In just three years the number of Stolen Generations survivors who have come forward has almost doubled, renewing calls for a national redress scheme.
In 2018, the AIHW found there were only 17,000 Stolen Generations survivors still alive in Australia
Their latest report shows that number has more than doubled, due to more people having the courage to come forward
The report also says there’s a need for a national intergenerational healing strategy to help address disadvantage
Ian Hamm is one of the more than 33,600 living Stolen Generations members identified by a new report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Healing Foundation.
“To see these things in figures, this moves [the issue] beyond the emotional stories, it becomes hard, indisputable, cold fact,” he said.
“It’s important because people like me know just how hard it has been to live this life.”
The 57-year-old Yorta Yorta man was removed from his mother in Shepparton at three weeks old and grew up just 50 kilometres away with another family.
He said he spent a lot of his life trying to understand who he really was.
“I suppose one of the things which any of the stolen children think about is not only who we are, but who we might have otherwise been,” he said.
The Make Healing Happen Report also quantifies the economic, social and health impacts the removal of children has had not just on survivors, but their families.
The survey found Stolen Generations survivors over 50 were almost twice as likely to be on welfare, experience discrimination and be smokers compared with other Indigenous Australians of the same age.
Compared to non-Indigenous Australians over 50, they are two times more likely to be on welfare, almost four times more likely to be smokers and six times more likely to live in an overcrowded home.
They also live with higher rates of long-term health conditions.
The report found they were four times more likely to have kidney disease, three times more likely to have diabetes and two times more likely to have asthma.
“It brings to life what I know to be true in hard evidence, because I know lots of other stolen children, too, and I know how hard it’s been,” Mr Hamm said.
‘There is a gap within the gap’
In 2018, when the AIHW released their first ever survey on the Stolen Generations, it found there were only 17,000 survivors still alive in Australia.
That has now almost doubled to 33,600 — with 27,000 of those aged over 50.
Healing Foundation chief executive Fiona Cornforth said more survivors were coming forward.
“Stolen Generation survivors and linkups have just been working so hard to ensure that people know the importance of collective healing and gaining that courage more recently to speak about their experience,” she said.
Today at the National Press Club, she called for a national reparations scheme co-designed by First Nations people with lived experience.
She said that so far, the patchwork of state redress schemes had not been sufficient.
“Some of these initiatives have the impact of causing more trauma within the family, and so it’s really critical that it’s well-designed and nationally consistent,” she said.
Ms Cornforth said the report found there was a need for a national intergenerational healing strategy.
“It’s absolutely critical, because they carry the burden of this disadvantage every day, and there has been a cost to the disadvantage carried, and they had no say in it,” she said.
“And so it seems as the least the nation can do to contribute to healing.”
Ongoing intergenerational trauma
For Wiradjuri man Harry Williams, the forced removal of his grandfather decades ago continues to affect his family today.
“It clearly impacts my father and my parents and the upbringing I had,” he said.
“Learning about what actually happened, and what happened to my grandfather … the whole generational trauma and trying to break that cycle.
“[It’s] not so much that you can break it, but it’s sort of literally trying to heal from it.”
Mr Williams has hope for the next generation, and strongly believes education and understanding the wrongdoings of the past is the way forward for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
“To have some kind of level of understanding and a genuine interest into what happened and be able to make a positive contribution to be able to heal together,” he said.
Twenty-four years ago the landmark Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Parliament and found as many as one in three children were removed from their family between 1910 and 1970.
It provided 54 recommendations, but many have not been implemented.
Survivors and descendants like Mr Williams do not want this report to sit on the shelf.
“For me, the way I see it is as an act of urgency. [Healing] needs to happen,” he said.
“Here’s another resource, another report, another thing to further educate people.”
The 2021 report found descendants of the Stolen Generations also experienced significantly poorer wellbeing and health outcomes compared with other Indigenous Australians.
It found the traumatic childhood experiences of their removed family members may have impacts on parenting ability creating environments of disadvantage.
It also identified issues around a sense of identity and the ability to reconnect with culture. Adult descendants were two times more likely not to speak an Indigenous language and 1.4 times as likely to have a low level of satisfaction with their lives.
Mr Hamm said his main motivation for trying to heal himself, is wanting a better life for his kids.
“If there’s one thing above all else, I’m conscious of every day not to burden my children with my baggage of who I am and what comes with being one of the stolen children,” he said.