Ten years on from Stolen Generation apology

Norman 'Crow' George was just an toddler when he was forcibly removed from his home.
Norman 'Crow' George was just an toddler when he was forcibly removed from his home.

More than 60 years after he was ripped from the arms of his mother Norman ‘Crow’ George still cries. 

“I was about four or five when they took me,” Mr George said. 

“They had already come and taken two of my older brothers, and then they came back for me, my sister and my other brother.”

Five of Mrs George’s children were forcibly removed from their home in Mataranka during the 1950s. 

Mr George has lived in Katherine for most of his life. 

“We were taken to the Retta Dixon Home in Darwin and we were split in to different dormitories,” Mr George said.

Retta Dixon was a church-run mission where members of the Stolen Generations were forcibly sent to live and be educated. 

The 2015 Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, found the Retta Dixon Home was full of emotional deprivation and physical and sexual abuse.

The Retta Dixon Home was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy and is now a vacant block

Mr George was forcibly removed from his home in Mataranka during the 1950s and taken to Retta Dixon House. Supplied: National Archives of Australia

Mr George was forcibly removed from his home in Mataranka during the 1950s and taken to Retta Dixon House. Supplied: National Archives of Australia

“I stayed there until I was nine they let me go back home. My mother had re-married a white fella and they told me it was safe and stable to go back home,” Mr George said. 

“My two older brothers were not allowed to come home.”

Mr George said it was soul crushing for his mother to have five of her children taken by welfare officers. 

“My mother never talked about us being taken. I think there was too much shame for her and too hard to talk about,” Mr George said. 

“It was really hard going back home to my mother. It took me a long time to reconnect with my family and culture. That first year I just wanted to go back to the home, I could not readjust. 

“I had missed out on learning my culture and my language,” he said. 

“I still get emotional talking about it. I still cry. You try to push it out of your mind but you keep asking yourself why? Why did this happen?”

One of the darkest chapters of Australian history was the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families.

Children were stolen from their families under an assimilation policy where the government thought  Aboriginal genes could have been ‘bred out’. 

These Aboriginal people are collectively referred to as the ‘Stolen Generations’ because several generations were affected.

The Stolen Generation was classed as an act of genocide under the United Nations convention.

Mr George said he was happy with the 2008 national apology, but was disappointed nothing happened after. 

“I found the apology shallow. I mean a pat on the back to Rudd for doing something that nobody else could do, but it had little meaning for me,” Mr George said. 

“It was just a statement, there was no depth to it. We wanted them to tell us they would do something for us.

“We do not want money, we want recognition, we want our identity back. Give us our language and our culture.”

Mr George said not much had changed since the apology 10 years ago – he still finds Katherine a “very racially divided” town. 

“I am sad more people are not here today. In Darwin and Alice Springs more people will come together. We should be supporting one another,” Mr George said. 

Aboriginal people still face discrimination, have lower health outcomes and higher rates of suicide.

Figures released in 2016 by the Australian government Institute for Family studies records that nearly 17,000 Aboriginal children are in out-of-home care.

Up 65 per cent since the apology in 2008.

“We want kids that need to be taken from their parents to be fostered with Indigenous families. Otherwise we are going to have that same loss of culture,” Mr George said. 

I still get emotional talking about it. I still cry. You try to push it out of your mind but you keep asking yourself why? Why did this happen?

Norman 'Crow' George

Members of the  Katherine Stolen Generations Group have gone to Canberra today to mark the apology anniversary.

The Healing Foundation estimates about 20,000 Stolen Generations survivors are still alive, with about 100,000 second generation descendants spread across Australia.

Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology speech

Mr Speaker, I move

That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.