Monday, February 09, 2009

Perceptions of Aboriginal difference 1

As I think I mentioned, I have now finished Jim Fletcher's Clean, Clad and Courteous, a history of Aboriginal education in NSW. I have to rework my way through some issues, but I thought that I should make a brief comment now.

Writing in 1937, my grandfather as NSW Minister for Education wrote in a statement to his Department:

It will be noted that there are races of colour other than white, whose mental and attributes, though different, are nowise inferior to those of the white race, and no question arises as to their admission to any public school in this State. Emphasis, therefore, is essentially upon the best interests of Aboriginal children or of children of marked Aboriginal characteristics.

In looking at this statement, remember that the White Australia policy is in force.

Despite this, children of Chinese, Indian or Japanese ancestry in Australia were to be admitted to NSW public schools. Any white parents who objected and withdrew their children risked prosecution under the truancy laws.

Aboriginal children were perceived to be different. That difference lies at the heart of current indigenous disadvantage.

The tragedy is that those most committed on moral and ideological grounds to the improvement of the Aboriginal people were also those who did the most damage because their perceptions were wrong. They reinforced difference.

Our Aboriginal peoples would have been far better off if Governments had followed a policy of benign neglect, simply allowing indigenous people to sink or swim in a now majority European community.

No comments: