The Apology that Disappeared

23 Mar

Something important happened on Thursday, 21st March, 2013. No, I’m not talking about the leadership challenge that wasn’t really a challenge because there were no opposers to any position. I’m talking about the Apology for Forced Adoptions. Read the Transcript to see what warm and necessary words make up the Apology which the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, gave. It was an overdue, necessary and beautiful Apology. Taking children from mothers for no more reason than they were young and single was a dreadful thing to do not only to the mothers but to the children who had every right and need to know their real mothers.

I do not blame the adopting parents. In almost all of the majority of cases, they were ideal parents. It surprises me how many I know, both in my family and among friends and past work colleagues. They love their children and have done everything they can to raise them well. They think of them as their own. They are. Some, especially in times gone by, did not tell their children they were adopted. Most of those children found out anyway and they resented the secrecy. Most know and have adjusted to the fact, choosing whether to seek out the mothers who were forced to ‘give’ them up and often developing a relationship which endures.

Forced adoption was a moral and sexist panic. Rarely was/is mention made of the fathers. Some did not know about their children; too many did not want to know; and some parented to more than one girl and didn’t care one way or the other. Blame always fell on the girl and so, too, did the punishment. She was shunned, hidden, labelled and then had her baby, often literally, ripped from her arms; too many never got their baby into their arms even once. I cannot begin to imagine the pain and the lifelong suffering of all these women.

Some girls, couples were forced to marry. This happened to one of my sisters. Her belly was swollen with her child as she stood before the priest with her soon-to-be husband. They married at a Catholic church, the faith they both followed. Note I said ‘at’ not ‘in’. Because she was pregnant, my sister, not they the couple, was pregnant, she was not permitted to marry inside the church in front of the altar. They were married standing at the door of the sacristy with all their families and friends standing outside behind them. People passing in the street ‘knew’ by seeing it. Shaming of all complete.

This happened to many, many couples, including a sister-in-law who I meet many years later.

Mostly, girls were sent away, supposedly to stay with relatives, often interstate, to institutions, before the pregnancy showed, usually run by one church or the other, and this is where the birth occurred and then the ripping away of the child before the mother even saw what sex it was. Of course, people knew when a girl disappeared that she must be pregnant. I’m sure there was the occasional girl who went to help an ailing relative or one with a clutch of young who, upon return, was labelled and targeted as a ‘fallen woman’ with ‘ruined’ prospects.

Girls known to have been pregnant were considered both fallen and ruined. None of these or like labels were ever applied to the fathers, boy or man. After all, males just do what comes naturally – apparently. Doesn’t say much for males in general if natural is to father a child willynilly and then just move on, does it. Why do males put up with this type of belief? To say it is because they can get away with things might apply to individuals but as a collective, a maturing, one would hope, collective, it is difficult to fathom why men accept these childish and irresponsible images.

However, let it be said there were boys/men who stepped up to the plate, accepted their responsibility, embraced the ‘accident’ and not only did but wanted to be involved, to keep the child, to marry the mother, and who were not ‘allowed’ by one side or the other. These fathers were also denied and suffered.

There was a real injury done to these mothers and fathers and the National Apology was a step to demonstrate recognition and care for what they experienced. It is a shocking fail by all of us if we do not now step up and demand that more is done to show the Apology and to discuss the Apology and to show we too, in a societal maturity, both recognise and welcome the Apology that has since been completely lost in the shadow of the other thing that happened on 21st March, 2013 and which is most likely going to be discussed and examined to death for many days yet.

If no-one else does it, the ABC should do it with a complete re-broadcast of the live Apology and all and any follow-up discussions and examinations which would have occurred had the leadershit thingy not come to a head on the same day.  

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