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Stolen Children: Stolen Wages

12 Oct 2011

Important research is being carried out by academics at the University of Sydney Business School into the lack of financial compensation Aboriginal women, who are members of the Stolen Generation, were offered in Australia for the hard labour mostly unpaid labour they carried out.

The early findings by the research team of Dr. Leanne Cutcher, Associate Professor Teresa Davis and Ms.Talila Milroy, members of the Women and Work Research Group, were presented at a recent seminar.

The project titled: 'Stolen Children: Stolen Wages': Aboriginal women as reproducers and producers in white Australia investigates the accounts of some Aboriginal women who have come forward to tell their stories to State and Federal government inquiries into the Stolen Generation and provided written evidence to the Queensland, NSW and Western Australian Stolen Wages Commissions.

(Left to right: The research team of Associate Professor Teresa Davis, Dr. Leanne Cutcher and Ms.Talila Milroy)

The research work draws on the subaltern voices of Aboriginal women themselves, supported by documentary analysis of text and records, to highlight the economic advantages that this pool of cheap unpaid labour served in the development of Australia's economy. It draws attention to the fact that despite their hard labour Aboriginal women were denied any form of economic agency.

Leanne Cutcher said: "Through these first person accounts we offer an alternative voice to the dominant narrative that continues to misrepresent Aboriginal women as mothers and renders their unpaid work as invisible."

The research team's initial work confirms previous research that Aboriginal women's role as mothers has been misrepresented and rendered deviant through-out Australia's history.

Cutcher said: "From the beginnings of white settlement Aboriginal women's mothering was represented as dangerous, corrupting and needing intensive training to be undone. These attitudes made it possible for the State to justify the removal of thousands of Aboriginal children from their families. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's report, Bringing Them Home, estimates that between 10 to 30 per cent of Aboriginal children were 'stolen' from their mothers between 1910 and 1970.

Teresa Davis says: "Our work hopes to highlight the denial of economic agency that Aboriginal women have experienced in the three to four generations that systematic (institutionalised) removal and forced labour without wages created. Their cultural, gender and familial identities were all stripped away when they were 'taken' from their families. Their identity as consumers was denied because of their lack of choice and of financial freedom. Finally, their only remaining sense of identity as workers, was denied when their wages were kept from them. We examine this denial of self and identity using their testimonio and government documents relating to removal and the "trust accounts" of the stolen wages. We build on the important work done by other scholars, such as Rosalind Kidd, and groups, such as the Public Advocacy Interest Centre on focusing on this tragedy of our times".

Talila Milroy explained that "the research has particularly interesting for me as an Aboriginal woman and mother and has informed me about my heritage and history. It has highlighted for me how the experience of Aboriginal people throughout Australian history is not only important for my understanding of my heritage and history but also for indigenous and non-indigenous Australians alike. I have been overwhelmed by the interest in the project and hope we can help to inform many more not only about the injustices but also the triumphs of Aboriginal women's lives".

Director of The Women and Work Research Group, Professor Marian Baird, welcomed the research and said that it highlighted both the social and economic impact of government policy in relation to Aboriginal women.

The Women and Work Research Group

The Women and Work Research Group provides the scholarly environment to establish a community of inquiry on all aspects of women, work, employment, family and community. It also provides a focal point for collaboration with established and emerging scholars in the field, and with research centres with similar interests in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.