1st Generation: Conquered males were killed, imprisoned, enslaved or in some way deprived of the ability to provide for their families.
2nd Generation: Many men overused alcohol and/or drugs to cope with their resultant loss of cultural identity and diminished sense of self-worth. Unfortunately, government responses to emerging substance misuse problems have not always been effective and have directly and indirectly led to the traumatisation of individuals who had not been previously affected, and the exacerbation of trauma in those already suffering the effects of trauma-related illnesses.
The Queensland Government’s solution to their developing substance-use problem was to pass the Aborigines Protection of Alcohol and Opium Act 1897, which enabled Indigenous offenders to be removed to and forced to remain on reservations, though without the support they required to overcome their substance-use issues.
3rd Generation: The intergenerational effects of violence manifest in the increased prevalence of spousal abuse and other forms of domestic violence. The breakdown in the family unit that accompanied this violence ‘required’ caring governments of the day to remove ‘at risk’ children from their mothers and place them in the care of suitable, in many cases non-Indigenous, families.
Unfortunately, the compassion shown for the children was not replicated in the case of the mothers, whose situations were not improved by government intervention.
4th Generation: Trauma begins to be re-enacted and directed at the spouse and the child; signifying a serious challenge to family unit and societal norms of accepted behaviour.
5th Generation: In this generation, the cycle of violence is repeated and compounded, as trauma begets violence, with trauma enacted through increasingly severe violence and increasing societal distress.
Blanco’s depiction of the absolute breakdown of functional society within a five-generation time-span shows strong similarities to progression mapped in Atkinson’s (2002) six-generation traumagram. Atkinson successfully linked the historical events associated with the colonization of Aboriginal lands (‘accidental’ epidemics, massacres, starvations, and the removal of people to reserves) to increases in the rates of family violence, child sexual abuse and family breakdown in Indigenous society.
She traced one family line across six generations, listing the known memories of being victims of sexual and/or physical violence, being a perpetrator of violence, suffering from mental health illness, attempting suicide, and having substance misuse problems. Her ability to trace the one family across several generations provided a unique line of evidence to support the view that the presence of unacknowledged or unresolved trauma in previous generations was linked to dysfunction in later generations of an extended family.
Atkinson’s research provided evidence of a link between the imposition of government policies and interventions and variations, usually upwards, in behaviours associated with trauma experiences in Aboriginal people. She argued that the removal of Aboriginal children was not only a racist policy but also reflected a desire to ‘breed them out’. These policies and interventions that arguably did so much damage were often presented as bureaucratic generosity to people who were frequently living in clear distress.
For example, a widow having her children removed ‘for their own good’ rather than providing support for the family’s immediate crisis or a couple forced to live in extreme poverty by the instruments of the state and then having their children removed because of their imposed poverty.
There is little doubt that Atkinson’s work was primarily focused on investigating the link between unresolved trauma and generational wellbeing, but it was also pivotal in exposing the role of government inactivity and intentional racism in the plight of Australian Aboriginal people.’
Excerpt from Trauma, Transgenerational Transfer and Effects on Community Wellbeing by Judy Atkinson, Jeff Nelson and Caroline Atkinson