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What do Public Memorials mean to us?

Nikki Hartmann | Australia


Between 1910-1970, many Australian Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families as a result of various government assimilation policies that were racially motivated and based upon the principle that 'white' people were superior to 'black'.Those children who were ‘lighter skinned’ , described as ‘half caste’ where especially vulnerable as it was thought that by taking these children, the Aboriginal race would simply ‘die out’. The impact of this forced and brutal separation had lasting effects on the individuals, families and communities of Aboriginal people. Many children experienced neglect,emotional, physical and sexual abuse, and spent their childhoods in children’s homes and orphanages with no conneciton to their families orculture.

On the 13th Feb 2008, the Australian Government made an Apology to Aboriginal families and communities and to those known as 'The Stolen Generation'. This was an important historic moment of acknowledgement and recognition of a shameful part of Australias history.


Colebrook Memorial

I acknowledge the Australian Aboriginal and Torrens Strait Islander peoples of this nation, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and future. I acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land where I live, the Kaurna people, and respect their continued spiritual relationship with their Country. I recognise that I benefit from living on land that was stolen from Aboriginal and Torrens Strait islander people, and that this resulted in the dispossession and separation of families and communities.

Memorials provide us the opportunity to record and remember in a permanent and public way. I ask you to consider though, what stories can/do Memorials tell us when we look beyond the obvious and take ourselves to a place of emotional questioning, feeling and connecting.

Colebrook Home was opened in Quorn in 1927 by the United Aborigines Mission as an institution for Aboriginal children. In 1944 the Home moved to Eden Hills where it accommodated up to 50 children.

Many children had been brutally taken from everything they knew and trusted and were to suffer from the very harsh regime at Colebrook. Having been removed from their families and connection to land and country, at the direction of the government's policy on assimilation, some were never to see their parents again. Mothers, fathers, siblings and extended family and communities never knew what happened to the children; many were never to be reunited. For many who tried to find each other, it was too late.

This presentation is inviting you, for just a few minutes, to let yourself feel, and importantly acknowledge, the pain and trauma that we did, those of us who are not Aboriginal, to Aboriginal people, their families and communities. Leave aside the ‘yeah buts’, the ‘they should be over it by now’, ‘the ‘it wasn’t me’, and let yourself imagine what it would be like if this happened to you.

If you lost the children in your family, if you were brutally taken from everything you knew as a child. There is no getting over it. Generational trauma lives on in the bodies, minds and souls of future generations.

Memorials are important, but at the end, the mother is still left with empty arms.


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