By JOHN P McD SMITH
Despite being knocked back by the Morrison and Gunner Governments the stolen generation history linked to The Bungalow in Alice Springs should be properly researched and documented, according to new Charles Darwin University Vice Chancellor Scott Bowman.
He made his first visit to Alice Springs last week heralding a new era for higher education in The Centre.
The St Francis’ House Project has been lobbying for a professional and extensive historical account to be written about The Bungalow, which was a government institution in Alice Springs from around 1915 to 1963 with more than 100 children residing there at different times.
It is one of the most distinctive stolen generation institutions in Australia.
In correspondence to me, as the St Francis’ House project chair, Professor Bowman said: “I whole-heartedly acknowledge that the issues of the stolen generations has national significance and importance, and I believe that it is absolutely critical that we, as non-Indigenous Australians are able to pay back our debt to Indigenous people.
“I understand the Minister Wyatt has advised that there is no funding stream available for your request, and that Minister [Selena] Uibo has suggested you contact CDU.
“If you are successful in securing government funding and support from the key stakeholders … then we would be keenly interested in further discussion about a role that CDU can play,” said Professor Bowman.
This comes despite both the Federal and NT Government Indigenous Affairs Ministers, Ken Wyatt and Selena Uibo, refusing to offer any financial or structural support.
To do justice to the stolen children this project requires the input of a team of committed professionals carefully selected for the task. They need to be properly resourced and properly supported with support staff over what would be a long-term assignment.
It is realistically only government who has the resources to properly fund such a project. This could happen if they are willing to embrace the support offered by Charles Darwin University.
This is a racially sensitive national Indigenous project that is deserving of the highest government input. The definitive history of “The Bungalow” needs to be addressed with the greatest respect and deep sensitivity.
Repeated government suggestions of sideline ways of achieving this task is disappointing. It is a programme that needs to start now while there are still people living who can tell their stories to the researchers.
After much hand wringing about “healing from past traumas … the distress and harm suffered by members of the Stolen Generations and their families sadly has a continuing legacy” Mr Wyatt comes to the point in a letter to me: “With regards to your request for Commonwealth support, there is not a suitable funding stream currently available.”
I made Professor Bowman aware of the points I made to Minister Wyatt including:
- There needs to be continuing acknowledgement of the suffering of the stolen children, which will take various forms. This acknowledgement is necessary because the healing process needs to continue and will take a long time.
- To overcome suffering by definition is a long process that probably never reaches a conclusion. Closure is a very elusive outcome. Many Aboriginal people work out their own ways to deal with their personal trauma, but in addition to this Australian society needs to keep doing things that will contribute to the healing process.
- The Bungalow site is now a memorial to the stolen children containing photographs, documents and other memorabilia. While this is entirely appropriate it is not enough in terms of memories. A detailed, definitive and accurate historical account of The Bungalow needs to be written by professional historians as a documented record of all that happened there.
- A formal historical account would be a fitting tribute to the stolen children who resided there. It needs to be done soon, while key people who know the history are still living. The Morrison Government should consider taking on this project and provide full funding. It was the Commonwealth Government who established this tragic place.
I have prepared a draft terms of reference as a starting point.
It is surely miserable for the Commonwealth Government to show virtually no interest in taking on this significant indigenous national project despite support from a university. They don’t even offer to establish an investigative process.
John P McD Smith is Chair of the St Francis’ House Project.
PHOTO at top: Mrs Ida Standley (far left), Bob Laver, Pastor Kramer and Alf McGowan with Bungalow children. Topsy Smith is at the back, seventh from the right. Taken January 1, 1924.