Raymond Evans.  Review in Politics and Culture, Issue 2, 2002.  [FULL TEXT]

…The other two Queensland titles, Thom Blake’s A Dumping Ground and Ros Kidd’s Black Lives, Government Lies, are in the handier position of being able to call upon a plethora of precise information in compiling their studies, for under the aegis of segregating and assimilating policies, institutionalized Aborigines became the most bureaucratically policed people since the convicts. In the past the massive paper-trail which this intense surveillance has bequeathed to present generations was not easy to negotiate. Aboriginal peoples are not the only ones to understand the power embedded in enforced secrecy! Thom Blake engaged in a Ulyssean search through the Queensland State Archives during the 1980s in order to piece together the details of this forbidding story of oppression, criminal negligence and exploitation at Barambah (as Cherbourg was first called). Blake balances his documentary research with a score of in-depth interviews with Aboriginal informants revealing not only the personal impacts of authoritarian rule, but also daily struggles to offset and subvert it. These were devious and difficult resistances indeed; open, frontal mobilizations, such as those mounted by William Cooper and Jack Patten in New South Wales or William Harris in Western Australia, failed to emerge in inter-war Queensland.

Blake’s devastating examination of a single Aboriginal settlement acts as complementary microcosm to Kidd’s compact, macrocosmic essay on ‘the biggest social experiment in our history’ – the removal and incarceration of tens of thousands of Aborigines, not only children, but people of several generations over a period of some seventy years. Rather than trawling extensively for the largely damning sources, Kidd was in the happy position in 1990 of having the documentation all come to her. Marcia Langton, Jiman descendant and well-known scholar and activist, presented her with open access to Government files, ticking away like a dusty time-bomb, while serving in a Senior Executive position in the Queensland Public Service. ‘[O]ver 15 months of research’, Kidd recalls, ‘my senses were stunned into disbelief. I became determined that these scarcely believable machinations of bureaucrats and politicians would be as widely and as accurately exposed as my skills would allow.’ The ultimate outcome was the detonation of that bomb in the publication of Kidd’s blistering The Way We Civilize in 1997. Its reverberations are still being felt. This handier, abbreviated account of some sixty-four pages is a distillation of a litany of ‘deliberate and persistent breaching of State and federal laws, of decimated community workforces, of devastated social fabric, of pathological overcrowding and jeopardised health’. ‘How many preventable child deaths’, Kidd asks: ‘[H]ow many beatings, stabbings, jailings and ruined lives are traceable to these carefully, knowingly implemented policies?’ Though this is the shortest account in the batch, it stings like a bee.

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