The Stolen Generation are Aboriginal children and Torres Strait Islander children who were typically mixed-race children who were taken from their families by government agencies, churches, and welfare organizations to be raised in organizations or fostered out to white families. This article will tell you all you need to know about the Stolen generations along with the Top 9 stolen generation facts.
Until 1969, it was official policy in Australia to remove children from their families. The practice, however, dates back to the early days of European settlement, when children were used as guides, servants, and farm laborers. In 1814, the first “native institution” was established in Parramatta to “civilize” Aboriginal children.
The Aborigines Protection Board was formed, and it was in charge of overseeing the mass relocation of Aboriginal people from their ancestral lands to reserves and stations. Aboriginal girls were sent to board-run homes to be taught about domestic service.
The Aborigines Protection Act of 1909 gave the Aborigines Protection Board legal authority to remove Aboriginal children from their families. An amendment to the Act in 1915 gave the Board the right to remove any child without parental permission or court order.
It is unknown how many Aboriginal children were removed from their homes between 1909 and 1969 when the Aborigines Welfare Board (formerly the Aborigines Protection Board) was disbanded. Poor record keeping, record loss, and adjustments in the public sector have made tracing many connections nearly impossible.
Nearly every single Aboriginal family has indeed been impacted in some way by child removal policies. Taking children from families was among the most disastrous practices since the white settlement, and it continues to have far-reaching consequences for all Aboriginal people today. To know more about such interesting facts, check out this post.
Who were the stolen children?
Authorities primarily targeted children of mixed ancestry, or “half-caste” Aboriginal children (advise, this is a derogatory term!). These Aboriginal and Torres Strait children were thought to be more easily integrated into white society.
Numerous children also weren’t told they were Aboriginal at the time and only discovered this later in life. So-called “A grade” infants were not clearly Aboriginal and were helped foster out without informing their new parents of their ancestry. If you know “what to look out for” in ‘B grade’ babies, you can tell if they are Aboriginal.
What happened to the stolen children?
Babies were frequently snatched at birth, and their mothers were denied the opportunity to see them for the first time. They were dubbed “Blanket Babies” because nurses wrapped a blanket around them to keep them hidden from their mothers.
The stolen kids were raised on operations or by foster families, with no connection to their Aboriginal heritage. Many people were eliminated from their identities and given a number instead. When they were caught speaking their Aboriginal language, they were severely punished.
Some children received little or no education and never learned anything traditional. Instead, the girls had been trained as domestic servants, while the boys were trained as stockmen.
Many of the kidnapped girls and boys were abused physically, emotionally, and sexually. Many babies born to raped girls by white men were taken away from their mothers, some as soon as they were birthed.
Boys and girls were separated and placed in institutions that they (and some experts) later compared to German concentration camps and the Holocaust. Many people attempted to flee, but only a few were successful. Many were told they had been orphans or never saw their family members again.
Where were the Aboriginal and Torres Strait children taken?
There were numerous places where the Australian government agencies brutally snatched away young kids and ripped them of their heritage. The places mentioned below are just a few out of hundreds of such disastrous places.
Blacktown Native Institution
Western Sydney was one of the first known locations where Aboriginal children were separated from their family members. It was specifically built to house and brainwash people with European customs and culture, and it represents the beginnings of Aboriginal institutionalization in Australia. The Anglican Church Missionary Society was in charge of the institution from 1823 to 1829.
Bomaderry Children’s Home
The United Aborigines Mission was in operation from May 24, 1908, to 1981.
Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls’ Home
From 1911 to 1969, the building served as a hospital. During this time, approximately 1,200 girls were sent to Cootamundra. On August 11, 2012, it celebrated its centennial.
Oakhurst Blacktown Native Institution
It was in use from December 1814 to December 1829. It was built to house approximately 20 Aboriginal and Maori children, but children commonly ran away or were removed by their parents. The location is designated as a “key historical site symbolizing dispossession and child removal.”
Many of those who were snatched made long-term connections in the neighborhood where they lived. These people began to settle after leaving institutions.
However, the women and men passed on the types of abuse they had experienced to their own kids (intergenerational trauma).
How many children were stolen?
That is a difficult question to answer. Few documents of stolen children have been kept, and some were purposefully destroyed or simply lost. Some administrations attempted to highlight their “successful integration” of Aboriginal people by purposefully understating Aboriginal numbers, thereby distorting data.
As a result, figures can only be approximated. It is estimated that over 6,200 children were snatched in NSW alone between 1883 and 1969.
According to a 1994 Australian Bureau of Statistics survey, one in every ten (10%) Aboriginal adults over the age of 25 had been forcibly removed as children, a figure that appears to have been clarified by investigation since the Bringing Them Home Report. Australia-wide, the figure is in the tens of thousands.
If you apply this percentage to the Aboriginal population figures from the 2011 Census, you’ll get about 14,700 Stolen Generations people for that year. Taking those with direct family members who were removed into account, the Stolen Generations policies directly affect an extra 160,000 Aboriginal people.
When were the children stolen?
Authorities began to take kids away without even a legal framework toward the end of the nineteenth century. The Aborigines Protection Act of 1909 established a framework.
The child removal process slowed in the 1960s but proceeded well into the 1970s. Some of the institutions that housed the Stolen Generations didn’t shut down until the early 1980s.
What were the effects on the stolen children?
The consequences for these children and their families have been severe and continue to be so.
Aboriginal people face a wide range of social and personal issues, and the ongoing trauma caused them diseases such as mental illness, violence, alcoholism, and welfare dependency, but members of the Stolen Generations face even more.
The Top 9 Stolen Generation Facts
Stolen Generation Facts 1: The Stolen Generation is also referred to as the Stolen Children.
Stolen Generation Facts 2: During the early years of European colonization of Australia, between 1910 and the 1970s, the procedure of removing children who were of mixed descent from their families began.
Stolen Generation Facts 3: It was part of the assimilation policy, in which the board was provided full oversight over Aboriginal people, such as the authority to remove children from their parents if they were deemed neglected.
Stolen Generation Facts 4: The British government suggested a framework of “protection” against the Europeans’ brutal treatment of Indigenous peoples.
Stolen Generation Facts 5: By 1937, Western Australia had made assimilation a national policy.
Stolen Generation Facts 6: The policy’s goal was based on the mistaken premise that people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage would’ve been better off if they integrated into white society.
Stolen Generation Facts 7: The government justified it as a matter of welfare, with children receiving an education and job training “in order for them to take their spot in the white community as a similar par with the white people,” and also added that separating the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their family members was a necessary part.
Stolen Generation Facts 8: However, the ultimate goal of this assimilation was to erase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage.
Stolen Generation Facts 9: The majority of the children chosen for forcible removal had Aboriginal and white ancestry because it was thought that they would be the easiest ones to integrate into white society.
Effects on Aboriginal children
- Children in their housing units were told to speak English as their primary language and were not permitted to participate in Indigenous customs.
- The majority of the children received insufficient or no education. Rather, they were given training as manual laborers or domestic servants and used as cheap labor sources at their institutions or missions.
- Many were overlooked and subjected to psychological, physical, and sexual abuse in institutions or by foster parents. Forgotten Australians are children who have been institutionalized.
- There were children who were misled into believing that their parents were abusive, had died, or had abandoned them, and others who had no idea where they had been taken from or who their birth families were.
Is there any officially procured documentation about the Stolen Generations?
Federal Parliament on May 26, 1997, gave a Yes to the iconic Bringing them Home Report.
The report was produced as a result of a national investigation into the forced removal of children from their Aboriginal families.
The report was a critical step in the process of healing for many members of the Stolen Generations. This was the first time their tales had been heard in public. It was also the first time that it was officially revealed that what government agencies did to these children was inhumane, with long-term consequences.
During the Stolen Generations, First Nations children who were taken from their families received no or very little schooling as they were expected to perform as domestic servants and manual laborers at a young age.
Unfinished Business, a report published in 2006 by the Senate Legal and Constitutional References Committee Inquiry, documented these acts of terror and suggested that Indigenous people be recompensed where there is evidence of stolen wages.
Are state governments offering compensation?
Almost every state has made compensation available to people of the Stolen Generations: Tasmania in 2006, Western Australia in 2007, Queensland in 2012, South Australia in 2015, New South Wales in 2017, and the ACT/NT in 2021. Only Victoria hasn’t caught up.
To obtain justice, courageous Aboriginal people frequently took their government authorities to court. Some people were successful. But not without both sides fighting.
Bringing the indigenous children home
In 1995, the Commonwealth Attorney General established the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to conduct a National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families (HREOC).
The report of the inquiry, bringing them back home, was proposed in the Commonwealth Parliament on May 26, 1997, the day before the National Reconciliation Convention began.
The report included 54 recommendations to right the wrongs committed against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The report’s key recommendation was for an official acknowledgment and apology for the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
Children continue to be taken from their families
If a child is “at risk of significant harm,” the Department of Community Services (DoCS) has the power to remove them from their families.
Child protection services take about 60 children away each month, according to Elder Djiniyini Gondarra, who represents the 8,000 Yolngu folks of east Arnhem Land.
Indeed, the number of Aboriginal children in foster care has increased by 65 percent since the National Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008. NSW had the highest percentage of Aboriginal children in care in 2020.
Aboriginal children are nearly eight times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be the subject of departmental interference, nine times more likely to be on care and protection commands, and ten times to be in and out of home care facilities.
The present generation may grow up to say that they, too, were separated from their families.
Only about 60% of Koorie children in care in Victoria remained connected to their family culture. A “staggering” 81 percent of Aboriginal children were on lengthy guardianship orders in 2020, which means they were in state care until the age of 18.
The adoption of Aboriginal children is also disproportionately high. In 2020, 95 percent of adoptions went to non-Aboriginal caregivers, and they all happened in New South Wales and Victoria. Adoption without parental approval is legal in New South Wales.
Why are they still being taken away?
Intergenerational effects of family and cultural separation are partly responsible; parents who were stolen as children pass on this trauma to their own children and continue being Australia’s stolen generations.
However, many government officials decided to remove children who appeared to have difficulty distinguishing between neglect and poverty.
The most common reason for Aboriginal children being removed from their families was neglect, but the framework was puzzling the impacts of abject poverty with the notion of neglect.
Was it legal for the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families?
With all of the suffering and trauma caused by the child expulsion policies, one has to wonder: Was this legal? Don’t these laws infringe on fundamental human rights?
When two individuals of the Stolen Generations tried to sue the Commonwealth in 1997, these questions were raised in Australia’s High Court (Kruger vs. Commonwealth). They claimed that the laws violated basic human rights, including the right to due process, equality before the law, freedom of movement, and religious freedom.
The High Court ruled that none of these rights were protected, in a “dramatic demonstration of Australia’s lack of rights protection”. We’re not talking about Aboriginal rights here; we’re talking about human rights!
In other words, forcibly removing Aboriginal children from Australia was perfectly legal.
The failure of Australia to protect basic human rights disproportionately affects the poor, the marginalized, and the socioeconomically disadvantaged. That is, they disproportionately affect Aboriginal people, families, and communities.
The Inquiry discovered that somewhere between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were removed from their parents as a result of previous government policies, but could not be more specific due to a lack of records.
The “white stolen generations”
Did you know there’s another stolen generation in Australia, one that happens to share the pain and consequences? To differentiate it from the Aboriginal stolen generation, it is referred to as the “white stolen generation.”
During the five decades leading up to 1982, newborn babies of young, single women were forcefully removed from them for adoption, a practice known colloquially as “baby farming.” Moms were sedated, tethered to beds, denied access to their children, and told they were dead. Many of these adoptions took place after the mothers had been sent away by their families due to the stigma of being pregnant and unmarried.
These previous illegal adoption practices resulted in the forcible removal of over 250,000 white mothers’ babies at birth. Adoption Loss Adult Support and Apology Alliance are two organizations that provide assistance and support.
Western Australia, South Australia, the ACT, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania all apologized between 2010 and 2012. In 2013, Prime Minister Julia Gillard launched an apology to those affected by forced adoptions.
Government Responses to Bringing them Home
Bringing them home made a major recommendation that all Australian Parliaments apologize to the Stolen Generations for the behavior of their precedents in forcibly removing children from their families.
All state and territory governments have expressed regret. Many local governments, police departments, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and religious organizations have also apologized. The Commonwealth Government issued a “statement of regret” for past practices in 1999.
In response to the Inquiry’s findings, the Commonwealth Government announced a package directed at reconciling families and providing Indigenous people with access to archives and historical facts about themselves and their families. The restitution package includes the following:
- 50 new counselors for those undergoing reunion processes.
- The creation of a nationwide network of household linkup services to aid in family reunification, culture and linguistic maintenance programs.
- A national oral history project
- Expansion of the network of regional centers for social and emotional well-being.
Thousands of Australians took part in the Sorry Book campaign in 1998, culminating in the first National Sorry Day on May 26, 1998. This grassroots movement has been dubbed “the people’s apology.”
Between 1997 and 1999, all state and territory governments issued formal apologies to the Stolen Generations, their families, and communities for the laws, policies, and practices that governed forcible removal.
The Australian Government introduced a Motion of Reconciliation in the National Parliament in 1999, expressing “deep and sincere regret.” For nearly ten years, the Australian government has flatly refused any recommendation for a national apology.
In May 2000, nearly 250,000 Australians started walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in support of rapprochement and in rebellion against the Australian government’s failure to issue an official apology. Thousands more crossed bridges across the country.
The National Apology
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd began interacting with Indigenous Australians in 2007 about the format of a national apology. On behalf of the Australian parliament, he issued an official sincere apology to members of the Stolen Generations on February 13, 2008.
Crowds witnessed the admission of guilt on television in their cities and towns across Australia. Photographic and video recordings of those present at the apology show sorrowful and reflective faces as the Prime Minister spoke of the wrongdoings inflicted on Indigenous peoples across Australia by governments. When he finished speaking, a flood of tears, relief, and applause erupted.
The Stolen Generations Alliance and the National Sorry Day Committee asked Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma to respond to the apology on the same day.
Public awareness and recognition
- Many organizations, including the Healing Foundation, have been working for decades to reunite people of the Stolen Generation and their heirs with their families, Indigenous communities, heritage, and country.
- The Australian Government established the Link-Up service in 1980 to assist members of the Stolen Generation and subsequent generations in locating their families.
- The Australian government launched the Bringing Them Home investigation into the policy of forced child removal in 1995, which was presented to Parliament on May 26, 1997.
- It calculated that between 1910 and 1970, between 10% and 33% of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were separated from their families and concluded that this was a violation of fundamental human rights.
- While the investigation into the Stolen Generation was initiated by the Keating administration, the Howard administration took power at the time the report was completed and largely ignored its 54 recommendations.
Stolen Generations organizations
A few organizations assist Aboriginal people from the Stolen Generations.
The National Sorry Day Committee (NSDC)
After the Bringing Them Home document recommended that a National Sorry Day be held each year on May 26 to “celebrate the history of forcible removals and its effects,” the community-based National Sorry Day Committee was established in 1998.
The NDSC works with Stolen Generations representatives, Aboriginal communities, government, social justice, and community organizations to achieve all 54 recommendations of the Bringing Them Home report.
The Stolen Generations Link-Up, based in New South Wales, was founded in 1980 to assist members of the Stolen Generations in locating relatives. It also provides counseling to recently reunited families.
Link-Up has office buildings in almost every state in Australia. From 1999 to 2007, Link-Up organized 160 family reunions in South Australia, bringing together 4,915 people.
Family Link was founded in 2009 with the goal of locating relatives and kin locations for Aboriginal kids in foster care.
When Aboriginal children cannot live safely with their parents, Link-Up tends to work with the Department of Community Services to put them with other families.
While Aboriginal children account for only 4% of all children in NSW, they account for 31% of all postings.
Family record service
The Family Records Service assists Aboriginal people in New South Wales in gaining access to records of themselves and their families, especially those from the Stolen Generations.
The service is run by the Dept of Aboriginal Affairs, which is also the custodian of the Aborigines Welfare Board’s records.
Find and Connect
Find and connect is a resource for Forgotten Australians (all Australians who’ve been ‘in care,’ including British Child Migrants as well as the Stolen Generations) who want to learn more about their family history. It does not provide access to private records, but it does assist individuals in locating institutional records pertaining to them.
Find and connect can assist those from the Stolen Generations in determining which institutions provided them with out-of-home care. Those who want to learn more about their past can find out where the institution’s records are maintained and how to access them.
The 13th of February marks the anniversary of the 2008 National Apology. The 26th of May is National Sorry Day, commemorating the presentation of the Bringing Them Home report in Parliament in 1997. These anniversaries provide a chance for all Australians to learn more by hearing the voices of Stolen Generation First Nations people.