The Stolen Generation

The Stolen Generations (also Stolen children) is a term used to describe those children of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent who were removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments. The removals occurred in the period between approximately 1869 and 1969, although in some places children were still being taken in the 1970s. The extent of the removal of children, and the reasoning behind their removal, are contested. Documentary evidence, such as newspaper articles and reports to parliamentary committees, suggest a range of rationales. Motivations evident include child protection, beliefs that given their catastrophic population decline after white contact that black people would "die out", fears of miscegenation and a desire to attain white racial purity. Terms such as "stolen" were used in the context of taking children from their families – the Hon P. McGarry, a member of the Parliament of New South Wales, objected to the Aborigines Protection Amending Act 1915 which enabled the Aborigines' Protection Board to remove Aboriginal children from their parents without having to establish that they were in any way neglected or mistreated; McGarry described the policy as "steal[ing] the child away from its parents". In 1924, in the Adelaide Sun an article stated "The word 'stole' may sound a bit far-fetched but by the time we have told the story of the heart-broken Aboriginal mother we are sure the word will not be considered out of place." Indigenous Australians in most jurisdictions were "protected", effectively being wards of the State. The protection was done through each jurisdictions' Aboriginal Protection Board; in Victoria and Western Australia these boards were also responsible for applying what were known as Half-caste acts. More recent usage was Peter Read's 1981 publication of The Stolen Generations: The Removal of Aboriginal children in New South Wales 1883 to 1969. The 1997 publication of Bringing Them Home - Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families brought broader awareness of the Stolen Generations. The acceptance of the term in Australia is illustrated by the 13 February 2008 formal apology to the Stolen Generations, led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and passed by both houses of the Parliament of Australia. Previous apologies had been offered by State and Territory governments in the period 1997–2001. However, there remains opposition to acceptance of the validity of the term "Stolen Generations". This was illustrated by the former Prime Minister John Howard refusing to apologize and the then Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, John Herron controversially disputing the usage in April 2000. Others who dispute the validity of the term include: Peter Howson, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in 1971–72, Keith Windschuttle and Andrew Bolt Others argue against these critics, responding to Windschuttle and Bolt in particular.

Australian federal parliament apology Apology text At 9:30am on February 13, 2008, Rudd presented the apology to Indigenous Australians as a motion to be voted on by the house. The form of the apology was as follows: Today we honor the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history. We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations this blemished chapter in our nation's history. The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future. We apologize for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologize especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country. For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry. We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation. For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written. We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians. A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again. A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and nonIndigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity. A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed. A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility. A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

Rudd followed the apology with a 20-minute speech to the house about the need for the apology, which was widely applauded among both Indigenous Australians and the non-indigenous general public. Opposition leader's parliamentary reply and reaction Leader of the Opposition Brendan Nelson then also delivered a 20-minute speech in which he endorsed the apology, after which the House of Representatives unanimously adopted the proposed motion, although some members of the opposition made themselves absent in protest at the apology,] and sections of Nelson's reply drew heavy criticism and anger. People watching Nelson's reply speech protested nationwide. Thousands of people who had gathered in Canberra and Melbourne turned their backs on the screens displaying Nelson giving his speech; in Perth people booed and jeered until the screen was eventually switched off; those watching in Parliament House's Great Hall began a slow clap, finally turning their backs, with similar scenes and walk-outs in Sydney and elsewhere. Senate consideration Later that day, a motion for an apology in identical terms was considered by the Senate. The Leader of the Greens, Senator Bob Brown, attempted to amend the motion to have it include words committing parliament to offering compensation to those who suffered loss under past indigenous policies, but was not opposed by all the other parties. The original motion was passed unanimously.

A real story The agony of Australia's Stolen Generation Bruce Trevorrow, who was taken from his Aboriginal family as a young child, has become the first of Australia's Stolen Generations to win compensation. BBC correspondent Nick Bryant heard his story.

Bruce Trevorrow says his life has been blighted by being 'stolen' Bruce Trevorrow's journey into legal history began on Christmas Day 1957.

Then just 13 months old, he was suffering from stomach pains and his father, Joseph, asked neighbours to take him for treatment to the Adelaide Children's Hospital in South Australia. On admission, the hospital recorded that Bruce had no parents and that he was neglected and malnourished, three untruths that were to change his life forever. They meant that Joseph Trevorrow, who died some eight years later, would never see his son again. That same Christmas, a local woman called Martha Davies answered an advertisement in the local paper. It sought white foster parents for Aboriginal babies. On 6 January 1958, she and her husband visited the children's hospital, and decided to take Bruce home. Thinking he was still in hospital, Bruce's mother Thora tried to keep track of her son's progress by corresponding with the local Aboriginal Protection Board.

Bruce Trevorrow grew up surrounded by white children The family did not have a car or telephone. "I am writing to ask if you will let me know how baby Bruce is," she wrote five months after he was taken away, "and how long before I can have him home." Even though Bruce had already been fostered, and was being raised by his new family, the Aboriginal Protection Board responded that he was making "good progress", but needed to remain in hospital for further treatment. It was the cruelest of lies. Bruce had by now become an unwitting victim of what later became known as the Stolen Generation - or, more accurately, the Stolen Generations. Growing up in a white family was the most disorientating of experiences. "I kept on asking my parents why I was different to the other kids," he told the BBC. "They said they had dark relatives." His school life was miserable. "Being the only black person, I was bullied at school. That was very traumatic. I got called names like nigger and black." Compensation It was not until 1967, when Bruce was 10, that he was reunited with his mother, Thora.

Even then, the reunion proved short-lived (just 14 months) and thereafter he spent much of his adolescence in and out of institutions. Now, almost 50 years after being taken from his family, Bruce Trevorrow has not only discovered the truth of his upbringing, but become the first Aborigine to win compensation for being taken from his family. Back in June 1998, he launched legal action against the government of South Australia, arguing that his alcoholism, depression and inability to hold down a proper job stemmed from being "stolen". He also claimed he had lost his cultural identity.

We've won a case... but you can't put a value on what happened. Most of my life has been lost to me Bruce Trevorrow The judge agreed, ruling that he had been falsely imprisoned. By way of compensation, Bruce was awarded A$525,000 (£220,000, $447,000), the first such payout to a member of the Stolen Generations in Australian legal history. "I never thought I would win, but just wanted some answers in my life," said the father of four. "I just wanted to know who I was and where I came from." In a decision which has earned plaudits from Aboriginal groups, the South Australian government has decided not to appeal the award of compensation, despite arguing in court that the now defunct Aboriginal Control Board was not part of the government. Unchallenged, the ruling could pave the way for hundreds of further cases. Bringing Them Home, a landmark study published in 1997, found that at least 100,000 Aborigines had been taken from their parents and placed in the care of institutions, religious missions or white foster parents. They were part of a nationwide ethnic assimilation programme, now discredited, which started in the early twentieth century and lasted until the beginning of the 1970s. Unique case So will this open the floodgates?

Not necessarily. Bruce succeeded where others have failed partly because there was a clear paper trail: the letters exchanged between his mother and the Aboriginal Control Board, which documented the deceit.

Thousands of Aboriginal children were taken from their families "It was unusual to have that amount of evidence," says Claire O'Connor, who was part of his legal team. "We could prove that the Aboriginal Control Board had been negligent." In other cases, much of the paperwork has been destroyed. In claiming his life had been destroyed, Bruce could also compare his experience with that of his three Aboriginal siblings, all of whom have enjoyed very successful lives. "We could make such a stark contrast because his Aboriginal brothers were such high achievers," says Claire O'Connor, "and they had stayed with the parents." In the legal pantheon, she claims the ruling can be placed alongside the famed Mabo decision in 1992, when the Australian High Court delivered an enormous boost to Aboriginal land rights by overturning the doctrine of terra nullius - the notion that Australia belonged to no one before being colonized by the British. Flushed with victory, Bruce hopes that others will tread the same legal path. "We've won a case, and there are lots of people out there who lived the same life as me. Hopefully, they'll get some compensation. "But you can't put a value on what happened. You can't put a dollar sign on that. Most of my life has been lost to me."

Australia's 'stolen' children get apology but no cash
As one of Australia's 'stolen generation', John Moriarty was only four when he was taken away from his mother: loaded on to an army truck and sent thousands of kilometers away from his home in the Gulf of Carpentaria to be raised in a series of bleak institutions.

He was given a birth date - April Fool's Day - forbidden to speak his Yanyuwa language and did not see his mother again for 10 years. 'I was stripped of my nurturing, loving bush family, my culture and my connections to land that stretch back through my ancestors for thousands of generations,' he said. Now, 65 years after he was snatched, the Australian government is preparing to make what many believe is a long-overdue national apology to Moriarty and thousands of indigenous children forcibly removed from their parents. Australia's new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says it will acknowledge the pain suffered by the stolen children and their families. But satisfaction that an acknowledgment is at last in the offing is being overshadowed by a row over whether the victims should also receive financial compensation. Activists want an A$1bn (£443m) fund to be established, saying an apology without recompense would be a hollow gesture. The stolen generations were Aboriginal children - mainly mixed race - who were removed from their families and sent to institutions or adopted into white families during the last century. Some children were snatched from their mother's arms; others were taken under the guise of court orders. The plan was to integrate mixed-race children into white society, policies now recognized as misguided. The practice peaked between 1910 and 1971 when an estimated 55,000 children were taken. The Rabbit Proof Fence, a film about three aboriginal girls who trekked 1,000 miles through the Outback to get back to their families, illustrated the suffering endured by children. Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin has been consulting indigenous leaders over the wording of the apology but the government is refusing to consider a compensation fund. Aboriginal lawyer Michael Mansfield is one of a number of activists pressing for a reparation scheme. He says the A$1bn figure is based on a scheme set up by the Tasmanian state government for an estimated 150 claimants. About A$5m (£2.2m) has been set aside and each claimant is expected to receive between A$40,000 (£18, 00) and A$100,000 (£45,500). 'These kids were deprived of a normal upbringing,' he says. 'It is important that those who suffered from this policy get some sort of compensation.' Megan Davis, director of the Indigenous Law Centre at the University of New South Wales, also believes the apology 'runs the risk of being a baldly symbolic gesture in the absence of a parallel, national programme to compensate members of the stolen generations'. But Macklin says compensation will not be part of the process. 'I don't think that's where people want to start this conversation,' she said. 'They want recognition of what's happened - they don't want it muddied by these other issues.' Moriarty, born in Borroloola in the Northern Territory in 1938 to an Aboriginal mother and an Irish father, says he was one of the fortunate ones. He had a difficult childhood, moving around different institutions, but at 15 was able to re-establish a relationship with his mother and his Aboriginal culture. 'I have seen many people whose lives have been destroyed,' he said. 'How you put a price on that, I don't know, but there should be something.'