'Stolen Children: Stolen Wages': Aboriginal women as reproducers and producers in white Australia

Leanne Cutcher, Teresa Davis and Talia Milroy, Business School, University of Sydney

22nd Sep 2011 12:30pm-2:00pm The Darlington Centre, University of Sydney

Aboriginal women's role as mothers has been misrepresented and rendered deviant through-out Australia's history. From the beginnings of white settlement Aboriginal women's mothering was represented as "dangerous, corrupting and needing intensive training to be undone" (Goodall 1995: 76). 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.

While a number of studies have highlighted how concerns with 'racial purity' formed the basis of policies that saw the removal of so many Aboriginal women and children (Jacobs 2005; Cole, et al 2005) less attention has been given to the fact that these women and children formed a pool of cheap (often unpaid) labour. Many Aboriginal women forced into domestic service worked for years without receiving payment for their work.

In recent years Aboriginal women have come forward to tell their stories to Federal and State government inquiries into the 'Stolen Generation' and 'Stolen Wages'. We draw on these narratives, interview data and other cultural artifacts to explore the ways in which government policy has shaped Australian Aboriginal women's roles as both producers and reproducers. Through these first person accounts we offer a counter-narrative to the dominant narrative that continues to mis-represent Aboriginal women as mothers and renders their unpaid work as invisible.