The Stolen Generations

Between 1910 and 1970 up to 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken forcibly or under duress from their families by police or welfare officers.

Most were under 5 years old. There was rarely any judicial process. To be Aboriginal was enough.

They are known as the ‘stolen generations’.

What happened to them?

  • Most were raised in Church or state institutions. Some were fostered or adopted by white parents.
  • Many suffered physical and sexual abuse. Food and living conditions were poor.
  • They received little education, and were expected to go into low grade domestic and farming work.

Why were they taken?

They were taken because it was Federal and State Government policy that Aboriginal children – especially those of mixed Aboriginal and European descent – should be removed from their parents.

Between 10 and 30% of all Aboriginal children were removed, and in some places these policies continued into the 1970s.

  • The main motive was to ‘assimilate’ Aboriginal children into European society over one or two generations by denying and destroying their Aboriginality.
  • Speaking their languages and practising their ceremonies was forbidden
  • They were taken miles from their country, some overseas
  • Parents were not told where their children were and could not trace them
  • Children were told that they were orphans
  • Family visits were discouraged or forbidden; letters were destroyed. 

What were the results

The physical and emotional damage to those taken away was profound and lasting:

  • Most grew up in a hostile environment without family ties or cultural identity.
  • As adults, many suffered insecurity, lack of self esteem, feelings of worthlessness, depression, suicide, violence, delinquency, abuse of alcohol and drugs and inability to trust.
  • Lacking a parental model, many had difficulty bringing up their own children.
  • The scale of separation also had profound consequences for the whole Aboriginal community – anger, powerlessness and lack of purpose as well as an abiding distrust of Government, police and officials.

What is being done?

A National Inquiry was set up in 1995. Its 1997 Report ‘Bringing them Home’ contained harrowing evidence.

It found that forcible removal of indigenous children was a gross violation of human rights which continued well after Australia had undertaken international human rights commitments.

  • It was racially discriminatory, because it only applied to Aboriginal children on that scale, and
  • It was an act of genocide contrary to the Convention on Genocide, (which forbids ‘forcibly transferring children of [a] group to another group’ with the intention of destroying the group.)

The Report made 54 recommendations, including opening of records, family tracing and reunion services and the need for reparations’ (including acknowledgement and apology by Governments and institutions concerned, restitution, rehabilitation and compensation).

The Government increased some funding but has refused to apologise or offer compensation.

A Senate committee has investigated the Government’s response to the Report.

People of the stolen generation have started legal actions for compensation against the Government .

The cases have been hard fought, as Government lawyers are arguing that removal of children was done for their own good.

A statement by the former Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron which denyied existance of the ‘stolen generations’ caused distress and anger among those affected. Denial has marked much of the commentary.

‘Moving forward: achieving reparations’ is a project conducted in partnership with ATSIC, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the National Sorry Day Committee and Northern Territory stolen generation groups.

It’s report ‘Restoring identity’, proposing a reparations tribunal for the stolen generations, has widespread support by Indigenous people.

Ministers for Aboriginal Affairs in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia issued public statements welcoming the report and detailing their initiatives to implement the recommendations.