Many Voices: Reflections on Experiences of Indigenous Child Separation
Edited by Doreen Mellor & Anna Haebich
National Library of Australia, Canberra 2002
ISBN 0-642-10754-8 $29.95 336pp +CD
Many Voices: Reflections on experiences of Indigenous child separation is a comprehensive volume of stories, anecdotes, memoirs, photographs and policies, woven together from 340 interviews of those who experienced first hand the trauma, confusion and the sadness of removal from families, communities and cultures.
Compiled as part of the Bringing Them Home Oral History Project through the National Library of Australia over fours years from 1998, the book is testament to the value of oral history as a legitimate source of recording the past, for good and for bad.
Within it, we read the personal accounts of adults, who as children lived their lives everywhere from the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Home (NSW) and Bacchus Marsh Orphanage (VIC), to the Jay Creek Settlement (NT) and Carrolup Native Settlement (WA), from the Mornington Island Mission (QLD) to the Ernabella Mission (SA) – with 82 other institutions, missions and settlements in between.
Many Voices includes testimony from well known figures like Doris Pilkington (Nugi Garimara), author of the book Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence and singer /songwrting Bob Randall who composed and recorded “Brown Skin baby They Take Him Away”. Randall describes the removal of children as “an incomprehensible wound to the spirit”.
The volume includes an historical overview of policy, legislation and administration related to the issues of Indigenous child separation, a map of the institutions and settlements discussed in the book and a select bibliography for those who are compelled to read further on the wider the issue.
Many Voices also includes a CD of excerpts from some of the published oral histories, and provides an accessible format for a broader Australian and international audience to learn first hand of the life stories of Indigenous people removed under policies of Protection in Australia.
Some may refer to Many Voices: Reflections on experiences of Indigenous child separation as an Indigenous book. I’d argue otherwise. It is an Australian book, because the stories being told are part of Australian history right up until today. They are interviews demonstrating the consequences of Australian government legislation affecting Indigenous people. They are narratives that help explain how the current Australian psyche has been manipulated by such legislation and a long denied yet disturbing history. This book therefore, is as much for and about mainstream Australia, as it is about the lives of Indigenous people discussed within its covers.
An unequalled resource for teaching about the Stolen Generations, the book should be set as a text at secondary and tertiary levels in history, cultural studies, media studies, research techniques and Indigenous Studies.
NOTE: All interviews held in the Bringing Them Home collection are held by the Oral history Section of the NLA, and are available to the public onsite with some access conditions. For further information contact the Oral History Section on 02 6262 1266 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reviewed by Anita Heiss