Bringing them Home - Chapter 17

Part 5 Services for Those Affected


Chapter 17 Funding for Reunion Assistance


In each State and Territory with the exception of the ACT specific funding is made available for specialised assistance to Indigenous people seeking family information and reunion support.

... many survivors today still live with the sad reality that they have still not reunited with their family and land and cannot move forward in their lives until they have all the information that they need concerning their past. This makes Link-Up an important agency as they can assist in providing the answers many survivors are seeking in order to rebuild their lives (SA Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement submission 484 page 40).

The first Indigenous family tracing and reunion service was established in New South Wales in 1980 by Coral Edwards and Peter Read. Coral Edwards was removed from her Koori family and raised in Cootamundra Girls' Home. Peter Read was researching the impacts of government policies on the Wiradjuri people of NSW. They recognised the need for a tracing and support organisation for people who had been taken and for the families who had lost their children.

Reunion is important but very difficult because of the way in which the removal policies were administered. Prior to the establishment of Link-Up most people were not aware of the family records that might provide clues to their identity. Accessing those records was difficult. Between 1980 and 1994 Link-Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corporation reunited more than 1,000 individuals.

The following table shows the family tracing and reunion services that now exist.

Family tracing and reunion services were established at the instigation of Aboriginal individuals and organisations who recognised the need and lobbied for funding. In some cases services have been provided without specific funding for various periods. For example, Karu provided a tracing service without specific funding from 1985 until 1989. They also rely heavily on volunteers.

Late in 1996 the Stolen Generations Kimberley Steering Committee launched a bid to establish a family reunion and tracing service in that region of Western Australia.

Family tracing and reunion services

Link-Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corp

established 1980

Funding: 90% from ATSIC = $291,991 in 1995-6; 10% from NSW Government

Staff: 7 full-time, and 2 part-time for Inquiry duration

Clients: 1,500 members, that is past and current clients in 1996

Link-Up (Qld) Corp

established 1988

(a unit of the Aboriginal and Islander Child Care Agency from 1984-1988)

Funding: ATSIC = $377,877 in 1995-6; Qld Government = $39,519 in 1995-6 and office accommodation

Staff: 7, including 1 senior caseworker, 3 caseworkers, 1 adminstrative officer and 1 researcher

Clients: 893 active cases at end Aug 1996, including 67 new cases in 1996

Karu Aboriginal & Islander Child Care Agency, NT

established 1985

Funding: ATSIC = $174,551 shared with Central Australian AICCA in 1995-6

Staff: 1

Clients: 52 completed during previous 11 months, 215 cases open at end December 1995

Central Australian Aborignial & Islander Child Care Agency, NT

established 1992

Funding: ATSIC = $174,551 shared with Karu in 1995-6

Staff: 1

Clients 30 cases open at end 1996

Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency

established 1993

(began tracing family in 1978)


Funding: ATSIC = $73,860 in 1995-6

Staff: 2 (with assistance from VANISH funded by Victorian Government)

Clients: 78 cases were referred in 1994-5, majority from inter-State

Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre

established 1994

Funding: ATSIC = $66,500 in 1995-6

Staff: 2, a co-ordinator and a full-time worker

Clients: 250 enquiries in 1994-5, 19 reunions supported

Yorganop Child Care Aboriginal Corp, WA

established 1992-3

Funding: WA Government = $188,487 in 1996-7 for all operations

Staff: 1 link-up/tracing worker in an organisation of 7 staff in total

Clients: 98 requests received in 1996 to end October

Aboriginal Link-up Family Information Section, Dept of Family and Community Services, SA

established 1994-5

Funding: SA Government

Staff: 1 full-time (vacant during Inquiry)

Clients: 11 requests regarding adoption and 37 FoI non-adoption requests in 1995

Evaluation -- government objectives

Funding family tracing and reunion services is a government response to the effects of forcible removals. The objective of current funding is the implementation of Recommendation 52 of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Royal Commission recognised that,

The legacy of child separation is still a significant issue in the lives of many Aboriginal people. It is an issue that still needs investigation and there is still a `lost generation' that needs support and reunion with their families. Hence there is a need for more expanded services such as those provided by Link-Up which would deal with the emotional and psychological legacy of what are now recognized as misguided child placement policies (National Report Volume 2 page 77).

Royal Commission Recommendation 52 proposes,

That funding should be made available to organizations such as Link-Up which have the support of Aboriginal people for the purpose of re-establishing links to family and community which had been severed or attenuated by past government policies. Where this service is being provided to Aboriginal people by organizations or bodies which, not being primarily established to pursue this purpose, provide the service in conjunction with other functions which they perform, the role of such organizations in assisting Aboriginal people to re-establish their links to family and community should be recognized and funded, where appropriate.

In response to Recommendation 52 the Commonwealth committed $1.9 million to Indigenous family tracing and reunion services and related functions to be spent over five years beginning 1991-92. This funding is administered by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) which budgeted $927,817 for family reunion services in 1996-97. This funding has been quarantined from Commonwealth funding cuts in the current financial year.

Evaluation of the implementation of Recommendation 52 should focus on two major issues: whether the funding model permits the Indigenous services to respond appropriately to the diverse demands of each individual case and whether the funding is sufficient to enable the services to meet the demand in a way which is timely and does not exacerbate the hurt already suffered by separated families or the emotional and other difficulties surrounding the reunion process.

A flexible individualised response to the needs of each client is critical to the success of these services. The diversity of clients' experiences and current needs is considerable. Many clients experience chronic multiple and entrenched problems. Clients may be of any age. Each client's experience of reunion will be unique and the range of reactions from new-found family and community is wide. The complexity is compounded by the desire of clients to recover their identity and culture against a background of denial and denigration of Aboriginality.

... it might be that the person who's trying to go back to their community really struggles with how to deal with that return and really needs quite a lot of help in adjusting to the old identity that they believe they were brought up with and this new sense of identity which they feel is much more their real identity, and that's a very complex issue to come to terms with in any individual person as well as within a family (Lynne Datnow, Victorian Koori Kids Mental Health Network, evidence 135).

Funding through ATSIC permits family tracing and reunion services to respond flexibly to the needs of each client. Services are available for people removed as children, families searching for children removed and foster and adoptive families as well. ATSIC-funded family reunion services have developed a range of skills, a network of contacts and appropriate responses to diverse client needs relating to reunion. Link-Up (NSW), Link-Up (Qld) and Karu (NT) offer the following services.

  • Research required for accessing family and personal records.

  • Obtaining copies of records.

  • Advice and support before records are read.

  • Locating family members.

  • Arranging and assisting at family reunions.

  • Providing an ongoing Indigenous community for all clients, regardless of their acceptance or otherwise into their community/ies of origin.

  • Support and counselling before a decision to proceed with a reunion is made and counselling for all parties during and after that occurs, including grief and loss counselling and relationship-building.

... If they need counselling to be able to communicate with their families, give that to them ... I still can't talk to my mother and that's because of what happened to me. If I'd had counselling earlier on in that area I'd be right ... Counselling today would help a bit but not as much as it would back then. Today it is extremely hard just to communicate.
Confidential evidence 316, Tasmania.

The resource implications were recognised by government representatives.

While reunification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children with their families is an important step, it often has disturbing consequences for both the person who was removed and for the family. The Aboriginal Health Division supports the need for the development of additional resources and support services to address the often difficult consequences of family reunification (Marion Kickett, WA Health Department, evidence).

Reconnection is far more than simply access to a file. It is a process, often over a long period of time, of reconnection with identity, homelands, stories, cultural heritage, and many people. Limited resources exist to help people in this process.

Counselling, support, and assisting a person locate family are all resource intensive. Both the initial reconnection, and maintaining connections with scattered family and homelands intrinsically involves travel, and given the poverty of many Aboriginal people, the sheer expense of reconnection may be prohibitive (SA Government interim submission pages 22 and 24).

Not all reunion services are able to perform the full range of core activities. For example the link-up workers in Victoria rely on the expertise of the non-government and non-Koori adoption information agency, VANISH, to access both adoption and non-adoption records for their clients. Alternatively clients must be referred to the government record agencies (Victorian Government interim submission page 26). Some proportion of clients would be loathe to approach these non-Indigenous services and may decide instead not to proceed with family tracing. Nevertheless the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) is confident that this proportion can be kept to a minimum because of the `good working relationship' that has been developed between the link-up workers and the government agencies, at least in Victoria (1995 page 13).

Family reunion services are limited in the extent to which they can offer professional counselling relating to complex yet common issues of sexual abuse, incest, domestic violence and substance abuse. Clients requiring such counselling must generally be referred to a professional. However there are few professional counselling services which are adequately equipped to deal appropriately with Indigenous clients presenting with such problems.

The services are also restricted in their ability to assist locals requiring information from another State. There was a considerable number of removals of children inter-State and some witnesses told the Inquiry of their need to leave their home State when they were released from wardship in order to escape painful memories. Inter-State enquiries are frequent. Fewer than half (45%) of the people seeking the assistance of Karu in Darwin in 1995 were NT people requiring searches in the Territory. Another 25% were Territory people requiring searches to be made elsewhere and the remainder (29%) were people living elsewhere requiring searches to be made in the Territory (NT Government interim submission page 36). Similarly almost half (45%) the people seeking assistance from the link-up workers at the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency were brought to Victoria as children from elsewhere while another 10% are Victorians removed to other States as children (evidence 335).

Networking among family reunion services makes inter-State enquiries easier but many clients must still go directly to services in their State of origin (Karu submission 540 page 33, Victorian ACCA evidence 335). The complexity of a reunion process can be increased when relevant records are held in one State, family members live in another and the client perhaps in yet another or even overseas. Strong and responsive networks which can facilitate service-provision in these situations require funding.

Without adequate resources and reciprocity among services individuals will be discriminated against by virtue of having been removed inter-State or overseas in childhood. All services in Australia need to have the capacity to respond effectively to inter-State and international requests. It goes without saying of course that they need an equivalent capacity to respond to intra-State enquiries. The distribution of family reunion services across Australia, as outlined in the table above, raises concerns about the equity of access to reunion assistance. There is a considerable imbalance in the capacity of services for example. ATSIC funding is not provided uniformly to all services: the WA and SA services receive no federal funding at all in spite of the Commonwealth commitment in response to the Royal Commission.

Most services depend almost entirely on ATSIC funding with States playing no role or only a peripheral one. Since all State and Territory governments supported Recommendation 52 and families were separated pursuant to State legislation, this is clearly unacceptable. In the case of the NT, the Government's position is that the removals occurred under Commonwealth legislation prior to Territory self-government and therefore the Territory is not responsible.

We acknowledge the material assistance provided to Link-Up (Qld) by the Community and Personal Histories Service (work space, access to the Heritage database and training in archival research) and by the Queensland welfare and Indigenous affairs department (office accommodation).

The absence of an independent Indigenous family tracing and reunion service in South Australia is particularly concerning. Indeed there was no link-up worker at all for much of 1995 and 1996, a critical period during which the Inquiry was receiving evidence and recommendations from Indigenous victims of the removal policies. Even when the position is occupied the function is limited to helping people access government records and archival information (Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement submission 484 page 40). There is a desperate need for a culturally-appropriate counselling service in SA both to support the family reunion process and generally to assist people affected by removals.

The SA Aboriginal Child Care Agency advised the Inquiry that in this period it received numerous requests to undertake reunion work. However, not being funded for this work, the Agency had to refuse these requests (submission 347 page 19). In SA the Inquiry took confidential evidence from more than 120 Indigenous people directly affected by forcible removal, a number which can only hint at the need in the Indigenous community in that State for the assistance, support and counselling provided by a family reunion agency.

The SA Government assured the Inquiry of its commitment to assisting Indigenous family reunions and acknowledged the complexity of the process. However it complained about the `limited resources [existing] to help people in this process' (interim submission page 22). There is no evidence that the State plans to fund the necessary services in the foreseeable future.

It is quite clear to the Inquiry, as it was to Royal Commissioner Elliott Johnston, that the need for reunion assistance can only be met effectively by an independent Indigenous agency because `people would not go to welfare for help in finding their parents and family because of their past record' (Learning from the Past 1994 page 66). The agency would preferably be managed and staffed by people who have experienced the removal policies themselves.

The location of the SA link-up worker within the Department of Family and Community Services was criticised by the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement.

This has been a bone of contention among the Aboriginal community as there is a widespread opinion that the Link-Up programme should come under the control of the Aboriginal community and not a part of the government machinery. We support this proposition as FACS was the government department that played the largest role in the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and we feel this is adding insult to injury for the survivors of this tragic attempt at genocide (submission 484 page 40).

The SA Aboriginal Child Care Agency also recommended to the Inquiry that,

Link up services should be accessible to Aboriginal people and offered in non-threatening environments. Link-up services must be offered from non-government Aboriginal organisations such as Aboriginal Child Care Agencies (submission 347 page 9).

Even the close working relationship between Yorganop in WA and the Department of Family and Children's Services has raised suspicions among some Indigenous people in that State.

It is potentially fatal to Yorganop's survival and effectiveness that it be perceived as dependent on government. This problem is reinforced by the fact that Yorganop relies solely on Family and Children's Services funding, which is inadequate. The legacy of assimilation policies and practices, as administered by the Department of Native Welfare ... makes it crucial for Yorganop to be seen to be independent from Family and Children's Services (Aboriginal Legal Service of WA submission 127 page 289).

Family reunion services advised the Inquiry that their funding does not permit them to meet the demand for their services in a timely way (Link-Up (NSW) submission 186 page 165, Link-Up (Qld) submission 397 page 22). Very significant backlogs were reported by some services. The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre received 250 enquiries in 1995 but made only 19 reunions, although not all enquiries necessarily required resolution by reunion. Karu in Darwin closed only 52 files during 1995 while 215 remained active at the year's close. Link-Up (Qld) has assessed its current additional staffing needs as four caseworkers, two grief and loss counsellors, a staff supervisor and archivists, together with additional funding for travel to conduct reunions (submission 397 page 22).

The plight of people in rural and remote communities is of particular concern. With offices only in capital cities, with the exception of the Central Australian Aboriginal and Islander Child Care Agency in Alice Springs, the family reunion services find it difficult to provide a full service throughout their respective States. In NSW there are suggestions for regional meetings to develop support groups to assist and refer rural people between visits by link-up workers (Learning from the Past 1994 page 66). In WA remote Pilbara and Kimberley communities are simply without a family tracing and reunion service at all (Kimberley Land Council submission 345 page 25; the KLC is currently sponsoring a bid for funding for a regional link-up service).

With most services focused on providing immediate client services there is little time, resources or energy for attention to the broader picture. All services should be in a position to engage fully and effectively in:

  • regular national networking and issues-based conferences,

  • involvement in revision (or design) of common record access guidelines,

  • advocacy generally for their clients as a group with record agencies,

  • provision of training and work placements for Indigenous researchers, archivists, genealogists and counsellors,

  • involvement in the design and delivery of training for the above,

  • outreach and publicity relating to their services,

  • community education about the history and effects of removal, with a special emphasis on professionals and others working with Indigenous people,

  • research into the history and its effects,

  • support of test cases and other efforts to obtain compensation,

  • advocacy for their clients with their Indigenous communities of origin, cultural arbiters and native title holders, and

  • staff support including debriefing and counselling.

Link-Up (NSW) has developed an effective balance between its competing immediate and longer-term objectives in the interests of all people affected by forcible removal. An isolated officer, as in South Australia, or even an individual worker or small unit within an otherwise appropriate Indigenous agency, such as an Aboriginal Child Care Agency, is unlikely to be able to cover all of these objectives within the single job description.

ATSIC has provided special grants to support some of these activities. In 1992-93 ATSIC funding supported two national link-up workers' conferences and enabled the Centre for Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University in Perth to develop a module for training Aboriginal families to undertake their own family research. In October 1994 ATSIC supported the Going Home Conference in Darwin. One result of that conference was significantly increased demand for reunion assistance nationally. In 1995-96 ATSIC funded two NT Aboriginal legal services for reunion related activities. The North Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service received $700,000 to research past government practices and to undertake litigation and another $11,252 to host a national workshop.

Clearly a balance needs to be struck between regular funding for continuing activities, which require staff to be redeployed or employed to organise and implement them, and special one-off projects, which are likely to be responsive to particular unusual situations. Fully effective family reunion services will need to undertake:

  • outreach and Indigenous community education,

  • general community education,

  • historical research,

  • assistance with claims for compensation and other redress,

  • national networking,

  • staff training and the ability to offer work and training placements, and

  • consultation regarding record access protocols.

Clearly then, full implementation of the Royal Commission's Recommendation 52 requires a significant increase in funding, a fair distribution of Commonwealth funding across all jurisdictions to eliminate discrimination based on State or Territory of residence and an acceptance of a funding obligation by all States.

Evaluation Inquiry criteria

Self-determination

All governments, by supporting Royal Commission Recommendation 52, have recognised the importance of self-determination in the provision of reunion assistance. Funding of family tracing and reunion services through ATSIC has the potential to promote self-determination. Therefore the Inquiry is concerned that ATSIC support for reunion assistance is not provided in WA, SA or the ACT where there is a demonstrated yet unmet need. Indeed with no independent family reunion service in SA at all, there must be a question mark over that State Government's commitment to self-determination.

Non-discrimination

In recent years most Australian governments have recognised the need for intensive support and counselling for all parties to an adoption when an adopted child and birth parent(s) decide to meet. Considerable care and resources have been devoted to supporting `adoption reunions'. Some Indigenous families are able to benefit from these services where they are able to satisfy the criterion of having been adopted or having relinquished a child, although the adoption services employ no Indigenous staff. However, many cannot satisfy that criterion. Adoption information and counselling services in Tasmania and Victoria are available to some other Indigenous families affected by removals. However comparison of the resources devoted to assist adoption reunions and those devoted to Indigenous family reunions indicates that, although the depth of emotional turmoil is typically far greater for Indigenous families, State and Territory governments have not committed anything approaching the resources per reunion to Indigenous family reunions as to adoption reunions. In other words very serious discrimination occurs with State government resources favouring predominantly non-Indigenous adoptees over Indigenous children removed under now-discredited State laws.

Cultural renewal

Separated children were not removed only from their families. They were also removed from their communities and land, cultures and heritage. For many people reunion is not accomplished until they have been reunited with their entire Indigenous heritage. The first step is usually to find one's family records. The second is to meet and rebuild one's family if possible. As the Inquiry was told, family reunion work should not stop there. The introduction of the client to his or her community, cultural heritage and country may also need to be mediated and supported.

Once each person is reunited with their family, it's the beginning of a slow process of getting to know their family and learning about their community. Support and counselling of the many underlying issues, is normally required as an ongoing process for many years ... (Link-Up (Qld) submission 397 page 4). Going home is fundamental to healing the effects of separation.

Going home means finding out who you are as an Aboriginal: where you come from, who your people are, where your belonging place is, what your identity is. Going home is fundamental to the healing processes of those who were taken away as well as those who were left behind (Link-Up (NSW) submission 186 page xi).

It is essential for Aboriginal people to `have a country' ... There is [the need for] re-education of countrymen and the Land Councils who have been forced to forget the Stolen Generations ... (Rosie Baird presentation included in Karu submission 540, pages 29-30).

Link-Up (NSW), Link-Up (Qld) and Karu (NT) are committed to assisting all aspects of reunion. The Inquiry however is not satisfied that the funding they receive adequately takes the need for cultural renewal and reunion into account.

Most worryingly many of the remaining family reunion services are so constrained that they are unable to accomplish all core reunion tasks much less attend to clients' broader and longer-term needs. Failure to appreciate the significance of `cultural reunions' by supporting them financially seems to spring from assimilationist thinking. At the very least it is a failure to acknowledge and redress the damage of assimilation policies thereby permitting its perpetuation in future generations.

Coherent policy base

The inequality in the distribution of ATSIC funding for reunion assistance belies any acceptance at the Commonwealth level of the right of all affected families to family reunion assistance. This in turn suggests that services are funded on an ad hoc basis. There is no sense of an underlying policy objective driving Commonwealth spending in this area. The current arrangement removes governments from accountability for outcomes. That would be acceptable if funding were adequate to enable family reunion services to respond fully and quickly to demand. This is not the case however.

The virtual absence of State and Territory funding has been mentioned. Instead Indigenous services tend to rely on the States for co-operation, for example responsiveness by State record agencies to requests for records. The Inquiry has been impressed with the level of co-operation between Indigenous services and record agencies. The government record agencies in the NT represent a notable exception with Indigenous services having to `advocate' repeatedly for their co-operation. As described in the discussion of access to records, Indigenous user services are routinely involved in negotiations for improved record access guidelines and link-up workers are either formally or informally `accredited' researchers for the purposes of accessing records. At this level, then, there is a commitment to facilitating family reunions by inter-agency co-operation.

The funding constraints limiting services generally, the lack of qualified Indigenous researchers, genealogists and counsellors and the impossibility for some of State-wide coverage all indicate a failure of commitment at the State and Territory government level to full, effective and equitable service delivery in this area. States and Territories have not yet developed a coherent package of responses to heal the effects of the forcible removal policies.

Adequate resources

Funding for reunion assistance, as discussed above, is inadequate and unfairly distributed. Outreach is limited. Services are constrained in securing training for their staff. Potential clients in rural and remote areas are disadvantaged in obtaining access to assistance and those in some regions have no access to assistance at all.

Recommendations

To date family tracing and reunion services have been critical to the success of most Indigenous family and community reunions. Even when all the Inquiry's recommendations are implemented, the role of these services is not likely to diminish. All governments have accepted the principle that `in the implementation of any policy or program which will particularly affect Aboriginal people the delivery of the program should, as a matter of preference, be made by such Aboriginal organizations as are appropriate to deliver services pursuant to the policy or program on a contractual basis' (RCIADIC recommendation 192).

Services required to support and facilitate family and community reunions and/or personal background research will be unique for each client. Services could include assisting with or making on the client's behalf initial contact with record agencies or the Indigenous Family Information Service, pre-access counselling to cover the possibilities that records have been lost or destroyed, are incomplete, offensive and/or distressing, pre-access counselling to cover the possibilities that family members are deceased or do not want contact, family history research and tracing, support for reunions which may include counselling for all parties, being present during initial and even subsequent contacts, translation services, referral to professional counselling services when reunions provoke grief and trauma, and assistance with recording personal and family testimony.

Establishment of family tracing and reunion services

Recommendation 30a: That the Council of Australian Governments ensure that Indigenous community-based family tracing and reunion services are funded in all regional centres with a significant Indigenous population and that existing Indigenous community-based services, for example health services, in smaller centres are funded to offer family tracing and reunion assistance and referral.

Recommendation 30b: That the regional services be adequately funded to perform the following functions.

1. Family history research.

2. Family tracing.

3. Support and counselling for clients viewing their personal records.

4. Support and counselling for clients, family members and community members in the reunion process including travel with clients.

5. Establishment and management of a referral network of professional counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists and others as needed by clients.

6. Advocacy on behalf of individual clients as required and on behalf of clients as a class, for example with record agencies.

7. Outreach and publicity.

8. Research into the history and effects of forcible removal.

9. Indigenous and non-Indigenous community education about the history and effects of forcible removal.

10. Engaging the service of Indigenous experts for provision of genealogical information, traditional healing and escorting and sponsoring those returning to their country of origin.

11. Participation in training of Indigenous people as researchers, archivists, genealogists and counsellors.

12. Participation in national networks and conferences.

13. Effective participation on Record Taskforces.

14. Support of test cases and other efforts to obtain compensation.

International removal

For Indigenous people removed overseas and their descendants, reunion is often inhibited by distance and the impossibility of returning permanently to Australia. In recognition of the fact that forcible removal was wrongful and of the need of many to re-establish their Indigenous identity, kinships and cultural links, the Commonwealth should assist those living overseas to return to this country permanently should they so choose.

Two situations have been particularly drawn to the attention of the Inquiry. Jack's situation has been detailed in Chapter 12. His grandmother was forcibly removed to Fiji and Jack is liable to be deported from Australia. Although the Australian Citizenship Act 1948 sections 10 and 11 recognise the Australian citizenship of a direct first generation descendant of an Australian citizen, Jack does not qualify because he is a second generation descendant. It is not clear what relevance would attach to the fact that, as an Indigenous Australian, Jack's grandmother was not a citizen at the date of her forcible removal in the early 1900s.

The second situation is that of Indigenous people imprisoned overseas. The case of James Hudson Savage illustrates this. James was born to a Koori mother in Victoria and adopted shortly after by a non-Indigenous couple. The family emigrated to the United States when James was six. The adoption was not entirely successful and by his early teens James was homeless and committing offences. In 1988 he was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Following his arrest for that offence he was located by his birth mother and other family members. He wishes to return to Australia but could only do so if arrangements could be made for the international transfer of him as a United States prisoner to a prison in Australia. A bill to authorise such transfers is currently being considered by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.

Return of those removed overseas

Recommendation 31a: That the Commonwealth create a special visa class under the Migration Act 1951 (Cth) to enable Indigenous people forcibly removed from their families and from Australia and their descendants to return to Australia and take up permanent residence.

Recommendation 31b: That the Commonwealth amend the Citizenship Act 1948 (Cth) to provide for the acquisition of citizenship by any person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.

Recommendation 31c: That the Commonwealth take measures to ensure the prompt implementation of the International Transfer of Prisoners Bill 1996.

 

William

I can remember this utility with a coffin...

I can remember this utility with a coffin on top with flowers. As a little boy I saw it get driven away knowing there was something inside that coffin that belonged to me. I think I was about six years old at the time. This was the time of our separation, after our mother passed away. My family tried to get the Welfare to keep us here ... trying to keep us together. Aunty D in Darwin - they wouldn't allow her to keep us. My uncle wanted to keep me and he tried every way possible, apparently, to keep me. He was going to try and adopt me but they wouldn't allow it. They sent us away.

As a little kid I can't remember what was going on really, because I was a child and I thought I was going on a trip with the other brothers. I just had excitement for going on a trip. That's all I can think of at the time.

When St Francis [orphanage] closed up, they sent us out to different places. My second eldest brother and I went to a Mrs R. And my only recollections of that lady was when we first went there. We were greeted at the door. The welfare officer took us into this house and I can remember going into this room, and I'd never seen a room like it. It was big, and here me and my brother were going to share it. We put our bags down on the floor. We thought, `This is wonderful'. As soon as the welfare officer left, Mrs R took us outside that room and put us in a two bed caravan out the back.

I was sleeping in the caravan. I was only a little boy then. In the middle of the night somebody come to the caravan and raped me. That person raped me and raped me. I could feel the pain going through me. I cried and cried and they stuffed my head in the pillow. And I had nobody to talk to. It wasn't the only night it happened.

Oh God, it seemed like night after night. It seemed like nobody cared. I don't know how long it went on for, but night after night I'd see the bogey man. I never saw the person. I don't know who that person was.

Then we were all taken away again to a new home, to another place. We were shunted from place to place, still trying to catch up with schooling, trying to find friends. I had no-one. I just couldn't find anybody. And when I did have a friend I was shunted off somewhere else, to some other place. Wanting my mother, crying for my mother every night, day after day, knowing that she'd never come home or come and get me. Nobody told me my mother died. Nobody ...

They shifted us again and that was into town again. And then they put us in with this bloke ... They've got records of what he did to me. That man abused me. He made us do dirty things that we never wanted to do. Where was the counselling? Where was the help I needed? They knew about it. The guy went to court. He went to court but they did nothing for me, nothing. They sent us off to the Child Psychology Unit. I remember the child psychologist saying, `He's an Aboriginal kid, he'll never improve.

He's got behavioural problems'. I mean, why did I have behavioural problems? Why didn't they do anything?

Why did I have behavioural problems?

I hit the streets of Adelaide. I drank myself stupid. I drank to take the pain, the misery out of my life. I couldn't stop. I smoked dope, got drugs. I tried everything. I did everything. I just couldn't cope with life. I lived under cardboard boxes. I used to eat out of rubbish bins. I'm so ashamed of what I've done.

I suffer today. I still suffer. I can't go to sleep at night. It's been on for years. I just feel that pain. Oh God, I wake up in the middle of the night, same time. My kids have asked me why I get up in the middle of the night and I can't explain it, I can't tell them - shamed. I can't sleep too well with it. I can't go to bed. I leave it `til 12 o'clock sometimes before I go to bed. I lay there awake, knowing I'm gonna wake up at that time of the morning, night after night. I often wish I was dead. I often wish I was gone. But I can't because of my children. You can't explain this to your kids. Why did this happen? I had nobody.

I've had my secret all my life. I tried to tell but I couldn't. I can't even talk to my own brothers. I can't even talk to my sister. I fear people. I fear `em all the time. I don't go out. I stay home. It's rarely I've got friends.

I wish I was blacker. I wish I had language. I wish I had my culture. I wish my family would accept me as I am. We can't get together as a family. It's never worked. We fight, we carry on. I've always wanted a family.

Confidential evidence 553, Northern Territory: man removed from Alice Springs to Adelaide in the 1950s.