Sorry Day: Reminding us of the Stolen Generation

Sorry Day and the Stolen Generation are remembered today, 26 May. It is important to understand what has happened and to recognise that children are still being removed in large numbers from their families.

This article was provided by Maree Edwards from Lake Macquarie City Council.

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Warning – This article may contain the names and images of Aboriginal and Islander people now deceased. It also contains links to sites that may use images of Aboriginal and Islander people now deceased.

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Bringing them Home report.
The first National Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998 – one year after the tabling of the report Bringing them Home, May 1997. The report was the result of an inquiry by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.
The public and political debate about the removal of children was marked by intense political activity since the mid-to-late 1980s. In 1992 Prime Minister Keating acknowledged that ‘we took the children from their mothers’ at a speech in Redfern. In 1994 legal action was commenced in the Supreme Court of New South Wales. These children who were removed came to be known as the Stolen Generations.

Documentation of forced removal of children
The Bringing them Home report acknowledged that ‘Indigenous children have been forcibly separated from their families and communities since the very first days of the European occupation of Australia’ by governments and missionaries.
Their motives were to ‘inculcate European values and work habits in children, who would then be employed in service to the colonial settlers’ (Ramsland 1986 quoted by Mason 1993, p.31). In 1814 Governor Macquarie funded the first school for Aboriginal children. Its novelty was an initial attraction for Indigenous families but within a few years it evoked a hostile response when it became apparent that its purpose was to distance the children from their families and communities. (Bringing them Home – The Report, National Overview)

State Records NSW
By the late 1800s there were systematic removal practices being implemented through a range of assimilation and ‘protection policies’.
In Victoria, the Aborigines Protection Act 1869, the Aborigines Protection Board was given quite broad powers to the Board to make laws for ‘the care, custody and education of the children of Aborigines’. One of the regulations made under the Act allowed for ‘the removal of any Aboriginal child neglected by its parents or left unprotected’. They were removed to a mission, an industrial or reform school, or a station.
In Queensland and Western Australia, the Chief Protector was able to enforce protection polices to the effect that Indigenous people could be removed into large, highly regulated government settlements and missions. Children were removed from their mothers at about the age of four years and placed in dormitories away from their families. At about the age of 14 years, the children were sent off the missions and settlements to work.
In contrast, in Tasmania which had no specific race policies for Indigenous children, Indigenous families living on and near Cape Barren Island were left relatively undisturbed until the 1930s. However, child welfare legislation was then used to remove Indigenous children from the islands. The children were sent to non-Indigenous institutions and later non-Indigenous foster families on the ground that they were neglected.

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