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Western Australia (WA) “apology” not a “start,” it’s being used as a substitute for genuine justice

This is another of those “coming in in the middle” sorts of posts.

I’m not going to attempt to rehash the history of Mothers’ and Adoptees’ activism in Australia leading up to the NSW Parliamentary Inquiry Into Adoption Practices, which was a watershed event with global implications. Instead I’ll simply point readers at ONE particular retelling of the process leading up to it finally coming into being as told through the eyes of Dian Wellfare “on behalf of the Origins Committee and Members.”

Citing Dian Welfare, or Origins (Australia in this case) more generally, presents its own bit of a backgrounder I should write, but that would mean coming in on the middle of the middle, and I’m not going to get there tonight. Suffice it to say, I have issues with some of the strategy, tactics, and presentation issues involved in their work, but find that when they stick to the legal arguments that much at least is usually more solid.

Other aspects of their work rely on essentialist notions of womanhood, or motherhood specifically, and go down the lines of supposedly intrinsic “maternal bonds,” “attachment” quackery, “body wisdom” or “psychic trauma”  which as any of my regular readers could likely predict, I find highly problematic (to say the least) if not an outright biting down on the false structures being offered by those in the industry itself (as in the attachment pseudo-science) and a sidestepping from or distraction to the human rights violations that are core to what they hope to accomplish.

(This is not to say that Mothers have not suffered, particularly psychologically, or that Bastards have not had to endure as well, but these are not universal across ALL of this class of Mothers and Bastards. Some people spend decades haunted by these experiences, others have some ability to put iat least some of it behind them and these events are not core components of how they self identify.)

So bearing those caveats in mind, I will be pointing at some of Origins (AU) work in this post. Obviously there is more I could write but I’ll leave that for another day.


Which leads us to yesterday’s so called “apology” process for the crimes against families and their children that have left almost no corner of Australian society unscathed.

WA Parliament apologises to mothers forced to give up babies

Several female MPs have told State Parliament that they have been personally affected by the forced adoptions of last century.

The Liberal MP, Liza Harvey, says her mother was forced to give up her baby.

“After a long, traumatic and difficult birth she had my sister taken from her to be adopted out,” she said.

Ms Harvey says her sister was returned to her mother five weeks later, when she married the father.

The Member for Fremantle, Adele Carles, says her 53 year old mother only recently discovered she was adopted out.

“She had been removed from her teenage birth mother in New Zealand in the 1940s,” she said.

Sue MacDonald was 16 when she had her baby taken from her in 1968.

She says she has been waiting a long time for this day.

“Finally women are going to be acknowledged for the pain and suffering that we endured back then, hopefully it will help our children to understand that they weren’t given away, they weren’t abandoned or given away and I think that this can only set people free,” she said.

One of the MANY problems with the  apology model is that it fills a vacuum where justice belongs.

When there is a gap left, nothing other than the crimes committed, some prefer to fill that space with words rather than the long overdue criminal charges that belong in those spaces.

Those wronged feel so desperate for any acknowledgement that what occurred even took place that some will be bought off and placated with any words in which they are able to find any reflection of what they endured, even if those words ultimately pass the blame and serve as a sick form of substitute for a more genuine effort to bring the perpetrators of the crimes to justice.

Nothing can bring the years and lost children back.

Reunions can’t erase the lost years. Important though they are.

All that is left is to not let the criminals (still living)  get away with it.

To drag it out into the light of day, write it into the history books, listen to those who lived through it, break the hold shame has on so many, and help them understand that far from some notion of an individual trauma, this was a societal crime systematically carried out against classes of people. Most importantly to learn from it, as a people, a nation, and a world.

By criminals, of course, I implicate the very system itself, not merely a few individuals here and there perhaps offered up as token scapegoats.

Mere “apologies” from government, churches, and private hospitals then would serve to fill that vacuum ensuring that the matter must be considered  “dealt with,” “closed,” and “behind us now” by polite society, leaving those few still calling for a full investigation of the crimes, left crying in the wind, now relegated to “fringe figures who will not be satisfied.”

Those willing to settle for mere “apologies” will never see justice done.

Tears and cheers as WA apologizes to unwed mums

Labor MLA David Templeman, who originally raised the issue of a Parliamentary apology, called for a formal inquiry by a standing committee into the practice and said churches and private hospitals should also issue their own apologies to single mothers.

“The broader Australian community would never have accepted this method…  that is no excuse, what happened was wrong, we need to acknowledge and state it as wrong,” he said.

Which is not to say the demand for apologies does not not come from Mothers themselves, as clearly they do.

But words alone are not enough. They do not begin to cover the magnitude of what was done, and no one should be satisfied with mere words in light of these crimes.

NSW-based Apology Alliance founder Christine Cole had been campaigning for national and state apologies since 1994.

She echoed the call for an inquiry, saying her research had uncovered collusion between the social welfare and maternity departments of hospitals, marking certain children for adoption before they were even born.

“Often before a single mother was admitted to a hospital she was sent to the social welfare unit to be assessed,” Ms Cole said.

“Her file was then marked with a secret code like UBFA, which meant ‘unmarried, baby for adoption’. Those files indicated how she was to be treated by the medical department, she wouldn’t see her baby and this was all decided for her before she went into labour.”

Ms Cole said women had gathered in Sydney and Brisbane to watch the WA apology through the online live stream.

“One has to ask why have we, as a group who were so brutalised, why have we been left out (of getting an apology) up until now? I would suggest that we are opening a Pandora’s box.”

She said there was evidence of women being forced to give up their children in WA as early as 1927, although they were able to wean their children for two months before they were separated.

“In the 1920s and 30s 66 per cent of single mothers kept their babies, so to say that all these policies that came to the fore-front in the 50s and 60s was a result of social mores at the time is just wrong,” she said.

Ms Cole estimated that as many as 200,000 babies were adopted out across Australia using the aggressive practice.

Opposition leader Eric Ripper called it a fundamentally flawed government policy that didn’t allow mothers to give informed consent when giving up their children because some were drugged, never allowed to see their baby or were told the child had died.

Many MPs told personal stories, including Labor MLA Michelle Roberts, whose sister-in-law’s only child was regarded as an unnamed baby after nurses told her it was pointless to name him because his adoptive parents would rename him.

This headline, WA Government apologises to unwed mums forced to adopt, of course being filled with grim irony in that it was “unwed mums” who were systematically stripped of their parental rights, not forced to adopt children.

Their labor produced the “raw material” for a generation of other people’s adoptions, but they themselves were left with empty arms, not homes with newly adopted children.

The headline, more than a mere gaff, shows how little media understanding there really can be in relation to the complexities of what these women endured.

Ms Kashin was sent to a home in NSW where she gave birth prematurely to a baby boy in May 1963.

She was told that if she tried to escape the home, the police would arrest her.

“I was handcuffed to the bed because they knew I would do a runner,” she said.

“That was the most traumatic part … I thought I was going to die.”

Ms Kashin eventually moved on with her life and finally met her son in 1996, 33 years after he was adopted out.

But, she said, she remained upset over the “indignity” of being incarcerated and she continued to wear a bracelet on her right wrist to remember the injustice.

Ms Kashin said it meant “a great deal” to receive an apology from the government.

“It’s like being given back your selfhood because adoption, forced adoption, any adoption, robs you of your selfhood, and it robs your child as well,” she said.

But even the headlines that get it right, Apology to mothers forced to give up babies, as Mothers were forced to give up babies, still belies the banality of the notion of an apology. How can anyone, a government, an institution or an individual apologize for forcing a mother to lose her child?

Well, ultimately, it appears, you don’t.

First you lie, then you deny all responsibility, then you recast your institution’s role,  then you pass the responsibility off. (Emphasis added by me.)

Dr Hames has told the ABC that government policies at the time were unsupportive of unmarried women.

“We’ve got to remember that as a government we weren’t directly responsible but I think parliament has a great role to play at recognising things that were wrong,” he said.

“Certainly when you look back at those practices of the day, and they were in public and private hospitals, that they were wrong and they treated women very, very poorly.”

Alright, so let’s dissect this.

Lie- The first claim, Government policies of the time were unsupportive, is a lie. The Origins materials I will link below will spell this out in more detail, but the short version is there were government support mechanisms potentially available to these Mothers, but as a class they were denied knowledge of what support did exist, and were never given the opportunities to avail themselves of it.

Deny- The Australian Government was directly responsible, as I’ll show below, again through the Origins materials.

Recast- now, via this linguistic sleight of hand,  it is no longer the government’s role to acknowledge its own culpability, nor to prosecute the crimes committed, rather it is simply supposed to play a great role “at recognizing things that were wrong.” “Recognitions” are an altogether different animal than prosecutions.

Pass the responsibility off- finally attempt to shift blame to public and private hospitals- both of which were part of the Australian government’s adoption program at the time as, again, you’ll see below in the Origins materials.

All of which is to say, even if one values apologies and feels them appropriate in situations such as this, the actual structure of the so called “apology” is not an apology, it is a reframing of the very core questions themselves such that the entire matter is now being played out against the new framing.

The reality is there were policies and programs supportive of pregnant and unmarried women and their eventual children, they were simply systematically kept from women and out of their reach.

The Australian government was DIRECTLY responsible.

Today’s government must decide between maintaining those lies, even while going through the motions of publicly “apologizing,” or whether it will own up to the full ramifications of its own direct role in these crimes, probe this open wound in Australian society, and bring charges and suits against what structures and individuals complicit in these crimes that remain.

Or to put it more simply, open that Pandora’s box and own its own role in this clusterfuck.

A clusterfuck, which by the way, some parties benefited from, while others endured losses beyond words. Just as there were those who lost in this system, there were also those who gained.

Understand that these were not to be dismissed as “practices of the day” or lay blame at hospitals, hospitals, which of course, were part of the government’s own program, this was an intentionally set about systematic program designed to strip mine pregnant women of their babies, and that is beyond anything mere words can cover over, it is a crime against humanity.

As “Sue” in the article explains:

“The trauma is so deep, so complex that over 40 per cent of us never risked having another child. Children have suffered believing their own mothers callously gave them away,” she said.

“Hearts have been shattered. Lives have been taken.”

Sue said the rights of mothers were ignored.

“Single, unsupported mothers were treated like breeders, denigrated, dehumanised and de-babied.

Not to worry though, the “apology” was tightly scripted and things are clearly under the government and it’s unnamed “others’”  control.

Apology to unwed mums ‘won’t lead to compensation’: Hames (Emphasis added by me,)

“Dr Hames said lawyers had scrutinised the apology to ensure it “doesn’t take us into areas the government and others don’t want us to be”.

“There are a lot of people with different views on how the apology should be worded, who it should recognise,” he said.

“People who adopted children are feeling sensitive as though this is some criticism of them and I can assure them this is nothing to do with those who were adopted or who adopted children.”

He said none of the mothers he’d spoken to had wanted to seek compensation for their hardship.

It will be the first time the generations of Australian single mothers hear a formal acknowledgement of their suffering. Health Minister Kim Hames said it was also the first time such an apology was made anywhere in the world.”

The second fragment I emphasized, “…this is nothing to do with those who were adopted or who adopted children” is another stunning revelation.

For how can Mothers having their children forcably taken from them have “nothing to do with” those children/eventual adults who were adopted?

Further how can that have “nothing to do with” those who bought those children, and who formed the market demand in the first place?

For Hames himself to be insisting this is somehow limited in scope to words flung at Mothers (so as not to have to offer any form of justice or redress) is to say this “apology” is vacuum filler, nothing more.

We are talking about the genuine lives of many people and how they were affected by the government program.

Mothers as but one portion of the history:

Jan Kashin, 68, flew to WA from Brisbane to witness today’s apology after a horrific ordeal lead to her being strapped to a NSW hospital bed during the birth of her son in 1963.Mrs Kashin became engaged to a Russian man the year before and when her father refused to allow their marriage she got pregnant in the hopes it would sway him.

“My father was a business man and he just said you think you’ve got this situation sewn up but you’re not going to get married and you’re going to Sydney and that will be that,” Mrs Kashin said.

She was sent to a Church of England home in NSW, where she lived until the premature birth of her son, 7 and a half months into the pregnancy.

Mrs Kashin said she was told that if she tried to leave the hospital the police would be called in to find her.

“Eventually I gave birth and I was handcuffed to the hospital bed because they knew I would do a runner, that I would go, so that was the most traumatic part of it because I passed out,” she said.

“I thought they were going to kill me, by giving me an accidental overdose. I endeavoured to make some attempt to get my child back but I was rebuffed.”

She said she asked hospital staff to see her son four times but was rejected. Her grandmother eventually saw the boy by posing as a relative of the adoptive family.

She married her fiancé three weeks after giving birth to her son.”

Decades later,

“She was reunited with her son in 1996 at his Sydney home and described it as a phenomenal moment.”

Some are connecting this out to a call for a broader national inquiry, but then fall back into apology language.

Call for federal inquiry into forced adoptions

David Templeman was one of the architects of the apology and says the next step should be a national inquiry.

“These practices and policies of adoption took place across the country and to really make sure that we lift a lid on this issue and to make sure we get to the real truth, the real stories, we need a national inquiry, and there should be a national apology in the federal parliament,” he said.

The Greens MP Alison Xamon has told parliament her colleagues will introduce a motion in Federal Parliament next week for a national inquiry and an apology to the women.

“I hope that WA’s example is just the beginning,” she said.

The reaction to the “apology” by some Mothers has been less than warm (to put it mildly.)

See Mothers disappointed by Barnett’s apology (emphasis added by me)

Labor MP David Templeman said WA needed to acknowledge the great injustice done to the women, who have not sought compensation.”We need to acknowledge there were state-sanctioned adoption practices that were wrong, often brutal and in many cases illegal,” he said.

This admission of illegality has been a crucial turning point, one that other bloggers have been examining as well, see They admit it was illegal!

So stepping away from the news accounts, I am going to get in to some of Origins materials as their legal arguments and personal histories form the case studies and ultimately a catalogue of sorts of the crimes that were committed in the course of these adoptions.

I’ll begin with the Response of Origins Inc. to Apology of Western Australia to Unmarried Mothers video.

As I mentioned above, I have my reservations, particularly in relation to the format and the use of imagery (as well as some of the concepts presented) but I still think it’s important for people to hear their response.

I do want to pull just a quote or two out in relation to the Lie, Deny, Recast, & Pass the Responsibility off set I laid out above.

It must be made very clear that until 1967 two thirds of all adoption arrangements were carried out by the state government agencies. The other third were made up of what was known as independent baby traders who were ultimately outlawed when the state took control of all adoptions in Australia in 1967 by licensing only reputable agencies to arrange adoptions.

We are not speaking of those privately arranged baby traders, although they are included. We are speaking of the abuses carried out by the licensed adoption agencies and the hospitals to which they were associated.

-Dian Welfare

and

Excuse Number two

These past practices reflected the views of society at the time and were supported by the then Western Australian State Government”

-extract of a letter from Mr. Hames to Origins Inc, 12 April 2010, ref: 25-11676

Origins has compiled a list of some of the crimes committed and what charges would be appropriate.

Even if you don’t take the time to follow any other link off the article, go across to this list and read what women endured.

See Above And Beyond The Law. – What They Did To Us. Bullying, Drugging and Emotional Blackmail.

I’ll pull just a  few examples, although it’s nearly impossible to chose any subset to give the overall flavor, again, please see the full post.

7. Forbidding mothers to leave the hospital until their records were marked with the term “socially cleared” indicating that they could only leave the hospital after they had signed a consent.

Unconscionable Behaviour, Ultra Vires Law, Conspiracy, Duress, Fraudulent Misrepresentation.

9. Forbidding mothers either to see or touch their babies until they signed a consent.

Ultra Vires Law, Unconscionable Behaviour, Coercion, Violation of Human Rights, Violation of Statutory Rights, element of Conspiracy to Defraud.

11. Violently interfering in the primal act of birthing procedure, snatching infants from the mothers womb before birth was complete, whilst bound in stirrups and awaiting the expulsion of the placenta.

Unconscionable Behaviour. Ultra Vires Law. Element of Conspiracy to Defraud. Violation of Human Rights.

14. Preventing lactation by using the synthetic hormone Stilboestrol, known to be carcinogenic since 1971, or by the method of breast binding, all without written consent.

Common Assault. Trespass to the Person. Violation of Natural Law. Violation of Human Rights. Unconscionable Behaviour.

15. Sedating mothers during labour with what was known as lytic cocktails (used medically to obliterate feelings). These cocktails consisted of Phenobarbitone, Pethidine, Sparine, and Largactyl. Post-Hypnotic memory altering barbiturates such as Phenobarbitol, Sodium Amytil, Methadone, Heroin and Chloral Hydrate were also the order of the day.

Criminal offence under s38 of the Crimes Act, Unconscionable Behaviour, Conspiracy to Defraud.

17. Transporting mothers by ambulance, whilst heavily sedated to different hospitals without their babies, and without their permission.

False Imprisonment (common law offence), Element of Conspiracy to Defraud.

18. Shackling mothers to bedheads during labour with either leather straps attached to chains or bandages. Physically restraining mothers from seeing their babies immediately after giving birth.

Common Assault, False Imprisonment, Unconscionable Behaviour, Ultra Vires Law, Violation of Human Rights.

19. Informing mothers their babies had died at birth when in fact they had been adopted.

Fraudulent Misrepresentation, Unconscionable Behaviour, Element of Conspiracy to Defraud, s91, Taking a child with intent to steal, s90 Kidnapping. Violation of Human Rights, Intent to Deprive Owner Permanently.

21. Taking consent from mothers prior to or upon birth and post dating the date the consent was taken- to the legally required day five.

Unconscionable Behaviour, Fraudulent Misrepresentation, Ultra Vires Law.

23. Inducing mothers to sign incomplete documents of consent to adoption, to fill in further details later.

Fraud. Unconscionable Behaviour. Ultra Vires Law.

25. Expecting an unskilled minor to sign a legal document without an adult or legal advocate present and without them understanding the legal interpretation of the document they were signing.

Unconscionable Behaviour. Breach of Statutory Law.

26. Not informing the mother of the thirty day revocation period.

Unconscionable Behaviour, Fraud, Intent to Deprive Owner Permanently, Breach of Duty of Care, Breach of Statutory Standard.

27. Employing non-skilled and non-licenced staff to conduct legal transactions, prepare legal documents and interview unmarried mothers without knowing the law. (To shift the blame away from themselves, Social Workers are now declaring that as many as 80% of people working in the adoption industry were non-professionals)

Ultra Vires Law, Breach of Duty of Care.

Origins has also written a response to the “apology”

WA State Apology to Unwed Mothers Origins Response

And has offered up their own course of action:

Origins Inc Calls for a Senate Inquiry into Adoption- Reason to Say No to an Apology

Where you can add your name to their petition.

Finally, I leave you with another of their videos:

ORIGINS REJECTION OF THE UPCOMING WA STATE GOVERNMENT APOLOGY TO UNWED MOTHERS


Again, I’ll quote several pieces:

The Apology is really a poor exercise in rhetoric- a backhanded insult to unwed mothers – justifying their subjugation in retrospect to those who unlawfully arranged the removal of their children at birth

The magical construction of an “inalienable right to a child” by adopters when their name came to the top of the list, thus children were needed to fit the demand, which served as a supposed “justification” for what these families of origin endured.

The McLelland Report admitted that the true purpose of the Adoption of Children Act of 1965 was based on the premise that a couple not unsuitable to adopt had an inalienable right to a child when their name on the adoption register came up.

An example of religious collusion in the protection of the socially powerful and”respectability” of  families:

“One of the most charitable aspects of the work of St. Anthony’s is the safeguarding of the good name and reputation of highly respectable families. Many good daughters of the best of parents have found themselves needing the shelter and protection of the Home, far from the critical eyes of self-righteous society. From here they have been enabled to return to their parents without the slightest danger of their situation being revealed.

-K. Burford, St Anthony’s History Book, 1989:8)

The Origins materials on the webpage are a trove of data important to understanding not merely the Australian situation, but also the global adoption situation as well as the situation and some of the history pertaining to the U.S..

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