Guest blogger: Andrea Lynch – Jigsaw Queensland
“There was this silence that started [at the time of the adoption] and continued. Along with that were these incredible feelings of shame and guilt”. – Anne (mother)
In 2012 an Australian Government Senate Inquiry into former forced adoption policies and practices revealed that forced adoptions were widespread in Australia during the 1950s until at least the mid 1970s and that the emotional damage caused to all those affected – mothers, fathers, adopted persons and their families – continues to this day.
Following apologies for past forced adoption policies and practices made in 2012 by the Premier of Queensland, the Honourable Campbell Newman and in 2013 by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, more people who were affected began to speak out about their experience during this dark period in Australian history.
The Without Our Consent: A Queensland Story oral history features interviews with Queenslanders affected by these practices. They include interviews with Anne, a mother who was forced to give her child up for adoption, Jo, one of the many children who grew up with an adoptive family and Alan, a father who was coerced into placing his son for adoption.
Their reflections on their experiences during the forced adoption era are joined by interviews from representatives of post adoption organisations (Dr Trevor Jordan from Jigsaw Qld, Trish Large OAM from ALAS Australia, Kerri Saint from Association for Adoptees, Linda Bryant from Origins Qld) and Queensland politicians, Tracy Davis a former Queensland MP and former Senator Claire Moore.
After Anne was forced to place her daughter for adoption she recalls feeling hollowed out.
“I had no sense of myself or my life,” she said.
“Again, the silence continued. Nobody wanted to talk about it. There was no opportunity to grieve. There was constant wondering about what happened to my daughter. Was she well? Whether she was even alive, because there was just that silence.”
“Outside the adoption community, I don’t think that people get it. In a way I think that’s a defence mechanism, because people shy away from pain and people in pain.”
Adopted person Jo said she never understood how she could miss something she never knew.
“Growing up, there were times that I felt so heart-sick and homesick for my mother,” Jo said.
“When I was pregnant with my second son, I realised from the way he moved inside me when my eight year old spoke nearby that he had bonded with our voices and the very DNA of who we were. Of course he was going to miss that if he came out and we were taken away from him.
“The fact that both of my parents were willing to meet me was everything to me.”
Father, Alan said that in the lead up to the birth of his son, he was coerced by everyone into the adoption.
“The twelve months after my son was born left us very empty and very angry, let down, mistrusting. “
“Being a father, responsibility is a pretty major thing and not being able to provide…once an adoption is set you can’t fulfil those responsibilities. So, you’re left in a position where you feel inadequate and that you failed”.
Since then, Alan has reunited with his son. “I’ve found my son and a couple of grandkids and they’ve really changed my life.”
Jigsaw Queensland President, Dr Trevor Jordan said he had seen a lot of positive changes in people since the apologies.
“I saw the burden lift from people, because until that time the individuals concerned felt that somehow it was their fault and they weren’t being listened to. I just sensed that when it was acknowledged that a wrong was done, it lifted the burden of imposed guilt.”
Former Senator Claire Moore was part of the senate inquiry and said they had hundreds of submissions from across the country.
“I’ve been involved in many extraordinary and often traumatic inquiries, but none more so than this one,” she said.
“These women were at their most vulnerable, very young, often alone, traumatised. A lot of things have come out of [the apologies]. No longer are the stories hidden. No longer is guilt or fear or anger repressed and institutions and organisations that took part in this process have acknowledged that despite the motivation, what happened was wrong and should not happen again”.
Former MP, Tracy Davis said the most important thing she learned from mothers was that they loved their children and were devastated that they did not have the opportunity to raise them, love them, care for them and to see them grow up because of the policies and practices.
This oral history gives a voice to some of these experiences and others affected will identify with their stories and we hope will find their own voice and solace in speaking out.
Without Our Consent: A Queensland Story can be viewed via our One Search catalogue or via Vimeo (below).