25th anniversary of the apology to the Stolen Generation
8th June 2022
Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (10:41): I acknowledge that we meet today on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. I also acknowledge that I represent a community that is founded on the traditional lands of the Awabakal people. I pay tribute to those Aboriginal people and their Elders past, present and emerging. To have a future where we embrace, respect and celebrate our differences, we must first acknowledge our indifferent past. If we long for a future in which we embrace all Australians, we must embrace the very first Australians—those who occupied these lands for thousands of years, those whose culture we should celebrate and whose culture was brutally affronted and systematically attacked when European settlement came to the shores of what is now New South Wales.
Let there be no doubt that 25 years ago we truly began moving forward by acknowledging and apologising for one of the very darkest moments of our history. Twenty-five years ago the New South Wales Government, through Bob Carr, apologised to the Aboriginal people of New South Wales for the forced removal of their children over generations. Since then we have taken steps, although not always big ones, in the right direction towards what I would call a proper reconciliation, a proper acknowledgment of where we have been, of what happened and of where we truly want to be as Australians. I am not certain when I first heard the term Stolen Generation, but it was a long time ago and then only because brave parents, siblings and community members decades ago said enough was enough and that taking their children was not in any way acceptable.
Sometime later, during the time that I was Mayor of Lake Macquarie, I met Gary and Brenda Simon, or Uncle Gary and Aunty Brenda as they became known to me. I share a little of their story. In 1971 they lived in Gilgandra with their seven children. On the day that government officials came knocking, Gary was away working. He was building the nation, on the railways as I recall. They loved their children as much as we all love our own, and Gary worked hard to provide for his family. All seven children were taken away on that day in 1971. They were aged between one and eight. Gary and Brenda spent the next four years in court fighting to get them back. Aunty Brenda recalled:
They said that they had to take them now and not wait for my husband to come home. I didn't know what to do.
During those four years Gary and Brenda moved to Blackalls Park in my electorate. By 1975 the children began returning home one at a time and for the first time met a new brother. Gary and Brenda were never told where their children were or who they were with. Brenda would later tell theNewcastle Herald:
We couldn't write to them and tell them that we were still here and we loved them and think the world of them and that one day we'd all be back together.
It later emerged that the children were regularly moved to different homes over the four years they spent away from their parents and were most often separated from each other. Marie, one of the children, was five when she was taken. She still tells the story of how she was forced to take the surnames of the white families she was placed with. She recalled:
We were lucky when we eventually came back together, because I know others came back and their mother and father had died.
Marie's sister, April, recalled that she was eight when taken away from her family. When she was reunited after a four-year separation, she had to be reintroduced to her parents and siblings because she did not recognise them. Her younger sister, Lacey, did not even know the names of her parents and siblings. Some years later Uncle Gary became a pastor. He and Brenda never surrendered in their fight for their children. They never surrendered their hope. The impacts of those years will never be erased. It takes more than a "sorry" to heal those wounds. It is for those reasons and my understanding of those stories that I agreed to bring to this House on behalf of the former member of the upper House Mr David Shoebridge the Family is Culture review bill. I hope that as we go forward, members in this Parliament can deal with the issue, because we need to address the tragedy that occurred in the past and unfortunately continues to occur.
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