A new exhibition – Without Consent: Australia’s past adoption practices – at the National Archives of Australia, brings to light the previously hidden adoption practices of Australia’s past. It has offered those affected by forced adoptions the opportunity to share their experiences – some for the first time ever.
The exhibition was today opened by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard who, in 2013, offered a National Apology to the many thousands affected by forced adoption. It is estimated that 250,000 adoptions took place; a significant number were forced adoptions. The mothers who had their babies taken were unmarried and often forced to live a lie for decades. For some, it was a secret they took to their graves.
‘We are very proud that, following the Senate enquiry into forced adoptions, the National Archives was given the responsibility to develop this national touring exhibition – and the website we launched last year on the first anniversary of the National Apology,’ said Director-General of the National Archives, David Fricker, at the launch.
‘The practice of forced adoption was and is illegal. People suffered physical coercion and emotional manipulation. Informed consent was not given by mothers and fathers; these adoptions were without consent.
‘I believe this exhibition is a tribute to the courage and generosity of those who volunteered to share their experiences and, in doing so, exposed this previously unknown aspect of Australia’s history.
‘Without the voices of those affected, our nation’s history would rely totally on institutional records that show nothing of the human anguish such practices caused.’
Mr Fricker said he hoped the exhibition would show the truth – that the babies taken for adoption were dearly loved and wanted by their parents. One letter in the exhibition, from a mother to her son, read ‘I loved you so much it hurt, and I loved you much more than I loved myself; that was why I was prepared to sacrifice my happiness for yours’.
The exhibition opening at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra was live streamed to Archives offices around the country and shared with stakeholders marking the occasion in other capital cities.
Without Consent is on at the National Archives in Canberra until 19 July 2015.