When in 1997 the Bringing Them Home Report about the forcible removal of part-Aboriginal children from their parents was published, many Australians felt stunned and ashamed. What was such a brutal policy of biological engineering meant to achieve, and who were the men behind it?
One of them was Dr Herbert Basedow 1881–1933 from Adelaide, a geologist, medical doctor, M.P., and anthropologist. He unwittingly provided the administrators of the White Australia policy with a bloodless method of ‘breading out the colour’, of biologically absorbing Aborigines into the white-settler society. His studies in Germany had convinced him that Aborigines were the racial ancestors of Europeans, that they were black Caucasians, and therefore Aboriginal features disappeared for good after three or four generations of intermarriage with Europeans.
Dr Basedow was a scientist and he never intended to harm countless Aboriginal families. On the contrary, he dedicated much of his short life to extending their future. But the removal of children did not stop in 1953 when the structure of DNA was discovered and rendered Basedow’s findings of 1910 untenable. It only ended the White Australia policy itself.
Heidi Zogbaum was born in Germany, lived in Spain for many years and now teaches in the Institute of Latin American Studies at La Trobe University. The study of Herbert Basedow is the result of a three-year collaboration with Prof. Robert Manne on the removal of part-Aboriginal children from their families.