an NFSA website

Chequerboard – My Brown Skin Baby, They Take ‘im Away (1970)


My Brown Skin Baby, They Take 'im Away introduces Bob Randall, a lay preacher and folksinger living and working in Darwin. This documentary presents a first-hand account of a member of the stolen generations. It shows Randall at his home, with his family, at work and conducting pastoral services.

Curator’s notes

The ABC broke new ground with its current affairs program Chequerboard (1969-75) by placing Aboriginal people and their issues in the national spotlight. In this episode, My Brown Skin Baby, They Take ‘im Away, protagonist Bob Randall brings to light the government policy of removing fair-skinned children from their Aboriginal mothers.

The title, derived from Bob Randall’s now legendary song of the same name, sets the theme for the episode. Randall explains he witnessed the scene, depicted in his song, of a mother’s grief after the removal of her baby. The most poignant scene in the film occurs when Randall, his wife Amy and her cousin Florence travel to Aileron Station, north of Alice Springs, where the two women reunite with their mothers.

Randall talks about his life experience including his removal from his mother by the police, and his childhood at the Croker Island Christian mission. The reporter states, 'It was the first I’d heard about a government practice to take half-caste children from their mothers but when I checked I found that between 1938 and 1946 it was part of a government policy’.

Randall describes the attempts by Aboriginal mothers to disguise the colour of their fair-skinned children using charcoal or smoke from the fire. Aboriginal filmmaker Gary Cooper tells a similar story in his short film about the experience of his grandmother, Laurel Cooper, in Deadly Yarns – Sugar Bag (2004).

Thirty-eight years after this film revealed the painful consequences of this government practice, the stolen generation gained national attention when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an apology to Aboriginal people in 2008.

My Brown Skin Baby, They Take ‘im Away holds an important place in Australian history. It marks the first time the issue of the stolen generations came to the attention of the Australian media; it contains both a family and social history record for the descendants of the people portrayed in the film; and it includes imagery of Darwin not long before Cyclone Tracy demolished the city in 1974.

Broadcast as part of the ABC’s Chequerboard current affairs program in March 1970, My Brown Skin Baby was also entered in competition for the prestigious Prix Italia award.