EXCLUSIVE: Inside the system that saw Indigenous children including babies forcibly removed from their families and punished for it with criminal convictions.
“How can a child neglect itself?” says Aunty Vickie Roach as she flicks through a stack of papers on the front step of her home near Wollongong, New South Wales. “And in what alternative universe can that child be criminalized? It’s crazy”, she says, shaking her head.
Roach, a Yuin woman and respected writer and justice activist, is looking through files from her childhood in 1960s Australia, but what’s written there feels like it happened in another world.
In 1961 Roach was taken into state care after her mother asked the authorities to look after her temporarily while she went to have another child in a home for unmarried mothers. Her mother never got her back.
Instead, Roach, who was only two years old, was taken to court where she was made a state ward and given to a white foster family. What she didn’t know at the time was that as well as losing her connection to her family and culture, she had gained something: a criminal record.
“When I applied for my wardship file, the first document in that file was a charge sheet saying that I had been charged with neglect by way of destitution,” says Roach. “I was shocked, I had no idea that they could even charge a child with an offence like this.”