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Thursday, 14 February 2008
Page: 457

Ms KING (11:27 AM) —I want to start my contribution by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which this parliament gathers, and I pay my respects to their elders. I also wish to pay my respects to the Wathaurong and the Dja Dja Wurung people, the traditional owners of the land in which the boundaries of the electorate of Ballarat fall. I also want to commend the member for Kooyong and the many members of the opposition who have spoken or will speak on this motion. It is truly wonderful that, as of yesterday, we have bipartisan support on the apology, and I think it is very important that we have had that.

Yesterday we had quite an extraordinary day, a day when we saw just what this country is capable of when we have compassion in our hearts. I want to add my voice to those of the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in saying sorry to the stolen generations. I strongly support the motion of apology moved by the Prime Minister and respectfully offer my own apology. There are many things that I am sorry for. I am sorry that it has taken this parliament so long to formally acknowledge the harm done to you and successive generations of your family. I am sorry that the successive laws of parliaments and governments inflicted such pain, suffering and grief on you. I am sorry that these policies led to the shattering of families and to many of you never having known where you came from and not having the love of your families to guide you.

Yesterday the government honoured its commitment made not just during the election campaign but in successive ALP policy platforms to offer an unreserved apology to the stolen generations. I know that there are people in the community who do not quite understand why yesterday was so necessary if we are to move forward as a nation. I encourage everyone, if they get the opportunity, to read the Bringing them home report, which details what happened to the stolen generations. The key findings of this report—and this report is now 10 years old; 10 years ago this report came out—are that nationally between one in three and one in 10 Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families between 1910 and 1970. Indigenous children were placed in institutions and church missions, were adopted or fostered and were at risk of physical and sexual abuse. Many never received wages for their labour and welfare officers failed in their duty to protect Indigenous wards from abuse. This is in a report that is 10 years old. These children were removed from their families not on the basis that they were victims of abuse, although there may be some cases of that. They were removed from their families solely on the basis of their race. As the Prime Minister asked us to do yesterday: imagine if that were you. This is not some distant event that happened in the dim, dark past of Australia’s history. Children were being removed under various assimilation policies as late as 1970. It has occurred within living memory of this generation.

My own district played a part. The four children’s institutions in Ballarat—Nazareth babies home, Ballarat babies home, Ballarat Orphanage and St Josephs—were all recipients of stolen generation children, many of them coming from as far away as Gippsland. I am ashamed to say that, as a 20-year-old working in what was the Ballarat Orphanage, I did not know its part in the history of this generation of children and I would like to add an apology for my ignorance and my lack of curiosity about the history of the institution I worked in. Some of the stories of the stolen generation children who were placed in Ballarat Orphanage are contained in a local publication called Faded Footprints: Walking the Past, produced by the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Co-operative. The artwork on the cover of this terrific publication signifies all of the different communities from which people were taken—from across Victoria, to the centre, to Ballarat. The footprints in the illustration, which was done by fantastic local artist Marley Smith, slowly fade as they leave their communities and move in towards the Ballarat Orphanage to show that their culture was slowly fading as they moved into the orphanage because there was no teaching or training or acknowledgement of Indigenous culture once the children were placed within that institution. Many of the children—some of whom are now elderly; some of whom are now in their late 40s—say to this day that they are still learning about their culture and their heritage.

One of the children whose story is told in this wonderful publication was here in parliament yesterday. He is Murray Harrison, or Uncle Murray, as we know him at home. Murray has given me a copy of the book to present to the Prime Minister. Inside it he has inscribed, ‘On behalf of my sisters and myself please accept this gift.’ Murray’s story is like so many others. Murray was living with his uncle and aunt in Bruthen in Gippsland after his mother passed away, leaving his father to care for seven children. One day, when his Auntie Dora was out picking peas—she was a seasonal fruit picker—and his Uncle Stewart was working in the axe handle factory, some men came. As Uncle Murray says:

We really had no idea as to how to defend ourselves. The government agency just came and took us. We were not neglected. We were not uneducated. We were a family who understood what it was to be in society. When we got to the courthouse in Bruthen, we said, ‘No, we are not the people you want,’ and they just with the stroke of a pen said, ‘Well, we’ll change the name’—and that was it. By the time my auntie realised we were gone, we were in Melbourne.

Murray and his two sisters were then taken to Melbourne to the Royal Park children’s homes, where they were separated. Murray was put in what he describes as a cell. Murray says:

When you are 10 years old and you’ve never been shut in and you go into a dark room and the door is shut on you—well, 60 years later I can still hear that rotten door shutting.

I caught up briefly with Murray yesterday and I think it speaks so enormously of his incredible generosity that the first thing he said to me when he saw me yesterday was ‘thank you’. It was very humbling. It is us who should be thanking Uncle Murray for being so patient with our ignorance of what happened to him and many like him. I hope yesterday goes some way to silencing the echoes of that shutting door for Uncle Murray, but I know that words alone cannot change what happened to him. There are many other stories in Faded Footprints. Karen Atkinson, who was taken into care at a very early age, spent 10 years in the Ballarat Orphanage and at the age of 15 was sent out to work and fend for herself. Her mother died three weeks prior to her leaving the orphanage, so she never saw her again. She did have some contact with her father throughout the remainder of his life. And there is Ray Fernell, who says:

The first time I went there it was like being put into some other strange environment again, which was a bit scary because you have got different people and you weren’t sure what you can do and when you can do it.

There is Faye Thorpe’s story, Nancy Peart’s story and Lloyd Clarke’s story—many stories of Indigenous people who came from a long way away in Victoria to Ballarat Orphanage and who then ended up settling in Ballarat. Dianne Clarke describes:

So they bailed us up there and took the parents, like dragged them off, kicking and screaming, around to our window and they were fighting. Our parents were putting up a good fight. Our mum was real little but was fired up and was fighting for her kids and I remember seeing the police just giving it to her, just punching her on the ground.

You can imagine the desperation of these parents as their children were being taken. These stories are just a very small number of the stories of Indigenous people of stolen generations who ended up in Ballarat and in the Ballarat orphanages and institutions in my electorate. I wish to formally acknowledge them here today.

I was also moved yesterday by the many schools across my electorate that participated in some commemoration of the apology. Some flew the Aboriginal flag and some like St Patrick’s College dedicated their entire school assembly to talking about the stolen generations or, as in Edmund Rice School, welcomed strangers into their midst.

I hope that yesterday goes some way to bringing a greater understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians of what happened in our history and that we make sure that it never, ever happens again. I hope that it also means that we can move forward together, because there are many things as a nation we must do. One of those, which was acknowledged so strongly by the Prime Minister yesterday, is to close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I again support the motion of the Prime Minister, which was supported by the Leader of the Opposition so gracefully yesterday, in making an apology to the stolen generations. It is long overdue, but it is wonderful that it has been done and I think together we can move forward as a nation, non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians together.