A play about the Stolen Generation put on by a Sydney primary school last week has sparked off a massive controversy. The school, Forestville Public, came under attack for using children as “political pawns”.
There have been calls for the school’s principal to be sacked. The New South Wales education minister has apologised to anyone who was offended.
But parents of some of the children in the play were not offended.
Melody Jackson, whose Year Six son played a police officer dragging Indigenous children away, says she felt “immensely proud” when she was watching the play.
“I was moved,” Jackson tells Mamamia.
“I was crying. I don’t know whether I was crying because of the smoke machine and my sensitive eyes, but I was incredibly moved. I thought that it was a very brave and stark truth, and I was proud that my children were part of that.”
Jackson says there was nothing really shocking in it.
“They portrayed a simple scene where children were taken from their homes, they were put in religious-based institutions, men and women cried about the loss of their children, and, for the most part, we’ve stood by and done nothing.”
Jackson, 42, says she knew nothing about Indigenous history when she was in primary school.
“It wasn’t until I was in Year 8 that we did A.B. Facey’s A Fortunate Life. That was my entire education around the Australian colonisation.
“I’m invested in making sure that my kids have an honest account of the history of our country. If that’s not what education is for, I don’t know why we would send our children to school.
“Do we want our kids constantly doing The Sound Of Music? Is that all we’ve got?”
Another mum, whose Year 6 daughter played a member of the Stolen Generation, told Mamamia the play was “moving and entirely appropriate”.
“I was very proud of my daughter and of the curiosity and sensitivity she has shown to such a brutal part of our history,” said the mum, who wanted to remain anonymous.
“Congratulations to the principal and all the teachers involved, and what a tragedy we still live in such a bigoted society.”
The storm blew up after a parent at the school rang the Ray Hadley radio show on 2GB to complain about the play. Other parents and grandparents also rang in, saying they felt the school was “using their children politically”.
There were complaints about students dressed as nuns “abusing” indigenous children, and other students wearing placards that said “sorry”.
Hadley called on the New South Wales Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, and the Education Minister, Rob Stokes, to take action. As well as apologising to anyone who was offended by the play, Stokes has requested a “full report” from the Department of Education on what occurred, the Manly Daily reports.
“If these imbeciles want to do this at a five and six-year-olds’ school concert, let them do it as themselves,” Hadley said.
“But don’t use little kids carrying placards to do it and don’t put parents in the situation of having to clap for their own children even though they’re appalled by what’s happening.”
Eileen Cummings, chair of the NT Stolen Generation Aboriginal Corporation, says she thinks it's "great" that primary school students are learning about the Stolen Generation.
"Coming from that background, that's something we've been pushing for a long time, for schools to understand the history of the Stolen Generation, and if they're going to start looking at that, that's something that we're really happy about," Cummings tells Mamamia.
However, she thinks that it's important that people who were part of the Stolen Generation are part of the process.
"One of the things that we try and encourage is that people that have been through that situation, like myself, come to talk to the children about it, so that they can understand the background and what actually took place with the removal of the children from their homes, their mothers, their country and all that. Because it's a really sad story, and, at the same time, we like children to understand that background and history.
"I don't think anybody else can tell the story better than the people that experienced it."
On Hadley’s Facebook page, among the sea of his supporters, there were those who defended Forestville Public School.
“About time the truth was taught in schools,” wrote Simone Mazza. “Might educate children to be far more intelligent, aware and sensitive… unlike many of the ignorant adults commenting on this thread.”
“What a great way to show our children what happened to the Stolen Generation,” added Gail Dodd.
“Well done to the principal and teachers.”