Survivors of the Stolen Generations from the Northern Territory have filed a class action against the Commonwealth Government over their forced removal from families.
Filing the proceedings in the NSW Supreme Court, the survivors are seeking compensation for their removal as children from 1910 to the 1970s.
Group member Heather Alley was removed at just nine years of age. Born on Roper River Mission she was taken in 1924 to Mulgoa Mission in NSW.
Between the ages of nine and 14, Ms Alley was placed at St Mary’s Hostel in Mparntwe/Alice Springs, where she endured physical abuse.
“I couldn’t understand why this was allowed to happen and I was very broken for many years,” she said.
Ms Alley eventually found her way home, however she only spent eight years with family before her mother died.
“I loved my mother and when she passed away, it took me 30 years to find the strength to even say her name. That’s how much the loss of her shook me,” she said.
“In my 84 years, I think I only ever got to spend eight with her, and she was a good woman who loved me dearly.”
Ms Alley joined the class action to heal and to tell her story.
“I joined the class action because I believe our stories should be told,” she said.
“My mother never knew her mother. They’ve wiped away entire generations, like they never existed.”
Shine Lawyers will lead the class action and Litigation Lending Services will fund it.
“It’s impossible to improve the future, without acknowledging the past,” Shine Lawyers specialist counsel, Tristan Gaven, said.
“We estimate that there are around 4,000 to 6,000 Northern Territory members of the Stolen Generations eligible to register for this class action.
“The Commonwealth was responsible for tearing apart Indigenous families in the Northern Territory and it’s up to the Commonwealth to make amends.”
The group says that almost every State and Territory has provided compensation for Stolen Generations survivors, except the NT.
Litigation Lending Services director and proud Bundjalung, Yuin and Gumbaynggirr man Warren Mundine said LLS was incredibly proud to be part of a process that calls for justice.
“You can never fully give justice because of what happened to people and what happened to their children, this has an intergenerational effect on people,” he said.
“This is the best we can do. They do get some justice, their voices are heard, they have the chance to tell their stories and getting monetary compensation. Those are the best things that we can do and we are determined to make that happen.”
The class action comes after extensive consultation with those affected in the Northern Territory.
Litigation Lending Services previously worked with Cairns-based law firm Bottoms English Lawyers on the Stolen Wages class action against the Queensland Government in 2019.
The result was a record $190 million in-principle settlement. Litigation Lending Services is now working with Shine Lawyers on the Stolen Wages class action in WA, which was launched last October.
Mr Mundine told NIT that LLS plans to launch Stolen Wages class actions in NSW and the Northern Territory.
“It is a race against the clock because a lot of people who experienced these things have passed away. We really have to get out there and get it done,” Mr Mundine said.
“Our hope is that the Government will sit down with us and negotiate before it goes to court, so that we can get proper justice for people without having to drag it through the court system.
“With the Stolen Wages, it’s the old Australian saying of ‘fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay’ — well these people did that and never got a cent of pay.”
Mr Mundine holds a lot of pride in LLS supporting the class action. He says it felt like a “no-brainer” to him.
“The stories you hear and the people you meet are amazing. I enjoy doing this type of work, it is a no-brainer to me, it’s helping to fix a wrong that should never have happened in the first place,” he said.
“These two things are big, kids were taken as babies and toddlers, isolated from their communities and their Country. You see some of them come back and they have to rebuild their relationships and everything in their lives.
“It’s the most important part, getting justice for them and giving them the opportunity for their voices to be heard and to close a nasty chapter of our history.”
By Rachael Knowles