The Stolen Children
In November 1958 a baby girl was born to an Aboriginal mother in New
South Wales. The mother knew her child for only three weeks. Then she was
taken. At the moment of her taking, the baby - later to be known as Julie
- became a statistic. A ‘second-generation removed’. We can only imagine
the grief of her mother. Twenty or so years before, she too, was a stolen
Julie was placed in a Barnardo’s home and, at the age of six months,
was ‘deemed suitable for adoption’.
She was placed with a loving family on Sydney’s North Shore. Julie grew
up with everything. An excellent education. Piano lessons. Swimming lessons
from Olympic coaches Forbes and Ursula Carlisle. But at the beach, while
the other girls ran around in the sun, Julie was made to sit under an umbrella
because she was getting too dark too quickly. With her friends, she would
fantasise about her origins. Perhaps she was the child of an Italian grocer?
Spanish buccaneers? Tahitian perhaps? In her class, in her street, in her
world experience, there was no-one who looked like her. She was different,
and did not know why. But she never imagined herself as a ‘coon’ - a word
she herself remembers thinking and using. As she explains, even those children
taken away are educated and shaped to belittle and disparage even their
own, unknown heritage.
Yet despite the love, the education and the tremendous eloquence that
is the legacy of the education, Julie never knew who she was.
Many of us winced as we grew up when well meaning relatives would exclaim:
"Oh darling, you look so much like your mother!" Julie has never heard
Never did she feel her own mother’s arms around her. And never did Julie’s
mother hear that her daughter was growing up to be an accomplished student,
nor that she was growing increasingly distressed at the realisation that
she didn’t know who she was.
Julie had everything. And she had nothing. She had the love of an adoptive
family. But she had no identity.
Julie is now a mother with two children of her own. In the early 1990s
when the adoption laws were changed Julie decided to trace her mother.
Until that time she had no idea she was even Aboriginal. If coming to terms
with her own heritage was not hard enough, within six months she had news
... the death certificate of her mother had been traced. Her mother had
passed away three years before Julie started her search.
A short time ago Julie heard that there was a man in western New South
Wales who was claiming to be the son of her mother. Her brother. She has
not yet met this person.
As she tells her story, Julie weeps for her past pain. For her mother’s
desolation. For her present pain. And for the need to be reassured absolutely
and for all time, that her own two children will never been taken. She
weeps for the brother she may have but is yet to meet. For the future.
She stands accused by some of telling her story in order to get money.
There will never be enough money to compensate Julie for the loss of her
culture, her language, her family, her mother, her identity. And Julie
is but one of thousands and thousands of children just like her. But compensation
is not just money. Julie does not want money. She wants recognition. Acknowledgement
for herself and all her people on whom pain was inflicted, on whom pain
remains and on whom pain will continue in the future unless and until reparation
Each year our community remembers the soldiers of Gallipoli - those
who died as a result of appalling military leadership. We remember those
who fought in successive wars, and those who died.
Today we commemorate the loss of lives at Port Arthur at the hands of
a sad individual and a misconceived policy on guns, and we share the pain
of those whose family members were taken from them.
Remembering - in a symbolic way is a sharing of pain, a joint acknowledgement
of past wrongs and a sign of hope for a different and renewed future.
This is the meaning of compensation. Compensation is also finding a
few dollars for a headstone on a child’s grave. Or for an elderly man,
before he dies, to travel back to the country from where he was taken.
Or to provide groups with the funds to help with problems of mental health,
abuse and other legacies of dislocation.
Almost every Indigenous family in this country has been affected by
the past policies and practices examined in this Report. The numbers are
staggering. Since removal policies began, around 100,000 children were
removed from their families. The organisation was immense. No expense was
spared. Planes, buses and trains took children from one side of the country
to another. Mothers never learned where their children had gone. Staggeringly,
the adoption rates for Aboriginal children during these times was about
People today claim they didn’t know anything like this went on. Yet
voices raised against the policies went unheard. Parliamentarians denounced
schemes to place Aboriginal children in domestic and other work as slavery.
Those telling their stories today are the same people who sit with you
in the school P&C; they are not only the older men and women, representative
of a different era, but the young mothers and fathers of today trying to
raise their own families.
Mick Dodson was a Hearing Commissioner for the Inquiry along with Commission
President Sir Ron Wilson. Although Mick lost his parents when he was young,
and was raised by an aunty and uncle, his family too was deeply affected
by the policies of assimilation and removal. His mother was a removed child.
His two older sisters were taken from her.
In the hundreds of hours during which more than 500 witnesses told their
stories to the Inquiry; in poring over hundreds of pages of documents outlining
the laws and practices implemented against Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander families; in reading the submissions provided to the Inquiry by
churches, governments and other organisations, Mick and his colleagues
have pieced together a history that needs to be told, a past that must
be acknowledged; a legacy that means today many Indigenous families are
unable to cope with family life because family life was never the common
experience; that today, individuals like Julie are learning that they are
Aboriginal, that they are members of a culture and people whose history
stretches back into time as one of the oldest living cultures on earth;
a legacy that means the future is uneasy unless people are reassured that
the taking of children will never happen again.
We urge you to read the Report with the lives of people like Julie in
mind. We remind you that the dispossession of children from their families
forever dispossess children from their culture, language, history, spiritual
identity and land. We urge you to remember that while the policies and
practices of the past can never be undone, the pain of the present and
the uncertainty of the future can be addressed today.
Copyright © 1997 HREOC