This is what happened to many Indigenous people in Australia between around 1910 and the early 1970s. The children were known as the Stolen Generations.
“We estimate that it was at least one in ten children, but anything up to one in three children were actually removed. But the more telling point is that experienced people have assured us that there is probably not one Aboriginal community… not one Aboriginal family or community in Australia today that has not been scarred by the separation policy." Sir Ronald Wilson, President, Australian Human Rights Commission
Here is one of those Stories, the Story of Debra Hocking. You can also see a filmed version of Debra's Story here.
'I am a Stolen Generations Survivor. I was born in Tasmania in 1959. My mother was a great-granddaughter of Fanny Cochrane Smith, a notable Aboriginal woman of the late nineteenth century.
I hardly knew my mother, but I have learnt from my siblings that her Aboriginal heritage was extremely important to her, and she continued practising her culture right up until her death in 1980. She raised her children in traditional Aboriginal ways learnt from her mother.
However, the welfare authorities viewed her child rearing as unacceptable, and she was accused of neglect. This was a commonplace accusation
in Tasmania in the 1950s and 1960s. Aboriginal families were watched carefully. A critical report by a welfare officer, however flimsy, was enough to remove children to foster homes or institutions. Often, all the children were removed and siblings were usually split up.
Although there was no racial stipulation in the legislation that enabled the authorities to remove Aboriginal children, we now know that it was the Tasmanian form of the nation-wide drive to assimilate Aboriginal children into the mainstream Australian culture.
Not long after I was born, my father deserted my mother and family. My mother found it increasingly hard to provide enough food for her growing family. In desperation, she approached the welfare department and requested financial help. Sadly, that was a costly mistake.
The authorities came to our house with an order to remove all four children: my oldest sister aged six, my next sister aged five, my brother aged three, and myself the youngest. I was still being breastfed. My mother refused to hand us over, so we were taken by force. I cannot imagine what that must have been like for her. I now have four beautiful children, and if anyone had attempted to remove them, I would not be responsible for my actions.
We children were split up and placed in foster care. I have no memory of this but my other siblings do. Only recently did one of my older sisters break silence and tell me what she had experienced in her foster home and her anguish at not knowing where her siblings were. It took a heavy toll on her. My other sister and my brother have never talked about their experience, but it has left them with hurt, trauma, and grief. Even today we have little
relationship as brothers and sisters. One day I hope we will all find the freedom that will enable us to build that relationship.
I was placed in a series of foster homes. According to my government file, I was fretful, and foster caregivers found it hard to nurse an ever-crying baby. Finally, after more than twelve months, I was placed with a family who were considered a model for the community - law-abiding, church-going, and active in projects to help the needy.
By then I had been removed for over twelve months. My mother was not told where we were, and this must have been devastating for her. She was told that when she could prove that she could provide for her children in a satisfactory manner, her children would be returned. She located my father and when he learnt of what had happened, he returned to my mother and they worked hard to satisfy the welfare authorities.
Their home was inspected at random, and if the officers were not satisfied, they recommended that the children not be returned. The reports in my file state that on one inspection there was washing hanging in the lounge room and they found this unacceptable. That was enough for authorities to deny parents their children. In many cases the welfare officers were untrained and had little experience, so they made judgments that they could never make today. Even the language used in their reports was archaic.
As I grew a little older and became aware of my surroundings, I began to wonder at my situation. This family I was living with, who were they? I knew they were not mine because I was told to call the mother and father “Aunty” and “Uncle,” whereas their children called them “Mum” and “Dad.” So what was I doing there? Where were my Mum and Dad?
Now and then I had to go to a strange office where a lady would ask all sorts of questions. Before this visit, I was told to say that I was happy and wanted to stay with this family. The truth was that I was not happy and I did not want to stay with them, I wanted my Mum and Dad and whatever family I had.
When I began to ask these questions, I was told that my Mum and Dad were “no good” and this new family would give me a better life. Both my foster parents and their children constantly said that I was from “the gutter” and they had saved me. They told me little about my family. If I mentioned them, they said that I would be sent to a children’s home where they bash kids. I then became really unhappy. I guess I was still fretting for my Mum. The other children resented me. Now, as I look back, I can understand their feelings.
At the age of four and a half I began kindergarten at the local school attended by my foster siblings, who by then were aged ten, eight, six, and five. Beginning school brought new problems. My name was different than the others in the family, and children being children had no problem in letting me know it. I hated them for it, but there was nothing I could do. I very quickly inherited the nickname “gutterchild.” Again, there was nothing I could do.
On my fifth birthday, I think there was a party for me, but then began an era of abuse that took my innocence. My foster father began sexually abusing me,1 and I was so scared. What was this man doing? Is this what fathers do? Maybe I have to do this, but if so, why did it make me feel so frightened? This abuse happened regularly. I did not tell anyone, I was so ashamed. I knew it must have been wrong because of the sneaky way he set it up. I then looked forward to going to school. Although I had to endure the cruel taunts, at least no one touched me, and I was safe in that sense.
The visits to the welfare office continued. I had to select my answers carefully as my foster mother was always present and threatened me with punishment if I said the wrong thing. How I wanted to tell them what her husband was doing to me. But I feared for my life. The welfare officers were scary, and I knew they had the power to take children without saying why.
At each time they promised me that I would return to my family soon when they were satisfied there would be no issues of neglect. I kept hoping month after month, year after year that I would go home to where I belonged, no matter what the situation. Every Christmas I had only one request, to see my family. Year after year this request was denied. So I grew to hate Christmas and made damn sure that those around me would not enjoy it either. Now, as an adult I live with feelings of guilt that I would do that to other people. Maybe one day I will explain the cause of my selfish actions, and they might find forgiveness in their hearts.
I was now about eight years old. My eldest foster brother started to show interest in me, and not in a healthy way. My foster father was still abusing me, and now I had the two of them to deal with. I felt a sense of worthlessness and disgust at what I was enduring. The many incidents of rape left me helpless and hopeless, knowing there was nothing I could do. At times I was threatened with my life if I even thought of telling anyone.' Read more...