Above: Cath, a mother whose baby was taken from her without consent, is featured in one of many video portraits on the Forced Adoptions History Project website.
Cath can’t hold back the tears as she recalls her newborn daughter being taken from her more than 40 years ago, before she’d even laid eyes upon her little face.
“I clearly recall that Nun walking out the door with my baby, who I’d never seen,” she says in a deeply moving interview.
Having become pregnant at 17, Cath was sent to a Catholic home for unmarried mothers in Perth, attached to an orphanage. Left alone overnight in an empty building, she was told by a nun to pray that God would safely deliver her baby—and forgive her sin.
After the delivery, Cath remembers a nun stitching her wounds and forcing her to say the rosary, before binding her breasts to stop the flow of milk. She also remembers a solicitor forcing her to sign documents that she didn’t understand.
Decades of Forced Adoptions Condoned by Government
Cath is one of untold thousands of women who suffered the forced adoption practices that were rife Australia from the 1950s to the 80s. It’s no surprise that Cath, as a result of her experiences, while not bitter at the church, doesn’t believe in formalised religion.
Hers is one of many stories honoured in a touring exhibition of the National Archives of Australia, called ‘Without Consent: Australia’s past adoption practices’.
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Open at the Margaret Whitlam Galleries in Rydalmere on Saturday, September 9, it features videos, stories, letters, documents and even items of baby clothing. They form a picture of a heartbreaking period in Australia’s history.
The exhibition was set up as recommended of a Senate Inquiry into the era of forced adoptions. It follows a National Apology in 2013 by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and highlights how forced adoption has left lifelong wounds in many Australians.
The Forced Adoptions inqury also resulted in a website featuring video portraits of men and women—like Jane, who was “knocked out” with gas for the birth of her child, then woke to find her baby was gone; and Gary, who says that being adopted has affected his whole life.
One of the driving factors in this heartbreaking time in history was the church-led stigma surrounding teen pregnancy and childbirth out of wedlock. It is also believe to have been driven by a demand for babies from childless families.
In the National Apology in 2013, Julia Gillard apologised for Australia’s policies and brutal practices that forced mothers to give up their babies without knowing their legal rights. She also apologised for the loss to fathers and other family members; and for the damage done to children who were led to believe their mothers rejected them.
The Without Consent exhibition will be open at Rydalmere, in the historic Female Orphan School of the Margaret Whitlam Galleries, on Saturday, September 9, from 11am to 4pm.