and Sydney to take the children in, to ‘rescue them from becoming outcasts’. This was part of a long-term government plan to assimilate Indigenous people into the dominant white community by removing the children from their families at as young an age as possible, preferably at birth, cutting them off from their own place, language, and customs, and thereby somehow bleaching aboriginality from Australian society.
17 stories are recorded here, most of them exactly as they were told to the Inquiry.
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Also in our library is the movie ‘Rabbit Proof Fence‘ which tells the story of three girls who escaped a religious reformatory in Australia in the 1930’s, hoping to walk 1500 miles back to their tribal home.