• February 13, 2008: Kevin Rudd greets Indigenous representatives in the House of Representatives Chamber after delivering the apology to the stolen generation. (AAP)Source: AAP
A new report has uncovered, for the first time, the extent of the health, social and economic disadvantage members of the Stolen Generations experience.
15 Aug 2018 - 7:53 AM  UPDATED 15 Aug 2018 - 4:55 PM

Thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are living with poorer health and social outcomes than other Indigenous Australians, according to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. 

The new report on Australia's Stolen Generations, released on Wednesday, has found there are approximately 17,000 Indigenous Australians still battling the repercussions of that policy.

Of these, more than half live with a disability or chronic health condition, 70 per cent rely on welfare and are more than three times as likely to have been jailed in the last five years compared to other Indigenous Australians. 

Healing Foundation chief executive Richard Weston says the findings paint an alarming picture. 

"It's starting to paint a picture of a crisis emerging," he told NITV News. 

"It tells us that if we don't start to tackle trauma and we don't start to break that cycle of intergenerational trauma impacting on our communities and on our families then these problems are going to continue for the long-term," he said. 

"They're going to continue to grow and they're going to come at a great cost to the taxpayer." 

The report found that among all Indigenous peoples born before 1972, when forced removal policies were abandoned, around one-in-10, or 11 per cent, reported being removed from their families. 

"Before this report, we didn’t know how many Stolen Generations members were still alive, or the full impact of ongoing trauma in people’s lives, which made it difficult to determine needs and plan services to address them," said Healing Foundation Chair Professor Steve Larkin. 

"The report has filled in a lot of gaps and importantly, uncovered a very concerning level of health, social and economic disadvantage across generations," he said. 

Of the 17,150 Stolen Generations survivors, over half are female with a large majority living in urban areas in New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland. Many are aged over 50 years, with at least 20 per cent over 65.

Intergenerational impact 

But the story of disadvantage does not end with the survivors of the Stolen Generations. 

In the first demographic study of its kind, the report has collated comprehensive data illustrating the direct link between the forced removal of tens of thousands of children from their families and the real-life symptoms of intergenerational trauma.

The findings show that close to 115,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are descended from generations of people who were stolen. 

"Today’s report is significant in showing that the negative effects of past practices are not limited to those directly removed, with descendants also consistently experiencing poorer health and social outcomes than other Indigenous Australians," Professor Larkin said. 

"Through this data, we’ve been able to compare health and social outcomes for members of the Stolen Generations and their descendants to effectively show the 'gap within the gap'."

Descendants were twice as likely to experience discrimination, almost twice as likely to experience violence and more likely to be in poor health compared to other Indigenous adults who were not removed. 

"I feel like the end product of the Stolen Generations": a daughter speaks about her father's removal
Qaris Webster-Morley, daughter of a member of the Stolen Generations, speaks openly about feeling like a legacy of Australia's vicious assimilation policies.

'They took me'

Survivor Uncle Michael Welsh says the findings bring a sense of relief to him and his family. 

"For years, we felt so alone and wondered why nobody helped us," he told NITV News. "But seeing this report makes me feel better, in the sense of relief."

"For those people who were in denial, look at [the report] and understand it - it is there," he said.

Uncle Michael was just eight years old when he and his brother were taken from their family and placed in the Kinchela Boys' Home in Kempsey, on the New South Wales mid north-coast.

"They took me, it broke me from family, it broke me from my community – I didn't know who was I," he said.

Michael and his brother spent the next five years in the boys' home before they were taken into the care of their uncles and aunts - but they still weren't allowed to meet their mother. 

The impact on his family was devastating. His children saw him battle with substance abuse, identity loss and mental breakdowns - a product of his unresolved trauma. 

"I took that evil place home with me," he said. "I built a wall around my family to stop them communicating with society which was a big trauma to them as they grew up and went into the world."

But now his children are beginning to understand the lingering effects of intergenerational trauma. 

"Change is on the way through us sticking together and finding a better way of living," he said. "My concern now is with my family and children, and for them to not carry the same anger as I did."

Today, Uncle Michael works with the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation and the Healing Foundation to ensure intergenerational trauma is no longer passed on. 

"We need somebody who will listen to us, help us put a process in place to function in society and be a positive thing in the community." 

The Healing Foundation's Mr Weston says while the level of disadvantage uncovered by the report is disturbing, it does not come as a surprise. 

"They've [survivors] have told us repeatedly over the last eight or nine years about what they're going through and what is happening in their lives," he said. 

"But it [the report] gives us an opportunity to plan better services and take actions that are more coordinated and better targeted to meet the needs of the Stolen Generations and their descendants."

Mr Weston says it's important we remember the people behind the numbers. 

"It's not just a set of numbers, it's a quantum of the accumulated trauma that's compounded over many, many decades and it's been passed on from one generation to the next," he said.

"Behind these numbers are the personal stories and we know there are 17,000 of them living in Australia today, and there is an opportunity to do something to address the unfinished business, support them to have reparations, but also to support their healing and support them into aged care.

"It makes me think about how many of those Stolen Generations have passed away without their stories being acknowledged, without hearing the Apology, or having the opportunity to heal."

The Healing Foundation will present an action plan for healing to the federal government outlining the needs of an ageing Stolen Generations population, including financial redress and establishing a national approach to tackling intergenerational trauma. 

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said the government will continue working with members of the Stolen Generations.

“The Stolen Generations have experienced a lifetime of trauma, grief and loss, a legacy which is still felt in families and communities across Australia," he said.

"I am pleased that we now have a comprehensive understanding of the demographics and needs of surviving members of the Stolen Generations."

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