The Significance of Oral History and Testimony in Relation to
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ORAL HISTORY AND TESTIMONY IN RELATION TO THE STOLEN GENERATION. Back in 1991, the Labour government of the day commissioned a national inquiry into the forced removal of mixed race and indigenous children from their parents. Because of the racist policies that ensured aborigines were ignored, there are few official records or statistics which include indigenous people. The ability to bring the past to life through the testimony of people who lived through these little recorded events, creates a new slice of the true history of Australia.
Oral history is a method of historical investigation by recording life experiences and memories through first person narrative. Although interview is the most common way of collecting oral history, it also incorporates the use of focus groups, community interviews and diary recordings (Mikula, 2008). Oral testimony is a personal account given verbally, sworn as truth. Both oral history and testimony have great importance when all other methods of history, such as statistics and government reports, fail to report the full story.
In reflection, the most significant tool that sticks out amongst the readings for this topic is language and the contrast in ways to describe the same piece of history. The words chosen by each author to describe people and events, whether emotional language is used to bias and even analysis of the accolades or criticisms that are given to people quoted throughout the different pieces are all skilfully used to shape the reader’s attitude and response to the issue.
Referring to both articles from The Age (Munro, 2006 ; Flanagan, 2006), the authors are both keen to expose the pro-liberal political journalist, Andrew Bolt, as an ignorant person, who seems to believe that the ‘stolen generation’ is somewhat of a myth and not relevant to society or politics today. These views are not held by the majority of the Australian population, so the response felt when reading about a debate with Mr Bolt is one of frustration and anger.
At the time the articles were published, Liberal was in government. At no point in the past or present, has the Liberal government apologised on behalf of the Australian people for our past wrongdoings. The government did not agree with financial compensation; therefore, to apologise would be an expression of guilt. A public apology did finally arrive at the change of government, in 2007. In Kennedy’s academic piece (Kennedy, 2006), the overwhelming point is that testimony is there to be heard; not just by one person, but all.
Describing the social and political context of the time gives a reader and understanding of why the report was commissioned with great sympathy, yet the findings were given little consideration and progress since then has dwindled. The reader learns how individuals have varying responses to oral history and testimony, based on speaking and subject position. This paper reads as an analysis on the credibility of oral history and the stolen generation, in particular the ways in which it can be passed on to the wider population.
On the cover of Bird’s non-fiction book (Bird, 1998), a photo is used as a visual form of history – to give the reader evidence as well as an idea of the reality back in the 1930’s. This book is a collection of testimonies collected through the National Inquiry into the stolen generation, with the introduction made up of the author’s personal reflection on collating the material, along with a critical review of what the government has and hasn’t done since the report was published.
Similarly, the reading from the UTS Review (Smallcombe, 1996) is also a reflection of her experience in assisting with the collection of testimonies and oral history. As an indigenous researcher, she also made the point to highlight the increased interest in the aboriginal community and individuals having a more active role in the collecting and producing of their own history. The oral history and testimony has played a significant role educating contemporary Australia, and the rest of the world, about the devastating effects of racist policy implemented in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The two main positive outcomes of the inquiry into the stolen generation include understanding and healing (Wilson, 1998). There are countless reports of people that testified that telling their stories was the start of the healing process. For the first time since white settlers arrived in Australia, the aboriginal people were finally able to tell their own stories, in their own voice – a voice that had been silenced for too long.
Financial assistance and the organisation of services to help families and individuals search for their relatives, along with counselling services for those affected are a couple of the suggestions by the report that have been put in place. Most importantly, though, was the provision of funds to continue recording and collecting oral history and testimonies. Written records failed to acknowledge the existence and contribution of aboriginal people in Australian history.
With the oral history and testimony collected in relation to the stolen generation, many of our indigenous population finally had their voices heard. Word count – 832 REFERENCES Bird, C. (ed. ), The Stolen Children: Their Stories, Sydney, Random House. pp 1-15, 19-32. Flanagan, M. 2006. ‘Not just black and white’, The Age, 05 September. Kennedy, R. 2004. ‘The affective work of Stolen Generations testimony: from the archives to the classroom’, Biography 27. 1. pp 48-77 Mikula, M. 2008 ‘Oral History’ in Key Concepts in Cultural Studies, Palgrave, Macmillan. p 142-143 Munro, I. 2006. ‘A decade on, stolen generation draws a crowd, but no winner’, The Age, 04 September. Smallcombe, S. 1996. ‘Oral Histories of the Stolen Generation’, The UTS Review, 2:1. pp 38-42 Tucker, M. 1995. ‘They Found our Mother still Moaning and Groaning’ (Documents 2. 7) in Katie Holmes and Marilyn Lake (eds. ), Freedom Bound II, Allen and Unwin. Wilson, R. 1998. ‘Preface’ in Carmel Bird (ed. ), The Stolen Children: Their Stories, Sydney, Random House. pp. xii-xv