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During reconciliation week there were celebrations and gatherings all across the country signifying and remembering the importance of the referendum, but at the Perth headquarters of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, a momentous occasion occurred when thousands of files long-held by the Department of Child Protection were released to the DAA for the first time in its history.
By
Craig Quartermaine

22 Jun 2017 - 6:42 PM  UPDATED 22 Jun 2017 - 6:45 PM

Records detailing the earliest stages of the removal of thousands of Indigenous children from their families have now been made available to the members of the stolen generation in Western Australia.

At a special ceremony members of the stolen generation and their descendants were on hand to watch and the handover over 23,000 files when transferred between departments simply fits on a hard drive the size of a jewellery box, the information contained in it far more valuable than jewellery.

There were several moving moments during the ceremony. The new Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in Western Australia Ben Wyatt was handed his family records which included a massive family tree printed out with all his recorded family members from his father’s side.

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When asked about how he felt receiving that information Mr Wyatt said he felt overwhelmed admiration for the effort put into the project.

“Obviously a lot of work has clearly gone into my family’s history that my father was reluctant to talk about so this is going to be interesting to go through it.”

That sentiment was shared among those who were in attendance, with all having a deep and sad connection to the Stolen Generation documented within these files.

One of those people is Marlene Jackamarra who had looked for her family’s story for years. Marlene was invited to speak at the presentation as one of the former Stolen Generation members who searched for her family history for decades and because of her tenacity and dedication was able to find her story. After being taken from her parents and raised at a mission in Wandering, Marlene didn’t know her parents until her late 20s when she finally met her father.

Now because of the information contained in those files and profiles taken of children as they entered the system, Marlene is able to present her family tree which included her grandmother Mindibah whose name could have been lost forever.

The Department of Child Protection which had long held the records had been responsible for maintaining the forms lodged when a child was removed.

Details such as the parent's name and birthplace were all taken down as basic information known as “Personal Cards” but were withheld for decades.

According to Damian Stewart the Executive Director of Community and Business Services at the Department of Child Protection and Family Support, not all information could be released because of the sensitive nature of the documents specifically relating to adoption and the adoption act.

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Researchers like Mark Chambers who had worked for the Department of Aboriginal Affairs as a research Officer who has been working on gathering the personal files of people from the Stolen Generation for decades was thanked for his effort by Ms Jackamarra. Mr Chambers explained that the goal was to gather more than the Personal Card information and amalgamate it into complete files of personal information to allow people to discover their full story.

What Marlene found was the truth and her family that she lost when she was taken to Wandering. Mr Chambers also explained that the storage of the files went back to 1918 and it was likely that about a third of the information contained had been lost over that time. But a combination of personal history cards and the cards that were created when a child was documented entering a Mission known as an “Admission card”, plus additional information contained in these now released files, will add vital parts to what was missing for so many members of the Stolen Generation.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Wyatt said while reflecting on now being able to read his family history the moment for many could be bittersweet saying: “It will be difficult reading to many hopefully satisfying reading for many.”

But Marlene Jackamarra’s personal reflection on being able to piece together her past was best summed up by her during the presentation, as she told the gathered audience: “I’m so proud that I am part of them are always people these photos these people they represent parts of me and who I am and what I stand for my family, they were intelligent people and they were gracious.”

The Department of Aboriginal Affairs has supplied information on their website for anyone looking to track down their personal history.