The Stolen Generations refer to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were removed from their families by Australian Federal and State government agencies and church missions between 1910 and 1970 through a policy of assimilation.
Under this policy, the forcible removal of First Australian 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, unable 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, while some children were adopted by white families throughout the country.
The impact was felt both by the families who had their children taken away, and by the children themselves.
The forced removal of children created significant grief and trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families for a number of reasons, the impact of which is still being felt today.
In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, children are considered sacred and 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.
Further, the removal of generations of children disrupted transfers in knowledge and oral culture between generations, and thus cultural knowledge was lost.
Many children from the Stolen Generations suffered extreme physical, psychological and sexual abuse living under state care. Where children were forced to reject their culture, they often felt ashamed of their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage as they were forced to adopt a new identity. In some cases, children were told that their biological parents had given them up or died and were unable to find out who their families were as children were intentionally sent far away from their homelands. The intergenerational trauma felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of the stolen generation has been confirmed by medical experts who note a high incidence of post traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and suicide among those who have been affected by the policy.
Further, due to the separation of parent and child, many individuals never experienced healthy family situations, the effects of which are still being felt today as these children start their own families.
During the stolen generation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children who had been removed from their families received a very low level of education, as 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 named 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
Top Image: 1928 National Archives Australia: A268, The Bungalow, Alice Springs