• James 'Michael' Widdy Welsh was taken from his home at 8 years old. (Sarah Collard: NITV News)Source: Sarah Collard: NITV News
A new report has found there are more Stolen Generations survivors than first thought, but they're more likely to be sicker and poorer than other First Nations people.
Sarah Collard, Keira Jenkins

2 Jun 2021 - 6:18 PM  UPDATED 2 Jun 2021 - 6:18 PM

James 'Michael' Widdy Welsh was just eight years old when he was taken to Kinchela Boys Home which still sends a chill through his spine. 

“It was never a home, it was a bad place. It was like a concentration camp, an institution —never home.” he told NITV News.

Mr Welsh and his seven siblings were taken from their ‘beautiful life’ and brought to the home in northern New South Wales along with hundreds of other Aboriginal children. He remembers the harsh daily realities of living in the home.

“They’d flog us with a cane. We were given numbers, they burnt our clothes, my number was 36, my brother’s was number 17 — we’d never forget them,” he said.

“The abuse was physical, sexual and mental - the whole lot of it, We had no body to tell… our silence became our trauma.” 

He was 16 when he finally returned to his mother but his experience left him deaf and with a lifetime of trauma. 

He is just one of 33,600 survivors who were taken from their families throughout the Stolen Generations as identified in a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Healing Foundation. 

The numbers have more than doubled from a previous survey in 2014-15 which identified 17,150 Stolen Generations survivors. 

More than 27,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 50 and over are survivors of the Stolen Generations. 

One in five First Nations people aged 50 or older are members of the Stolen Generations and both the AIHW and the Healing Foundation believe that's because more survivors are comfortable coming forward. 

Report highlights 'gap within a gap’ 

The report laid bare the discrepancies not only between First Nations peoples and non-Indigenous peoples but also the gap between Indigenous Australians removed from their home and those who were not. 

Stolen Generations survivors are more likely to be sicker, poorer, face racism and discrimination and not own their own home than other Australians including other First Nations Australians. 

The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth said the report showed the terrible toll forced removal has had on survivors and their descendants. 

"Nationally, more than one third of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are descended from older generations who were removed - great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunties, and uncles." she said. 

Stolen Generations survivors are three times more likely to live with a severe disability, 2.7 times more likely to have poor mental health, three times more likely to have diabetes more than four and a half times more likely to have kidney disease. 

Ms Cornforth told Wednesday's National Press Club address in Canberra that the impact of being forcibly removed reverberated across all areas of their lives. 

“Stolen children lost connection to safe, loving, and nurturing families, to land, culture, and language, and were taken to homes and institutions where they were often abused, neglected, and unloved,” she said. 

“Mothers, fathers, families, and communities left behind also suffered terribly.

“The removal of children created cycles of intergenerational trauma, which has not been widely acknowledged, let alone addressed, or resolved.”

Calls for national redress scheme and leadership

Ian Hann, a Stolen Generations survivor and member of the Healing Foundation Reference Group, said urgent action and leadership is needed at the Commonwealth level.

"There is a role for the government... it should be providing a moral leadership if nothing else, that this group of Australians we can no longer not pay attention to," he said.

"Scott Morrison has the chance to put his stamp on the pages of Australian history by saying 'I did this thing because we hadn't done it before."

Ms Cornforth, a descendant of the Wuthathi peoples in Queensland said current redress and legal actions are confusing and is calling for a more national approach. 

"Nationally consistent, fair, and equitable redress for Stolen Generations survivors, their families, and descendants will Make Healing Happen." she said in her address but cautioned that it must be led by survivors. 

"We know from survivors and their stories that some of these reparations and redress schemes without that knowledge can cause more harm than good."