It seems that Gerard Henderson, former culture warrior, has coined a new euphemism in relation to Australia’s indigenous history. Henderson has always disputed the term stolen generation, because the population of stolen aboriginal people hardly comprised an entire generation, so it’s odd that this new euphemism of his retains this word.

Here’s an excerpt from Henderson’s column in today’s Herald:

Most of the separated generation had European or other genes – in addition to indigenous ones. This means that an abject apology would require that some of today’s indigenous Australians apologise to their indigenous predecessors for the actions of some of their European predecessors.

Leaving aside the fact that this is a spurious conclusion, the choice of the word separated is curious, but is glaringly deliberate – Henderson uses it twice in the same article, and all three instances of the term stolen occur either in direct quotes or, in one case, in the name of a lobby group, the Stolen Generations Alliance.

I think Henderson’s intention here is crystal clear; stolen is such a harsh term; it connotes malevolence when, in his view, clearly no such malevolence existed since it cannot be proved with official bureaucratic documentation. But as the rest of us know, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Separated though, is far too light a term. Couples separate when they’ve had enough of each other. Potassium nitrate separates when it cools. Breasts are separated (and lifted) with the help of the appropriate undergarments.

Separate, the verb, when applied to humans, implies reciprocal volition, mutual agreement, as it were. The forced removal of aboriginal children from their parents in an effort to effect linguistic and cultural homogeneity, involved no such volition on behalf of either parent or child; these families didn’t actively separate, they were forced apart by racist policy.

Moreover, separated, in its unmarked form, is an unergative verb, it necessitates no agent, no one who causes the sepatation to occur. They separated is far more natural than he separated them.

Stolen however, necessitates that someone, an agent, willfully acted to cause the theft. The forced removals that led to the existence of the stolen generation had an agent; the Australian Government. Thus in my opinion, stolen is a perfectly accurate word to describe what happened to aboriginal children in Australia’s Colonial past.