An apology to Forgotten Australians was clearly needed
It’s been 12 years since 11 am on Monday, the 16th of November 2009, when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the “Forgotten Australians” and to former child migrants.
As a Forgotten Australian, Samilya only has this one bedraggled photo of herself from her eight horrendous years at St Joseph’s Orphanage, Neerkol. Samilya had yearned for this apology and hoped that her life would be better once it was made. Surely the little girl in the photo deserved an apology, for all the abuse and neglect she had suffered.
The 2004 Forgotten Australians report by the Senate Committee validated the horrors Samilya, and many other Forgotten Australians had described and noted their lifelong consequences:
The long term impact of a childhood spent in institutional care is complex and varied. However, a fundamental, ongoing issue is the lack of trust and security and lack of interpersonal and life skills that are acquired through a normal family upbringing, especially social and parenting skills. A lifelong inability to initiate and maintain stable, loving relationships was described by many care leavers who have undergone multiple relationships and failed marriages. Many cannot form trust in relationships and remain loners, never marrying or living an isolated existence.
The Senate Committee’s first recommendation was that a national apology be made to the children in institutional care who were its victims.
It took a long time to apologise
No one wanted to rush to an apology, and five long years after the Forgotten Australians report was tabled, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to the “Forgotten Australians” and to former child migrants. On behalf of the Australian people the Prime Minister stated that we, the Australian people, were sorry:
Sorry – that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused.
Sorry – for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.
Sorry – for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost – childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places, where names were replaced by numbers, spontaneous play by regimented routine, the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work.
Sorry – for all these injustices to you, as children, who were placed in our care.
I hoped this apology would make a difference
Samilya hoped that this apology, unlike the two other formal apologies she had already received, would make a significant difference to her wellbeing. Samilya was clearly moved but the apology when she blogged the following in the lead up to the national apology:
Today is 4 November 2009. I have forgotten a day but today went well. I finally got out of bed after talking to myself and doing a workout before going to work. That is a choice. But 57 years ago the choices were taken away, and from many others, who were abandoned and put into orphanages. November 16 is sorry day for all of us. It was not about sorry or the money. It was and still is about the truth behind the disadvantaged kids, who are now adults and still misplaced.
A few days after the national apology Samilya wrote again:
Pain is cruel to live by. I lived with pain as a little girl from my abandoned past. Now I would like to die as it is lonely and I am in pain. No wonder the elderly don’t want to live, I have finally come to this point, body pain is horrible how does anyone want to live in a world without love and not knowing love from parents, or family. That was the hardest pain of all.
16th November 2009 was a great day it was the sorry day. It meant a lot as it all finally came out that we were telling the truth. Can anyone describe love and how to be loved by one self? How can you love yourself when you weren’t loved as a child?
I am still forgotten and misplaced
Not long after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made the apology, Samilya’s view of it changed.
I am now living in the past since going to the third apology night at the state library and I couldn’t go to Kevin Rudd’s one yesterday, I watched it on youtube. It was very painful as I still can’t seem to understand, I have written and emailed before and have gotten no reply and this to me is very confusing, I have gone backward not forward, I missed my psychiatrist appointment due to this, not good. I have to wait now till I see my doctor. Having some kind of faith in any system is very hard for me and for my family to trust. It has affected my daughters in many ways and my sons, I also emailed the Sisters of Mercy about the Royal Commission and all they can say is that they hope this makes families understand, but what about making us understand and why wasn’t this done years ago? Unless you lived in the shoes of us you will never understand or be able to. I would like to add my name to the list for the Royal Commission as I wasn’t heard the last time. So much more needs to be said. I am the one who is still left in limbo and believes in hell and heaven and I will be struck by the devil if I am bad. I have emailed others in the government and no reply so I am still forgotten and misplaced.
Did “sorry” make 2021 better?
Many Forgotten Australians are still awaiting payments through the National Redress Scheme which was established after the Royal Commission into Institutional Sexual Abuse concluded in 2013. The Redress Scheme offers payments of up to $150,000 but the average payment is only $80,000 and the process is slow, arduous and for many who apply, re-triggering of their trauma. There has been no similar scheme for F0rgotten Australians who were not sexually abused, but who were violently abused and neglected.
There has been no easy pathway for Forgotten Australians to access welfare and health care services, including Centrelink, without having to repeatedly tell their story. Although there is assistance and support through organisations such as Lotus Place, Open Place, Relationships Australia and Care Leavers Australasia Network (CLAN).
Forgotten Australians have petitioned for a Health Care Card for medical and dental care for all Forgotten Australians. The card would provide ease of access to health care and government services similar to the Gold Card for Veterans. The petition seems to have lost impetus despite having almost 7,000 signatures and can be found here:
Forgotten Australians have lost out on so much, no learning, no choices and no justice. Not enough funding for health needs.