Saturday, June 3, 2023

Fourteen years on from Sorry Day, healing continues amid fears of ‘another Stolen Generation’

James Michael “Widdy” Welsh remembers an idyllic childhood growing up catching yabbies and fishing by the river with his family.

But at age eight, those happy times were cut short.

Mr Welsh and his six siblings were taken from their mother and placed in institutions.

He and brother Barry were sent to the Kinchela Boys Home in Kempsey in northern New South Wales.

Young boys standing in a line outdoors
Mr Welsh was known as Number 36 when he was at the Kinchela Boys Home in Kempsey.,Supplied: Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corportaion,

They were stripped of their identity, for the next nine years they were simply known as numbers.

“They said ‘you are Number 36’… those words will ring in my ears for the rest of my life,” he said.

“They shaved all our hair off, they took our clothes off us, took our shoes, and made us watch them burn them in an incinerator.

“When we walked through that gate, that was the end of that eight-year-old’s life.”

As a teenager, Mr Welsh would meet some of his family but the scars of being separated remained.

He turned to alcohol, had stints in and out of prison and couldn’t trust people.

“It’s a disease that it’s implanted in your brain by the way that they punish you, flog you, starve you, abuse you, sexually as well — so all of those things were in play at that place,” he said.

A group of government ministers clapping
Mr Rudd’s apology “validated the experience of survivors”.,AAP: Stephan Postles,

Today marks 14 years since former prime minister Kevin Rudd apologised on behalf of the federal government to members of the Stolen Generations.

The apology was the moment when Mr Welsh and his siblings realized they weren’t on their own.

“To see all those thousands of people, to realize that we weren’t alone, we weren’t the only ones having this pain,” he said.

He’s been on his healing journey ever since and works with the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation to help curb intergenerational trauma.

Healing Foundation chief executive Fiona Cornforth said Mr Rudd’s apology finally validated the experiences of survivors after decades of “not being seen or heard”.

“It meant so much to their healing journeys in particular, of those who had suffered and continue to suffer that enduring grief, loss and trauma,” she said.

The national body was set up after the apology to support survivors and provide a platform to share their experiences.

A man with his arm around a woman who is sitting at a desk
Mr Welsh’s work with the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation helps to curb intergenerational trauma.,ABC News,

‘Another Stolen Generation’

New data released by the Productivity Commission in January shows that up to June 30, 22,297 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were living away from their parents.

Chair of SNAICC, the peak body for Indigenous youth advocacy, Muriel Bamblett, said more Indigenous children are entering out-of-home care than ever before.

This year also marks 25 years of the Bringing Them Home report, which unveiled the trauma and injustice of the Stolen Generations.

A woman looking
Ms Bamblett calls on all jurisdictions to make progress on the recommendations from the Bringing Them Home report.,Supplied: VACCA,

Ms Bamblett said the report’s recommendations are still being negotiated.

“We call on all state and territory governments to review the 54 recommendations within the report and make their progress against those recommendations public,” Ms Bamblett said.

In NSW alone, more than 40 per cent of children in out-of-home care are Indigenous.

“This is a national crisis,” said John Leha, chief executive of NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation (AbSec).

“The statistics these days are 11 times more, in terms of the amount of children being removed from family from their family since the actual national apology.”

Valerie Winberg remembers the apology as one of the saddest days of her life.

She was just two-years-old when her family of nine were separated.

An elderly woman looking and smiling
Ms Winberg remembers the apology as one of the saddest days of her life.,Supplied,

Three of her brothers were taken to Kinchela Boys Home, the girls and younger kids were split between two institutions.

First to Bomaderry Children’s Home then trained as domestics at Cootamundra Girls Home, where Ms Winberg says they suffered physical and sexual abuse.

“You can never forget those things,” she said.

She was in the House of Representatives listening to Mr Rudd’s speech in 2008.

“I was happy to hear the apology but when Kevin Rudd started talking, the hurt just came flying back.

“You can never rebuild what you have lost.”

Ms Winberg fears future generations of Indigenous children may be heading down the same track.

“Stop taking kids today, kids of today need love because we never got it… I can see it’s gonna be another Stolen Generation.”

Two young girls standing next to each other and smiling
Ms Winberg was two years old when she was separated from her siblings.,Supplied,

Fears for ageing population

Today, Ms Winberg is 80-years-old. She lives alone and has had two hip replacements.

The pandemic has put a stop to her usual home care services which helped with buying groceries — something her family now helps with.

The Healing Foundation said many of the 33,600 survivors will be eligible for aged care services in the next year.

But as the Omicron wave forces centers into lockdown, there are fears Indigenous residents — many of whom are Stolen Generations members — may be re-traumatised.

Ms Cornforth said providing culturally appropriate care was critical.

“Having those workforces and sectors like the aged care sector understand how they can support healing and do no further harm, and avoid re-traumatizing, that’s crucial,” she said.

Two older women hugging and smiling
Ms Winberg is among the many Stolen Generation survivors whose care has been impacted by the Omicron wave.,Supplied,

Jimbelunga Nursing Center in Queensland is an Indigenous-run facility that has more than 80 per cent Indigenous residents — some are members of the Stolen Generations.

Chief executive Jody Currie said it provides residents a safe place to reflect upon their journey that often denied them their Aboriginal identity.

“We understand the trauma, we understand the loss of mums and dads, and brothers and sisters, and that extended understanding of culture,” Ms Currie said.

“Just being able to have others around you who empathise and understand and have been through similar experiences gives great solace to our old people.”

A woman looking and smiling
Ms Cornforth says providing culturally appropriate care is critical.,ABC News: Nakari Thorpe,


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