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National Reconciliation Week in Australia: 27th May – 3rd June

Content Warning: residential schools, intergenerational trauma, policies of removal and assimilation by Australia and Canada

Bringing you another post from Mark Champley during Australia’s National Reconciliation week:


There are so many parallels between the colonial history of Australia and Canada and the impacts on our First Nations Peoples. None more so than the children being taken and sent to institutional homes (now known as the Stolen Generation) in Australia, and children being taken and sent to Residential Schools in Canada.


In 2023, what a privilege to be in Canada for National Truth and Reconciliation Day, also known as Orange Shirt Day. Observed on September 30, Orange Shirt Day is a day to reflect on the legacy of Canada’s residential schools. These schools were Canadian governmental institutions run by churches that forcibly separated Indigenous children from their families in an attempt to eradicate Indigenous cultures and indoctrinate Indigenous children into Western colonial society and religion. Instead of receiving an adequate education, students were abused by staff and disallowed from practicing their culture or speaking their language. This was replicated here in Australia on my people.


In New South Wales (NSW), Australia, under the Aborigines Protection Act 1909, the Aborigines Welfare Board had wide-ranging control over the lives of Aboriginal people, including the power to remove children from their families and place them into care under a policy of assimilation.


The children removed by the Board suffered an enduring loss of culture and belonging, with many suffering severe abuse and neglect. Child removals had individual and widespread impacts on families and communities. Children separated from their parents suffered trauma, as did their parents, siblings, grandparents and extended family members. This trauma has been passed down to their descendants and continues to be felt today.


Many of these children were forced onto trains and sent to Central Station Platform 1 Sydney NSW. This is where the trauma commenced, as under the policy siblings were separated and sent to different institutions throughout the state to remove culture and break language. It is estimated between 80,000 – 100,000 children were taken from their families and communities, with many never making it back home.


 In 2017, I represented Transport NSW to support the Stolen Generations Organisations in implementing recommendations 11, 12 and 13 of the Unfinished Business Report tabled to parliament. This culminated in the installation of a Stolen Gen Memorial Plaque at Central Station in December 2018. During National Reconciliation Week 2023 on the 1st June, we invited the Stolen Gen Survivors back to the Grand Concourse Central Station for a reflection ceremony for truth telling. This was a very powerful event and bringing the Survivors and their families together helped with healing.


On Friday 31st May 2024, we held an even bigger event for the Stolen Gen Survivors, on the Grand Concourse Central Station, adjacent to Platform 1. Around 300 people gathered to hear the stories from several Stolen Gen Survivors, including Aunty Cristine Blakeney, Aunty Matilda House, Uncle Richard Campbell, and Uncle Michael Widdy Welsh. Aunty Fay Moseley’s beautiful artwork was on display at the rear of the stage, supplying a tapestry of colour and stories associated with trains. Trains are the vehicle mostly associated with the transportation of the children when they were forcibly taken from their families and communities, many suffering severe abuse and neglect, causing untold trauma.


I was proud to see the support from Transport, Sydney Trains, and NSW TrainLink to acknowledge the Stolen Gen Survivors and their families at this special day of reflection. The young performers from Tribal Warrior were a big hit as they moved through the large crowd performing traditional dance during the Smoking Ceremony. It was a powerful symbol of resilience and defiance as the reason the children were taken was to abandon their culture and language. The truth telling was so powerful, moving, and emotional. I expressed to the large gathering, “you are now the custodians of these stories, and you have a responsibility to share them with your friends, family, and colleagues, for healing and to help unite our country”.


In the audience was survivor Uncle John Moriarty, who has been a friend and mentor for 25 years. Uncle John was taken at the age of four on the way to school in the Northern Territory and was processed on Platform 1 Central Station Sydney. Later in life, Uncle John became the first Indigenous Australian to be selected as a Socceroo (Men’s National Soccer

Team) and play in the English Premier League.


During the reflection ceremony there were many mixed emotions, and many brought to tears, however there was a strong connection of unity and pride for our First Nations Peoples. There was an announcement that the next phase of the memorials, including a statue for the survivors and their families on Platform 1, will be erected in 2025 and that the reflection ceremony will now be an annual event at Central Station Sydney, Australia.


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These topics can be difficult and complex and invoke strong emotions. If you need support or find yourself in crisis, there are services available:

Indian Residential School Survivors Society Toll-Free: 1 (800) 721-0066, 24-hour: 1-866-925-4419

KUU-US Crisis Line 1 (800) 588-8717

Indigenous Wellness Program (604) 675-2551 or 1 (866) 884-0888

First Nations & Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line 1 (855) 242-3310

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Author: Mark Champley

Image credits: All images courtesy of Mark Champley


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