The Stolen Generations

The Bungalow Alice Springs, 1928 National Archives Australia
May 27, 2019
July 9, 2024
Last Updated
October 25, 2022
Written by
The Common Ground Team
Written by
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The Stolen Generations refers to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970. This was done by Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions, through a policy of assimilation.

Under this policy, the forcible removal of First Nations children was made legal. Assimilation was based on a belief of white superiority and black inferiority, and presumed that "full-blood" Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would naturally die out. It proposed that children with Aboriginal and white parentage, who were termed "half-caste" (now considered an extremely derogatory term), should be assimilated into white society. It was believed these children would be more easily assimilated due to their lighter skin.

Children were separated from their families and forced to adopt a white culture. They were forbidden to speak their traditional languages or refer to themselves by the names that they were given by their parents. Most children were placed in institutions where neglect and abuse was common. Some children were adopted by white families throughout the country, and many of these children were used for domestic work.

The impact was felt both by the families who had their children taken away, and by the children themselves.

Impact on First Nations children and their families

The forced removal of children created significant intergenerational grief and trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families for a number of reasons. The impact of this is still being felt today.

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures children are considered sacred, and our kinship systems ensure that communities are very closely knit. Being separated from kin and witnessing the abuse of children was devastating for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.

The removal of generations of children disrupted the transfer of knowledge and oral culture between generations. So the Stolen Generations has also had a devastating effect on the continuation of deep cultural knowledge.

Many children from the Stolen Generations suffered extreme physical, psychological and sexual abuse living under state care. Children were forced to reject their culture and adopt a new identity. So they often felt ashamed of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage. In some cases, children were told that their biological parents had given them up or died. Later unable to find out who their biological families were because had been intentionally sent far away from their original homelands. The intergenerational trauma felt by First Nations people of the Stolen Generations has been confirmed by medical experts who note a high incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, anxiety and suicide among those affected by the policy.

Also, due to the separation of parent and child, many individuals never experienced healthy family situations. This has continued to impact people through the generations, as these children start their own families.

Stolen wages

During the Stolen Generations, First Nations children who had been removed from their families received no or very low levels of education because they were expected to work as domestic servants and manual labourers at a very young age. A Report of the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee Inquiry published in 2006, Unfinished Business, recorded these atrocities and recommended that Indigenous people be compensated where there is evidence of stolen wages.

Servant or Slave is an emotional and confronting feature film that gives insight into the history and legacy of the domestic servitude enforced upon Aboriginal girls in Australia, told through the stories of five women. Watch it here.

On 13 February 2008, the Australian Government formally apologised to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. Kevin Rudd, the Prime Minister of Australia at the time, delivered the speech in Parliament House. Watch it here.

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