VANISH and ARMS Commemorate the 10th Anniversary of the National Apology for Forced Adoptions

On Saturday 25th March 2023, VANISH and ARMS Vic held a commemorative event at the Taken Not Given memorial statue in St Andrew’s Place Reserve, Melbourne, attended by about 35 guests, including members of ARMS, VANISH, and Origins. 

The guest speaker was the Honourable Nahum Mushin AM, a former professor of law, who led consultations around Australia in the lead up to Julia Gillard’s apology and remains a highly influential person in the adoption space.  

“I’ve spent nearly 11 years in this sector now,” Nahum reflected. “And I have to say that it’s been by far the most challenging but rewarding thing that I’ve done in my career. Challenging because I see the pain and the grief of so many people who have suffered—not only unreasonably, but illegally, at the hands of institutions.” 

Nahum began by sharing in our disappointment that the event in Canberra did not involve any meaningful announcements. He also noted some of the challenges facing the adoption sector, including the number of different representative groups without a coordinating body/unifying voice and the seemingly confrontational or aggressive ways in which views are sometimes represented—which he can understand but believes to be damaging to the cause. 

With regard to Minister Rishworth’s commitment to engage the Commonwealth and state governments in discussions about redress/reparations, Nahum expressed concern that it will be complicated, particularly in terms of how to attribute responsibility to the states and to the institutions which are not state based.  

Nahum concluded by talking about the need to increase the profile of forced adoption, suggesting that the Stolen Generation could serve as a kind of model for community organisation and societal recognition, and that “a national day [for forced adoption] would increase awareness enormously”.  He encouraged us to continue to raise awareness and advocate more for our community. 

Jo Fraser from ARMs, sharing a speech written by ARMS founder Marie Meggitt, and VANISH CEO Charlotte Smith also reflected on the anniversary and what is yet to be achieved. 

In Marie’s speech, delivered by Jo, she acknowledged that while the apology has deepened the public’s knowledge and understanding of adoption, ten years later, adoption is still a highly contested issue and our community’s experiences have not yet attained the legitimacy that we seek. She also expressed disappointment in the lack of concrete measures—“the other part of an apology”—in Minister Rishworth’s announcement, but pointed out the opportunity to further inform the Minister and her public servants about what proper redress should look like. “In so many cases, it is ignorance, not conspiracy that has well intentioned leaders making poor decisions,” Marie wrote. 

Charlotte talked about the recent apology for historical adoption practices in Scotland, which was driven by activists inspired by Julia Gillard’s apology, and expressed hope “that the ripple effect of the Australian apology continues across the world”. 

She also acknowledged the disappointment of having to continually educate policy makers and professionals, but reminded us that there is strength, too, in providing our own inspiration and validation for each other. Charlotte concluded by encouraging everyone to keep moving forward as a community:  

“May we be stronger and louder together. May we realise that it is safe to ask for and receive support from one another.” 

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