Asking questions; demanding answers


Just on three years ago I stood terrified in the foyer of an imposing Brisbane building, the first person called to give evidence into a Senate Inquiry into Stolen Wages around Australia.  All I could think was: how on earth did I get myself into this predicament?  How an earth did I come from being a nervous mature age university student in 1984, to a terrified expert witness to a Senate Inquiry.  So tonight, as a way of  introducing you to the field of Stolen Wages, I thought I’d share some of these experiences with you.

Many people assume I have always had a social justice conscience, perhaps a history of left-wing causes and street marching.  But in truth I came from small business and family duties to Brisbane’s Griffith University, because I love to learn.  I did Humanities and as many different courses as I could; there was no Australian studies and no history faculty.  After doing honours they suggested I go straight into a PhD, and of course the idea was terribly tempting – four years researching intensively in one field, trying to create completely new ways of understanding, left largely to your own devices – sounded great.

I chose a field I knew nothing about, but one I thought was important.  How exactly had governments in Queensland controlled Aboriginal people during the twentieth century?  Then, as now, there were constant news stories relating to entrenched poverty, lack of rights, devastated communities.  Then, as now, something told you to be wary of government spin and journalistic analyses.  At that time there were no comprehensive investigations relating to twentieth century race relations: Henry Reynolds’s great work related mostly to the nineteenth century.  And I was quite sure I didn’t want to just ‘turn the eggtimer’, as I see it in my mind.  By that I mean, I didn’t just want to reverse our ‘white’ history to add in the untold ‘Aboriginal’ dimension.  What I wanted to do, I decided, was come up with entirely different dynamics in my quest to understand, and set down on paper, why and how Queensland governments took control of thousands of Aboriginal people through to the 1970s.  I wanted to invent different questions so I could include a range of evidence that might otherwise have no place.

The first hurdle – more like a castle wall really – was to get access to the government files.  After two years of futile letter writing, and the happy coincidence of meeting new department head Marcia Langton at a history conference, I had a letter in my hand authorising me to see any files that might be relevant to my project.  For eighteen months I spent every day exercising the department’s photocopier, before deciding it was time to make sense of my research, which included many months going through old files at state archives, and through mission correspondence of the Presbyterian and Anglican churches.

At home I spent months summarising every letter of every file, working in periods of around two decades, listening to the voices, teasing out the power dynamics, exposing the hopes and prejudices.  I wanted to focus on the machinery of government: what were the problems as they saw them at particular stages of time, how did they conceptualise possible paths of action, how did they determine their policies, how exactly and with what success did they implement those policies, how did they respond to perverse outcomes, what lies did they tell and what facts did they hide to justify what they had decided to do.  All relevant today.

My theoretical inspiration, such as it was, was one of the many marvellous ideas of French philosopher Michel Foucault, who suggested the term governmentality for the whole field of reformative intentions and bungled operations of government.  He said that governments constantly strive for better and more effective strategies, and this was part of their ‘eternal optimism’.  But he said the conflicts and complexities inherent in the sheer range of interventions and power operatives, builds in a degree of ‘congenital failure’.  Remind you at all of the Northern Territory intervention?

I’ll just mention a few instances where the dynamic of ‘eternal optimism’ and ‘congenital failure’ broadens our understanding of Aboriginal controls in Queensland. Western governments around the world removed ‘problem’ people from the community long before Aboriginal laws were enacted in Queensland in 1897.  Plague victims, criminals, inebriates, the mentally ill and even for a while the poor, were institutionalised.  Setting up government settlements and church missions, enacting laws so that ‘problem’ Aborigines could be removed and confined there, was consistent with this approach.  Around Australia at the start of the nineteenth century, most states and the Territory followed this policy.

During the first few decades of the twentieth century almost half Queensland’s Aboriginal population was brought under direct control, simply by order of the government: there was no appeal process.  Official rhetoric, and no doubt the conviction of many of those in power, was that they were rescuing Aboriginal families from hunger and disease, and from abuse and exploitation by the occupying Europeans.  The first Chief Protector did point out that it was illegal to hunt Aboriginal people from the vast areas of non-freehold land, and most of the abuse and exploitation of Aboriginal workers, who numbered around 2000 in the early twentieth century, were patently breaches of state laws.  But rather than upset the voters (sorry – that is the townspeople and pastoralists) by enforcing those laws, the government enacted its ‘protection’ policy of removing Aboriginal families to missions and settlements.

Let me paint you a picture.  If I were an Aboriginal child in rural Queensland between the 1920s and 1960s then it is likely my mother and my brothers and sisters would have been taken from our families and homes and sent to live on a government settlement.  It is likely our father would be away on a compulsory one-year work contract, and the police might have argued there was no-one looking after the family.  It is likely our mother might have worked several days a week minding children and cleaning houses, but it is also likely there was barely enough food and clothing, because the police intercepted and controlled her wages; it is likely we lived in a poor shack on a country reserve with no amenities, because the law excluded us from renting a house.  We wouldn’t know why the police deported us to a place we had never heard of.

So I might have arrived at this strange settlement with my mother and siblings where, from the age of five, I would have been taken from my mother and confined in a dormitory with dozens of other kids from all over the state, many speaking only their own language, all in shock, all bewildered.  Until the age of about fourteen my life would consist of a few hours basic teaching in English and arithmetic, and training in washing, scrubbing, cooking and sewing.  It all sounds very productive.  But were people indeed better off confined on these settlements than free in the general community?

When we look at the files we find there was a disproportionately skewed uptake of women and children from rural environments into state controlled reserves where girl children were separated into dormitories. On some missions this was a life sentence from which marriage alone provided escape.  The government streamed far greater funding to its three settlements, although it knew missions had insufficient resources to bridge the gap.  So conditions at the government’s showpiece institution, Cherbourg, reveal the ‘best’ of official care and protection.  Here in the 1930s they crammed 100 girls into a locked, barred, and unlit room for ten hours a night, sleeping seven or eight together on mattresses on the floor with only a blanket for warmth.  In 1941 dormitory life was described by officials as dreary beyond imagination, a deadening routine which ruined any benefits of schooling.  School finished at grade four.  At Doomadgee mission, even in the 1950s, a health specialist wrote that girls were kept in virtual slavery; locked up at night behind barbed wire after working on the farm all day.  ‘It is completely futile and artificial and unnatural to enclose, or rather encage, women, and expect any sort of normal psychological balance on their release’, she said, describing the effects of such institutionalisation as pernicious.

Girls and unattached women were incarcerated because of their sexuality.  Once they reached puberty – otherwise categorised as ‘marriageable age’ – it was government policy, although not followed by the missions, to remove the problem by contracting them out to work.   Indeed the trade in domestic servants was a major component of Aboriginal employment policy for much of the twentieth century.  John Bleakley, chief protector from 1914 until 1941, later wrote that domestic service ‘was a heaven-sent opportunity for native girls to secure a good home with food and clothing, and receive motherly care and domestic training’.  This policy was inflicted on a ‘large numbers’ of girls, some as young as ten, despite the government being fully aware of what Bleakley described as ‘grave dangers’: the girls ‘fell prey to unscrupulous men’, or they aspired to improve their lives, thus making themselves ‘unfit for their only legitimate future — marriage with men of their own race.’  So young girls, who had never left the community and never spoken to a white person except in trembling deference to officials, were given a spare set of clothes, some shoes and a small suitcase, and sent hundreds of miles to remote properties where there might be no other Aboriginal faces to comfort them.

If these unwilling domestic servants fell pregnant they were returned to the settlements and then re-employed, leaving their babies in the dormitories or on occasions taking the infant with them, their wages reduced accordingly.  In the 1930s Bleakley conceded that their ‘moral welfare’ was important but thought ‘an equal if not greater danger exists from the temptations to immorality on the Settlements themselves’.   So the government, which arrested and confined girls on the grounds of securing their safety, decided it was better economics to risk assaults than forego ₤1460 ($85,650 today) a year in wages and carry the extra support costs of ₤478 ($28,000) to keep them on the settlements.  The policy stayed in place into the 1970s.

The files show that from the beginning the settlements and missions were places of grinding poverty, derelict housing, lethally inadequate diet, unsafe drinking water, arbitrary punishment, and, until the late 1950s, incompetent schooling.  For years the government breached its own laws mandating a standard education for every Queensland child.  Let me give you just a few snapshots of this life.  In the 1930s at Palm Island it was reported the death rate was over six per cent and most of the ill and elderly were slowly starving to death.  Rations for hospital patients were so deficient the matron took money from their savings accounts, without their knowledge, to buy food.  Most of the babies who were not breast fed died of malnutrition.  In the 1940s at Yarrabah mission malnutrition was so bad elders were dying and adults were too weak to work, and the drinking water was unsafe for human consumption.  In the 1950s at Cherbourg dozens of families still lived in leaking tin shacks with coconut-frond walls, the ‘better’ tin and timber huts were unlined and housed up to 19 people, and were blamed for deaths of babies from heat exposure.  There was no water to the houses for food preparation or washing of hands.  Disease was rife.  In the 1960s a medical survey showed malnutrition across the communities was the key factor in 50 per cent of deaths of babies and toddlers, and in 85 per cent of children under four years.

It is clear that government officials charged with securing the welfare of people it had deported to these institutions were well aware people sickened and died, but the government refused to provide the funds necessary to maintain basic conditions.  Meanwhile the rhetoric – then and now – is to blame inmates for community dysfunction.  Regulations in the mid-1940s introduced a raft of disciplinary measures.  Complaint was deemed an offence against ‘good order’ on the reserve and people who spoke out were simply transferred to other reserves.  Hygiene inspectors were appointed to police homes and surroundings, ‘dirty and untidy’ families were brought under closer surveillance and subjected to surprise inspections.  Nurses from the new Baby Welfare centre could enter any house, checking bedding, cupboards, food storage etc and demand women attend weekly classes.

These measures clearly show the intensification of personal surveillance.  Taken out of context you might say they were a reasonable response to communities characterised by disease and malnutrition.  And this echoes the government line today.  But what this personal attack conceals, of course, is the deadly environments created and maintained by government refusal to provide standard living conditions.  In the 1950s, at the height of this personal surveillance, a doctor reported from Cherbourg that conditions were so bad it was a miracle babies survived infancy and childhood; a miracle they didn’t suffocate as people slept four and more to a bed; a miracle they survived their diet of damper and syrup three meals a day; a miracle they survived the unwashed filthy bedding, leaking and overflowing toilets, dirt encrusted kitchens.  After an inspection, the Director General of the Health wrote scathingly that no-one could learn hygienic habits if no basic facilities were available to them.  In the 1960s an education inspector made the same point: he said it was fruitless teaching girls domestic science at school when most homes lacked running water, safe sanitation and basic household goods.  On Palm Island in the 1970s doctors blamed massive infection loads on the overcrowded and substandard living conditions; surveys showed few homes had fridges, cupboards, chairs, tables or beds.  In the 1980s, families on the government-run communities of Pormpurraw and Palm Island were living in houses which were officially condemned, because no other shelter was available.  Many families at Woorabinda still depended on wood stoves and had no hot water.  It was around this time that the Queensland government handed control of these blighted communities to the Aboriginal Councils, who have struggled ever since to reverse almost a century of neglect.

The common academic theory is that settlements in Queensland were closed institutions, tightly excluding people from the wider community.  But the government simply could not afford to support thousands of people on the reserves; still less could it afford – economically or electorally – to exclude such a vast, cheap, malleable workforce from the state’s development.  A major objective of the protection regime from its inception was to control Aboriginal employment.  To this end the government acted as employment broker, setting the wage and location for the year-long contracts, the euphemistically termed ‘agreements’ that no Aboriginal man, woman or child, could refuse without punishment.  Did this system protect the Aboriginal workforce from exploitation and abuse?

From the earliest days the government knew it did not, as the files show.  Initially there were no limits on how many hours were worked, how hard the labour, how bad the treatment, provision of food and living quarters.  Minimum conditions were not introduced until 1919, but there were no inspections to enforce them, despite constant evidence of assaults and abuses.  In 1921 the Chief Protector admitted shelter for many Aboriginal workers was ‘worse than they would provide for their pet horse, motor-car or prize cattle’; in 1936 on one station families were forced to live in the open with no protection from the rain or cold winds; in the 1940s it was reported most employers in the Gulf area thought ‘anything is good enough for a nigger’; in 1959 one group of stock workers were housed in an open shed without any bedding, light or table and paid only tobacco and matches each week for their work.  All these things the government knew, because all these things are on file at head office.  Only in 1956, after the system had run for 60 years, did the government instruct industrial inspectors to include Aboriginal employees in their tours of rural areas.  Even then, as the records show, abuses continued – sexual assaults, wet living quarters, rough handling, beatings with chains, lack of water and cooking facilities, toilet pans emptied near sleeping sheds, and widespread hookworm and ill health, especially among children.

Then there was also financial abuse – institutionalised by the government itself.  From 1901 the government set a minimum monthly wage of about $46 today for workers in the sea trades and half that for those on the mainland.  It assumed the right, through its network of police protectors, to retain or sell Aboriginal property.  Wage rates listed in 1904 included children under 12 years, paid $5.80 (today) a week.    By 1907 there were more than 3000 contracted Aboriginal workers, many on remote pastoral properties where white labour was unavailable.  Records show they were often regarded as more reliable and superior stockriders and bushmen than their white counterparts, yet the government sold them to the pastoral industry for around 3 per cent the white rate.  In the early 1930s, when white rural labour was described as ‘often useless’ and Aboriginal labour as ‘indispensable’, the 4500 Aboriginal workers were sold at around 40 per cent the award rate for more than a decade.  As always, workers were responsible for maintaining their families on this fractional wage; failure to do so trigged removal to a reserve.

In 1956 a department survey confirmed the pastoral industry was entirely dependent on Aboriginal workers, particularly in remote areas where white stockmen were rare.  The inspector said the entrenched mentality was to pay ‘as little as possible for Aboriginal workers’, while ‘white men of markedly less ability and industry receive higher wages and better living conditions than Aboriginals who are better workmen’.  By the late 1960s the 5000 strong workforce was paid only 70 per cent the award rate.  The ‘equal pay’ judgement of 1966 barely worried the Queensland system: workers under state control were termed ‘trainees’ and still sold at a discount, although most had decades of skill and experience.  Only after 1972 were workers free to choose their employment and demand the legal wage.


I want now to consider what happened to this meagre pay.  From the beginning of the twentieth century, to ‘protect’ Aboriginal earnings from cunning Europeans and Aboriginal incapacity, wages were paid direct to police protectors who were authorised to exercise benign oversight over Aboriginal access to this hard-earned money.  The government knew from the start that these agents were often incompetent and fraudsters, yet it maintained the system.  A public service inquiry in 1922 revealed absolutely no supervision of the 8000 rural savings accounts and said police practices were so unreliable it was essential workers be allowed to appeal dealings on their accounts.  The government rejected the recommendation.

Another internal inquiry in 1932 found that ‘the opportunity for fraud existed to a greater degree than with any other Governmental accounts’.  The chief protector again admitted there were no real controls over official dealings on private accounts, and again rejected the recommendation that workers be allowed to see what was happening to their money.  In fact the government had decided to centralise the bulk of the rural savings accounts in Brisbane in 1933, to minimise police fraud, so it said.  But it then implemented its plan to lock around 80 per cent of these savings – over $12 million today – in investments, and pocket the interest bonus for itself.  For the next 30 plus years, only about 20 per cent of their savings was available at any one time to the workers.  And the files are full of rejections for those who asked for a few dollars from their own money.

No-one knew what the government was doing with these private Aboriginal monies except a sequence of internal investigators and annual auditors.  But their comments remained in-house, and the government continued its dubious practices. A trust fund set up in 1904 to receive monies owing to, or saved by, missing or deceased workers for distribution to their families was consistently raided to cover government costs.  As was a second trust fund set up in 1919 by taxing all Aboriginal savings for an unemployment relief fund.  In the decade from 1925, including the harsh Depression times, the government simply transferred to itself over $930,000 (today) from Aboriginal savings accounts and over $3.5 million from the two Trust funds – money that has never been repaid.  Vast sums from Commonwealth child endowment, paid to Aboriginal mothers after 1941, was also transferred into state revenue, by giving only a fraction to settlement mothers and by reducing grants to the missions by the amount of incoming endowment.  From 1960, invalid, aged and widows pensions were simply ‘diverted to revenue’ (their term), bringing a bonanza of over $500,000 (today) in 1960, rising to almost $750,000 by 1964.  Meanwhile the people whose entitlement this was, the people whose lives were intended to be improved by the pensions, struggled and died in poverty.  When Aboriginal people in Queensland finally got control of their lives and their finances in the early 1970s, many found to their horror that their new bank books showed pitiful balances despite decades of work and financial privation.  Those who queried head office were told that files have been lost or destroyed; so it was impossible to verify their accounts.

These are a small sample of my discoveries as I teased out the machinery of government.  The ‘eternal optimism’ is demonstrated by the sweet-sounding rhetoric of protection and benign paternalism – we’ll take you to settlements and look after you; we’ll control employment and wages so you are not exploited…  The ‘congenital failure’ of the regime to actually protect the interests of those trapped in it, clearly had as much to do with government greed and the corruption of power, as from the unwieldy fields in which it operated.  I suppose I assumed that modern times were different.  That the exposure of the ongoing costs to Aboriginal families of this blighted historical past would prompt today’s government to acknowledge the failures of its predecessors.  Surely there would have been political mileage in that?  How wrong I was.

In 1996 I offered to tell what I knew to a Human Rights Commission hearing into the underpayment by government of its employees on Palm Island.  They were always underpaid of course, but after the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act such underpayment was, as the government at the time well knew, illegal.  When the government realised I had documents to back up my evidence they said I could be sued for damages if I presented it.  I don’t know about you, but I always believed it was illegal to threaten a witness.  I did feel threatened, but not half as much as I felt angry – angry that the government would lie today to cover the lies of the past, angry that it’s denial of the truth perpetuated a hundred years of racial discrimination.  And I thought: not if I can help it.  And so began my fight for justice.

Based on that evidence, the Commission found that the government had ‘intentionally, deliberately and knowingly’ underpaid six of the seven claimants and recommended compensation of $7000 each.  The Borbidge Coalition government refused to pay, yet its own analyses showed the claimants were owed between $8500 and $21,000.  Only after action commenced in the Federal Court in early 1997 did the government capitulate.  Faced with hundreds of other similarly underpaid workers, in 1999 the Beattie Labor government offered the grand sum of $25 million to pay $7000 payments to all post 1975 ex-employees for the decade until Aboriginal councils took over and paid full legal wages.  But when Beattie made this offer his government had in fact already settled 22 actions out of court, one for $4000 (around one-quarter of the debt showed on government records), and 21 for $7000 (where official estimates of underpayment ranged between $13,000 and $27,000).  To get the money you had to sign away your rights to further legal action, even though most claimants had never seen any record of what they might really be owed.  Fewer than half the potential claimants took the $7000, and although almost $40 million was paid out, this was still effectively a $140 million plus profit from deliberately underpaying community workers.  In 2004 the government settled out of court with two ex-workers who had claimed $100,000 in compensation.  Subsequently two communities that sued the government after being refused access to the $7000, won their case on appeal in 2006.  Individual payouts were calculated according to personal wage records; many received over $20,000, one was four times that much.

Meanwhile the fight continued for justice for the Stolen Wages – that is the wages, savings, child endowment, pensions and inheritances lost during 70 years of government mismanagement.  In May 2002 Beattie admitted there were 4000 potential litigants waiting to sue the government, and offered compensation of $55.6 million which he said was ‘generous’,  despite acknowledging my own research indicated around $500 million is in question.  This ‘generous’ sum amounted to a maximum $4000 per person; thousands of deceased account holders were simply disqualified; and again claimants had to sign away their legal rights.

We formed a coalition of indigenous organisations to fight lack of proper consultation, the paltry amount, and the lack of legal advice to those signing away their rights.  There was a street march in Brisbane and a petition to parliament urging the government rethink the amount and the process.  We circulated two stolen wages fact sheets to potential claimants and the general public, setting out the historical and financial background of government mismanagement during the twentieth century.  In January 2003 the government appointed legal practitioners to oversee the signing of indemnities, but limited applications to those lawyers who had ‘demonstrated willingness to work cooperatively with departmental staff’.  Terry O’Gorman, president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, attacked the supposed ‘independence’ of advice provided only by government-approved lawyers, warning those lawyers might themselves be sued if they didn’t advise claimants to see independent legal advice.  And the government maintained its refusal to supply all potential claimants with their personal documentation so they could make an informed choice.

In mid 2003 we launched a postcard campaign which personalised the fight for justice through references to two underpaid workers.  Funded through ANTaR and a range of unions, tens of thousands of the postcards were distributed nationally and internationally, with a segment for returning to the premier, who later admitted the campaign had been politically damaging.  The government’s default position is that all the savings accounts were paid out in the early 1970s, and that the accounts were audited every year.  It makes no mention, of course, of the litany of scathing findings in those audit reports and internal investigations.  And of course the government knows full well the Stolen Wages fight has never been about the residue remaining in accounts in the 1970s.  It is about the dimensions of loss preceding that date.

Facing a barrage of public condemnation and a poor uptake of only $20 million from the $55.6 million offer, in August 2008 the Bligh Labor government re-opened the scheme and increased the maximum payouts to $7000.  In November last year it declared it would tip the $20 million still unclaimed into the notoriously misused Aboriginal Welfare Fund for distribution as education scholarships, in blatant contempt of its own survey where over 90 per cent of respondents demanded the whole Stolen Wages allocation should be distributed among eligible claimants as promised by the premier in May 2002.

Exploitation of Aboriginal labour, wages, savings and entitlements was not peculiar to Queensland.  All state governments, and the commonwealth government in the Northern Territory between 1911 and 1978, ran contract labour systems and banking controls.  In 2004 I wanted to generate a National Report with submissions from local experts, but this gradually shrank to my compiling a summary gleaned from other research work, and was published by ANTaR in 2007 as Hard Labour, Stolen Wages (available free online from their website).  I think it was early in 2006 that I met Democrat senator Andrew Bartlett at a Stolen Wages strategy meeting and he suggested a Senate Inquiry should look into it nationally.  I have to confess I had no real belief it would happen, but after months of persistent lobbying by him the Inquiry was launched in 2007 under the auspices of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.  It attracted submissions from around Australia which confirmed the terrible losses suffered by those whose lives and finances were controlled by various governments.  The findings are damning.  You should read them; they are all on the Senate website.  Initially the Queensland government ignored the Inquiry, hastily appearing only on the last day.

Briefly, the Committee recommended that Commonwealth and state governments allow ‘unhindered access to their archives’, that funding be provided for preliminary legal research into Stolen Wages, that awareness campaigns be run on ATSI communities, and that a national oral history and archival project be initiated regarding Stolen Wages.  All governments were urged to consult with their Indigenous communities, to conduct preliminary research, and to establish compensation schemes.  They asked that the Queensland government fully compensate claimants for monies withheld, accept oral and other circumstantial evidence given the unreliability of government files, cease demanding an indemnity against further legal action, and include all deceased account holders within the compensation scheme.  Predictably, all governments are in denial.  My understanding is that both the Victorian and the WA government have intensively investigated their records relating to Aboriginal financial management, but both refuse to make these findings available to those whose money it was.

I guess it was this bloody-minded denial that set me working in around 2004 to figure out how we could get the bastards into court on the sharp end of a strong case of breach of trust.  I have long been convinced that it is the government that should be in the dock and on the defence, not an individual trying to provide cast-iron evidence of fraud on his or her account, evidence which the government may have lost, stolen, or destroyed.  I am inspired by the case of Elouise Cobell, an enterprising woman of the Blackfeet tribe of Montana, who brought action against the US government in 1996 for losing and misusing not only the funds of thousands of individual Indian men and women, but much evidence of that maladministration.  In 1999 the US courts found in favour of the Cobell claim, which comprises half a million living and deceased claimants and is estimated by the government at potentially $US40 billion.  Not surprisingly, Cobell and her co-plaintiffs are still fighting for their money.

There is a major hurdle for such a case in Australia.  In the US the courts had already declared that, in its stewardship of the enterprises on Indian reserves and management of individual bank accounts, the US government was a legal trustee of those Indian interests with full legal obligations.  In Australia, as the many supportive lawyers in our battle informed me, our courts see things differently.  In their view, it is the people who empowered the governments to implement their wide-ranging ‘protection’ schemes, and it is not the courts’ role to interfere with how governments carry out this mandate.  The lawyers suggest our courts would likely not find our governments are legal trustees of Aboriginal interests.  Cases mounted for members of the Stolen Generations bear this out.

But I firmly believe that a Stolen Wages case, based on the wealth of incriminating financial evidence on government files, will prove different.  It is much harder to argue ‘benign intent’ in improperly using private savings, than in removing children from their parents.  To convince the legal profession and the courts I wrote Trustees on Trial  in 2007, analysing national and international cases relating to trust law and fiduciary duties, and applying those legal prohibitions and responsibilities to the negligent and exploitative conduct of successive Queensland administrations.  Let me mention a few of the legal duties of a trustee: he must protect the trust property that he controls, he must keep proper records of accounts and provide full information to any beneficiary requesting it, he must not profit from, nor have personal interests which conflict with, the trust.  You can see the connections.  Loss of records is not a defence; it is a fundamental breach of trust duties.  Two months ago the Queensland Council of Unions launched court action for breach of trust on behalf of a former community worker.  I believe there are other actions forming.

It is not the financial imperative that drives me, but the rank injustice.  Throughout the twentieth century governments lied to us about their guardianship of thousands of Aboriginal families.  They mishandled the money of the poorest people in our nation who were utterly dependent on their integrity.  This is public knowledge now, yet they continue in denial.  I think it is our duty – particularly those of us who were never trapped in such a system – to force them to be accountable.

Copyright Dr. Rosalind Kidd. Website development by: Ryan-Thomas Robinson