Stolen generations bill a step forward


Annette Peardon was nine years old when she and her brother were forcibly removed from their family on Cape Barren Island. They spent their youth in a series of foster homes and institutions around Tasmania. Last November, Tasmania's parliament passed the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Children Bill 2006, the country's first compensation law. Green Left Weekly's Susan Austin spoke with Peardon about the significance of this law, and her struggle for justice.

In 1997, the Tasmanian parliament apologised to the stolen generations, but it took another decade for the compensation bill to be passed, Peardon explained. "We were really quite surprised that the law was passed. We knew we'd get it through the lower house, but to get it through the lower and the upper houses as easily as we did was a dream come true."

Following the late premier Jim Bacon's public apology, she said her confidence grew. "He gave us some hope that there could be compensation paid to the stolen generations in Tasmania.

"It's been a long haul for those people who have come forward telling their stories. It's not an easy thing to do, because people haven't yet started the healing process.

"For the last two months, two of the elders have joined me in telling their stories. All of us went through this trauma - the mental and physical abuse of being removed from our families and community. People have got to understand and appreciate that it has affected us in many different ways."

Peardon said that while she was happy with the $5 million compensation package in the new law, "it's not going to help with the pain and suffering; it's not going to help make things go away." However, she added, "whatever the individual gets, they can make their and their family's life a little bit more comfortable".

"There are many people who are deceased now, and ... they weren't here for the apology. My mother wasn't. But, the bill set moneys aside for the children of the deceased as well, which is absolutely great."

Peardon is scathing about the prime minister. "John Howard should be ashamed of himself", she said, adding that many politicians like to talk about "reconciliation" but do nothing to make it a reality.

"In my speech to the [Tasmanian] parliament, I did request that all politicians in the states and territories look at Tasmania's compensation bill." Enacting the same sort of law in all states would be a great start towards reconciliation, she said.

But, Peardon warned, "there is still a long way to go", as Aboriginal children are still being removed from their families.

"Tasmania is well ahead in the land give-backs, [including] in my home country, Cape Barren Island. I think the other states and territories have to knuckle down and say, 'We do acknowledge the Aboriginal community here'.

"There's lots of money put into the Aboriginal communities on the mainland, but it's obviously not helping. People have to remember that the issues came to the Aboriginal community, we didn't bring them."

Peardon recounted how activists marched for "many, many years" for land rights and compensation for the stolen generations. "That has played a big role [in this new compensation law]: we haven't just sat back and expected it to be handed on a plate.

"At the end of the day, when a small state like Tasmania can take an initial step forward, [we can be sure] there has to be a better future."