Bruce Trevorrow's legacy (1956-2008)

July 19, 2008

On July 3 a funeral was held for Bruce Trevorrow, who passed away peacefully on June 20 after being admitted to intensive care in Sale, south-western Victoria, and suffering a heart attack from which he did not recover. He was surrounded by family members and his wife Veronica.

Trevorrow was born to Ngarrindjeri parents, whose traditional land is along the Coorong in the south-east of South Australia. In 1957, aged 13 months, he was admitted to the Adelaide Children's Hospital suffering gastroenteritis. Without the permission of his parents, he was fostered out to white parents and wasn't reunited with his family for 10 years. The forced separation caused severe trauma that greatly affected his entire life.

Trevorrow's passing comes less than a year after an historic battle was won. Last August, he was awarded compensation by the South Australian Supreme Court for the circumstances surrounding his removal from his family. Trevorrow was the first Stolen Generations member to successfully sue a government for the trauma of being taken away from family and community as a child.

His legal battle spanned 10 years and will remain a symbol of the continual struggle for justice shared by the Stolen Generations and their families. Trevorrow's passing reaffirms that the struggle must continue. He follows too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have left us without having received any recognition of their experiences as a result of a genocidal policy. The practice of taking children away lasted for almost a century and has been highlighted as a central cause of Aboriginal disadvantage and alienation.

The ruling in Trevorrow's favour gave rise to calls for a national compensation scheme. However, despite having delivered his symbolic apology to the Stolen Generations, Kevin Rudd staunchly dismissed such suggestions. This is at odds with countries such as Canada, which developed a federal settlement agreement of compensation for the native Canadian equivalent to Australia's Stolen Generations.

While the Tasmanian government set up a compensation scheme for its Stolen Generations earlier this year, the South Australian government confirmed in February that it would appeal against the finding in Trevorrow's case. The government admitted that the appeal will have an impact on other compensation claims.

The struggle for justice for the Stolen Generations is by no means limited to monetary solutions. While a crucial form of retribution and compensation, such payments must exist alongside creating social conditions that foster equal standards of living and Aboriginal control of Aboriginal affairs.

The Rudd government continues to promote conditions of alienation for future Aboriginal generations, as well as the further breakdown of families and disintegration of communities as a result of the current Northern Territory intervention. The legacy of Bruce Trevorrow, who fought for so long and — eventually — won, must be that others are emboldened to continue the struggle.

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