Thursday marks 25 years since the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in parliament. The 1997 report was the result of a national inquiry investigating forced removal of First Nations children from their families. It marked a pivotal moment in the healing journey of many stolen generations survivors.
Bringing Them Home told the stories of stolen generations survivors and brought wider recognition to their experiences. Children who were stolen from loving families, lost their connection to family, community, land, culture and language. They were taken to homes and institutions where they were abused, neglected and unloved. This trauma is still endured by these children today, who are now our stolen generations survivors.
The mothers, fathers, families and communities who were left behind also suffered greatly. The removal of children created a cycle of intergenerational trauma, where the impact is passed from one generation to the next. This is not only the stories of those survivors – it’s an Australian story, a story that must be told as a true account of Australia’s history.
The report was an invitation to work together on a path to healing. Inside its pages was a roadmap, with First Nations voices and community-led healing at its core. Solutions that, until today, have largely failed to meet up to the intention of the original document.
Since 1997, stolen generations survivors have testified at numerous inquiries and commissions. There have been more than 20 such inquiries in the 15 years since the national apology, including royal commissions examining institutional responses to child sexual abuse, aged care and disability.
In the absence of formal monitoring processes, two non-government agencies carried out their own assessment of the response to the Bringing Them Home report. These found that fewer than five recommendations have been fully implemented.
The Bringing Them Home report did create some positive change. It provided the opportunity for stolen generations survivors to put their stories on the public record; it led to the national apology; it foreshadowed a greater focus on social and emotional wellbeing in First Nations communities; and it led to increased support for link-up services and the establishment of The Healing Foundation.
However, the principles that underlie the 54 recommendations are yet to form a coherent basis for a national response to the historical trauma suffered by the stolen generations. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia, Bringing Them Home sadly remains unfinished business.
Next year will mark 15 years since the national apology, yet stolen generations survivors, their families, and communities still face a significant burden of disadvantage.
This must be addressed urgently, and reflect the complex needs and disadvantage to support stolen generations survivors, their families and descendants. The National Healing Strategy should include increased investment into the following areas:
Stolen Generations organisations, including link-ups, to strengthen their capacity and support for fair and equitable reparations for stolen generations survivors, their families and communities, particularly in Queensland and Western Australia
Support to services and upskilling the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce (including health and allied health professionals) to embed and provide trauma-aware, healing-informed care
Aged care that offers a more holistic social and cultural support in order to access the services that stolen generations survivors need
Co-design and implementation of strategies for strengthening connection and supporting stolen generations at times when physical connections are restricted
Since the Bringing Them Home report (in the time another generation has joined us) we are yet to see any significant national approach to healing for stolen generations and their families.
We’ve seen underfunded Aboriginal community-controlled organisations undertake the heavy lifting for support services. And very little expectation put on the broader and better-funded service sectors to understand the extent of trauma experiences, across generations, and to contribute to healing.
Many stolen children have already passed on to the dreaming without reparations for the harm they experienced, and for the effects on their descendants.
We must not delay justice for stolen generations for the time that another generation joins us. We must not wait a moment longer.
Those still with us are ageing. This year, all will be aged over 50.
We know with certainty now that unless we address the impact of trauma carried across generations, efforts to close gaps will be compromised.
We will not achieve our aspirations, or those of government, without addressing the barrier of trauma experiences for what is too significant a number of our population.
This Sorry Day, we must use this knowledge as a catalyst for redoubling our efforts, to remember the intention of the Bringing Them Home report to right the wrongs of the past, so that there is finally justice and healing for stolen generations survivors. This is essential, to replace intergenerational trauma with intergenerational healing.
The Healing Foundation welcomes Labor’s commitment to the Uluru Statement from the Heart in full as Anthony Albanese announced in his acceptance speech over the weekend – a shared and equal future starts with healing and stopping the trauma.
Being honest about this is the start. Token gestures do not heal. Incremental change does not end trauma cycles or lead to intergenerational healing. Equity, fairness and inclusiveness requires big, bold steps to finally address the discrepancies in health, justice and welfare outcomes for First Nations peoples.
We need all Australians, especially our leaders, to walk alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to build a stronger nation together.
It’s time to act – urgently.
• Professor Steve Larkin is board chair of the Healing Foundation