Posted on May 29, 2024

Victorian Police Make ‘Long Overdue’ Apology for Their Role in Stolen Generations

Benita Kolovos, The Guardian, May 24, 2024

Victoria’s police commissioner has apologised for the role the force played in the removal of Aboriginal children from their families, culture and country over more than 100 years.

Shane Patton delivered what he described as a “long overdue” apology in the presence of survivors of the stolen generations, their children and other members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on Friday.

“On behalf of Victoria police, I’m here with you today to formally and unreservedly apologise to survivors of the stolen generations and their families for the role of Victoria police that we played in the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families, culture and country,” Patton said.

“I am sorry for the profound distress caused and the trauma experienced by so many Aboriginal families.

“I also acknowledge the impact to the children of those who were removed and generations that come after.”

Patton told those gathered at the Aboriginal Advancement League building in Thornbury, in Melbourne’s inner north, that from 1864 until 1992, Victoria police was one of several agencies with the power to forcibly remove so-called “neglected children”.

He said after children were forcibly removed, police treated them “as if they had a criminal record” and cast a “false shadow over their character throughout their lives”.

Patton said it would likely never be known the exact number of Aboriginal children separated from their families by Victoria police due to poor recording keeping.

He said when Aboriginal people were “brave enough” to ask police for their records, in an effort to be reunited with their families, they were often rebuffed.

“I’m sorry that this so often further deepened the trauma, rather than providing healing or connection,” Patton said.

Aunty Eva Jo Edwards, a survivor of the stolen generations and a proud Boonwurrung, Mutti Mutti and Yorta Yorta woman, was removed from her parents and separated from her six siblings at five.

Taken from Swan Hill to Melbourne, where she spent the next 13 years in institutions, she said that for many in the crowd their first interaction with police was when they were removed from their families.

“I sit here and look in the room and there’s so many of us,” Edwards said.

“I’m always emotional on days like this, but we are making history today and I’m so honoured and proud to be part of this.”

Ian Hamm, a Yorta Yorta man and child of the stolen generation, said he “never thought” he would see an apology come from police, particularly after the failed voice to parliament referendum.

He urged urged Patton, who has been called “woke” by some conservative commentators, to embrace the term as a “badge of honour of doing what needed to be done”.

Patton’s apology is part of a series of commitments Victoria police made after its appearance at the state’s truth-telling inquiry, the Yoorrook Justice Commission, last year.

Due to be delivered by 2025, the 79 actions include commitments to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system, hire more First Nations people and implement all recommendations related to police from the 1991 royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Aunty Muriel Bamblett, the chief executive of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, said she was hopeful police would see their reform agenda through.

“I’m looking forward to telling my children and my grandchildren one day that we had an apology that has actually changed the lives of our people,” she said.