Compensate stolen generation says Human rights lawyer and activist Julian Burnside QC

Tim Dornin AAP Sydney Morning Herald June 4, 2010

Human rights lawyer and activist Julian Burnside QC
Julian Burnside QC
Human rights lawyer and activist

Human rights lawyer and activist Julian Burnside QC says the stolen generation can only win "real justice" through a national compensation scheme.

He says the Aboriginal men and woman taken from their parents were victims of a great wrong and they continue to suffer.

Many would like to sue, he says, but that becomes more difficult with each passing year.

"Evidence degrades, witnesses die, documents disappear," Mr Burnside told the Australian Lawyers Alliance conference in Adelaide on Friday.

"And suing governments is hard, brutally hard, especially for people who are damaged."

Mr Burnside said a national compensation scheme run by the federal government, in cooperation with the states and territories, would back up the apology delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008.

"If the governments of Australia could implement such a scheme, the original owners of this land would receive real justice at last, for one of the most wretched chapters in our history," he said.

So far only one member of the stolen generation has succeeded in obtaining compensation, but only after a long legal battle that wasn't finalised until after his death.

In 2008, Bruce Trevorrow was awarded $775,000 by the South Australian Supreme Court after being taken from his parents as a child more than 50 years ago.

Mr Trevorrow died shortly after the court's decision and well before an appeal court upheld the original judgement earlier this year.

His widow, Veronica Lampard-Trevorrow, had been left to defend the appeal, although the state government said it did not want any money returned, even if it won its case.

It said it only wanted to clarify important points of law.

After the appeal, the family's lawyer Claire O'Connor also suggested a compensation scheme be established.

"It's time to spend the money on indigenous people, not on white lawyers," she said at the time.

Mr Trevorrow was just 13 months old in 1957 when a neighbour drove him from his Coorong family home, southeast of Adelaide, to Adelaide's Women's and Children's Hospital to be treated for stomach pains.

Two weeks later, under the authority of the Aborigines Protection Board, he was given to a woman who later became his foster mother, without the permission of his natural parents.

He did not see his family for 10 years and went on to suffer lifelong depression, insecurity and alcoholism.

Stolen Generations compensation still a sore point

Lex Hall and Nicolas Perpitch The Australian May 27, 2010

Tears come easily to Kathy Mills when she looks at the wall of faded documents and old photos at the Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation in Darwin.

"Sorry," the 75-year-old mother of 11 says, wiping her eyes. "I get a bit emotional when I see all this."

Even so, there is little here to colour in the life of her mother, who was forcibly removed from her Wave Hill community early last century and placed in a government institution in Darwin.

Mrs Mills joined her sister Mim McGinness and hundreds of members and descendants of the Stolen Generations yesterday to mark Sorry Day, which commemorates the 1997 report into the forced removal of Aboriginal children, Bringing Them Home.

Mrs Mills feels, however, that the 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was an empty gesture.

"The apology was empty because in the same breath Rudd took all the goodness out of the intention by saying there will be no compensation," Mrs Mills said.

"Removing children from their family is a crime against humanity that has not been addressed."

The sisters say it would be difficult to determine financial compensation because the circumstances of each family differ.

"How do you compensate for loss of land, loss of family and everything that marks you as a person?" Mrs Mills asked.

For the time being, they are continuing their battle to have the government build a memorial at the site of the Kahlin compound, where their late mother, Violet Wakeland, also known as Polly, worked as a housemaid.

"The ladies used to sing 'Polly put the kettle on' and that's how she got the name," Mrs McGinness said. "She was illiterate and we only found that out when we went to school."

Stolen Generations Alliance chief executive Rosie Baird says most of the 500 members in the Northern Territory want financial compensation.

She says the landmark $775,000 awarded to South Australian Stolen Generations member Bruce Trevorrow is a start.

"It's a benchmark but it took 11 years," Ms Baird said. "What worries me is that many people will lose money fighting claims on their own."

In Western Australia, a test case is beginning against the state for compensation for seven siblings and their parents, Donald and Sylvia Collard, following the children's forced removal in the 1950s and 60s.