Screened as part of NZIFF 2001
The series of quotes at the beginning of Stolen Generations, a documentary by Australian director Darlene Johnson, could easily refer to the United States’ history of slavery. The voices seem to argue with each other: ‘We shouldn’t be responsible for what was done by past generations’, ‘We took the babies, we committed the murders’ and ‘We aren’t talking about past history, we’re talking about contemporary history.’
Johnson artfully and skillfully weaves together human experience, politics and history in this gripping hour-long film. The story traces the Australian government’s systematic efforts in the early twentieth century to obliterate the Aboriginal people from Australia.
To reach this goal, the government seized generations of Aboriginal children from their parents to be raised in white families, at first hoping that intermarriage would wipe out the aboriginal race, then later appending the strategy to a ‘cultural assimilation’, which experts in the film explain as the hope that raising Aboriginal children in white families and making them adopt white values and standard of living would rid Australia of the Aborigine way of life. The practice continued into the 1970s, and Aborigines are still waiting for an official apology from the Australian Prime Minister.
Johnson intercuts telling interviews with some of those grown children who were taken from their parents and several history experts with disturbing archive footage of Aboriginal children marching like prisoners, working and posing in orphanages, tugging on the uncomfortable collared shirts they weren’t used to wearing, girls with giant ribbons in their hair like coffee-colored versions of the suburban white kids in 1950s TV ads.
In those interviews with the now-adult Aborigines, we hear about Daisy’s abduction while she played with her sister outside where her mother worked. Daisy, who has a much lighter skin tone than the sister who was left behind and with whom she was reunited years later, never saw her mother again.
We also meet a woman who with her two brothers was taken when she was seven years old from her mother while she stood in the doorway crying, the last memory she has of the mother…
The tales are heartbreaking, but Johnson does a credible job exploring some of the ‘good intentions’ that the government and Mission workers had for taking Aboriginal children from their homes. Of Aboriginal descent herself, Johnson’s movie is an indictment of the Australian government and validation of her people’s suffering. — Virginia Pelley, Fabula, 5/01