Forgetting Indigenous Histories: Cases from the History of Australia's Stolen Generations


Collective forgetting and denial of injustices perpetrated against Indigenous people have a long history in white Australia. This was evident in public response to the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report, concerning the systematic removal of generations of Indigenous children from their families. Emotions of shock, anguish and guild, as well as angry denial, suggested a long held secret finally exposed. Yet on numerous previous occasions, some quite recent, exposure had provoked similarly passionate debate. This paper addresses this puzzling phenomenon by drawing on recent research on forgetting, ignorance, and race to understand how these social processes help to construct dominant identities and histories that include and exclude, and that normalize unequal treatment to the point that dominant groups fail to recognize the discriminatory conditions of others or understand their own role in producing them. Several historical case studies document how knowledge of child removals emerged into public awareness and controversy and then subsided back into forgetfulness and ignorance, leaving issues of injustice against the Stolen Generations unresolved. The paper argues that, despite an emotive national apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, this may also be the fate of the Bringing Them Home Report.