The term “Forgotten Australians” has been applied to child migrants, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous children who experienced care in Government and Church run institutions (residential homes and orphanages) and foster care (within a family home). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were removed often identify as Stolen Generations (see below) and those removed from the UK and brought to Australia as children identify as Child Migrants (also see below) Both of these groups fit the criteria of Forgotten Australians but many of them feel that it is important to highlight the significant differences in their experiences of removal and therefore identify more strongly with their own specific groups.
The exact number of children who were removed and placed into care is unknown, however the Inquiry by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee (2004) estimated that more than 500,000 children experienced life in the out of home care system. Many children in care suffered hardship and various forms of abuse, including physical, mental and sexual abuse. The suffering caused by removal policies, loss of family and life-long time in care continue to be felt by the persons who were removed and their families and communities.
The migration of orphaned or poor children from the United Kingdom to Australia and other British colonies including Canada, Rhodesia and Australia was considered by the British Government to not only provide a better life for child migrants but also a way to populate colonies with “good white stock” (Parliament of Australia, Parliamentary Library 2009). Parents and children were not consulted over the migration. Families became separated as children were transported to British colonies and placed in residential institutions where some children were subjected to abuse.
The exact numbers are unknown, but estimates suggest that between 7 000 and 10 000 children were sent to Australia from 1947 to 1967 (Great Britain, House of Commons, Select Committee on Health 1998, in Parliament of Australia, Parliamentary Library, 2009). In November 2009, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, made an official apology to child migrants on behalf of the nation.
Further Reading: Lost Innocents: Righting the Record - Report on Child Migration (2001) and Child Migrants Trust
The Stolen Generations
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families until the 1970s and placed in institutions and eventually, in foster homes. These children became known as the Stolen Generations The Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families (HREOC, 1997) is also known as the Bringing Them Home (BTH) Report. This Report was released on May 26 1997, which came to be known as National Sorry Day. The BTH report found that children suffered abuse in many of the institutions and homes and described the impact of removal policies on children and their families.
It is unknown exactly how many children were forcibly removed from their families but the BTH Report estimated that one in ten Aboriginal children were taken and that all Aboriginal families were affected by the impacts of these removals including significant intergenerational trauma. On 13 February 2008, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, issued an official apology to the Stolen Generations, implementing one of the 54 recommendations in the BTH Report.