A Northern Territory member of the Stolen Generations, still trying to reconnect with her family decades after she was forcibly removed, is urging state and federal governments to learn from their mistakes.
A few dozen people gathered for a vigil in Alice Springs on Tuesday morning to mark the 10th anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generations.
Photos of members of the Stolen Generations in Alice Springs were placed in the Todd Mall, surrounded by Aboriginal flags and candles.
A minute’s silence was also held for members of the Stolen Generations and for the record number of Aboriginal children still being removed from their families today.
Margaret Furber was removed from her parents and siblings at the age of eight and placed in various institutions around Alice Springs until she turned 18.
She said she never stopped writing letters to her younger brother and sister, who were placed in different institutions interstate, and she saved up her money to send them lollies.
But she said she later found out those letters were never delivered, including one informing her siblings about their mother’s death.
She said despite her best efforts to remain in contact with her family, it had not been enough and that was the most traumatic part of the Stolen Generation for her.
“My brothers and my sisters we still talk about it but we don’t have that closeness as a brother and sister,” she said.
“We’re still finding it difficult to reconnect as a family because so many years have lapsed of not being a family.”
“I don’t know whether an apology is something that’s going to heal the hurt.”
More Aboriginal children are being removed from their parents today than ever before.
Ms Furber said she wanted to see state and federal governments invest in better training for children protection staff, so if children needed to be removed for protection, kinship and family care arrangements could be quickly and appropriately sourced.
She said it would allow children who are removed to continue their connection to family, country and culture.
Children taken off families ‘for the wrong reasons’
It is a call echoed by Arrernte woman Sylvia Neale, whose parents, Jessie Neale (nee Wong) and John Benjamin Neale, were both members of the Stolen Generations.
“The welfare system is functioning like it functioned and has been functioning for years… so there needs to be a new broom to sweep it through and make changes,” she said.
Priscilla Atkins from the North Australia Aboriginal Justice Agency said she hoped changes happening at Territory Families under the new Labor government would see fewer children taken away.
“A lot of children [have been] taken off their family for the wrong reasons,” she said.
“Not because they’re not cared for but a lot of staff from Territory Families don’t understand Aboriginal culture.”
She said Territory Families was having a “huge turnaround”, and were working closely with Aboriginal people to find kinship carers.
“So now is a positive time where that change is happening, and I know it will be slow, but at least it’s happening,” she said.
‘Are you waiting for us to die?’
The apology followed a pledge by Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Monday to award Stolen Generations survivors in the Northern Territory and Jervis Bay $75,000 if they’re elected.
A national scheme would mean survivors in the Northern Territory and the ACT would become eligible for monetary compensation for the first time, decades after it was recommended by the Bringing Them Home report.
In Darwin, Stolen Generations survivor and campaigner Eileen Cummings said the promise had been a long time coming.
Ms Cummings was raised by missionaries on remote Croker Island, off the Top End’s north coast, for decades unaware that her family was living just across the water.
She said she hoped to see the commitment matched by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, and that time was running out, with another elderly survivor from the Northern Territory passing away last week.
“Every day we’re losing somebody,” she said.
“So once I said to the Prime Minister, ‘what, you’re waiting for us all to die? We’re all in our 70s and 80s now, and you still haven’t given us anything’.”