Stealing Boyhood

Stealing Boyhood
Dr Christine Cheater gives a presentation on her research for NAIDOC week
12 July 2013

This week is NAIDOC week - a series of events designed to "increase awareness in the wider community of the status and treatment of Indigenous Australians". This year the focus in particular has been on the Yirrkala Bark Petitions of 1963, the first traditional documents recognised by the Commonwealth Parliament and helped to shape the nation’s acknowledgment of Aboriginal people and their land rights.

Group portrait of four Aboriginal boys sitting on the ground, April 1929 nla.pic-vn4970324

Group portrait of four Aboriginal boys sitting on the ground, April 1929 (nla.pic-vn4970324)

Oral Histories Online

As the national cultural organisation responsible for collecting, preserving and sharing Australia's documentary heritage it is extremely important for us to ensure that we proactively seek to preserve and share the stories of Indigenous Australians with present and future generations. However, it is equally important that we do so in a way that respects the rights of the teller. Therefore, we are very pleased to have been able to preserve and provide online access to the  "Bringing Them Home" oral history project. The Bringing Them Home Oral History Project ran from 1998 to 2002 and served to collect and preserve the stories of Indigenous people and others, such as missionaries, police and administrators involved in or affected by the process of child removals.

Harold White Fellowship

As part of the Library's recognition of this week Dr Christine Cheater, one of the Harold White fellows, delivered a presentation on her research entitled "Stealing Boyhood" - exploring the experiences of institutionalised Aboriginal boys before the 1940s, drawing on the Library's extensive collection of oral history interviews in the "Bring Them Home" oral history project. You can hear the full presentation on our podcasts page. Dr. Cheater's research, using this collection, is in the finest tradition of Harold White Fellows. The Fellowships scheme, named in honour of the first National Librarian Sir Harold White CBE (1905-1992), aims to promote the Library as a centre of scholarly activity and research, and production of publications arising from that scholarship. You can see the list of past and present Fellows on our website. Dr Cheater she has long undertaken consultancies and projects examining Indigenous social issues or identifying places of cultural significance to local Aboriginal peoples. Her work on the pre-contact history of the Central Coast won her the 2009 Premier of NSW’s History Fellowship Award. Her projects invariably rely on the quality and integrity of oral histories that carefully reflect the voice of the speakers and knowledge holders, with a view to making Indigenous voices and experiences more visible to the general public.

Dr Christine Cheater giving her presentation 'Stealing Boyhood'

Dr Christine Cheater giving her presentation 'Stealing Boyhood'

Dr Cheater’s research interests grew out of first-hand engagement with this issue.  In the 1970s she taught many stolen children in Alice Springs, and came to understand the impact on families. This period marked the beginning of the increasing public consciousness of the topic of stolen children - first through public debate, then the Bringing Them Home inquiry and much more recently with the National Apology. At the University of Newcastle she taught the history of childhood and for 10 years has researched and published on the impact of Aboriginal separation and adoption, focusing on the experiences of girls. During her Harold White Fellowship, she has addressed the missing part of her research, that is, boys’ experiences of life in institutions and as indentured labourers. Longer term, her research is leading towards a book on the history of Aboriginal childhood in Australia.