During the period of 1910 to 1970, it is estimated that one in three to one in ten Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and communities under the Aboriginal Protection Act 1869 and other assimilation policies (AHRC, 1997).
Aboriginal children were physically removed from their families and communities by government officials and church missions, and placed in foster homes, insitutitions or with non-Indigenous families. In these environments, children were generally prohibited from speaking their languages, practicing culture and using their Traditional names; many children also suffered abuse and neglect. Children with both Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and white parentage were particularly vulnerable to being removed as the government believed that those with fairer skin would more readily assimilate into white Australian society. The intention of this practice was to assimilate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children into ‘white’ Australia with the broader objective of eradicating our peoples.
This systematic and pervasive practice of forcibly removing children is known as the 'Stolen Generations'.
The Healing Foundation has developed an interactive map documenting many of the institutions, reserves and missions that Stolen Generations children were known or believed to have been forcibly removed to.
It is important to note that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be overrepresented in child protection services. In 2018-19, 1 in 33 children in Australia received child protection services, and 1 in 6 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children received child protection services (AIHW, 2019). Additionally, 1 in 18 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children were in out-of-home care, 64% of whom were living with relatives, kin or other Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander caregivers (AIHW, 2019).
Bringing them Home report 1997
Between 1995 and 1997, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission conducted a national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families to understand the effects of forcible removal.
The Inquiry was established because the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community was concerned that Australia’s ignorance of forcible removals was preventing healing from the Stolen Generation era and experience.
The Inquiry was sought to:
Examine the legislation, policies and practices of forcible removal and their effects
Identify possible future actions including change in legislation, policies and practices that could assist in reuniting families
Examine the justification for compensation for those affected
Examine the then current legislation, policies and practices affecting the placement and care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children
To achieve this, nearly 1000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples bravely shared their stories. These stories are held by the National Library of Australia in the Bringing them Home Oral History Project; some of these can be accessed online.
On 26 May 1997 the Bringing them Home report was presented in Federal Parliament.
The report documented the experiences of Stolen Generations members and highlighted that many issues facing
The report highlighted that the practice of forcibly removing children was a violation of various human rights. The report also found that challenges experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities - including substance abuse, mental illness and family violence - are strongly correlated with this history of forcible removals, and the lack of opportunities for healing. Further, the report presented 54 recommendations for supporting healing and reconciliation for the Stolen Generations, their families and Australia. There has been limited implementation of these recommendations.
The impacts of the Stolen Generation continue to be felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities today.
The removal of children prevented older generations from sharing knowledge about language, Dreaming, practice, protocols and more with younger generations, thus creating gaps in transmission of language and culture.
Devastatingly, not all children were able to relocate their families and thus many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and families remain displaced. Uncle Jack Charles shares some insight into this in his book, Jack Charles: A Born-again Blakfella which he dedicates "For my brother Archie and my sisters Esme, Eva Jo and Zenip. Also for my six missing siblings".
Intergenerational trauma or transgenerational trauma continues to be felt amongst the community as a result of the Stolen Generations. This trauma is passed down from those who were exposed to this traumatic event (including those who were taken and those who had family taken) to future generations. Intergenerational trauma manifests in ways such as parenting practices, mental illness, family violence, substance use etc.
Services for those affected by Stolen Generations:
Below is a non-exhaustive list of agencies and organisations available to provide support and information to those affected by previous Government policies.
Children and Young Adult: