Stolen Generations survivors to sue the federal government for compensation

Heather Alley, who was taken away from her mother as a girl, is part of a class action against the Commonwealth. Photo: ABC News/Jon Sambell

Heather Alley, who was taken away from her mother as a girl, is part of a class action against the Commonwealth. Photo: ABC News/Jon Sambell

Stolen Generations survivors from the Northern Territory are taking their fight for compensation to the courts, with legal firm Shine Lawyers preparing to file a class action against the federal government on Wednesday morning.

Shine Lawyers said the survivors are seeking compensation for the hurt and trauma they experienced, and for their loss of culture and connection to Country.

Aboriginal artist Heather Alley, 84, is one of the 800 survivors and descendants joining the lawsuit.

She lives a peaceful life with a loving and supportive family in Perth’s eastern suburbs, but her life has not been an easy one – she is a member of the Stolen Generations from the NT, as were her parents.

“We are Aboriginals on this land, it belongs to us, and we feel that we are not treated as we should be,” she told the ABC.

Ms Alley said she was forced to go to school at a hostel for Aboriginal children in Alice Springs when she was about 10 years old, nearly 700 kilometres away from her mother in the remote highway town of Elliot.

She said she was beaten for things like complaining about weevils in her porridge, and only saw her mother once a year for the Christmas holidays.

“I used to get flogged too with electricity wire and rope, I hated it there in Alice Springs,” Ms Alley said.

“I’m 84 now, and I only had eight years spent with my mother and she was a lovely woman, I loved her.”

“When she passed away … it broke my heart, and it took 30 years before I could call my mother’s name because I loved her so dearly and I missed her so much.”

While happily with her family now, Heather Alley says she only was allowed to see her mother at Christmas during her childhood. Photo: ABC News/Jon Sambell

Ms Alley’s daughter Terry Kessaris said she was proud of her mother for joining the class action.

“She always puts a very positive spin on things, but we’ve heard the stories and they’re outrageous in many ways – they’re not just sad, they’re cruel,” Ms Kessaris said.

“When we think about how many elderly people have passed away since that apology [to the Stolen Generations] was given, I think it’s a dodging of responsibility and it’s extremely disrespectful.”

Lawyers say they are confident of securing a payout

Special counsel at Shine Lawyers, Tristan Gaven, had been scoping interest in a class action across the NT for the past few months.

He said the reason they are taking action against the Commonwealth is because the NT didn’t become fully self-governing until the late 1970s.

“The majority of other states around the country have had either redress schemes or compensation schemes for institutional abuse. The Northern Territory really is the outlier from that perspective,” he said.

“We think to date the government has provided services and things like that, but ultimately, actual compensation payable to group members or members of the Stolen Generations is an important first step in acknowledging the pain and suffering that those people have suffered.”

Tristan Gaven says lawyers expect thousands of people might join the class action. Photo: ABC News/Stephen Cavenagh

Shine Lawyers said it is too early to say how much in compensation they will ask for.

The federal government has previously opposed paying compensation, saying in 2020 that there was no established legal obligation for it to do so.

Despite that, Mr Gaven said he is confident the class action will be successful.

“This is a case that is going to cost many millions of dollars and if we didn’t think we could win it, and if the litigation funder and the barristers didn’t think that we could win it, we simply wouldn’t do it,” he said.

A third party, Litigation Lending Services, is funding the legal action. If successful it will take a 20 per cent commission fee.

Shine Lawyers will formally file the class action in the New South Wales Supreme Court later this morning.

The ABC has contacted the office of Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Australians, for comment.


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