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Background

The separate categories of ‘Forgotten Australians’, ‘Former Child Migrants’ and ‘members of the Stolen Generations’ are the result of there having been three separate inquiries in Australia, and the fact that each broad group came into being as a result of distinct government policies. At the same time, it is clear that the members of these broad groups share many experiences and characteristics as a result of being separated from family. These children often lived together in the same institutions, regardless of the circumstances of how they came to be in ‘care’.

This website contains information to help Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants learn more about their histories and to locate and access their personal records. This information will be relevant to anyone who experienced out-of-home ‘care’ in Australia, including members of the Stolen Generations, foster children, wards of the state and adopted children. These people might choose to identify themselves with another group or label, such as ‘care’ leavers, ‘Homies’ or ‘Remembered Australians’.

The ‘trilogy’ of reports into the Stolen Generations, Former Child Migrants and Forgotten Australians have demonstrated that initiatives designed to improve one group’s access to their records and their history are likely to benefit the others. This website acknowledges and respects the particular experiences of each category, and has been developed in the hope that it will be of value to anyone with an interest in Australia’s history of providing out-of-home ‘care’ to children.

The first major inquiry into Australia’s past treatment of children was the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) from 1995 to 1997. The Commission handed down its report in April 1997, Bringing them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. This report brought the stories of the ‘Stolen Generations’ into the public domain, and contained many accounts of the impact and legacies of past policies that resulted in Indigenous children being removed from their family and community.

Another group of children whose stories were starting to come to light were the child migrants who had been shipped from Britain and Malta to countries including Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The Child Migrants Trust had been established in 1987 in the United Kingdom to support families affected by child migration policies, including searching for records, family tracing and providing counselling and support. On the motion of Senator Andrew Murray (himself a former child migrant from Zimbabwe), the Senate commenced an inquiry into child migration in 2000. This inquiry’s report, Lost innocents: righting the record – inquiry into child migration, was released in August 2001.

The report made reference to the evidence given to the inquiry by Wayne Chamley of the organisation Broken Rites, who stated that ‘Lost Innocents’ should be seen as ‘but the second report of what should be a trilogy to be presented to the Parliament’. In other words, there were many parallels to be drawn between the treatment of Indigenous children removed from their families, and the experiences of child migrants to Australia. And the last remaining episode of the trilogy was an inquiry into the thousands of non-Indigenous children who experienced institutional ‘care’. (Indeed, the organisation Care Leavers of Australia Network [CLAN], founded in July 2000, had made submissions to the child migration inquiry, attesting to the shared experience of former child migrants with non-Indigenous children in institutions.)

Subsequently, the Inquiry into Children in Institutional Care was referred to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee on 4 March 2003. Its first report in August 2004 was titled, Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children. The Forgotten Australians report led to apologies being made by state and territory governments, as well as by organisations who were past providers of ‘care’.

All three reports had recommended that the Commonwealth government issue a formal apology and acknowledgement of the hurt, distress, abuse and neglect suffered by children in institutional ‘care’. The first formal national apology was made on 13 February 2008 with the Australian Parliament’s Apology to the Stolen Generations.

In September 2008, an inquiry into the implementation of the recommendations of Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians was referred to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee. This 2008-2009 inquiry was the first to consider the situation of both Former Child Migrants and Forgotten Australians. Since its report, Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Revisited was handed down in June 2009, the Australian government’s response has largely consisted of initiatives designed to address the needs of both Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants, while recognising that each group has its own unique history, characteristics and policy needs.

In November 2009, the Australian government made a national apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants to acknowledge the hurt and distress suffered by many children in institutional ‘care’, particularly the children who were victims of abuse and assault. The government apologised for the harm that resulted from these children’s loss of family, the loss of identity and, in the case of child migrants, the loss of their country.

As part of the commemorations of the first anniversary of the national apology, the Australian government announced in 2010 that $26.5 million would be invested in a range of Find & Connect services for Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants. In June 2011 the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny Macklin MP, announced funding of more than $3 million in the first stage of the Government’s investment. This included funding for CLAN, the Alliance for Forgotten Australians (AFA), the Child Migrants Trust (CMT) and the International Association of Former Child Migrants and their Families to expand these organisations’ work in counselling, advocacy, outreach and information-sharing.

This funding included investment in a national Find & Connect web resource to assist with the search for records and other critical information held by past provider organisations and government agencies. The first national and state/territory web resources were launched in November 2011.

Sources

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, ‘Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families’, Commonwealth of Australia, 1997.

Senate Community Affairs References Committee Secretariat, Parliament of Australia, ‘Lost Innocents: righting the record – report on child migration’, Commonwealth of Australia, 2001.

Senate Community Affairs References Committee Secretariat, Parliament of Australia, ‘Forgotten Australians: A report on Australians who experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children’, Commonwealth of Australia, 2004.

Senate Community Affairs References Committee Secretariat, Parliament of Australia, ‘Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Revisited: Report on the progress with the implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians Reports’, Commonwealth of Australia, 2009.

Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Media release ‘Reconnecting Reconnecting Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants with their families’, 11 June 2001, available at http://www.jennymacklin.fahcsia.gov.au/mediareleases/2011/Pages/reconnect_forgotten_aus_11062011.aspx, accessed November 2011.