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Enforcing assimilation, dismantling Aboriginal families: a history of police violence in Australia



This sketch depicts the Waterloo Creek massacre (also known as the Slaughterhouse Creek massacre), part of the conflict between mounted police and Indigenous Australians in 1838.
Godfrey Charles Mundy/National Library of Australia

Thalia Anthony, University of Technology Sydney and Harry Blagg, University of Western Australia

Readers are advised the following article contains descriptions of violence that may be traumatic.


In July 2018, Western Australia’s Police Commissioner Chris Dawson formally apologised for the mistreatment of Aboriginal people at the hands of police, acknowledging the “significant role” the police played in the dispossession of Australia’s First Nations people. Dawson made particular reference to the way:

forceful removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and communities, the displacement of mothers and their children, sisters, fathers and brothers, the loss of family and resulting destruction of culture has had grave impacts

“Forced removal” references the unique role played by police in many settler colonies such as Australia, Aotearoa/New Zealand, the United States and Canada in relation to First Nations peoples: executing assimilationist policies designed to dismantle First Nations families.

A closer look at the history of policing in Australia helps explain some of the dynamics at play in the Black Lives Matter and First Nations Deaths in Custody movement in Australia and a growing push for alternative models of policing.

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The ‘Irish Model’ of policing

Mainstream histories of policing have looked to 19th century British Prime Minister Robert Peel’s London Metropolitan Police “British Model” of policing, with its focus on policing through consensus and “walking the beat”.

There is another model of policing, however, which better reflects the Australian history.

Known as the “Irish Model” from its origins in suppressing dissent in the Irish colony in the 19th century, it set the police against the community, placed them in military style barracks, under a highly centralised and hierarchical chain of command. In general, they were not there to win hearts and minds.

Look to Chris Owen’s magnificent study of policing in the Kimberley region of Western Australia between 1882 and 1905 – titled Every Mother’s Son is Guilty. Policing was based around a highly mobile horse mounted model to cope with the extraordinary distances. As Owen shows, attitudes of the police towards First Nations people were deeply influenced by contemporary beliefs that they were inferior to whites, and a priori criminal.

Many police officers in the frontier colonial era were conscious of being part of a “civilizing mission” and held highly paternalistic attitudes.

One officer who policed the remote regions of Western Australian in the 1920s recalls being

conscientious in my desire for their welfare, for I looked upon them then, as I do now, as children.

Punitive attitudes

Elsewhere, officers exercised often unfettered brutality in punitive frontier expeditions. This was in pursuit of pastoral land grabs, settler occupation and the disintegration of Aboriginal families.

This was a feature of the Native Police Forces that operated in various parts of Australia from the 1830s until the early 20th century.

These forces, responsible for many atrocities against Aboriginal people, consisted of Aboriginal troopers under the command of white officers such as Constable William Willshire whose killings resulted in an unsuccessful murder trial in 1891 and Lieutenant Frederick Wheeler, whose massacres were reviewed by a Queensland parliamentary inquiry in 1861 (which decided to reprimand but not dismiss him).

The inquiry heard evidence of the Native Police Force’s murderous contact with Aboriginal people.

Historical accounts of the Northern Territory’s Native Police, modelled on the Queensland’s Force, documents its fatal force against Aboriginal lives to allegedly defend colonists’ lives and property.

In Western Australia, the 1927 Royal Commission into the killing and burning of Aboriginal bodies in the Forrest River massacre found police were brutal in effecting arrests.

The use of police brutality extended beyond Native Police expeditions, and was characteristic of police powers more widely. The Colonial Frontier Massacres Map documenting massacres of First Nations families across Australia include extensive records of police killings, such as 60 Warlpiri, Anmatyere and Kaytetye women, men and children in the Coniston Massacre in 1928.

Police practices of neck chaining Aboriginal prisoners continued officially into the mid-20th century in parts of Australia.




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Defunding the police could bring positive change in Australia. These communities are showing the way


‘Aboriginal Protection Acts’ were used to control Aboriginal people.
AIATSIS, Author provided

‘Protection’

Ideas of law and order formed only a fragment of the colonial police role where Aboriginal people were concerned. Much of it was taken up with implementing the “Aboriginal Protection Acts” or simply “Aboriginal Acts”, which continued well into the 20th century. Examples abound: the Aborigines Protection Act 1886 (Western Australia), the Aboriginal Protection Act and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (Queensland), the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 (New South Wales), the Aborigines Act 1911 (South Australia); Aboriginals Ordinance 1911 (Northern Territory) and The Aborigines Protection Act 1886 (Victoria).

Aboriginal Acts were used in practice to forcibly relocate Aboriginal people to a place of prescribed confinement, which in practice could include on government settlements, reserves, church missions, hospital lock ups, penal islands, cattle stations and other institutions.

Often police officers assumed the role of Aboriginal Protector under these Acts and exercised broad powers over Aboriginal lives.

Police also gained specific powers under legislation that allowed them to remove Aboriginal children from their families under “child welfare” legislation. Testimony from Victoria in the Bringing them Home inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families reported that:

From 1956 and 1957 more than one hundred and fifty children (more than 10% of the children in the Aboriginal population of Victoria at that time) were living in State children’s institutions. The great majority had been seized by police and charged in the Children’s Court with “being in need of care and protection”. Many policemen act from genuine concern for the “best interests” of Aboriginal children, but some are over-eager to enter Aboriginal homes and bully parents with threats to remove their children.

The experience of one Aboriginal child in Western Australia in 1935 was told to the inquiry:

I was at the post office with my Mum and Auntie [and cousin]. They put us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome. They put the mums in there as well. But when we’d gone [about ten miles] they stopped, and threw the mothers out of the car. We jumped on our mothers’ backs, crying, trying not to be left behind. But the policemen pulled us off and threw us back in the car. They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were chasing the car, running and crying after us. We were screaming in the back of that car. When we got to Broome they put me and my cousin in the Broome lock-up. We were only ten years old.

Police still play a role in removing First Nations children from their families today. The Family is Culture Report in 2019 noted significant concerns about the use of police during removals, saying:

when police are used for removal, especially riot police, this has historical continuity.

Police powers in the first half of the 20th century extended to the forced isolation and confinement of Aboriginal people on public health grounds, such as in various lock-up hospitals, on the basis of a diagnosis made by a police officer of syphilis or leprosy – or a decision that the person was at risk.

The police acted as the gatekeepers for enclosure in a ubiquity of institutions. At the same time as imposing the law, the police also acted as Protectors of Aboriginal people, distributed rations and blankets, provided pastoralists with Aboriginal workers in remote areas and ensured that they remained on pastoral stations.

Aboriginal worker Hobbles Danyarri said:

If you put your own colour, police tracker, that means he can bring them in. He can bring them in to work and don’t let him steal it [beef]. Let them work. Let them work.

And Aboriginal stockman Barney Barnes remembers the removal of Aboriginal communities accused of cattle killing onto Cherrabun, Go Go and Christmas Creek stations in the Kimberley:

That manager made the police go out and bring all the people in from the desert. He reckoned that they were killing too many bullocks. So the police came out and rounded up all the Walmajarri people […] They kept going at it until nobody was left out there. They didn’t allow the Aboriginal people to live in the desert after that.

Aboriginal people who defied Aboriginal Protection Acts and the rules of reserves and settlements – such as speaking in language, practising culture, marrying without the protector’s permission, or otherwise disobeying orders of the protector – would be sent for punishment to places such as Palm Island. These Acts were often enforced by police officers.

Hope for the future

Moving away from a colonial and assimilationist model of policing in Australia involves restructuring police and honouring First Nations self determination.

Community Patrol models, which are embedded in First Nations communities and work towards the safety and wellbeing of women, children and families, provide a First Nations alternative.

It’s time to consider setting police models on a new course that abolishes force and re-imagines community relationships.


UPDATE: This story has been updated to add more detail and quotes.The Conversation

Thalia Anthony, Professor of Law, University of Technology Sydney and Harry Blagg, Professor of Criminology, University of Western Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


Humane and intimate, how the Red Cross helped families trace the fates of WW2 soldiers



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Australians shelter from Japanese snipers in Borneo, 1945.
Australian War Memorial collection/Flickr

Fiona Ross, University of Melbourne

Private Rawson’s mother first contacted the Red Cross in early April 1942, six weeks after her son was captured by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore. For her, and thousands of other Australian mothers, fathers, wives, sisters and brothers, this began three and half years of longing and fear, and above all, silence. The Conversation

For the duration of the war, Mrs Rawson’s only news of her son’s fate were the snippets received and sent on to her by the Red Cross Bureau for Wounded, Missing and Prisoners of War.

In the Spring Street premises, lent to the Red Cross by the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons, volunteers received Mrs Rawson’s enquiry, made a file for her son and added a card to a rapidly growing system:

Surname: RAWSON

Rank: PTE. [Private]

Reg No. VX43216

Unit: 2/29th. Btn. H.Q. COY.

9/4/42 Enq. From Vic. – Unof. Msg. [unofficially missing] MALAYA

Over the next 18 months they retrieved and updated the card as numbered lists of missing and captured servicemen reached the Red Cross:

19-8-42: Cas.[casualty] List V.319 rep. [reported] Missing.

27-5-43: List AC 494 adv.[advice] Tokio cables interned Malai Camp.

21-6-43: Cas list V467 prev. rept. [previously reported] Missing now rpt.[reported] P.O.W.[prisoner of war]

10-9-43: List WC 13 adv. Card rec. Washington POW [prisoner of war] Jap.[Japanese] Hands.

28-10-43: List JB. 213 adv. Singapore Radio Allege POW.

Then the reports cease. Nothing more, for two years.

Private Rawson’s card is now the first one in box 45 of the archival records series “Missing, Wounded and Prisoner of War Enquiry Cards”. This series was transferred to the University of Melbourne Archives in 2016 as part of the Red Cross’s Gift to the Nation – the records of its first 100 years in Australia. Digitised copies of cards from the second world war are now available to researchers online.

Cards from the Red Cross’s enquiry bureau.
University of Melbourne Archives

In an era before vision statements and key performance indicators, the Red Cross Enquiry Bureau expressed its ethos as a “Golden Rule”:

No definite information that would be of solace to relatives should be allowed to remain in the office over-night.

The Red Cross saw this work as a “humane and intimate administration”. Speed and accuracy were the essence of the service, which during WWII helped over 58,000 Australian families to learn the fate of loved ones displaced by the war. The vast majority of these enquiries concerned personnel in the Australian Imperial Force.

Typically families first received missing, wounded, killed or captured notification from the armed services. They then turned to the Red Cross to learn more about their loved one’s fate. However the Red Cross also attempted to trace the whereabouts of civilians – both Australian and foreign citizens – living overseas who were caught up in the war in Europe or the Pacific.

The index cards were the administrative cornerstone of the bureau’s enquiry service. For such a harrowing and solemn business, the cards are a marvel of clerical efficiency and precision. Entries are heavily abbreviated and the volunteer typists rarely missed a capital letter or full stop.

There are no back-stories, no narrative, in most cases not even first names, just the barest facts about a missing person’s fate, ultimately summarised in one word at the top of each card; “repatriated”, “safe”, “recovered”, “liberated”, “located”, “missing”, “POW” (prisoner of war), “deceased”.

The Geneva Bureau in Switzerland which performed a similar service to the Red Cross in Australia.
University of Melbourne Archives

Yet the staccato shorthand belies both the complexity and compassion of this wartime service. Most of the bureau volunteers were themselves next-of-kin of POWs. They somehow managed to channel their anxiety into the myriad of clerical tasks that enabled information to flow between state, national and overseas Red Cross bureaus, searchers in military hospitals and the armed services. Cards, files, lists, letters and cables in the face of fearful waiting.

Bureaucracy and heartbreak often make for peculiar companions in the Red Cross archive. Within the Red Cross’s administrative file titled Bureau 1943 we find a few stray copies of letters to family members, laden with sympathy and sadness:

Dear Mrs Bould

We have, as you know, been making enquiries to try and obtain news of your son…and we have now had an unofficial report from a member of the Battalion who has returned to Australia.

His account of what happened when the Japanese attacked Kokoda toward the end of July is a sad one… According to our witness, [Private] Bould was busy on a job, ahead of the Unit’s defence position, when he was hit by a bullet which killed him instantly. The witness spoke as though he had known your son well… and added: “He was a particularly well-liked chap and a game soldier”. This is a tribute of which any soldier might be very proud, and we trust that it may bring you some slight comfort in your distress.

Please believe that our heartfelt sympathy goes out to you and that we will continue to do our utmost to find further witnesses who may be able to confirm or deny what we have so far learned.

Good relations with the Australian armed services were crucial to the bureau’s information gathering work, but the relationship was often strained. A few pages away from the bureau’s gentle letter to Mrs Bould we find the army threatening to withdraw cooperation because, in its opinion, the bureau was too hasty in providing information to next of kin. From the army:

It is not the policy of this Department to declare the death of a soldier as the result of hearsay information …

The sheer volume of these cards is hard to fathom; 59 archive boxes each containing around 1,000 cards, each card bearing witness to a family’s trauma and tragedy. They are uniform, ordered and monochrome. The lack of colour suits them. Emotions are suppressed beneath precision and procedure.

There is no nuance or commentary, just the cold, hard, abbreviated facts of war. Seventy years on, the sombre silence of these cards is a testament to the lives of those who went to war, and those who waited at home, longing for their return.

For Mrs Rawson, the silence about her son ended in October 1945 after the Red Cross volunteers updated her son’s card one more time:

Army Cas. 5231 adv. a/n [above named] died of disease whilst POW Siam Dysentry 31-10-43.


University of Melbourne Archives Series 2016.0049: Missing, Wounded and Prisoner of War Enquiry Cards will be available online to researchers from May 2017. Further information, and a name-based search option is available from the University of Melbourne Archives digitised items catalogue. Private Rawson’s card is item 2016.0049.44698. Read more about the Enquiry Cards.

Fiona Ross, Senior Archivist at the University of Melbourne Archives, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Post War – A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt


Post War – A History of Europe Since 1945, by Tony Judt

I have now started to read ‘Post War,’ by Tony Judt. The edition I have was published in 2005 by The Penguin Press. It is a massive work of over 900 pages, that includes both photographs and maps.

The period of history being dealt with is post war Europe from the end of World War II to 2005. It includes the immediate aftermath of World War II, right through the Cold War period and the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Though I have only just started (yesterday) I have completed about 100 pages thus far, which has taken me through the preface, introduction and the first chapter, ‘The Legacy of War.’ The first chapter deals with the immediate aftermath of the war and its consequences for the people of Europe. It is an horrific picture of post war Europe and the devastation it had on the entirety of Europe – nations, cities and towns, peoples and families. It is the legacy of total war.

 


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