Stolen Generations

The Stolen Generations are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly removed as children from their families and communities through race-based policies set up by State and Federal Governments from 1910s to the 1970s.

First Nations people are believed to have lived in Australia for more than 65,000 years and have successfully adapted to the often-harsh environments, developing ways of life that were rich in spirituality, music, art, and storytelling. Following the arrival of the British in 1788, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations across much of Australia were decimated through frontier violence, introduced diseases, loss of access to land, resources, and traditional lifestyles. As a result of colonisation many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were removed from their traditional homelands and relocated to reserves or missions on the fringes of non-Indigenous settlements.

From the 1860s, jurisdictions such as Victoria and Queensland had legislation that allowed for the removal of Aboriginal children from their families. Across the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, colonies, and then states, implemented ‘protection’ legislation, and by 1911 all states except Tasmania had a ‘Chief Protector’ or ‘Protection Board’. These protection departments had extensive powers that were used to control all aspects of Aboriginal peoples’ lives. People needed permission to move in and out of the reserves and settlements, to marry, or to hold employment, and in many places their wages were controlled by the government. In most places, people were not allowed to practise culture, or speak their traditional languages. Parents lost decision-making autonomy over their children.

In the 1950s, following more than 150 years of violence against and dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Australia formally adopted a policy of assimilation. This meant policies of all Australian governments were aimed at ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and those of mixed descent, were to be absorbed into mainstream society. A key part of this objective was forcing children to grow up white.

It is estimated that under protection legislation and the policy of assimilation, between the 1910s and 1970s, as many as one in three Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and communities. The children were placed in dormitories and other institutions, non-Indigenous foster homes, or adopted by non-Indigenous families.

If colonial legislation and informal practices of kidnapping that were prevalent on the frontier are considered, that number of one in three would likely be much higher.

The ultimate aim was to eradicate Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people as a distinct cultural group. The policies were not only overtly racist, but the resulting disruption to families, communities, and culture has contributed significantly to many of the challenges facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today.

Telling Our Stories – Our Stolen GenerationsAunty Julie Black and Ian Hamm.

Bringing them home

The harm done to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a result of forcible removals was comprehensively documented and acknowledged for the first time through the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, launched in 1995. The Inquiry’s final report, Bringing them home, was tabled in 1997, and described the physical, psychological and sexual abuse, sexual and labour exploitation, racism, grief and suffering, disruption of family life, and loss of identity, culture, heritage, and community suffered by members of the Stolen Generations and their descendants.

Evidence presented to the Inquiry underscored the ways that children were emotionally and psychologically isolated from their families – many were taught to believe their families had relinquished them because they were unwanted and unloved, or told that their parents were dead. Aboriginality was denigrated and Aboriginal people were discussed in derogatory ways in an attempt to indoctrinate children and diminish their desire to return to family, Country, and culture.

Telling Our Stories – Our Stolen GenerationsFaye Clayton

Living conditions in dormitories were harsh and grossly under resourced. Children were often left hungry and cold. With a view to them becoming labourers or domestic servants, they were taught only basic literacy and numeracy. Punishment for minor transgressions was often severe and children were vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation in dormitories, as well as foster homes, adoptive families, and larger institutions.

For many survivors the resulting trauma, pain, and suffering remains long after these laws, policies, and practices ended in the 1970s. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had to come to terms with the realisation that they had been targeted for the purposes of assimilation, lied to, and that their forcible removal from their families, Country, and culture was not only deliberate, but sanctioned by law.

Kinchela Boys Home – We were just little boys.

The Apology

On 13 February 2008, the then Prime Minster Kevin Rudd made a formal apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, in particular to the Stolen Generations, on behalf of the Australian Parliament.

The journey to a national apology began with the Bringing them home report with recommendation 5a stating ‘that all Australian parliaments officially acknowledge the responsibility of their predecessors for the laws, policies and practices of forcible removal.’

The national apology was an important part of the healing journey for Stolen Generations survivors. Healing for survivors, their descendants, families, and communities, is crucial to end the trauma cycle, and to overcome the impacts of complex intergenerational trauma that exists as a result of past government policies.

National Apology to the Stolen Generations – Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.


The first Link-Up program was founded in 1980 to assist Aboriginal people who had been affected by past removal policies with reconnecting with family and Country.

Link-Ups assist clients with their healing journey by providing family history and genealogy research, reunion services, and social and emotional wellbeing support.

Link-Up services are now operating in all states and territories except Tasmania and the ACT.

For more information see: The Healing Foundation – Support.

Key facts provided by The Healing Foundation

Resources and further reading

Key resources



Pathways to Healing by Jenna Lee

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