Historical Context - The Stolen Generations

<p>This timeline details the history of forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families. It was compiled by the Australian Human Rights Commission. Information is primarily taken from the findings of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. However, a wide range of other sources were also used.</p>


James Cook claims possession of the whole east coast of Australia. Cook raises the British flag at Possession Island, off Cape York Peninsula in Queensland.

Museum of Australia Democracy, The Secret Instructions to Lieutenant Cook 30 July 1768 (UK)


The First Fleet lands in Port Jackson – British settlement in Australia begins. Clashes between Aboriginal people and the settlers are reported over the next 10 years in the Parramatta and Hawkesbury areas.

University of Wollongong, First Fleet Online



Tasmanian Aboriginal people are resettled on Flinders Island without success. Later, the community is moved to Cape Barren Island.

Flinders Council, Furneaux History


British Select Committee examines the treatment of Indigenous people in all British colonies and recommends that 'Protectors of Aborigines' be appointed in Australia.


The Aborigines Protection Act (Vic) establishes an Aborigines Protection Board in Victoria to manage the interests of Aboriginal people. The Governor can order the removal of any child from their family to a reformatory or industrial school.

Founding Docs, The Aborigines Protection Act (Vic) 


The Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (Qld) allows the Chief Protector to remove local Aboriginal people onto and between reserves and hold children in dormitories. Until 1965 the Director of Native Welfare is the legal guardian of all 'aboriginal' children whether their parents are living or not.

Founding Docs, The Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act (Qld)


Australia becomes a Federation. The Constitution states that Aboriginal People will not be counted in the census, and that the Commonwealth has the power to make laws relating to any race of people in Australia, with the exception of 'Aborigines'.

. The federated states therefore retain exclusive power over Aboriginal affairs until the Constitution is amended in 1967.

Founding Docs, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (1900)

Federal Register of Legislation, Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (current)


The Aborigines Act (WA) is passed. Under this law, the Chief Protector is made the legal guardian of every Aboriginal and 'half-caste' child under 16 years old. In the following years, other states and territories enact similar laws.

Bringing them Home (Appendix 5), Western Australia: Laws applying specifically to Aboriginal children


The Aborigines Protection Act (NSW) gives the Aborigines Protection Board power to assume full control and custody of the child of any Aboriginal person if a court found the child to be neglected under the Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Act 1905 (NSW).


The Aborigines Act (SA) makes the Chief Protector the legal guardian of every Aboriginal and `half-caste' child with additional wide-ranging powers to remove Indigenous people to and from reserves.

The Northern Territory Aboriginals Ordinance (Cth) gives the Chief Protector to assume `the care, custody or control of any Aboriginal or half caste if in his opinion it is necessary or desirable in the interests of the Aboriginal or half caste for him to do so'. The Aborigines Ordinance 1918 (Cth) extends the Chief Protector’s control even further.


The Aborigines Protection Amending Act (NSW) gives power to the Aboriginal Protection Board to separate Indigenous children from their families without having to establish in court that they were neglected.


The introduction of the Infants Welfare Act (Tas) is used to remove Indigenous children on Cape Barren Island from their families. From 1928 until 1980 the head teacher on Cape Barren is appointed as a special constable with the powers and responsibilities of a police constable, including the power to remove a child for neglect under child welfare legislation.


The first Commonwealth/State conference on 'native welfare' adopts assimilation as the national policy:

"The destiny of the natives of aboriginal origin, but not of the full blood, lies in ultimate absorption … with a view to their taking their place in the white community on an equal footing with the whites."

In 1951, at the third Commonwealth/State Conference on 'native welfare', assimilation is affirmed as the aim of 'native welfare' measures.

AustLii, National Report Volume 2 – The Assimilation Years


Australian Aborigines Conference held in Sydney. Meeting on January 26, the 150th Anniversary of NSW, Aboriginal peoples mark the 'Day of Mourning'.

National Australia Day Committee, 1938: The Sesquicentenary and The Day of Mourning



The NSW Aborigines Protection Board loses its power to remove Indigenous children. The Board is renamed the Aborigines Welfare Board and is finally abolished in 1969.


The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is adopted by the newly-formed United Nations, and supported by Australia.

United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights


The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is ratified by Australia. It comes into force in 1951.

United Nations, Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide


A national referendum is held to amend the Constitution. Australians confer power on the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people are included in the census for the first time.

National Archives of Australia, Referendum Factsheet

Founding Docs, The Constitution (Section 51 xxvi)

Founding Docs, The Constitution (Section 127)


By 1969, all states had repealed the legislation allowing for the removal of Aboriginal children under the policy of ‘protection’. In the following years, Aboriginal and Islander Child Care Agencies (“AICCAs”) are set up to contest removal applications and provide alternatives to the removal of Indigenous children from their families.


Neville Bonner is sworn in as Australia’s first Aboriginal Senator.

Australian Biography, Neville Bonner


The Aboriginal Tent Embassy is pitched outside Parliament House in Canberra to demonstrate for Land Rights.

National Museum of Australia, Aboriginal Tent Embassy


The Commonwealth Government passes the Racial Discrimination Act 1975

AustLii, Racial Discrimination Act 1975


The Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act is passed by Commonwealth Parliament in 1976. It provides for recognition of Aboriginal land ownership, granting land rights to 11,000 Aboriginal people and enabling other Aboriginal people to lodge a claim for recognition of traditional ownership of their lands.

Founding Docs, Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act


Link-Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corporation is established. It is followed by Link-Up (Brisbane) in 1984, Link-Up (Darwin) in 1989, Link-Up (Tas) in 1991, Link-Up (Vic) in 1992, Link-Up (SA) in 1999, Link-Up (Alice Springs) in 2000, and Link-Up (WA – seven sites) in 2001. Link-Up provides family tracing, reunion and support for forcibly removed children and their families.

AIATSIS, Link-Up Services


The Aboriginal Child Placement Principle, developed principally due to the efforts of Aboriginal and Islander Child Care Agencies (“AICCAs”) during the 1970s, is incorporated in NT welfare legislation to ensure that Indigenous children are placed with Indigenous families when adoption or fostering is necessary. This is followed in NSW (1987), Victoria (1989), South Australia (1993), Queensland and the ACT (1999), Tasmania (2000) and Western Australia (2006).

Bringing them Home, Aboriginal Child Placement Principle: State and Territory Review


Northern Territory elections are held and for the first time voting is compulsory for Aboriginal people.


The Bicentennial of British Settlement in Australia takes place. Thousands of Indigenous people and supporters march through the streets of Sydney to celebrate cultural and physical survival.

National Gallery of Australia, The Aboriginal Memorial: We Have Survived


The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation is established, funded by the Commonwealth Government. Parliament noted that there had not been a formal process of reconciliation to date, 'and that it was most desirable that there be such a reconciliation’ by 2001.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody presents its report to the Commonwealth Government. It finds that of the 99 deaths it investigated, 43 were of people who were separated from their families as children.

Reconciliation Australia

National Archives of Australia, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Factsheet


The High Court of Australia hands down its landmark decision in Mabo v Queensland. It decides that native title exists over particular kinds of lands – unalienated Crown Lands, national parks and reserves – and that Australia was never terra nullius or empty land.

ABC, The Mabo Decision in the High Court


International Year of Indigenous People.

The Commonwealth Government passes the Native Title Act 1993. This law allows Indigenous people to make land claims under certain situations. Claims cannot be made on freehold land (privately-owned land).

The position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner is established within the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commissioner's role is to monitor and report to Commonwealth Parliament on the human rights of Indigenous Australians.

Australian Human Rights Commission, Native Title

Australian Human Rights Commission, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner


The Going Home Conference in Darwin brings together over 600 Aboriginal people removed as children to discuss common goals of access to archives, compensation, rights to land and social justice.


The High Court hands down its decision in the Wik case. Wik concerned land, which is, or has been, subject to pastoral leases.

AIATSIS, Case summary: Wik Peoples v Queensland


The Commission presents Bringing them home, its report on the findings of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families to the Commonwealth Government.

The parliaments and governments of Victoria, Tasmania, ACT, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia all issue statements recognising and publicly apologising to the ‘Stolen Generations’.

Australian Human Rights Commission, Bringing them Home Report


The Commonwealth Government amends the Native Title Act. This restricts the way in which native title can be claimed.

The 1998 Social Justice Report includes a chapter outlining the responses by churches and other non-Indigenous communities to the findings in the Bringing Them Home report.

26 May 1998 is marked as the first National Sorry Day.

Hundreds of thousands of people write messages in approximately 1000 ‘Sorry Books’ as part of a ‘people’s apology’ to the Stolen Generations.

National Film and Sound Archive, Mabo Native Title, Text of the 10 point plan (as amended)

Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Social Justice Report 1998

AIATSIS, Explore the Sorry Books


Federal Parliament passes a motion of ‘deep and sincere regret over the removal of Aboriginal children from their parents’.

Mandatory sentencing in Western Australia and the Northern Territory becomes a national issue. Many call for these laws to be overturned because they have greater impact on Indigenous children than on non-Indigenous children.

The People's Walk for Reconciliation on 28 May occurs in state/territory capitals throughout Australia.

Australia appears before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The Committee criticises the Commonwealth Government's inadequate response to recommendations from Bringing them home:
"While noting the efforts by the State party to address the tragedies resulting from the previous policy of removing indigenous children from their families, the Committee remains concerned about the continuing effects of this policy."

Parliament of Australia, Motion of Reconciliation

Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Statement on Mandatory Sentencing

National Museum of Australia, Walk for Reconciliation


The Northern Territory Government repeals its mandatory sentencing laws.

The Northern Territory Government presents a parliamentary motion of apology to people who were removed from their families.


The Social Justice Report 2001 includes a Reconciliation Progress Report.

National Library of Australia Oral History Project, Many Voices: Reflections on Experience of Indigenous Child Separation published.

The first member of the Stolen Generations is awarded compensation in the NSW Victims Compensation Tribunal for the sexual assault and injuries she suffered after authorities removed her from her family.

For a media release giving more details on the decision, see: http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/10/17/1034561266360.html

As part of the Victorian Government's response to the Bringing them home Report, Victoria establishes a Stolen Generations taskforce.

Australian Human Rights Commission, Whatever happened to Reconciliation? (speech by Social Justice Commissioner)

Australian Human Rights Commission, Reconciliation  - National progress one year on (Social Justice Report 2001)

National Library of Australia, Bringing them Home Oral History Project

The Age, First compensation win for stolen generation


The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner publicly criticises the failure of governments to provide financial and social reparations for members of the Stolen Generation, a national apology, or the appropriate mechanisms for individuals that were forcibly removed to reconnect with their culture.

Australian Human Rights Commission, Beyond Apologies: What Now for the Stolen Generations?


The Commonwealth Government establishes a memorial to the Stolen Generations at Reconciliation Place in Canberra.

461 ‘Sorry Books’ recording the thoughts of Australians on the unfolding history of the Stolen Generations are inscribed on the Australian Memory of the World Register, part of UNESCO’s programme to protect and promote documentary material with significant historical value.

National Capital Authority, Reconciliation Place

AIATSIS, Explore the Sorry Books


The National Sorry Day Committee announces that in 2005, Sorry Day will be a ‘National Day of Healing for All Australians’ in an attempt to better engage the non-Indigenous Australian community with the plight of the Stolen Generations.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) is dismantled by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission Amendment Act 2005 (Cth) and replaced by a Commonwealth Government appointed advisory board.

Volume two of the Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey is released. The report says that 12.3% of the carers of Indigenous children aged 0–17 in Western Australia were forcibly removed from their families. Compared with other Indigenous children, the children of members of the ‘Stolen Generations’ are twice as likely to have emotional and behavioural problems, to be at high risk for hyperactivity, emotional and conduct disorders, and twice as likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.

ABC, Fed Govt plans to abolish ATSIC

WA Aboriginal Child Health Survey, Volume 2: The social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal children and young people


The first Stolen Generations compensation scheme in Australia is set up in Tasmania by the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Children Act 2006 (Tas).

Tasmanian Legislation, Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Children Act 2006


The tenth anniversary of the Bringing them home report is recognised around Australia.

The first Stolen Generations compensation case is successful in the Supreme Court of South Australia. The Trevorrow judgment recognised the existence of the policy of removing Aboriginal children from their families and the detrimental long-term effects of that policy on both the removed children and on the wider Aboriginal community. It found that even though the State of South Australia had guardianship powers over Aboriginal children, those powers were formulated for the 'care and protection' of Aboriginal children, and did not extend to removal of children from their natural parents.

Australian Human Rights Commission, Us Taken-Away Kids: commemorating the 10th anniversary of the ‘Bringing them home’ report

The Age, Stolen generation payout


The federal government publically apologises to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia for the forced removals of their children throughout history.

For the first time, the Federal Parliament opens for the year with a Welcome to Country.

ABC, Apology

Australian Human Rights Commission, Response to the government to the national apology to the Stolen Generations - Let the healing begin

666 ABC Canberra, A historic first: traditional Indigenous welcome begins Parliament


The Federal Government establishes the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

The Australian Government formally endorses the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Declaration specifically recognises that even though everyone is equally entitled to human rights, Indigenous people have not always enjoyed those rights.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation is established to provide healing services to members of the Stolen Generations.

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

United National Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Healing Foundation, Our history


The Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is established. The Panel’s job is to hear from Australians about the best way to recognise indigenous people in our Constitution. 

Australian Human Rights Commission, Constitution reform to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the nations Constitution


An Act of Recognition Bill passes through parliament. The Bill demonstrates the Parliament’s commitment to acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ unique and special place in our nation’s history. 

Federal Register of Legislation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Act 2013


A 10-year National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Plan is released. The plan outlines state and federal government priorities in order to close the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander life expectancy gap by 2030.

The Australian Parliament passes the Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander People’s Recognition Act 2013 with bi-partisan support, which recognises the need to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australia’s constitution.

The Victorian Government appoints Aboriginal man Andrew Jackomos as Victoria’s first Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People. The appointment of an Aboriginal children’s commission was a result of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children’s Inquiry recommendations

Australian Human Rights Commission, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health plan a crucial step forward

Federal Register of Legislation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Recognition Act 2013

ABC News, Victoria appoints first commissioner for Aboriginal People


Adnyamathanha man Adam Goodes, an AFL player and community leader, receives the Australian of the Year Award for his “leadership and advocacy in the fight against racism both on the sporting field and within society”

Australian of the Year, Australian of the Year 2014


Faith Bandler, a political activist and writer, dies at the age of 96. She was well known for her 10 year campaign leading up to the 1967 Referendum.

The 2015 Social Justice Report raises concerns about the growing number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care and includes a section on the ‘Continued importance of the Bringing them Home Report’

ABC News, Political activist and writer Faith Bandler dies aged 96

Australian Human Rights Commission, 2015 Social Justice Report


In response to a shocking report by ABC’s Four Corners program, the Federal Government calls a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

Alyawarre woman Pat Anderson AO, wins the 2016 Human Rights Medal for her work to advance the rights and welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Caro Meldrum-Hanna, Mary Fallon, Elise Worthington win the Media Award at the 2016 Human Rights Award for their ABC Four Corner’s episode ‘Australia’s shame, whichexposed the mistreatment of young people in the Northern Territory detention system.

The NSW State Government announces a $73 million reparations scheme for Stolen Generations survivors.

Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory

Australian Human Rights Commission, Pat Anderson AO Wins 2016 Human Rights Medal

NSW Government, Reparations to Stolen Generations Survivors


June Oscar AO becomes the first woman to hold the position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.

The 20th anniversary of the Bringing them Home report is marked with commemoration events and activities around the country.

The Healing Foundation presents a new report to the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition at an event in Canberra.

The South Australia State Government announces a Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples visits Australia and raises concerns about the growing proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out of home care.

The Uluru Statement calls for the establishment of a First Nations’ voice to be enshrined in the constitution.

Australian Human Rights Commission, Welcome June Oscar, Australia’s Social Justice Commissioner

Healing Foundation, 20 Years On: It’s Time to Heal the Trauma

Government of South Australia, Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme

United Nations, End of Mission Press Conference & Statement by UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples on her visit to Australia

Referendum Council, Uluru Statement from the Heart