Chapter 20 IntroductionPrevious: Part 6 Contemporary Separations Next: Chapter 21 Child Welfare Care and Protection
The fact remains that Aboriginal children are still being removed from their families at an unacceptable rate, whether by the child welfare or the juvenile justice systems, or both (Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA) submission 127 page viii).
This Part of the report analyses contemporary separations of Indigenous children and young people from their families and communities by State and Territory mechanisms pursuant to the Inquiry's fourth term of reference. The focus is on the processes of juvenile justice particularly detention, child welfare particularly fostering and institutionalisation, family law and adoption.
Indigenous children and young people continue to be removed from their families through laws, policies and practices of the State or Territory.
[W]hether we talk about the 1910s or 1940s or 1970s or even the 1980s, the tragic scenario is that Aboriginal children have, in large numbers, been separated from their families. In the past the dominating force was the assimilation policy. Now, it is contact with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems which leads to many Aboriginal children being removed from their families (ALSWA submission 127 page 343).
A high proportion of people affected by the past laws, practices and policies of forcible removal have had their own children taken from them in turn. The ALSWA survey of 483 clients who were removed in childhood revealed that more than one-third (35.2%) had had their children removed (submission 127 page 44). A process of second (or subsequent) generation removal occurred in more than one in three cases.
The following chapters detail the extent and nature of contemporary separations through a consideration of the legislation, policy and practices of juvenile justice, child welfare, adoption and family law. They analyse the reasons for continuing separations and, in particular, for the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are at much greater risk of removal by these processes than non-Indigenous children. The facts of contemporary separation establish a need for fundamental change in Australian law and practice.
When I was three months old [in 1965] the welfare department sent the police to my grandparents' house. They came armed with a warrant to have me removed. Despite any opposition my fate had been decided. I was taken away. My family were left with the guilt of being accused of child neglect.
In 1967 I was adopted into a white family. They had two sons of their own. It is documented that, from an early age, my adoption mother had feelings of rejection towards me. She wanted a white son. She was taking offence to me as I grew up and my skin got darker. I can remember her always making fun of me. She had a favourite song that she always sung to me. It was that old country song called, 'the biggest disappointment in the family is you'. They adopted another son and my new brother was very fair, with blue eyes and blonde hair.
As I grew up, more problems arose. I began to notice that I was getting darker. My adoption father was often sticking up for me when my adoption brothers would come home and tease me about my colour. They were learning words like, boong, coon, abo ...
I'd ask her why I was dark.
I'd ask her why I was dark. She would tell me it was because I kept playing with aboriginal kids at school. My adoption mother would make me feel guilty when I got into trouble for something. She would confirm her statement by saying things like, '... if you keep playing with aborigines, you'll end up turning into one'. I was beginning to believe that was why I was getting darker. I started to hate what I was turning into. I started to hate my own people.
In 1978 I went to high school. I was to be separated again. This time it was from my adoption brothers. They were sent to one high school and I was sent to another. When I wanted to know why, my adoption mother told me that she didn't want me to embarrass her sons.
Towards the end of 1978, I was running away from home and truanting from school. I was sick of my adoption family. I hated my adoption mother. I wanted them to send me back to the orphanage. I wanted my real mother. I didn't belong where I was. I just wanted to go back to where I believed my mother would come and get me one day. I committed my first offence at 11. I was trying to make my adoption family hate me so they'd send me back. I ended up back at the orphanage. When the welfare officer questioned me about my behaviour, I told him that I wanted to have my real family. He kept telling me that it was impossible. I didn't believe him and persisted in asking for many years to follow.
After a few months at the orphanage I was getting blamed for things that I wasn't doing. On one occasion I was blamed for starting a fire in the building. I never did it. They wanted to foster me with white families. I ran away. I was sick of getting into trouble and I was scared about being fostered. I just wanted my real family. I couldn't understand why they wouldn't take me home.
[After some months on the streets in Brisbane, at the age of 13 Tony was taken into care as uncontrollable.]
While at Wilson [youth centre] I felt like I was in a prison. In my mind, I hadn't done anything wrong to be sent there. I spent months asking what I'd done wrong. They told me that I was uncontrollable. I used to cry a lot. I kept asking the social workers to find my real mother. It was the same old story.
I ran away a few times. When I escaped I used to go to a family I'd met. They had aboriginal foster kids. I used to like going there. I felt that I had something in common with these kids. Everyone there liked me. The parents there treated me as if I was one of their own kids. I ended up getting caught and sent back to Wilson. I was depressed again. The family who I'd stayed with made several attempts at fostering me. The welfare department blocked all attempts. I didn't know how to feel. All this time, the welfare couldn't wait to put me into a home. Then when I found a family that I wanted to stay with on my own, they wouldn't allow it. It was like nobody cared what I wanted. It was as if I had no say in anything. It was being arranged for me to be adopted again by another family. When I became aware of this, I did what I was beginning to do best, run away. This made matters worse. People were beginning to give up on me. I was finally sent to Boys Town [aged nearly 14].
I ran away from Boys Town several times. On one occasion that I ran away, I caught a train back up to Townsville. One of the passengers - a woman travelling with her boyfriend - took care of me. We got on real good. She had brown skin just like me. This woman kept asking me questions about who I was and where I came from. I was a runaway, so I was restricted to how much I could say, in fear of being caught. I was in love with this woman. I remember falling asleep with my head on her lap. We talked each other to sleep.
We talked each other to sleep.
The following day we arrived at Townsville station. She asked me if I had anywhere to stay. I told her no. Her and her boyfriend invited me to stay with them. I stayed only two days with them. She washed my clothes and made sure that I had a good feed. On the second day she went out with her boyfriend. I got jealous of her boyfriend and ran away when they left.
Until the age of 28 I wasn't aware just how close I was to finding my mother.
Later the next day I was arrested by the Townsville police. [Tony was returned to Boys Town where he stayed until he turned 15. He then found employment.]
It was a difficult time in my life. It was then that I was mature enough to realise the full ramifications of what everything was building up to. I started to convince myself that I was destined to spend the rest of my life alone. I often saw old people in the street, who were obviously homeless, and knew that that was how I was going to end up. I used to get really depressed about that. Those thoughts and feelings stayed with me for a very long time.
I was never sent back to my family. [When Tony was aged 17 his welfare officer recommended reintroduction to his birth family. The recommendation was ignored.] Nobody cared about the pain that I was feeling. So I tried my best to hide from it. Antisocial behaviour seemed the only way that I could deal with my problems for years to follow. I've been a loner since then.
[At 16 Tony stole a car from the family with whom he was staying and left the State. At 18 he committed a burglary and spent 10 months in prison.]
When I got out I started making contact with my adoption family by phone. It was becoming positive. My adoption mother refused me permission to go home to them when I got my holidays from work. She claimed that, '... dad doesn't think it's a good idea'. That hurt me a lot. A year later I tried to contact them again. This time my adoption father answered the phone. I rang up to wish my adoption mother a happy birthday. When I asked, '...is mum there?', I was told that she had died two months earlier. It devastated me. While I was on the phone, I made it clear to my adoption father that I loved him. I felt terrible because I never got to say it to my adoption mother. I'd spent the previous two years trying to make amends.
My life fell apart once again. I became a drug addict and started to abuse alcohol and everyone around me.
[Tony was soon convicted of robbery with wounding in company. He is serving a 14 year sentence. Link-Up (Qld) located his family in 1993. His mother had died 9 years earlier. She had been the woman on the train.]Confidential submission 82, Queensland.