The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth with Kia Handley, ABC Radio Newcastle Mornings


The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth with Kia Handley, ABC Radio Newcastle Mornings

Wednesday 26 May 2021


Stolen Generations and official records ; Archivists; Make Healing Happen; National Press Club; Intergenerational healing, Truth Telling; Uluru Statement from the Heart.

KIA HANDLEY: In your life, you document history all the time – taking a photo, saving a special keepsake, filing important documents and moments away for the future for you to use and enjoy down the track. And if you’ve done your family history, you know, that getting access to some documents can be pretty challenging and it’s even harder for First Nation peoples, whose families and histories are intertwined with the Stolen Generations. So, a team of people have come together to try to make that easier, to educate archivists around the nation how to recognise and keep these documents in a way that’s helpful to families. So, let’s learn more about this now with Fiona Cornforth, the CEO of the Healing Foundation.

FIONA CORNFORTH: Good morning, Kia.

KIA HANDLEY: Where did this idea come from, Fiona?

FIONA CORNFORTH: It came directly from Stolen Generation survivors themselves. We’ve been undertaking a big needs analysis with them. Twenty years after the Bringing Them Home Report, it began. It’s now 24 years after. And this is one of those amazing ideas that’s been implemented to ensure they can access records a little better than they have been.

KIA HANDLEY: Yeah, what were you hearing. What were you hearing from First Nations people?

FIONA CORNFORTH: There were issues with access and feeling safe about interacting with systems and people who held records. There’s a range of different ways they’re stored and a range of different people that Stolen Generation survivors had to make contact with. It’s also quite a distressing thing to go through. So, the lack of support around that process as well was highlighted.

KIA HANDLEY: Yeah. What sort of documents, historic records, are we talking about when it comes- that families might be accessing, Fiona?

FIONA CORNFORTH: It’s documents that we take for granted in mainstream society, I guess. It’s, you know, births, deaths, marriages. It’s for Stolen Generation survivors who were removed from family. It’s the way that they link up with where they were from, who they are, their identity, their family roots, which makes such a difference for healing. And so, yeah, they are just a lot of those documents that we take for granted about where people move to and the institutions that their brothers and sisters were taken to and that kind of thing.

KIA HANDLEY: When it comes to our archivists and our historians, you know, around the nation, why can some of these documents be missed or maybe not seen in the important light that they are for individuals who will eventually look for them?

FIONA CORNFORTH: There’s a very simple answer to that and it’s because they just weren’t stored or recorded with Stolen Generation survivors in mind. So, they were never… those things in history, those events in history weren’t recorded for the benefit of Stolen Generation survivors. So, archivists are doing everything they can, and co-designing this program for them is a big step in the right direction because they get to change things now, so that, from now on, contemporary records can be stored in a more meaningful way for Stolen Generation survivors.

KIA HANDLEY: Yeah, because they don’t always look like records in the way that, you know, white folk might think about them. Like they can be quite sporadic, I guess, a little bit, Fiona.

FIONA CORNFORTH: Yeah, absolutely. Like I said, they were stored for different purposes. They were records that were taken for different purposes, and every little thing or item found can present new clues. And so, we spent a lot of time with survivors who never stop looking for all those clues. And so, to bring this to light now and to have record keepers and archivists on the lookout and having that understanding from survivors themselves about what’s meaningful for them, we really do hope that, you know, more people will be able to progress on their healing journeys.

KIA HANDLEY: Yeah. Tell me a little bit about this course that’s being created.

FIONA CORNFORTH: Well, yeah look, as I said, it’s survivor-led, but we have an amazing team in the universities actually – The University of Technology, Jumbunna Institute – they all came together to develop the module. And it can be used in conjunction with Indigenous record keeping and archives courses, but also for storing out of home care records as well and managing trauma in archives. So, look, it’s a really useful thing, and it’s only four hours but there are six parts to it that any record keeper or archivist could be taken through to really get that strong understanding about the contribution they can make to making that difference, healing for an individual, their family, and their community.

KIA HANDLEY: A lot of us in, especially in regional areas, end up being sort of record keepers in our own right. Is this just for professional archivists or can we all sort of access this training?

FIONA CORNFORTH: Look, I’d like to think that everybody can access it. I think the target is for archivists. But they’re the most collaborative bunch of people that we’ve worked with lately and so I’m sure that, you know, there’d be no issues with any citizen coming along and having, you know, partaking in the knowledge and the expertise.

KIA HANDLEY: How does this sit alongside the other work that you and your team do at The Healing Foundation?

FIONA CORNFORTH: Well, look, it’s big. It’s, as I said, it’s part of this four-year project we’ve been working on – the action plan for healing project. So, what it was, was centring Stolen Generation survivors and talking about, look, what are the needs now? How do we heal now? What do you think, what are those strengths that we need to build on that have gotten us to where we are now? And there’s so much rich information. They really are leading intergenerational healing not just for themselves and their families but for this country. I’m at the Press Club next Wednesday to talk to the reports, the outputs from the project, which are all-encompassing but really do shine a light on the effective solutions like this that will make, you know, together with the whole list of reforms, a really big difference for them.

KIA HANDLEY: To be able to, you know, in that space, in the Press Club, to everyone sitting in that room, but also to the nation, as it’s broadcast and then talked about, no pressure, Fiona.

To be able to talk about solutions rather than problems in this space, how exciting is that for you to look at the positive and where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what we can still do to support our First Nations peoples?

FIONA CORNFORTH: Oh, look, it’s really exciting and it’s not something I’m used to at all, but the messages are so clear. The speech writes itself. And for every Australian to understand what their role in healing could be today and guided and led by such heroes in our survivors, it’s game changing. And linking in with all the other movements lately as well, like the Uluru Statement, like truth telling and being heard and having a voice in the way services and policies affect Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples, it’s really a no-brainer that we’re at the table guiding and leading what’s going to work for us to overcome trauma.

KIA HANDLEY: Fiona, really important to have this conversation with you this morning. Thank you so much. Best of luck next Wednesday at the Press Club and thank you for telling us about this new archivist program.

FIONA CORNFORTH: Thank you. I really appreciate the opportunity.

KIA HANDLEY: Fiona Cornforth there, she’s the CEO of The Healing Foundation. If you want to learn a little bit more about, especially if you are sort of an archivist, a historian, a record keeper in your community. It’s called the Make Healing Happen Initiative and this better access to Stolen Generations records learning module can be found online at the Archivists Australia website which is just

The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth will be addressing the National Press Club of Australia on 2 June. Details are available here:

To raise awareness about intergenerational trauma this Sorry Day, The Healing Foundation is sharing this animation:

The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to heal trauma caused by the widespread and deliberate disruption of populations, cultures and languages over 230 years.  This includes specific actions like the forced removal of children from their families.

Media contact: Ben O’Halloran – 0474 499 911 or

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