November 28th 2009

  Buy Issue 2817

Articles from this issue:

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Are we about to create another Stolen Generation?

CANBERRA OBSERVED: National sorrow over plight of forgotten Australians

EDITORIAL: ETS: Rudd's one-way ticket to hell

POLITICS: Whither the Liberal Party?

COVER STORY: Brian Mullins (1925-2009): a true Australian hero

CANBERRA OBSERVED: National sorrow over plight of forgotten Australians

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: Are we about to create another Stolen Generation?

FINANCIAL CRISIS: Splitting the megabanks for financial stability

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Afghanistan: Obama's no-win rhetoric

WAR ON TERROR: Grim lessons of the Fort Hood massacre

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Rudd's 'Indonesia solution' has been in place since 2007

HEALTH CARE: Labor unleashes class war on doctors

NEW ZEALAND: John Key sells New Zealand short

COLD WAR: The year the Berlin Wall fell

UNITED STATES: Obamacare: the ego has landed

ABORTION: An abortion-provider changes her mind

Statesmanship needed (letter)

American health cover (letter)

Some orphanage carers were admirable (letter)

BOOK REVIEW: THE VOCATION OF BUSINESS: Social Justice in the Marketplace, by John C. Médaille

BOOK REVIEW: THE THIRTY-SIX: A story of a boy's miraculous survival in wartime Poland, by Siegmund Siegreich

Books promotion page

National sorrow over plight of forgotten Australians

by national correspondent

News Weekly, November 28, 2009
Unlike the national apology to the "stolen generation", there was no controversy when the Prime Minister and Opposition leader expressed sorrow at the treatment and plight of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who were institutionalised in homes from the 1930s to the 1970s.

As former Australian Democrats senator Andrew Murray put it, the number of children of Aboriginal descent who were separated from their birth parents represented fewer than 10 per cent of the total number of children in Australia who were also separated and raised by state, charitable and church institutions during that time.

Murray, who has played a huge role in bringing about public recognition of the issue, believed it was fitting that the apology to the "stolen generation" was first, but that the apology to the "forgotten Australians" was also long overdue.

Some claim the number of Australians who spent time in these orphanages and homes is as high as 500,000, while others say this figure involves a good deal of double-counting.

A further 7,000 mainly British children were shipped to Australia, and told that they were orphans.

Even if broadly correct, these numbers represent a vast cohort of Australian society who have experienced deeply traumatised, sad and complex childhoods as a result of institutionalised care.

It is certainly true that the homes during that time were cold and unforgiving places where cruelty and brutality were not uncommon, where indifference and loneliness were rife, and where parental love, tenderness and affection were largely absent.

In recent times, it has also become clear that such institutions were a magnet for people of sadistic temperaments and warped sexual tendencies. The number of people who were physically and sexually abused in these homes is appalling.

During an emotion-charged ceremony in Parliament's Great Hall in Canberra, Kevin Rudd described the period as an "ugly chapter in our nation's history".

"We come together today to offer our nation's apology. To say to you, the Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children without your consent, that we are sorry.

"We look back with shame that so many of you were left cold, hungry and alone and with nowhere to hide and with nobody, absolutely nobody, to whom to turn."

Malcolm Turnbull, who experienced the painful separation of his mother when he was eight years old, broke down during his speech.

"For those who have suffered decades of grief, haunted by your childhood - emotionally paralysed and unable to move forward, today I hope you can take the first step forward because you are not to blame," he said. "It was governments, churches and charities that failed you…"

Despite the genuine emotional outpourings and the important cathartic effect this event will have on the people who live forever with the childhood scars from the times spent in these homes, it is all too easy to condemn past practices in comparison to our "enlightened" times and to judge past policies through the prism of the modern welfare state and from human rights now taken for granted.

Many homes were also run by extraordinary people who gave their lives to the care and protection of children.

Even more important, it is dangerous to pretend that we are not letting down children in similar circumstances today, or confronting head-on the appalling mistakes being made in the foster care system.

At any point, there are 35,000 children in state care today. This can be for their protection, to rescue them from neglect because their parents have some form of addiction, or because the children themselves have some form of behavioural, physical or psychological problems.

Rather than institutional care the preferred method is placement in a "family" home, in which carers are paid by the state.

This can be lucrative - up to $800 a week per child in the case of children with extreme behavioural problems or disabilities.

But, as The Australian newspaper's award-winning investigative reporter Caroline Overington has uncovered in New South Wales, many of these children have ended up in similar or worse circumstances. Some have been removed from drug-addict parents only to be placed with other drug addicts who take the extra government cash to feed their habits.

Abuse and neglect are common as government social workers juggle with decisions about whether to remove children from dangerous situations and judge who are fit or unfit to qualify as foster carers.

Overington, who was also responsible for breaking the AWB scandal, recently argued that there were no national standards for care and the level of care can vary from one home to the next.

However, the departmental response to these reports has been disgraceful, with extraordinary efforts made to block and hinder the reporting of scandalous incidents under the name of "privacy".

The apology to the "forgotten Australians" will inevitably be accompanied by calls for compensation for the pain and anguish caused by mistreatment in institutional care.

Whether money can compensate for these past wrongdoings is difficult to gauge.

But the more important and practical issue is protecting and nurturing children in state care today.

Join email list

Join e-newsletter list

Your cart has 0 items

Subscribe to NewsWeekly

Research Papers

Trending articles

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Memo to Shorten, Wong: LGBTIs don't want it

COVER STORY Shorten takes low road to defeat marriage plebiscite

COVER STORY Reaper mows down first child in the Low Countries

COVER STORY Bill Shorten imposes his political will on the nation

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE Kevin Andrews: defend marriage on principles

CANBERRA OBSERVED Coalition still gridlocked despite foreign success

ENVIRONMENT More pseudo science from climate

News and views from around the world

Menzies, myth and modern Australia (Jonathan Pincus)

China’s utterly disgraceful human-rights record

Japan’s cure for childlessness: a robot (Marcus Roberts)

SOGI laws: a subversive response to a non-existent problem (James Gottry)

Shakespeare, Cervantes and the romance of the real (R.V. Young)

That’s not funny: PC and humour (Anthony Sacramone)

Refugees celebrate capture of terror suspect

The Spectre of soft totalitarianism (Daniel Mahoney)

American dream more dead than you thought (Eric Levitz)

Think the world is overcrowded: These 10 maps show why you’re wrong (Max Galka)

© Copyright 2011
Last Modified:
November 14, 2015, 11:18 am