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Victoria: son of former policeman discusses his father's involvement in forcible removal of Aboriginal children in the 1930s.



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PETER GEORGE:  The controversy surrounding the federal government’s rebuttal of the Bringing Them Home report has revealed the depth of the emotions surrounding the issue. As we know, the government does not want that emotion to cloud the facts, but what are the facts? We know they can change, given the vantage point of time and politics. Lang Deane(?) has his own series of facts based on the distressing experience of his father, once a police officer in Victoria. Lang, who is now 70, is from that archetypal Australian town, Dimboola, in western Victoria. He says he watched his father weep after he helped remove Aboriginal children from what he told his son were loving homes. Now, Lang Deane contacted Radio National Breakfast to recount this particular home truth, and we spoke with him from his home in Dimboola.

 

LANG DEANE:  Thanks very much, Peter.

 

PETER GEORGE:  So what was your father’s involvement in the removal of these children?

 

LANG DEANE:  He was ordered by his sergeant on occasional days during the 1930s to accompany the welfare officers to a mission station in Victoria called Cumregunja(?), over the river from Barmah, and it was his duty not to protect the Aboriginal children, but to protect the welfare officers, give them bodily protection, as they tore the seven, eight, nine, 10 and older children from the arms of their loving parents who lived in shacks, but lived decently and properly and were loved and fed—tore them out of their arms and put them in commandeered taxis and took them to the Echuca railway station. And they were sent to all parts of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland where they were farmed out and fostered out to pastoralists and wealthy businessmen.

 

PETER GEORGE:  How long ago did all this happen, Lang?

 

LANG DEANE:  This happened in about 1936-37-38.

 

PETER GEORGE:  And how often, as far as you know, was he called to participate in this removal of Aboriginal children?

 

LANG DEANE:  Quite often. He would come home from duty—he was a very tough policeman, but he was a kind-hearted man; very tough—and he would take his helmet off and sit down in the usual spot he did when he came off duty, and on these particular days, he would be weeping. And I would ask him, ‘Why are you crying, Dad?’ and he would tell me, ‘I can’t tell you son, you wouldn’t understand, but I will tell you this: never be a policeman, it’s a dirty job.’

 

PETER GEORGE:  And yet here is a policeman who loved his job.

 

LANG DEANE:  That’s right, that’s right. And then when I was about 16, it stuck in my mind to see my father cry because he was a tough man. He wasn’t hard with his family or anybody else, but he was a tough man. And when I asked him, when we were 16, ‘Why did you cry when I was a little boy, Dad?’ and he said, ‘I told you I would tell you and I’m telling you now: it was, I was forced to go to Cumregunja to protect the welfare officers that took these children from their parents.’

 

PETER GEORGE:  Lang, what do you reckon he was protecting the welfare officers from?

 

LANG DEANE:  Because the parents were estranged, you know, with grief at their children being torn from them.

 

PETER GEORGE:  Lang, did your father ... I mean, he might have explained to you how he felt—was he able to describe to you how the parents felt and what they were doing, how they were reacting on such occasions?

 

LANG DEANE:  Well, I mean, the law was there with the bobby helmet and the ensigns on the arm—he was a constable, a first constable—and the Aboriginal people had a terrible fear of the law because the law meant a belting or a hiding or something like that. And they respected or were frightened of the law and....

 

PETER GEORGE:  So does that leave you under the impression, Lang, that they weren’t violent in trying to protect their children, because they were afraid?

 

LANG DEANE:  They were extremely upset, he told me, but they knew that they couldn’t do anything about it because these men had police protection. If they didn’t have police protection, I believe these men would have struck obstacles with the parents.

 

PETER GEORGE:  Lang, it was you who first contacted us to talk about this. What was it that provoked you into doing so?

 

LANG DEANE:  Well, Peter, yesterday, or on Tuesday, on your show there was a couple of young women talking about a percentage of people—and it’s been mentioned in parliament, 10 per cent, by Mr Herron—that were only affected. Now, I believe there was many more than that because my father was a Victorian policeman and there was Condah in the western district, an Aboriginal place, there was Lake Tyers in Gippsland, there was Swan Hill, Mildura, and Dad told me that this took place in all these Victorian mission stations.

 

PETER GEORGE:  Lang, you’re 70 now.

 

LANG DEANE:  Yes.

 

PETER GEORGE:  Would you like to see John Howard or a prime minister say sorry before you die?

 

LANG DEANE:  I believe John Howard could not say sorry because I believe, honestly and sincerely, he hasn’t got it in him. I believe, if he said sorry, it would be a false sorry.

 

PETER GEORGE:  Do you reckon someone should, though?

 

LANG DEANE:  I believe that a man such as our Governor-General, a compassionate man—and you can pick men—would be the man to say sorry, and say sorry sincerely.

 

PETER GEORGE:  Thank you for talking to us, Lang.

 

LANG DEANE:  Thanks, Peter.

 

PETER GEORGE:  Lang Deane, speaking from the town of Dimboola.