'Stolen Generation' children were given criminal records

Aboriginal children in the 1960s.
Aboriginal children in the 1960s. Photo credit: Getty

Thousands of Aboriginal children from the Stolen Generation were given criminal records, an SBS investigation has found.

According to SBS, state government policies designated being an Indigenous child "in need of protection" as criminal.

"While the practice was not secret," Ms Rawley wrote, "It appears to have been widely forgotten and left unaddressed.

Taungurung man Uncle Larry Walsh was part of the Stolen Generation. He was removed from his home and lived in two different children's homes until, at six, he was fostered, separately from his sisters. His foster parents, an older white couple, were paid an allowance to assist in raising him.

Official documents show his mother, who has since passed away, made a number of attempts to gain access to her children.

Mr Walsh was just eight or nine years old when he was first accused of having a criminal record and taken to the police station and assaulted. Mr Walsh said after that, his 'record' meant he was routinely targeted by law enforcement.

Throughout his life, "police and magistrates [kept] referring to a criminal record he supposedly had that dated back to 1956, when he was only a toddler," Ms Rowley wrote.

It wasn't until he approached Melbourne-based non-profit Woor-Dunginin in 2016 that he discovered what this criminal history referred to.

In 1956, when Mr Walsh was two years old, he was charged with being "a child in need of care and protection" with "no visible means of support and no settled place of abode".

The Stolen Generation was a generation of Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families between the 1900s and the 1960s, to be raised by white foster families or in institutions. At the age of 18 they were 'released' into white society, most traumatised by their experiences.

In the early 20th century under the assimilation policy, white Australia hoped to 'breed out' Aboriginal genes within three generations. In separating Aboriginal children from their families and culture, irreplaceable language, tradition, knowledge, dance, and spirituality was lost. On top of this, many of these children have had to live with criminal records dating back to their childhoods. 

RMIT University Associate Director Stan Winford says "There is a precedent for an official apology and the expungement of unjust convictions," likening the situation to historic convictions for gay sex offences, which the Victorian Parliament passed legislation to wipe in 2014.

"I want all Aboriginal people [who were affected] to know about it, and to come forward," Mr Walsh said.

"We need an apology. We need these records expunged and we need the government to make amends."