bringing_them_home_report.pdf - Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families

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Unformatted text preview: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families This report is a tribute to the strength and struggles of many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by forcible removal. We acknowledge the hardships they endured and the sacrifices they made. We remember and lament all the children who will never come home. We dedicate this report with thanks and admiration to those who found the strength to tell their stories to the Inquiry and to the generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people separated from their families and communities. Commonwealth of Australia 1997 This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Manager, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, GPO Box 5218, Sydney NSW 1042. ISBN 0 642 26954 8 Terms of Reference I, MICHAEL LAVARCH, Attorney-General of Australia, HAVING REGARD TO the Australian Government’s human rights, social justice and access and equity policies in pursuance of section 11(1)(e), (j), and (k) of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act 1986, HEREBY REVOKE THE REQUEST MADE ON 11 MAY 1995 AND NOW REQUEST the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to inquire into and report on the following matters: To: (a) trace the past laws, practices and policies which resulted in the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families by compulsion, duress or undue influence, and the effects of those laws, practices and policies; (b) examine the adequacy of and the need for any changes in current laws, practices and policies relating to services and procedures currently available to those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were affected by the separation under compulsion, duress or undue influence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, including but not limited to current laws, practices and policies relating to access to individual and family records and to other forms of assistance towards locating and reunifying families; (c) examine the principles relevant to determining the justification for compensation for persons or communities affected by such separations; (d) examine current laws, practices and policies with respect to the placement and care of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and advise on any changes required taking into account the principle of self-determination by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. IN PERFORMING its functions in relation to the reference, the Commission is to consult widely among the Australian community, in particular with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with relevant non-government organisations and with relevant Federal, State and Territory authorities and if appropriate may consider and report on the relevant laws, practices and policies of any other country. THE COMMISSION IS REQUIRED to report no later than December 1996. Dated 2 August 1995 MICHAEL LAVARCH Warning: This document may contain images of deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons Part 1 Introduction Chapter 1 The Inquiry So the next thing I remember was that they took us from there and we went to the hospital and I kept asking – because the children were screaming and the little brothers and sisters were just babies of course, and I couldn’t move, they were all around me, around my neck and legs, yelling and screaming. I was all upset and I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know where we were going. I just thought: well, they’re police, they must know what they’re doing. I suppose I’ve got to go with them, they’re taking me to see Mum.You know this is what I honestly thought. They kept us in hospital for three days and I kept asking, ‘When are we going to see Mum?’ And no-one told us at this time. And I think on the third or fourth day they piled us in the car and I said, ‘Where are we going?’ And they said, ‘We are going to see your mother’. But then we turned left to go to the airport and I got a bit panicky about where we were going ... They got hold of me, you know what I mean, and I got a little baby in my arms and they put us on the plane. And they still told us we were going to see Mum. So I thought she must be wherever they’re taking us. Confidential submission 318, Tasmania: removal from Cape Barren Island, Tasmania, of 8 siblings in the 1960s. The children were fostered separately. The Inquiry Our life pattern was created by the government policies and are forever with me, as though an invisible anchor around my neck. The moments that should be shared and rejoiced by a family unit, for [my brother] and mum and I are forever lost. The stolen years that are worth more than any treasure are irrecoverable. Confidential submission 338, Victoria. Grief and loss are the predominant themes of this report. Tenacity and survival are also acknowledged. It is no ordinary report. Much of its subject matter is so personal and intimate that ordinarily it would not be discussed. These matters have only been discussed with the Inquiry with great difficulty and much personal distress. The suffering and the courage of those who have told their stories inspire sensitivity and respect. The histories we trace are complex and pervasive. Most significantly the actions of the past resonate in the present and will continue to do so in the future. The laws, policies and practices which separated Indigenous children from their families have contributed directly to the alienation of Indigenous societies today. For individuals, their removal as children and the abuse they experienced at the hands of the authorities or their delegates have permanently scarred their lives. The harm continues in later generations, affecting their children and grandchildren. In no sense has the Inquiry been ‘raking over the past’ for its own sake. The truth is that the past is very much with us today, in the continuing devastation of the lives of Indigenous Australians. That devastation cannot be addressed unless the whole community listens with an open heart and mind to the stories of what has happened in the past and, having listened and understood, commits itself to reconciliation. As the Governor-General stated in August 1996, It should, I think, be apparent to all well-meaning people that true reconciliation between the Australian nation and its indigenous peoples is not achievable in the absence of acknowledgment by the nation of the wrongfulness of the past dispossession, oppression and degradation of the Aboriginal peoples. That is not to say that individual Australians who had no part in what was done in the past should feel or acknowledge personal guilt. It is simply to assert our identity as a nation and the basic fact that national shame, as well as national pride, can and should exist in relation to past acts and omissions, at least when done or made in the name of the community or with the authority of government … The present plight, in terms of health, employment, education, living conditions and selfesteem, of so many Aborigines must be acknowledged as largely flowing from what happened in the past. The dispossession, the destruction of hunting fields and the devastation of lives were all related. The new diseases, the alcohol and the new pressures of living were all introduced. True acknowledgment cannot stop short of recognition of the extent to which present disadvantage flows from past injustice and oppression … Theoretically, there could be national reconciliation without any redress at all of the dispossession and other wrongs sustained by the Aborigines. As a practical matter, however, it is apparent that recognition of the need for appropriate redress for present disadvantage flowing from past injustice and oppression is a pre-requisite of reconciliation. There is, I believe, widespread acceptance of such a need (Sir William Deane 1996 pages 19-21). The Inquiry’s recommendations are directed to healing and reconciliation for the benefit of all Australians. Scope of the Inquiry Tracing the history Part 2 of this report traces the history of forcible removal of Indigenous children. The Inquiry’s first term of reference requires the tracing of ‘laws, practices and policies which resulted in the separation of Indigenous children from their families by compulsion, duress or undue influence’. Throughout this report, for ease of reference, we refer to ‘forcible removal’. The term contrasts the removals which are the subject of this Inquiry with removals which were truly voluntary, at least on the part of parents who relinquished their children, or where the child was orphaned and there was no alternative Indigenous carer to step in. Compulsion ‘Compulsion’ means force or coercion (Garner 1995 page 183). It encompasses both the officially authorised use of force or coercion and illegally exercised force or coercion. It clearly extends to the removal of a child by a government delegate such as a protector or police officer pursuant to legislative powers. These officers exerted ‘compulsion’ by virtue of their office and the power of the legislation under which they acted. The term clearly extends to removal of a child on a court order. Indeed a court is the ultimate power which can ‘compel’ the removal of children from their families. A common practice was simply to remove the child forcibly, often in the absence of the parent but sometimes even by taking the child from the mother’s arms. The law firm Phillips Fox advised the Inquiry that ‘[o]ne of our clients had instructed us that he was taken from his parents while his mother was in hospital having her fourth child. Another client was one of six children taken from their home by the police while their mother was in hospital having her seventh child’ (Phillips Fox Melbourne submission 20 page 5, both clients named). In a letter to the WA Commissioner of Native Affairs in November 1943, Inspector Bisley of Port Hedland wrote, ‘I recommend that this child be removed when she is old enough as she will be probably handed over to some aged blackfellow at an early age’. With respect to the same child, Inspector Neill in Broome wrote to the Commissioner in December 1944, ‘[t]here may perhaps be an objection to the children being removed from the Hospital without first returning to the Station from which they came as it means breaking faith with the mothers who either left them at the Hospital or sent them in for treatment but knowing how hard it is to arrange for the removal of children such as these once they are back on the Station I consider it justified, the fact that they have been separated from their mothers for some time already will also make the removal easier for the children’ (documents submitted with confidential submission 498, Western Australia: woman removed from hospital at the age of 4 years). My mother told us that the eldest daughter was a twin – it was a boy. And in those days, if Aboriginals had twins or triplets, they’d take the babies away. Mum swore black and blue that boy was alive. But they told her that he had died. I only found out a couple of years ago – that boy, the nursing sister took him. A lot of babies were not recorded. Confidential evidence 450, New South Wales: woman removed at 2 years in the 1940s, first to Bomaderry Children’s Home, then to Cootamundra Girls’ Home; now working to assist former Cootamundra inmates. … in the case of one of our clients, the decision to dispense with his mother’s consent to adoption was based on ‘inability to locate mother’, although the file reveals very little attempt to locate her. This occurred during a ‘temporary’ placement of our client in a babies home, due to ill health. The next time our client’s mother went to visit her son, she was faced with an empty cot. Her requests for her son’s return were not met (Phillips Fox Melbourne submission 20 page 4). I was at the post office with my Mum and Auntie [and cousin]. They put us in the police ute and said they were taking us to Broome. They put the mums in there as well. But when we’d gone [about ten miles] they stopped, and threw the mothers out of the car. We jumped on our mothers’ backs, crying, trying not to be left behind. But the policemen pulled us off and threw us back in the car. They pushed the mothers away and drove off, while our mothers were chasing the car, running and crying after us. We were screaming in the back of that car. When we got to Broome they put me and my cousin in the Broome lock-up. We were only ten years old. We were in the lock-up for two days waiting for the boat to Perth. Confidential evidence 821, Western Australia: these removals occurred in 1935, shortly after Sister Kate’s Orphanage, Perth, was opened to receive ‘lighter skinned’ children; the girls were placed in Sister Kate’s. Duress ‘Duress’ differs from ‘compulsion’ in that it can be achieved without the actual application of force. However, we usually understand it to involve threats or at least moral pressure. One meaning of ‘duress’ is ‘the infliction of hardship’ (Garner 1995 page 300) while another encompasses the threat of such infliction (Mozley and Whiteley 1988 page 153). Definitions commonly refer to illegally applied compulsion, a feature which distinguishes duress from compulsion because compulsion can be either legal or illegal. The last feature of duress is that it does not exclude acceptance by those affected by it. Rather the individual submits to what is demanded. The Inquiry heard evidence of a range of practices which in our view amounted to duress. For example, we were told that a large number of parents relinquished their children to the care of the Lutheran mission, Koonibba, in South Australia to protect them from being removed by the Protector and placed further away. At Koonibba the parents were permitted limited and supervised access (Dr Nick Kowalenko evidence 740, Lutheran Church SA submission 262). I remember another friend of mine in St Ives. She wanted to adopt a little Aboriginal baby. And she was telling me when she got this little one that she went out to the mission and said she wanted a little baby boy. The mission manager said, ‘Mrs J has a couple of boys [already], we’ll take her third one’. So they adopted that child. If Mrs J would have objected, she said the welfare officer says, ‘Well, if you don’t give us that child, we’ll take the other two’. Confidential evidence 613, New South Wales. I joined the [Victorian] Aborigines Welfare Board shortly after a most appalling episode in which a young woman aged 14 gave birth to a child in Gippsland. One of our Welfare Board officers went to her and said, ‘Look, you’re giving birth to this illegitimate child, fatherless child. We’d like to take this baby from you and give it out in adoption to a white couple’. She had the baby. [She subsequently married the child’s father.] She was approached a week later to sign the papers and she said, ‘I’ve changed my mind. I want to keep my baby’. The welfare officer then said to her, ‘If you change your mind and you renege on this particular deal, I’m going to have you charged with having carnal knowledge under the age of 14'. She succumbed to that pressure and the child was taken (Professor Colin Tatz, Centre for Comparative Genocide Studies, evidence 260). The following story seems to fit the definition of duress, with elements of compulsion. We were brought into this life without serious thought. My Aboriginal mother was thirteen years old when she had me and Laura at fourteen or fifteen. I know myself, as a young mum, how hard things can be bringing up kids. Faith, my mother had come from a large family and did not have much sense of direction. There were eighteen kid’s in my mother’s family … I feel they never new how to help my mother. Faith, my mum had met our father at thirteen he was about twenty five and they had me. My father knew this family, a white family and they took me there to stay, as I was told, I stayed there many times. Betty Sullivan who was the mother of the family loved Laura and I very much. I suppose the more we stayed there the more she loved us. One day my father and mother asked the Sullivan family to look after us for awhile because they had no where to live, so that was OK, Mrs Sullivan said yes. From then on there was a fight for us. I can remember how bad things were for my mother. I can recall when I was young how my mother went through custody battles for my sister and I to keep us. One day I remember very clearly leaving the court. In the taxi I somehow knew we, Laura and I, were going back to the home. So I started kicking and screaming to get out of the taxi. The driver stopped, got out, I saw him throw his hand’s up over his eyes and said he couldn’t take us, he didn’t want to drive us kids away from our mother, so we then went in the police car with the lady police officer we knew. Our father was in gaol most of the time he wasn’t there for her while she was at court. I love the Sullivan family very much. Mrs Sullivan taught me how to love and what was right and what was wrong. I’m glad she taught me values because I know now what was wrong. It was wrong the way my natural mother was treated. Mrs Sullivan told my mother she should lock herself away. The Sullivan family told people my mother was crazy and the court gave us to the Sullivan family. My mother was not crazy she was only nineteen. She was the right one and shouldn’t have killed herself but she knew no better as there was no one to help her keep her children. I can remember the day she died – that has haunted me for the rest of my life. I remember the police coming to Mrs Sullivan’s place where we were and told her that mum Faith died I’m sure I heard that. I turned and said to Mrs Sullivan ‘Mummy Faith can’t take us away anymore.’ The day she died we died. Confidential submission 818, Victoria. The extent to which Aboriginal parents who agreed to their children attending secondary school in distant locations were in fact submitting to duress is a vexed issue. The Inquiry has heard that in areas where no secondary education facilities were available, for example on Cape Barren Island in Tasmania, Central Australia and in the Torres Strait, the families of ‘promising’ students were asked if they wanted their children to be ‘given the opportunity’ of furthering their education by leaving home and going to live elsewhere. Submissions to the Inquiry emphasised that in making these offers it was never the intention to displace the family bonds or to deprive the families of the right to maintain contact with their children. Parents were free to keep in touch with their children and the children sometimes went home for holidays. Realistically, however, there was no likelihood that Indigenous families would have the material resources to ensure continuous regular contact. At the time these separations occurred Indigenous families may have expressed more regret about losing their children in this way than the children felt at the prospect of such an adventure during their adolescent years. The children reflected on the losses, as well as the gains, that their separation entailed only after leaving or much later. One interpretation of these offers is that the families were simply being given the same opportunity to have their children educated as non-Indigenous families in Australia, in a country where remoteness and small populations limit the kind of educational facilities that can be offered to all children. Another focuses on the power relationships between the makers of these offers and the families. Viewed in that way there was clearly an eleme...
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