The evidence to the Inquiry shows a high proportion of children experienced multiple placements after their removal. A quarter of the Inquiry witnesses spent the whole time since removal to release in one children’s home, 14% with a single non-indigenous family, fostered, adopted or both. 27% moved among or from institutions to foster placements or vice versa.
The forceful children removal under assimilationist legislation and policies, led to their separation from their Indigenous families, community and culture (2). Many did not finish primary school, were prohibited from using their native languages and were mistreated and forced to read the Bible. Foster families, missions and other institutions made errors through ignorance and paternalism trying to keep the children away from harm. Contact with family was restricted and strictly controlled (3). Letters to and from were detained and the children made to believe they were unwanted, rejected or their parents were dead. Their names, birth dates and religion were changed so many cannot tell their origin. In an attempt to force the white people’s way, and to alienate them, Aboriginality was scorned upon and held in open contempt, one of the most common experiences of the Inquiry witnesses (4, 5).
Physical infrastructure of missions, government institutions and children’s homes was poor and had insufficient resources to keep them sheltered, fed and clothed. Lack of love strict and cruel and inhuman punishment and denigration of the Aborigines was common. Verbal complains and formal petitions were dismissed (7).
Sexual abuse and exploitation was reported to be higher in girls than in boys, the risk being greater in a foster placement for the girls than any other. About one in ten boys and girls allege to have experienced sexual abuse in a children’s institution. While these acts were condemned, they were never prevented. Witnesses who reported to the police or the priest were branded liars and punished (10).
Protection from Chief Protectors, Protection and Welfare Boards and State welfare failed to offer protection to the children in the placements they had organized for them. Children were frequently mistreated, raped, cruelly punished and constantly overworked (12).
Children’s development needs were not taken into consideration until 1950s and later. Non-indigenous children however benefited from the new awareness while the Indigenous ones only did so to a limited extent in some institutions, foster homes and adoptive families where they found love, care and comfort as well as understanding their indigenous heritage (13).
Education in institutions and missions, if any, was little and of no value at all. It emphasized domestic and manual training aimed at preparing the children for menial work in government or mission communities and as cheap labor in the community (16). Aspirations that the children harbored were dashed because of the poor education system and the custodians’ indifference (17).
Aborigine children were expected to have the responsibilities of work at an early age but were not trusted with their own wages. Regulations stated that they were entitled to have some as pocket money. The rest was supposed to be entrusted to the Board to spend on the children and spend the rest of the money in trust until the child turns 21(18). Many girls never received even the pocket money while many apprentices never got their dues at all. Fraud was a common occurrence whereby the children’s accounts were defrauded until a thumbprint system was introduced for withdrawal endorsements (18, 19).
Children who had been taken from their mothers’ care were brought to court and pronounced destitute and hence placed under the care of foster care takers who received allowances for taking care of them (20).
The forceful removal of children had far reaching ramifications to both the children who had to endure untold psychological and physical stress from cruel punishment, hunger, sexual abuse, lack of parental love and inhumane working arrangements with little or no pay. Most lost their identity and ended up feeling like outcasts from both their native and the white communities. Their ambitions and hopes were crushed with the lack of education and vocational training. All in all the arbitrary acts committed against them left most of them with permanent scars which will be felt for generations to come.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. (1997). 10 children’s experiences. National
inquiry into the separation of aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children from their