Whiting out history

WA authorities have removed Aboriginal historical records from birth, death and marriage certificates after a bureaucrat deemed the term “Aboriginal” offensive.

Births, Deaths and Marriage Registrar Brett Burns said in a statement there has never been a legal requirement for registrars to note the race or ethnic background of a person in these documents.

“Some district registrars in the 1800s and 1900s entered such details on historical registers from personal observations which may have had no basis in fact,” Mr Burns said.

“Many of these entries, though not all, would be considered exceedingly offensive, inappropriate and hurtful.

“This approach is consistent with practice across state and territory registries.”

The word ‘Aboriginal’ was removed from birth, marriage and death certificates.

Curtin University Aboriginal studies lecturer Biddy Brennan said the government had the legal right to erase the word from the records, but didn’t consult any Aboriginal people about the decision.

“My Aboriginal colleagues are shocked and just find it really appalling,” Mr Brennan said.

“It’s really clear there has been no consultation, because if they had consulted us here, we are called the Centre of Aboriginal studies, it’s just so obvious that it’s not an offensive term.

“The fact that it’s legal for them to do it, I think what really has to happen is the practice has to stop and then look at amending the act, pulling it into line with the racial discrimination act.”

Curtin University Aboriginal studies lecturer Robin Barrington says it’s a lengthy process to try and locate old documents with the label “Aboriginal” now removed.

“To go back time and time again and ask for documents not to be redacted was extremely time consuming and was quite traumatic,” Dr Barrington said.

“I am certainly not offended by the term, what I am offended by is there’s a decision that can be made by other people that may not have any knowledge or even met an Aboriginal person to make these decisions to redact quite critical information.

“That’s an extreme worry for Aboriginal people like myself who are continuing to try to find family.”

The documents could cost Aboriginal people up to $49, even after their historical information was wiped from the records.