Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sydney Morning Herald: White mothers of stolen children also deserve an apology

On page 14 of this morning's Sydney Morning Herald, Liz Hannan writes "White mothers of stolen children also deserve an apology" article.

http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/white-mothers-of-stolen-children-also-deserve-an-apology-20101207-18o7t.html#comments

Copied from the site:
In an attempt to revive her battered image with Queensland voters, Julia Gillard and a dozen ministers and parliamentary secretaries journeyed north last week to convene a ''community cabinet'' in a school hall in the marginal Labor seat of Petrie.

Little was expected of the evening. The Prime Minister's office did not keep a transcript of proceedings. But one exists and, among talk of sustainable fisheries and the $1.15 billion Petrie to Kippa-Ring rail line, was a significant exchange between Gillard and one of the 400 locals on hand.

''My name is Margaret Hamilton,'' she began. ''I'm from ALAS - Adoption Loss Adult Support. There are over 250,000 white mothers who lost their babies to forcible removal at birth by the same past illegal adoption practices as Aboriginal mothers. How do you feel personally? Should they receive an apology?''
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The PM replied: ''I see in the media - and have heard sometimes face to face - some of the stories of women who face very devastating circumstances of having children taken, or being put under intolerable pressure to relinquish their children, in a different age and a different time.

''So, as a human being, of course you extend your sympathy to anybody who lived through that and through years of not knowing what happened to their child. So I think it's something we can all say, we're sorry that ever happened in Australian history.''

It was a ''sorry'' heard by few that has since reverberated to broken-hearted middle-aged and elderly women across the land.

These are the mothers of the ''white stolen generations'', so-called to distinguish them from the mothers of the indigenous stolen generations, though their suffering is shared.

In the five decades up to 1982, the newborn babies of these young, unwed women were forcibly removed from them for adoption. Their stories are shocking. They were drugged, tethered to beds, not allowed to see their babies, told they were dead.

Margaret Hamilton had a son taken from her in Queensland. For Christine Cole - the founder of the Apology Alliance - it was a daughter. She says institutions such as Crown Street Women's Hospital in Sydney engaged in institutionalised baby farming, whereby those deemed inferior were taken and assimilated into the middle class.

Cole was 16 when, in 1969, her mother took her to Crown Street, where she was given military-style mind-altering barbiturates in the lead-up to the birth. She never saw her baby daughter's face. After five days on drugs to dry up her milk and sedate her in her grief, she was made to sign adoption papers and sent home.

An apology from the federal government - and to a lesser extent the states - is crucial to women like these two.

NSW held an inquiry more than a decade ago. These women are still waiting for a parliamentary apology, not the statement of public acknowledgment the then treasurer, Michael Egan, gave to Parliament in 2001.

At federal level, a Senate inquiry is under way, with a report due in April, but they fear a repeat of the Bringing Them Home report. It took more than a decade for one of its recommendations, a parliamentary apology to the stolen generations, to occur.

These mothers believe it is cause for hope that the federal government and two states are now led by women. Kristina Keneally knows what it is to labour and give birth to a child she will never know. Two months ago, she spoke publicly about the daughter she delivered in 1999, knowing congenital defects meant she would not survive birth. ''I have a picture of Caroline next to my bed,'' she said. ''She's often the first thing I think about when I get up in the morning and the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night. The person I am today is because I'm Caroline's mother.''

The Prime Minister and premiers should follow the lead of the West Australian Premier, Colin Barnett, who, in October, in an Australian first, delivered a parliamentary apology on behalf of state institutions involved in the aggressive adoption practices and government policies that were unsupportive of pregnant, unmarried women. There was no political fallout, no avalanche of compensation claims, only joy and healing for the women whose babies were taken.

Last week's personal ''sorry'' from Gillard, while cause for excitement among the women, is not enough.

When Kevin Rudd examines the flaming wreckage of his prime ministership, he must reflect with satisfaction on the apologies he made on behalf of the nation.

The first, in February 2008, was to the stolen generations. The second, in November last year, was to the forgotten Australians - the half-million Australian children and British child migrants who suffered years of neglect and abuse in orphanages and state and religious institutions.

Some mothers of the ''white stolen generations'' are dead. Others are dying. Many live in despair, still longing for the chance to hold their baby, to see its face, to rewrite their sad history.

They deserve parliamentary apologies. Without delay.

Dec 8th 2010 - Liz Hannan.

2 comments:

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