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HomeIssue 22CDU Vice Chancellor supports stolen generations history snubbed by Wyatt and Gunner

CDU Vice Chancellor supports stolen generations history snubbed by Wyatt and Gunner

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.

20 COMMENTS

  1. It surprises me that nobody apart from me has ever mentioned the people of “Oranges and Sunshine”. It’s only even been about Indigenous Australians. It almost seems a little racist!
    The sentence, “..and I believe that it is absolutely critical that we, as non-Indigenous Australians are able to pay back out debt to Indigenous people” is somewhat concerning, without clarification.
    ABS shows that already, the Indigenous people are allocated twice the amount of money that the white folk get.
    So let’s not just write another blank cheque. Instead let’s see what it is we can do to help mend the damage and not just keep throwing money, left right and centre.

  2. Great to see the new VC thinking for himself and turning the academic attention of CDU towards Alice Springs. Looking forward to asking how this progresses.

  3. CDU is calling for ways to partner proactively with council. Good to see support from Cr Marli Banks for this initiative. This might be a good test case.

  4. Bowman seems to have made a good start.
    Let’s see how he progresses and if he can revive higher education in The Centre to train young people locally and set them up with a solid foundation for meaningful work in sustainable careers.
    Partnering with council and avoiding duplication and wasting resources is vital.
    So is understanding the local history with sensitivity.
    There is an opportunity for a new Mayor to help bring these threads and other local priorities together.
    Keen to hear the views of the other candidates. Thank You and Good Luck.

  5. @ Susan: As we (slowly) reopen borders and have tourists in The Centre again it will be beneficial to have a pool of talented local tour guides who can explain the unique history of the area.

  6. CDU. Federal Government. NT Government. Alice Springs Town Council. Will anyone take the lead on this? Leadership. This is something we once had in this country.

  7. This local council elections are a chance to refresh local leadership on many issues. Crime, jobs and the local economy. Heritage is a key part of the tourism strategy. It is also the right thing to do.

  8. I would like to know which mayoral candidate is willing to get involved to make this Bungalow project happen? Thank You.

  9. @ Michael Smith: Damien Ryan showed zero interest in this. Maybe the next mayor will show more initiative. We need more ways to deepen historical and cultural tourism.
    Short films and books on this topic may help promote the Old Telegraph Station as a tourist point. Authenticity is vital.

  10. Hand over more money. More for this and that. Budget deficit doesn’t matter anymore. Thanks COVID19.

  11. Question. If a tour guide is asked about “The Bungalow” by a visitor – what would they say?

  12. The Bungalow was a home for children of mixed race in Alice Springs (then known as Stuart).
    It was first set up in 1914 for a part-Aboriginal woman, Topsy Smith with eleven of her children and a herd of goats, after her husband’s death at the Arltunga mining fields.
    When she arrived in town she lived in a tent and herded her goats on a hill (now call Billy goats Hill).
    Eventually the police sergeant constructed a shed for her to live in: The Bungalow.
    Then, as more and more part-Aboriginal children drifted into town, Topsy took them in and cared for them.
    Originally situated in town, the Bungalow was moved, in 1928, out to Jay Creek, 45 kms west of Alice Springs and in 1932 to the Old Telegraph Station
    As a tour guide I learned the story from a friend, Alec Ross, ex resident of the Bungalow also known as a living history of the Alice Springs Telegraph Station.

  13. This is a good start, Evelyne. So many layers to this story with tentacles that reach deep into Australia’s civil rights movement and beyond.

  14. Susan, the whole of history of Alice Springs, of the surroundings etc, cannot be taught in a course. There is so much to it, without talking of geology, fauna and flora.
    The training of a tour guide is to help to develop the desire of the students to do research and learn to prepare themselves for the questions that could be asked.

  15. @ Gail has asked the pertinent question – and the answer is complex.
    There are a various stages and phases of the Bungalow and this is intertwined with the history of the Centre and the seeds of the Civil Rights Movement in Australia.
    Authentic history based tourism seeks out these truths and social history, so having a basis of fact is vital.

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