Dictionary raises eyebrows by including 'stolen generation'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 July, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 July, 2001, 12:00am

The compilers of an internationally acclaimed dictionary have stepped into a possible political minefield in Australia after including the phrase 'stolen generation' in the lexicon for the first time.

Researchers at the Concise Oxford Dictionary in Britain said they had no idea the phrase was so politically charged in Australia and simply included it in a new edition this week because its use was on the increase in books, newspapers and magazines.

The dictionary defines 'stolen generation' as: 'Aboriginal people forcibly removed from their families as children between the 1900s and 1960s, to be brought up by white foster families or in institutions.'

The practice was carried out under an official policy of assimilation, in which it was hoped half-caste Aboriginal children would eventually be absorbed into the white population.

In Australia, debate rages over the phrase, with the Government maintaining that because only 10 per cent of Aboriginal children were taken from their families, the word 'generation' is technically incorrect and exaggerates the scale of the practice.

A major government inquiry in 1997 led to calls for a national apology to Aborigines, but Prime Minister John Howard maintains the Australian people have nothing to apologise about.

The period of 'taking the children away' still haunts many Aborigines who lost contact with their families and culture.

'We checked on our database and found a lot of evidence for this term,' said Sara Hawker, the dictionary's project editor. 'So we decided on the basis of that that we should include it. 'We weren't aware of the undercurrents flowing around the term. It certainly does seem to be used and gaining currency, and we did think it was worth including.'

Indigenous leader Lowitja O'Donoghue said Aborigines always knew a generation had been stolen, but it was good to see it in print. 'We welcome the recognition that this gives,' she said.

The Australian Government said inclusion of the phrase would not change its policy.

A spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs Minister Philip Ruddock said: 'Dictionaries do not make value judgments. This is simply recognition that sections of the community use the terminology.'

Another word making a first-time appearance is snakehead, the predominantly Chinese criminal gangs that organise people-smuggling networks.