Eugenics in NZ


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Did you know selective breeding was once government policy in New Zealand? Frank Film looks into the eugenics movement and the unlucky New Zealanders caught up in it. #NZOnAir

Jabert Williams is setting off on his mobility scooter to get milk from the corner dairy. A simple chore, but a freedom denied him for most of his life.

Prior to living in the community, Williams lived at the Templeton Centre on the outskirts of Christchurch. Taken there, he says, by his mother, a “young lady” who “couldn’t cope with me.”

Williams, born with the condition cerebral palsy, is a bright and engaging middle-aged man who, in Frank Film’s latest documentary, travels back to his days in the institution.

In a tour of the facility, prior to its closure in 1996, Williams shows filmmaker Gerard Smyth a toilet block. There are no walls separating the toilets. “No privacy?”, asks Gerard. “No,” replies Williams.

His recollections of his time in State care aren’t as bad as some. George Smith also spoke to Gerard Smyth in 1996 at Templeton. He came there in 1945. Prior to that he’d spent much of his childhood at Campbell Park Boys’ Home near Oamaru.

Smith talks of being sexually abused by older, bigger boys when he was “just a kiddie.”

How did Smith come to end up in State care from the age of 6?  He says he was a “little buggar” who used to “steal pies” from the pie shop.

Dr Hilary Stace, Victoria University disability researcher, says it wasn’t uncommon in the early to mid 1900s for authorities to pressure parents into handing their wayward children over to the State where they would be “looked after”.

Actions supported by government policy at the time and a burgeoning eugenics movement.

“Eugenics is the science of selective breeding, basically”,says Dr Stace, “that took ideas from Darwin’s survival of the fittest and genetics and applied it to humans.”

“There were regulations and laws passed over the decades from about 1911 where children, but also adults, were labelled with various types of impairments which were seen as undesirable.”

The policy of breeding out “undesirables” led to the establishment of psychopaedic colonies in New Zealand. These were situated at Templeton, Braemar, near Nelson, Kimberley, near Levin, and Mangere in Auckland.

When these centres eventually closed late last century, most residents moved into the community. Jabert Williams was one of them. He relishes the freedom which he says wasn’t available to him at Templeton.

Recently, Williams came across a car accident near his home. He was able to assist the injured person, arrange for police to be called and direct traffic, drawing much praise from the community he now belongs to.