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Analysis file

Australia, January 2013

Case Study on Structural Violence within the Indigenous Australian Community

The stolen generation and how policies and acts have hindered indigenous social cohesion and poverty reduction shall be shown.

Keywords: Australia


Australia was colonized in 1788 by the British and established as a penal colony in order to both further the reaches of the British Empire and to act as a solution to the growing number of convicted felons in the United Kingdom. This act of colonization can be seen as the beginning of the Indigenous Australian struggle to achieve equality and social cohesion. Possibly the first documented structurally violent project, which has clearly had a heavy impact on the future of the indigenous population, was the classification of the Australian east coast as Terra Nullius ‘(meaning land of no-one) to justify the dispossession of Indigenous people’ Source. Numerous policies were henceforth implemented in order to establish a country that mirrored the cultural beliefs and appearances held dear by the British Empire. Perhaps some of the most significant are those mentioned below, policies involved with what has come to be known as the Stolen Generation. Acts such as disallowing the Indigenous population to be counted in the national census effectively removing their presence from documentation of those living in Australia at the time and thus limiting severely their already weakened ability to influence the direction that the nation had chosen to take. Through an analysis of each policy and act listed below and the impact they had on Australian society, the extent of not only the structural violence that Indigenous Australians face, but also how the policies and acts have hindered indigenous social cohesion and poverty reduction shall be shown.

The project discussed in this case study is the Kimberley Stolen Generation Committee (KSGC), which was formed in 1996. The Committee was founded out of members of the Stolen Generation and their families and started as a grass roots organization. The primary function of the Committee is to act as a facilitator in the re-connection of individuals who were effected by the Stolen Generation Policy or to provide information to an individual who may be interested in establishing a connection, as well as run ‘activities and projects that acknowledge the experiences of members of the Stolen Generations and help them come to terms with it. The activities and projects run by the KSGC work towards poverty reduction and improving social cohesion, both within the indigenous community and indigenous to non-indigenous. The KSGC makes use of empowerment and participatory tools to assist those in need and combat the existing structural violence in play.

Structural Violence

The phenomenon which has come to be known as Structural Violence was penned by theorist Johan Galtung. Structural Violence can be defined as a ‘violence exerted systematically—that is, in- directly—by everyone who belongs to a certain social order’ onto those belonging to a different class (Farmer: 2004). It encompasses the attitudes and actions of specific peoples through history which include oppression, exclusion and persecution, and shows how these actions have influenced and, at times condemned, the modern world of oppressed groups, groups which are subjected to Structural Violence. Galtung broke Cultural Violence down into two sub-categories; Structural Violence and Direct Violence, with Cultural Violence being ‘any aspect of a culture that can be used to legitimize violence in its direct or structural form’ (Galtung: 1990). Structural Violence describes the oppression that is enforced through the norms created in a society, norms that impede and obstruct certain members of a society from receiving the assumed basics required to survive. Racism, sexism, elitism and numerous others ensure that the institutionalized status remains prevalent in the lives of those effected, the effected generally being those who live marginalized lives (Farmer:2004, Galtung: 1990).

Structural Violence is unique in it’s ability to cause different reactions and effect different people in an independent fashion, the way in which a certain event impacts people can be shown through the extent of structural violence apparent in the society. A good example would be the percentage of Indigenous Australians in the prison system compared to non-indigenous with a finding by the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that in 2004 ‘Indigenous persons were 11 times more likely to be in prison compared with non-Indigenous persons’ (Source). It is through structural oppression that marginalized remain in harms reach and much more likely to be put in it’s way, making structural violence a critical aspect of society that needs to be amended.


While the term empowerment is one that has been employed in numerous situations both prior and since the age of Development began, it really began to grab hold in the early 1990s. Empowerment can be used by many as a tool of social transformation, one which facilitates changes in power relations and politics in order to disrupt unjust circumstances. This buzzword has been taken on by varied forms of groups, societies and peoples to achieve their goals in their fight against oppression i.e; feminism through female empowerment, removal of racial discrimination and the disillusion of unjust class groups through minority empowerment. Theorists such as Srilatha Batliwala argue that empowerment as an ideology dates back to the Protestant Reformation and was used successfully until it began to be manipulated for means such as political in order to manipulate peoples for agendas unwanted during the 1990s. Batliwala gives the three ways in which empowerment can function as an act of social transformation:

  • 1) ‘by challenging the ideologies that justify social inequality (such as gender or caste),

  • 2) ‘by changing prevailing patterns of access to and control over economic, natural and intellectual resources, and

  • 3) by transforming the institutions and structures that reinforce and sustain existing power structures (such as the family, state, market, education, and media)’ (Batliwala: 2007).

Participatory tools

Participatory methodologies are a wide and varied group of tools used to foster a welcoming environment in which those participating are able to express their beliefs and views to their peers and outsiders. Participatory tools are employed to assist in development and the creation of an understanding of the unique perspective that indigenous knowledge, amongst others, brings. Through numerous methodologies such as theatre, discussions, mapping, the creation of diagrams and modeling, groups are given the opportunity to reflect and learn. It is through this reflection that communities can analyse in order to learn and better their situation, while outsiders are able to gain valuable insights into the workings of a community (Norton, Stephens: 1995, Thomas, Reflect).

It is not just the participation of the community in question that is important when looking at participatory tools and their significance in development. Ensuring that stakeholders and external participants are involved and that they have an ‘understanding of the cultural, social, economic and political dynamics which perpetuate poverty in a given country’ is a important part of the power of participatory tools (Norton, Stephens: 1995). Through this combination of empowerment of communities and the understanding that stakeholders take from their participation can meaningful development take place. Strategies which clearly recognize potential poverty reduction methods can be found as well as giving communities a chance to reflect on what they already possess and are skillful with, as well as give them clear goals for the future.

If a project is going to employ the use of participatory tools, then numerous stages come into play. To begin, it is the identification and diagnoses of the concern, problem and community that starts the process. Following on from this is the planning and preparation which can also include winning the support, at times financial, of appropriate governing bodies and community leaders. The core of any project is the implementation and it is here that the numerous techniques mentioned above come into play. To gain an understanding of what has taken place there should be set monitoring and evaluation, for both internal and external participants so that they gain a clear understanding of why the project took place in the first instance (More about participation)

Policies and Acts which instigated the current phase of Structural Violence against Indigenous Australians

1) Aborigines Protection Act and White Australia policies

The Aborigines Protection Act began as an Act employed by separate states in order to impose control over Indigenous Australians. States such as New South Wales combined previous Acts dating back to 1867 in order to ensure that the governing powers maintained control over the lives of the Aboriginal people. The Act represents a clear disregard of the abilities of Indigenous Australians and their ability to self govern and their right to self-determination. The Board for the Protection of Aborigines was established and through the Aborigines Protection Act they began to flex the extreme level of control that they held over the Indigenous population: the Board exercised their right to regulate an Indigenous persons ‘residence, employment, marriage, social life and other aspects of daily life’ (source). Indigenous reserves were created in ‘geographically isolated enclaves’ and populated by Indigenous persons who had been sent there by ‘civil servants, police and missionaries,’ people who had been appointed as those who were capable of protecting Indigenous people against ‘the ravages of European immorality and disease’ (source). In order for one to leave the reserve, the individual would have to deny their indigenous background and by renouncing their heritage they would gain the rights that an Australian of European heritage held. (source)

What followed on from this was the forced removal of those children of mixed decent from the reserves, which was done to ensure that the population of the reserves would decrease. The drop in numbers to a point where there would be no body left to populate the reserves was a crucial part of the creation of White Australia, a critical part of the Government’s genocide against Indigenous peoples.

Numerous policies and actions were grouped together in order to facilitate the want of a Anglo-Saxon nation, but those which will be focused on today are those which revolve around the Indigenous population. Perhaps some of the most significant are that mentioned which are below, policies involved with what has come to be known as the Stolen Generation. Others include Acts such as disallowing the Indigenous population to be counted in the national census effectively removing their presence from documentation of those living in Australia at the time and thus limiting severely their already weakened ability to influence the direction that the nation had chosen to take. (source 1, source 2).

2) History of Indigenous participation in the Australian Federal Electoral System -

A clear example of severe structural violence can be found in Australia’s electoral history. Prior to 1901 and the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia, electoral voting rights were governed by states. Certain states, such as South Australia, prior to this date had given all adult citizens the right to vote, male and female, indigenous and non-indigenous. Shortly after the Commonwealth Constitution came into being, the right was taken away with the installation of Section 41 in 1902, unless the voter was enrolled on state rolls. Numerous counts of structural violence followed, such as the degradation of all indigenous peoples of the Northern Territory (NT) being classified as wards of the state in 1957, thus preventing them from voting. What was strikingly shocking about this act was that the classification of whether one was indigenous or not fell to the federal authorities, thus allowing for the systemic degradation of identity within the indigenous community to continue. This act even took voting rights away from numerous indigenous individuals who had been granted them after their participation in World War Two, as the NT had, and continues to up to this day, a significantly higher percentage of Indigenous Australians. It was not until 1965 that Indigenous Australians nation wide had the right to vote in federal and state elections, but unlike Anglo-Australians it was not compulsory and illegal under the constitution to encourage Indigenous Australians to vote. It was not until a referendum in 1976 where 90% of the population voted in favor of amending the constitution to give the indigenous population the same rights and for their inclusion in the Commonwealth Census. In 1971, the first Indigenous Australian, Neville Bonner, was voted into the Federal Parliament, as a Federal Senator for Queensland. (Source)

This violation of what was a federal right for all those born from anglo heritage done by the government of the day serves as yet another clear display of the clear disadvantages that Indigenous Australians have suffered through. The restriction from voting, the inability to participate in choosing those who will decide the future of your state and country, disallowed the the possibility of opinions being voiced which could have prevented the hardships faced even up to today.

3) Stolen generation - History and policies

The forced removal of children born of either one Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parent and one Anglo-Saxon because of a policy created by the Australian Government has come to be known as the Stolen Generation. With a primary goal of fulfilling the polices such as the Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Act 1905, the Aborigines Protection Act 1909 and the Child Welfare Act 1939 were created to support the White Australia policy and agenda, children with one anglo and one indigenous parent were put into the care of the state or church and taught to reject their heritage and assimilate into white culture. Legally, the practice occurred nationwide between 1909 to 1969, but numerous cases have been documented before and after these dates. Agencies such as the Aborigines’ Protection Board were established in the by the 1890s, with their primary function being the removal of children with mixed genetic heritage. When it became apparent that indigenous families were moving children across borders in order to keep them with their family, the Federal Government turned it into a nation wide policy source).

As the policies of the time centered around the removal of indigenous culture, a culture which had been deemed to be insignificant and inferior, the children were not told about their heritage and many were not even aware that they were indigenous. Reasoning behind the removals ranged from the child’s removal from an immoral home life, being over 14 years of age therefore ready to work, or the child’s status was given as orphan to name a few. During the first half of the 20th century, it was primary girls who were removed from their homes and who lived in state run institutions until they were old enough to work as domestic help under conditions akin to slavery. (source,‐kit/stolen‐generations/)

Children were not only separated from their parents, but also from their siblings as to further the degradation of their cultural beliefs. Those who were taken were severely impacted by this removal, at the time and afterwards. Children were subjected to sexual and physical abuse, as well as sold to work as maids or laborers at young ages. This practice was supported by members of the public, as the generalized belief was that indigenous women were inadequate mothers and that those who were brought up under the care of indigenous communities would end up living ‘poor and unrewarding lives’ (source).

The effects were also felt by those left behind, parents and family members, indeed the whole community. Within a community which already faces, on the whole, a higher percentages of hardships and disadvantages, ‘members of the Stolen Generations suffered higher rates of sexual abuse, maltreatment, dislocation of family life, poverty and hardship. Numerous individuals suffer from post-traumatic-stress disorder, depression, feelings of extreme fear and abandonment as a result of the forced separation. This forced separation also had an influential effect over learning and development, either regressing or permanently depressing. The While a rough estimate done by the Bringing Them Home Report of 1997 stands at 100,000 children, between 1 to 10 and 3 to 10 children were removed, an accurate number can not be deciphered as records were either lost, destroy or not deemed necessary to create. (source 1, source 2)

The Stolen Generation was a bureaucratic mode of protectionism, designed to further the goals of the state and protect the post-colonial form of racial prejudiced democracy which was entrenched within the domination of indigenous races. The Stolen Generation can be judged by how well it provided for the needs of those who participated, the indigenous and non-indigenous parties. The effects were drastically different, depending on the perspective of the participant. Economical gains can be noted in those who took indigenous workers and the reverse in those who worked.

4) Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007

Perhaps one of the most current motions to be passed is the this Act, which was implemented in response to a report published, Little Children are Sacred by Rex Anderson and Patricia Anderson. This report highlighted the extreme conditions that rural Indigenous Australians lived under, and gave placed importance on the level of sexual abuse, specifically in relation to indigenous children. The Act was put into play after a state of emergency was declared in the Northern Territory with regards to the Indigenous population, with extreme measures such as extensive bans on alcohol in Indigenous areas, compulsory health checks for all Indigenous children and additional police officers in the 73 townships which were identified as problem areas. The Act implemented programs, such as the compulsory health checks for children, which were not culturally appropriate, but gained merit because of the conditions reported.

The Kimberley Stolen Generation Committee (KSGC)

Following the 1995 Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission which looked into the forced removal of indigenous children from their families, the Kimberley Stolen Generation Committee was formed, in 1996. The Committee was founded out of members of the Stolen Generation and their families, as well as representatives from various working groups and started as a NGO at a grass roots level. The Kimberly region is found in the North Western tip of Australia, is roughly three times the size of England and is currently home to over 200 Indigenous communities, 12, 328 people according to a census held in 2006. With close to half of the population being Indigenous, compared to the national average of 2.5%, the Kimberley is a region which is quite unique. (source, source).

In a community which is home to a much higher percentage of Indigenous individuals, the presence of structural violence is all the more prevalent. What makes Cultural Violence, which leads to Structural Violence, so relevant to this case study is that it was through close to a century of violent episodes against Indigenous people that the current situation has been able to exist and prosper. In order to obtain a clear idea of what struggles Indigenous peoples face, it is vital to understand what they have already been through, what they have endured. Through the recognition of the systemic structural violence can one begin to understand that the issues surrounding Indigenous underdevelopment run far deeper than expected and need more than the responses suggested by the Northern Territory National Emergency Response Act 2007. Indeed, numerous elements of the Response Act only acted to perpetrate the violence further. The work that the Kimberley Stolen Generation Committee do works towards curbing and scaling down the problem, through empowerment techniques, as well as the use of numerous participatory tools.

The project works on social inclusion, working to help those who suffer from extreme social exclusion from their adopted families and a disconnect from their birth families. As of July, 2012, over 200 families have come to the KSGC to seek their assistance. They facilitate numerous participatory activities and projects that are designed to ‘acknowledge the experiences of members of the Stolen Generations and help them come to terms with it’ (source). These participatory workshops assist positively in the continuous struggle that Indigenous Australians face for recognition and for the voices of those effected directly by poverty and injustice to be heard through giving them a means to express themselves in a safe and secure environment. Giving individuals a the opportunity to voice concerns, opinions, fears and beliefs in a safe social environment also allows for those suffering from the same or similar issues the chance to meet and assist each other, thus improving social inclusion (source).

By combating the prior presumed belief that Indigenous Australians were unable to act as strong and capable parents and family units, they aim to re-install vial aspects of indigenous knowledge that revolve around parenting and family life, including respect and knowledge of the land. They work with social motivation and empowerment, establishing strong connections in an attempt to combat the existing internal and external structural violence that was established through over 75 years of forced removals. Through re-connections, individuals are able to form an understanding of their background in a safe environment, one which protects their decision whether that be to meet and maintain contact with families lost or not.

Empowerment is another vital key in the right for equality in Indigenous communities, which is why it is mentioned in this case study. Through the empowerment of communities, families and individuals as well as the re-establishment of a strong society, one that has been transformed from within, can the existing problems begin to be addressed. The KSGC works to empower those who come to them for assistance, to address the issues for which they’re made marginalized members of the community. The question remains however, if the term empowerment has been abused and misused, dis-empowered, then can it still be employed in todays society as a tool of poverty reduction and is it still a relevant tool? Empowerment as employed by the KSGC is one for community gain: they use varied methodologies to challenge the given social constructs of the indigenous person and empower from within. The KGSC employs empowerment not as a tool to give social backing to the theory, it uses it to empower.

The Committee utilizes workshops, link-up services and projects to empower individuals who come to them for assistance, as well as those identified as needing help. Through re-establishing the connections with family, community and heritage are the individuals empowered. This empowerment then further strengthens those surrounding them. Art workshops are run every Tuesday, giving community members a chance to sit together and compare tales. To maximise the effects of the art workshops and to ensure that individuals are not left in vulnerable places upon completion, qualified counselors are available throughout. This is not to say, however, that every link-up leads can be fulfilled in a simplistic fashion. To combat the feeling of loss that is felt by those who did not get a chance to meet their family member before the passed away, the KSGC runs Graveside Family Reunions so that farewells are able to be said in an environment that is respectful of cultural beliefs (source).

The Kimberley Stolen Generation Committee can be judged as a Committee which assists in a highly positive fashion towards the reduction of social inequalities and injustice felt within the community. Their success can be contributed to numerous elements; the re-joining of families with children who had been taken, and the facilitation of numerous workshops which deal with issues brought on by this forced removal and are felt by those taken and those left behind. In addition to this, the varied activities and projects designed to shed light on and act as a sign of recognition of the experiences felt by those who were taken during the Stolen Generation assist those individuals and educate others about the past and present circumstances that Indigenous people live with.


  • Auteur de la fiche : Olivia Pearson

References :