TODAY marks 11 years since then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the Stolen Generation. But despite the official apology, many of the children who were forcibly removed from their homes are still suffering from the trauma.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their homes and communities by government agencies to be brought up in institutions or adopted out to white families.
But many members of the stolen generation, like 81-year-old Wotjobaluk elder Uncle Murray Harrison, who lives in Ballarat, believe more needs to be done for people in his position to heal from their past trauma.
He was the only person from Ballarat to travel to Canberra for the apology and remembers it as "very emotional".
"It really is something that you needed to be there for to understand the emotion and to see on the faces of the people that this was exactly what was needed and had been for a very long time," he said.
Uncle Murray was removed from his home, and community, when he was just 10 years old.
He was taken to live at Turana Youth Training Centre where, upon arrival, he was thrown into and locked up in a dark cell.
"They looked at me like I was dirt," he said. "It took me 60 years to get rid of that feeling."
For years he struggled with the way he was treated at Turana. He suffered with his demons, and alcoholism, for many years but said his wife, family and God helped him to begin to heal, while the apology was a turning point.
"It wasn't until Mr Rudd gave us the apology that I got rid of that burden," Uncle Murray said.
To that point he had been experiencing debilitating night terrors as memories of his cell haunted him.
"That’s what the apology meant to me - I got rid of a burden that had been causing me to wake up in the middle of the night screaming about that rotten door being shut. And the key turning in the lock - I could never sleep in a dark room - even now - I am a little careful about dark rooms."
He said many people tended to have a "get over it" attitude.
"But when you have lived with something for 60 plus years you don't get over it in five minutes."
Though the apology helped him to heal, he said he knows other survivors of the system need ongoing support.
"Nobody survives on their own - it is impossible - you need somewhere to go - someone to help you with it."
Uncle Murray believes that Victoria has not done enough since the National Apology, especially as it does not have a redress scheme.
He still has a criminal record classing him as a juvenile delinquent and would like to see this wiped as he did nothing wrong.
He thinks more needs to be done for the needs of Indigenous people, especially in terms of health care and accommodation but that it should be a well thought out process with consultation from Indigenous people with lived experience.
When you have lived with something for 60 plus years you don't get over it in five minutes.Murray Harrison
But he said change could not be effected without others also standing up with them.
In 2018 the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare uncovered alarming and disproportionate levels of disadvantage for Indigenous people who older than 50 years.
By comparing a reference group of Indigenous people born after 1972 with members of the stolen generation, the data revealed a number of harrowing health and welfare findings.
National body The Healing Foundation, which partners with communities to address the trauma experienced by Indigenous Australians, is calling on governments to ensure aged care services are sensitive to people living with trauma associated with their forced removal in the face of the recently begun Aged Care Royal Commission.
The Healing Foundation is calling for governments to support publicly funded alternatives to residential care centres that deal with trauma-related issues which could arise from re-institutionalisation.
The AIHW data indicates that by 2023 Stolen Generation survivors will be eligible for aged care, with 89 per cent of those aged in the over 50 age bracket being in bad health while 76 per cent are reliant on government payments as their main source of income.
If people don’t have an opportunity to heal from trauma, it continues to impact on the way they think and behave, leading to a range of negative outcomes including poor health and isolation, which in turn leads to social and economic disadvantage.Richard Western
Chief Executive Officer Richard Western said the data provided a clear evidence base to the complex needs of members of stolen generations who are aged 50 or over, who suffered profound childhood trauma when they were forcibly removed from their homes, isolated from family members and their culture.
He said the levels of disadvantage seen through stolen generations should not come as a surprise.
“If people don’t have an opportunity to heal from trauma, it continues to impact on the way they think and behave, leading to a range of negative outcomes including poor health and isolation, which in turn leads to social and economic disadvantage.
“The Aged Care Royal Commission has been running for less than a week and we’re already hearing about the profound trauma experienced by those in care. Clearly, the stolen generations need and deserve assistance in their aging years, but given their past experiences with institutionalisation, it’s vital that we find public funded alternatives that respond to trauma related issues.”
Chief of The Healing Foundation’s Stolen Generations Reference Group Ian Hamm said the data draws a clear distinction in health and welfare outcomes between ageing Stolen Generations and the wider Indigenous population.
“Even compared to their Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders contemporaries who are already at a disadvantage in Australia, Stolen Generations members aged 50 and over are suffering more – financially, socially and in areas of health and wellbeing.”
He said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were removed from their families were two times more likely to have been incarcerated and almost three times more likely to rely on government payments compared to those who were not removed as children.
“We’ve just been scratching the surface. We need government and service providers to commit long term and widespread healing programs, trauma informed resources and culturally appropriate care.”