From the outset of non-Indigenous occupation of Australia, governments have carried out or sanctioned the removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities, particularly so-called 'half-cast' children. These 'stolen' children were raised in institutions, fostered or adopted out to white families. In most cases they were completely cut off from any contact with their families and culture, under policies of 'assimilation' intended to erase their Aboriginality. Many found themselves used as cheap labour or offered as domestic servants to white families, and many suffered abuse within the families and institutions charged with their care.

In May 1995, the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families was established. The Inquiry's final report, Bringing them home, tabled in May 1997, concluded that in the period from 1910 to 1970, when the practice was at its peak, between 10 and 30 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly removed from their families and communities.

The release of Bringing them home brought relief for many survivors that finally their story was being told. There was also an outpouring of public emotion, particularly as the government of the day refused to apologise. In 1998 hundreds of thousands of Australians made their feelings known by signing the Sorry Books, shocked that they had been largely ignorant of this tragic aspect of Australian history and the trauma it caused. Others signed Sorry Books in London. ANTaR enabled the distribution of Sorry Books all over Australia, as groups sprang up in support of a national apology and justice for the Stolen Generations more generally.

On 26 May 1998, the first National Sorry Day was held, where many of the Sorry Books were ceremonially handed to representatives of the Stolen Generations, and it has been commemorated each year since.

Over the ensuing decade and despite a number of evaluations, many of Bringing them home's 54 recommendations remained unfulfilled.

Honouring a commitment made prior to the 2007 federal election, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moved an Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples, in particular the Stolen Generations, as the first order of business of the new parliament on 13 February 2008. It was passed with bipartisan support. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation was established some months later and the Anniversary of the National Apology is now celebrated annually on 13 February.

The landmark national apology came some 11 years after it was recommended in Bringing them home. However many of the other recommendations, such as comprehensive reparations, remain outstanding with Tasmania the only state that has since offered compensation. Advocacy groups such as the National Stolen Generations Alliance and the National Sorry Day Committee continue to advocate for their implementation.

In 2010 the Stolen Generations Working Partnership was launched as a vehicle to pursue priority issues identified by Stolen Generations at the federal level; and in 2012, the Stolen Generations' Testimonies website was launched.

A key issue continues to be education about the inter- and transgenerational impacts of the Stolen Generations policies. As well as being important history that must be properly taught to all Australian school children (and their teachers), it remains very important for service providers and frontline staff to understand impacts such as post traumatic stress disorder and the historical context within which it occurred, so that they are able to properly assist survivors, their families and communities.

Image courtesy of Creative Spirits.