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Remembrance and justice for Forgotten Australians

On Thursday November 16, Forgotten Australians, their families and supporters gathered for a ceremony at the Forgotten Australians NSW Memorial at the Sydney Botanic Gardens. The day marked the anniversary of the 2009 National Apology to Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants, delivered by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

The Loud Fence is installed at specific locations. The purpose is to create community awareness of survivors of systemic physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse suffered while in state- or faith-run institutions. Thousands of ribbons have been tied to the Fence as signs of empathy and support. Photo: Pamella Vernon
The Loud Fence is installed at specific locations. The purpose is to create community awareness of survivors of systemic physical, psychological, emotional and sexual abuse suffered while in state- or faith-run institutions. Thousands of ribbons have been tied to the Fence as signs of empathy and support. Photo: Pamella Vernon

More than 500,000 Australians experienced institutional or other out-of-home care as children in the 20th century. Many suffered physical, emotional and/or sexual abuse, were denied schooling and/or received a substandard education. Many lost connections to family and culture, including through forced removals and separation from siblings. They are known as “Forgotten Australians”.

The ceremony included a reading of the National Apology, poetry and songs and the laying of flowers. It was followed by a lunch with guest speaker Dr Hugh McDermott MP, whose mother, aunts and uncles were Forgotten Australians.

One of the organisers was Pamella Vernon, Vice President of the national organisation Alliance for Forgotten Australians (AFA) which seeks greater recognition for Forgotten Australians and opportunities to improve their lives. Pamella grew up at the Central Methodist Mission Dalmar Children’s Home and she has been advocating for Forgotten Australians for 45 years.

“It was a solemn ceremony of reverence and remembrance for those who are no longer with us and those who are still struggling to survive today,” says Pamella. “The experiences of Forgotten Australians were suppressed by the institutions in which we lived and by the community at large. To acknowledge the pain that Forgotten Australian have suffered means so much to me.”

Many Forgotten Australians have experienced poor life outcomes as a result of neglect, abuse and trauma during childhood. They and their supporters seek the full implementation of the 39 recommendations of the 2004 Senate Inquiry into Forgotten Australians, including those concerning churches. Some recommendations have been implemented – including a national apology, a national oral history project, and systems to enable access to records. However, others have not – especially the establishment of a national redress scheme for reparation to victims. Better provision of services to meet the special needs of Forgotten Australians is also required, including services related to health and ageing, housing and adult education.

Reverend Comrade Shelly Frances Kershaw, cofounder of Forgotten Australian Justice Alliance Community (FAJAC) Sydney, and a minister with the CLACCA Universal Life Church, lived in out-of-home care in Queensland and South Australia. She calls upon all governments and churches to stand in solidarity with Forgotten Australians.

“Eight years after the National Apology, there is still a long way to go. While the governments and churches have taken some steps, they need to do more – including making sure that the abuses don’t happen again. That there are still children being forcibly removed from families and communities highlights that justice for Forgotten Australians is also an ongoing struggle for the next generation.”

Advocating for a national redress scheme and access to adequate services are current priorities for AFA. Pamella says: “For me, recognition has always been about getting support to those who need it. There is a crying need for better services, especially given our ageing population.”

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