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One generation at a time 

A statue at Colebrook Park in the Adelaide Hills depicting a mother holding an imaginary child.


I see a figure between myself and the road. They sit between the trees, fixed in place, the flow of traffic behind them. Their arms reach out as if they are holding something. I approach. It is a statue of a mother, their head bowed. Their hands are empty, and I wonder if the statue is incomplete, if it is missing something. I come to a stop as I realise they are. They are missing their children.  

I am standing before the statue of the Grieving Mother, visiting Colebrook Reconciliation Park. Once the site of Colebrook Home, an institution for Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families, the park is now a memorial with the children’s stories recorded as audio testimonials. The statue of the mother sits in the scrub, a busy road cutting through the Adelaide foothills alongside. I look into the emptiness between the statue’s hands. I hear nothing but traffic. 


I didn’t know how to write this story when I was asked. “We don’t need another white Australian opinion on the Stolen Generation”, I thought. It is not as if I don’t care, but it is the actions of white Australians like me that have created these problems, caused such loss. I am not sure what I have to say. I have come to this park, but the question remains: what is my place here? 


The Stolen Generation were the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were taken from their families by federal and state governments and church missions. The purpose of this policy was to assimilate Indigenous children into white Australia. The 350 children who lived at Colebrook Home were removed from their communities from all over the country. Government reports have found that children were taken from caring and able parents. Most of these children never came home. 

Official estimates found that as many as one in 10, or even one in three, Indigenous children were taken from families between 1910 and 1970. Many suffered the trauma of separation into their adult life, with high incidences of depression, PTSD, suicide and alcohol abuse. It has been an intergenerational trauma.


While the Australian Government has apologised for those policies, Indigenous children are 10.5 times more likely to be removed by the state and in out-of-home care than their non-Indigenous peers. As of last year, there were over 22,000 Indigenous children in care, and there are more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children removed from their families today than throughout the stolen generations.  


Earlier this year, a 10-year-old Aboriginal boy under the care of the state died by suicide in Western Australia, having allegedly been taken from their family who couldn’t pay their rent during the pandemic. Aboriginal children are still being taken, the trauma continuing. Some of them never come home. 

“Sometimes Australia feels like a busy road cutting through country.”


I speak with Maria Anderson, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement Coordinator for The Salvation Army, about Colebrook Reconciliation Park. She shares its story and instructs me to go myself. I go and look into the mother’s empty hands. I play the recordings of those who were taken, further from the road cutting through Kaurna Land. You can listen to their voices away from all the traffic. The loss is overwhelming. 


Sometimes Australia feels like a busy road cutting through country. It’s noise and traffic, always moving forward regardless of the history, of the grief, alongside. We build roads and houses and cut mines and have elections over and over with such loss in our past, so much incomplete, still missing. 


I decide to visit Colebrook Reconciliation Park again with my son. I hold his hand in mine as we approach. White Australians like myself don’t have solutions. This isn’t our story primarily, but we do have a place here. Our place is to stop and see the grief, not to find something to say, but to listen to the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and to teach our children to do the same until the crimes of yesterday no longer continue. We must stop and see what is missing before reconciliation can be found, one generation at a time. 





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