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Aborigines: Our Generation Stolen

April 6, 2000

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) _ Fifty years ago, Barbara Sorby and her six siblings were taken from their parents by welfare workers and sent to live in orphanages, splitting their family forever.

For Sorby, a member of the Kamilaroi Aboriginal tribe, the emotional scars were torn open again this week when a Cabinet minister denied the existence of the ``stolen generation″ of Aborigines.

About 100,000 Aboriginal children were taken from their families between 1910 and the 1970s in the belief that Aborigines were doomed and saving the children was the only humane alternative.

Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron, however, argued that it is wrong to call them a stolen generation, a term most Australians accept. Herron insisted that only about 10 percent of Aboriginal children were taken from their families.

``A generation is all people born around that period,″ he said in a weekend television interview. ``It didn’t affect all Aboriginal people and that’s the point that I’m making.″

That comment caused outrage among Aboriginal groups, and senior indigenous representative Charles Perkins predicted that protests by Aborigines would mar the Summer Olympics in Sydney in September.

At a rally today by about 60 Aborigines outside Australia’s parliament, Sorby said Herron’s comments left her feeling stripped of dignity.

Now 59, and with two daughters of her own, Sorby vividly remembers the day that two women from a native welfare department came to her family’s riverside shack in central New South Wales state to take her and her six brothers and sisters away from their parents. Her youngest brother was just 15 months old at the time.

``I lived in various girls’ homes and some of them were quite notorious,″ Sorby told The Associated Press.

She was never reunited with her parents, both of whom have since died.

``What did I do wrong? I am still asking myself that today,″ she said, her voice cracking with emotion.

Sorby said the experience left her with deep psychological problems, most notably difficulties establishing and maintaining relationships.

She said she finally found a kindred spirit in her husband, who learned the trauma of separation when he was imprisoned in World War II Nazi camps in his native Poland.

After the demonstration, in an attempt to calm the storm provoked by Herron’s comments, Prime Minister John Howard publicly apologized for the hurt they had caused.

``Let me say very directly to anyone in the Australian community who was in any way offended ... I am sorry about that,″ Howard told parliament.

Australia’s Aborigines are a tiny minority of some 386,000 in the country’s mostly white population of 19 million. They generally are the members of society who suffer the worst health, are the poorest educated and are the most likely to be jailed.

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