Made to Matter: White Fathers, Stolen Generations
Sydney University Press
Most members of the Stolen Generations had white fathers or grandfathers. Who were these white men? This book analyses the stories of white fathers, men who were positioned as key players in the plans to assimilate Aboriginal people by 'breeding out the colour'. The plan to 'breed out the colour' ascribed enormous power to white sperm and white paternity; to 'elevate', 'uplift' and disperse Aboriginality in whiteness, to blank out, to aid cultural forgetting.
The policy was a cruel failure, not least because it conflated skin colour with culture and assumed that Aboriginal women and their children would acquiesce to produce 'future whites'. It also assumed that white men would comply as ready appendages, administering 'whiteness' through marriage or white sperm. This book attempts to put textual flesh on the bodies of these white fathers, and in doing so, builds on and complicates the view of white fathers in this history, and the histories of whiteness to which they are biopolitically related.
The importance of this book to Australian's understanding of themselves and the deeply nihilistic race foundation of the nation cannot be overestimated. Probyn-Rapsey is fearless in her critical analysis of the white fathers and the ideology that underpins their masculinity. At last, an Australian scholar who is prepared to air the dirty laundry and name it up for what it is. Aboriginal intellectuals have been waiting for someone with the courage to deal with these issues that must concern White Australia deeply, and here she is!
Dr Victoria Grieves, ARC Indigenous Research Fellow, University of Sydney
Fiona Probyn-Rapsey takes the reader on a challenging journey, as she explores a complex twentieth century history of white fathers, Aboriginal mothers, and their children. She investigates both government attempts to control interracial sexual relations and reproduction, alongside the uncontrollability and variety of the many white men who fathered children with Aboriginal women. Some acknowledged and supported their children, but many did not. Probyn-Rapsey explores some very different life histories, and especially the way both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians understood the place of the white father. The method in Made to Matter is textual, involving detailed analyses of biography, autobiography, letters, and stories of the lives of these white men, the Aboriginal women they encountered, and their children. The book's strength lies in its ability to evoke the variety of individual action and experience, while at the same time giving the reader a strong sense of the distinctive cultural spaces and social structures that settler colonialism produces. In giving us a mix of micro histories, insightful textual analyses, and wider cultural histories, Probyn-Rapsey has produced a fascinating text of her own.
Professor Ann Curthoys, School of History, University of Sydney
Fiona Probyn-Rapsey is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney.