Make Healing Happen – The Healing Foundation CEO Fiona Cornforth’s Speech to the National Press Club





Make Healing Happen: It’s Time to Act

Good afternoon.

Thank you to the National Press Club for this chance to speak here today at such a highly respected venue.

To give voice to the experiences, the needs and the views of Stolen Generations survivors, their families, and communities is an enormous responsibility, and I am grateful for the faith shown in me to do so.

I acknowledge and pay my deep respects to the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples.

I pay my respects to the Traditional Custodians and Owners who care for this country, so it can care for us.

I pay my respects to Elders, past and present, and thank them for welcoming my family onto this country.

I give thanks for my Elders, and I acknowledge balas, sissies, Aunts and Uncles and families and networks that sustain us.

I acknowledge and pay my respects to all First Nations peoples here in the audience and around the country or further afar watching or listening to the broadcast.

I also acknowledge the non-First Nations peoples who work alongside us with respect as they unlearn, learn, and relearn through our stories and experiences.

I thank and welcome the wonderful Ian Hamm and Harry Williams, who share their journeys with us so generously to guide healing. I pay my respects to those Stolen, who lead the call for intergenerational healing in our nation, made up of many nations.

The Healing Foundation provides a national platform to amplify the voices and the experiences of Stolen Generations survivors, their families, and descendants.

We walk beside survivors as they lead healing journeys, and our work seeks to honour all of our ancestors by making future generations stronger and more free. Free from trauma experiences, and free to lead fulfilled, well, and prosperous lives.

First nations peoples must be afforded the opportunity to recover from the trauma arising from colonisation, brutal past government assimilation policies, and ongoing systemic racism.

Stolen children lost connection to safe, loving, and nurturing families, to land, culture, and language, and were taken to homes and institutions where they were often abused, neglected, and unloved.

Mothers, fathers, families, and communities left behind also suffered terribly.

The removal of children created cycles of intergenerational trauma, which has not been widely acknowledged, let alone addressed, or resolved.

Impacts and experiences of traumatic events and interactions with government representatives, with institutions, and systems that punished our families … continue, with their origins in acts of colonising and oppression.

Today, Ian, Harry and I turn your attention to the case for long overdue healing. A case for healing this nation, of many nations, which begins with Stolen Generation Survivors and their families.

We make a case for ending cycles of trauma experiences; a case for intergenerational healing.

We know that our cultures, as First Nations peoples, such as our connections to country and our deep family ties, made us strong over millennia and continue to be our strength.

When children were systematically taken from family and community over many decades, these connections were severed for a time, and for many, never restored.

Stolen Generations survivors have endured a lifetime of trauma, grief, and loss.

We know a significant burden of poorer health, wellbeing, social, and economic outcomes, is experienced by this proportion of our peoples, as a result.

This cohort of our population are growing older, and many live with disabilities and complex health problems, with mostly systemic barriers to accessing services.

Stolen Generations are worried about the future of their families … still.

It’s been 24 years since the Bringing Them Home report laid out the wrongs that needed to be righted and a clear road map for addressing impacts.

I think about the late Carol Kendall, a blanket baby, stolen at birth who Chaired the Stolen Generations Working Group in 1997, and courageously partnered with Sir Ronald Wilson to form a National Sorry Day Committee, which pushed for full implementation of Bringing Them Home’s recommendations.

I think about Sir Ronald Wilson who led the Inquiry back then, spoke at this podium on 24 March 1998 on the importance of Australians observing a SORRY DAY. And the first one was held two months later.

I acknowledge the leaders who began the Journey of Healing movement in 1998, delivering unprecedented engagement of the wider population in signing Sorry Books, walking over bridges, and unveiling of memorial plaques for truth-telling on institution sites.

I wear a lapel pin with the movement’s logo that Aunty Carol Kendall created: a white foot, a black foot, and a sunrise, which expressed a joint venture of us all coming together to work for a new day.

It represents the start of the Journey of Healing. A journey that continues.

Our Make Healing Happen artwork also contains a sunrise, half-risen to symbolise the unfinished business.

I pay tribute to the warriors who were at the beginning and are still here fighting, some of them now in Parliament, and gratefully some of them on The Healing Foundation’s Board, and on our Stolen Generations Reference Group. They inspire a dedicated THF team, and Youth Reference Group, and we are thankful we have your guiding expertise.

Since the Bringing Them Home report (in the time another generation has joined us) we are yet to see any significant national approach to healing for Stolen Generations and their families.

We’ve seen underfunded Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations undertake the heavy lifting for support services. And very little expectation put on the broader and better-funded service sectors to understand the extent of trauma experiences, across generations, and to contribute to healing.

Many stolen children have already passed on to the dreaming without reparations for the harm they experienced, and for the effects on their descendants.

We must not delay justice for Stolen Generations for the time that another generation joins us. We must not wait a moment longer.

Those still with us are ageing. By next year, all will be aged over 50.

We know with certainty now, that unless we address the impact of trauma carried across generations, efforts to Close Gaps will be compromised.

We will not achieve our national aspirations for Closing the Gap without addressing the barrier of trauma experiences for what is too significant a number of our population.

Make Healing Happen

Today, The Healing Foundation is releasing a significant new report – Make Healing Happen – It’s time to act.

The report provides in-depth insight into the experiences of Stolen Generations survivors and the extent and complexity of their needs now, and as they grow older.

It considers the impact of forced removal on Stolen Generations descendants, drawing on analysis undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

A companion publication – the AIHW’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Stolen Generations aged 50 and over: updated analyses for 2018-19 is also released today.

The Make Healing Happen Report also used analysis of two decades of testimony from Stolen Generations and their families to a variety of parliamentary and other inquiries.

A key, but unsurprising, finding from these analyses is that Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants carry higher levels of disadvantage across life outcomes, compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are already carrying disadvantage in comparison to non-first nations peoples.

There is a ‘gap within the gap’, for each outcome.

The AIHW has now published the extent to which this ‘extra’ gap stems from removal, and removal alone.

Stolen Generations survivors have multiple complex and overlapping needs which are largely unmet.

They lack access to appropriate services, including to address their needs as they age, and are less likely to access services that they are entitled to.

Their health and wellbeing are significantly worse than that of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of a similar age who were not removed.

Compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of the same age, Stolen Generations survivors aged 50 and over are more likely to be living in tough economic circumstances.  They are:

  • 8 times as likely to not own a home; and (4.1 times compared to the non-Indigenous population)
  • 5 times as likely to have Government payments as their main source of income. (2.2 times compared to non-Indigenous population)

Compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of the same age, Stolen Generations survivors aged 50 and over are more likely to be living with health and other stressors. They are:

  • 7 times as likely to have experienced discrimination;
  • 5 times as likely to have experienced actual or threatened physical violence;
  • 4 times as likely to be living with severe disability; (3 times compared to non-Indigenous population) and
  • 4 times as likely to have poor mental health (2.7 compared to the non-Indigenous population)

Compared with the general non-first nations population, Stolen Generations survivors aged 50 and over are:

  • Over 4 and a half times as likely to have kidney disease;
  • Over 3 times as likely to have diabetes; and
  • 7 times as likely to have heart, stroke, or vascular disease.

Numbers of Stolen Generations survivors and descendants

The AIHW estimates that in 2018–19 there were an estimated 33,600 Stolen Generations survivors – including 27,200 aged 50 and over.

The 27,200 people aged 50 years and over, comprised 1 in 5 – or 21 per cent – of First Nation’s peoples in that age group.

When you drill down, the numbers become more compelling.

In Western Australia, for example, a third of the surviving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population born before 1972 were removed as children.

And Stolen Generations survivors are growing older. In 2018-19, more than 80 per cent of survivors were aged 50 and over.

By 2022 (next year), all will be aged at least 50, and eligible for aged care.

Nationally, more than one third (36 per cent) of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are descended from older generations who were removed – great grandparents, grandparents, parents, aunties, and uncles.

There are over 142,000 descendants nationally, with the number growing over time.

In some jurisdictions – Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and the ACT – between 40 per cent and 60 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are descended from Stolen Generations survivors.

This is a significant percentage of our populations across Australia.

It signals the need for a radical rethink and reform in key policy areas such as aged care, health, mental health, disability, welfare, social justice, and housing for Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants.

We know descendants of Stolen Generations survivors also experience significantly poorer wellbeing when compared to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Adverse experiences in childhood can have lifelong effects.

Traumatic childhood experiences such as those of Stolen Generations survivors may affect following generations:

  • through biological changes in stress responses; and
  • by undermining survivors’ ability to function from a place of strength, maximising the broadest range of opportunity and possibilities.

Intergenerational trauma is real, and we have the evidence in support of testimonies.

The AIHW found that compared with other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, adult descendants of Stolen Generations are:

  • 2 times as likely to feel discriminated against in the last year;
  • almost 2 times as likely to have experienced actual or threatened physical violence in the last year;
  • 1 and a half times as likely not to have good health;
  • to have been arrested in the last five years, and
  • to have ever been formally charged by police.

Among the total adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations in each state and territory, the Australian Capital Territory had the highest proportion who were descendants (61 per cent), followed by Western Australia (55.6 per cent), South Australia (47.8 per cent), and Victoria (41.5 per cent).

The disruption to families, cultures, connections; and the current extra burden of restoration, up against inequality, takes its toll.

The evidence is clear. Removal is the origin of trauma for too many of our peoples.

Yet it is simply not considered or accounted for in policy, in funding decisions, or service delivery.

Intergenerational trauma can end though, through intergenerational healing.

And we must get on with this first thing first.

It’s Time for Action

Healing enables people to overcome trauma and to restore wellbeing. It allows people to act from a place of strength more often than from a place of distress.

Healing is about restoring wellbeing, a strength of spirit, family connections, and lore, custom, and protocols that have made Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures the oldest living cultures on earth.

Effective ways Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants are supported to heal include:

  • reconnecting with cultures;
  • strengthening belonging and identity;
  • restoring safe and enduring relationships;
  • supporting communities to understand the impacts of their trauma experiences on life outcomes and choices; and
  • communities creating and leading trauma-informed change.

For Stolen Generations, healing also means keeping children safe with family, and addressing the rates of out-of-home care and juvenile detention.

The way systems operate, the way they were designed to operate, undermines healing journeys. Without an understanding of how our peoples experience trauma, our interactions with these systems delay, set back, and compromise healing for our peoples.

The Uluru Statement and the process to develop it through national dialogues includes the voices of many survivors and their family members.

Voice Treaty and Truth is considered fundamental to healing, and the absence of these are referred to as the reasons why survivors and their families are not heard and do not have power to influence urgent action, let alone benefit from any actions.

Healing is also at the core of the work The Healing Foundation does with the Coalition of Peaks and our National Agreement with Governments on Closing the Gap.

System reform is critical. And this new way of working closely with people in the know, (our peak bodies), will help us bring about these reforms as quickly as possible.

Recommendations to governments

Today we make known statistics and evidence of the extent of the challenges facing Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants.

In the face of these challenges though, you should know this: Stolen Generations survivors lead the intergenerational healing movement, which began as the Journey of Healing.

In the course of us working alongside Survivors to ensure stories and the evidence are seen together, they led the design and launch of a Stolen Generations Schools Resource Kit.

In under a year, it had 13,000 downloads, and this is in addition to a mail out of hardcopy kits to all 10,000 odd schools nation-wide.

Stolen Generations survivors lead building young people’s capacity early, to understand truth, and healing. It is having an amazing impact in school communities.

Also guided by Survivors was the development and distribution of Stolen Generations factsheets on providing effective care to them. This was done with and for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian Dental Association, Aged & Community Services Australia, and the Aged Care Industry Association.

These were launched by Minister Ken Wyatt in December 2019 at Parliament House. There is a list of 17 other bodies Stolen Generations deem to also require fact sheets.

Stolen Generations also lead in this way: The AIHW estimates that children living in a household with Stolen Generations survivors are:

  • 0 times more likely to identify with clan, tribal or language group; and
  • 0 times more likely to recognise a homeland.

For the protection, for wellbeing, for strength in identity of descendants, survivors are leading healing and against all odds.

Against barriers many of us can only imagine.

They show us that there are practical, achievable, and affordable recommendations, that fall out of the evidence, for us as a nation to make a real and lasting difference to the lives of Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants, finally.

The Healing Foundation has made a start on some, as mentioned. If the Report’s recommendations are adopted completely, it will also fulfil the aspirations of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report.

We recommend firstly that there be redress for Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants.

All Australian governments, in collaboration with Stolen Generations survivors, must co-design a universal, safe, culturally appropriate, and trauma-aware and healing-informed redress scheme for living and deceased Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants.

This includes the Australian Government urgently addressing reparations for Stolen Generations survivors removed in Commonwealth territories.

All governments must establish a funding stream for investing in healing.

The funds would be used to expand support and resources for Stolen Generations organisations, and other organisations nominated by Stolen Generations survivors, to deliver healing programs focused on the specific needs of survivors and their families.

Secondly, to meet the complex needs of Stolen Generations survivors, all governments must resource programs and policies across Australia that are co-designed with Stolen Generations survivors to holistically address their specific needs, with priority placed on aged care, disability, health, and housing.

Trauma-aware and healing-informed (TAHI) approaches must be embedded in all aspects of systems that engage with, and impact on, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Trauma is a human experience. It can be managed well and even overcome.

We see in the report that unique to our experience is that our cultures heal.

When we restore aspects of culture that keep us safe and well, we are better able to heal.

When programs and services, sectors and workforces are trauma-aware and healing-informed, Stolen Generations survivors are better able to live their lives from a place of strength, and design their own success, as they freely choose.

Three, to end intergenerational trauma and prevent new harm, all governments must resource and implement a national intergenerational healing strategy for addressing intergenerational trauma.

The strategy should include investments in:

  • truth telling, self-determination, healing through culture, systems reform, and improvements at policy, program, and workforce levels;
  • community-led services and programs;
  • capacity building for communities and other stakeholders to recognise and address trauma;
  • collective and family healing;
  • continued reform in access to records by Stolen Generations survivors and descendants; and
  • consolidation, application and building of a healing evidence base.

Collective healing programs co-developed with local Stolen Generations organisations must be established in Western Australia and South Australia as a high priority.

This would recognise the high proportion of adult Stolen Generations descendants in WA and SA who experience disproportionate levels of disadvantage.

Four, to achieve sustainable and robust monitoring and accountability, a national accountability framework to monitor and report progress towards achieving better outcomes for Stolen Generations survivors and their descendants, must be resourced.

This would include reporting to parliament.


The report we proudly release today is the culmination of years of work – listening to and heeding the voices of Stolen Generations survivors.

There is an urgent need to heal past wrongs – for the wellbeing of those who were stolen, their descendants who have had their cultural authority and legacy compromised, through what happened to their parents and grandparents.

For our communities who continue to hurt, and for Australia as a nation.

Healing will restore dignity for those who have suffered and ease a burden they had no say in having to carry.

Healing recognises the centrality of self-determination and the strengths of our cultures in always being able to keep us safe and well.

We must use this knowledge as a catalyst for redoubling our efforts to support Stolen Generation survivors.

To honour them as heroes who keep courageously lending their voices to the plight, over 25 years since the matters were formally raised via the Inquiry.

For stronger and freer, newer generations, we have the opportunity for national healing.

The Make Healing Happen report and the AIHW report together provide the evidence of the need for reform, the solutions, and the steps that governments must take to achieve real healing for the nation.

The evidence and the testimonies comprise the truth. We must use it to ensure the effectiveness of each system, sector by sector and workforce by workforce.

The effectiveness of applying equity approaches that gain equality in outcomes.

New behaviours and approaches must be healing-informed and must end trauma experiences for this large proportion of our families.

Nationally consistent, fair, and equitable redress for Stolen Generations survivors, their families, and descendants will Make Healing Happen.

Tailored and targeted trauma-aware and healing-informed services to meet the unique aged care, health, disability, and housing needs of Stolen Generations survivors will Make Healing Happen.

Nationally consistent access to historical and contemporary records for Stolen Generations survivors and their families will Make Healing Happen.

A National Healing Strategy to address intergenerational trauma will Make Healing Happen.

A national accountability framework to monitor and report progress towards achieving better outcomes for Stolen Generations and their descendants will make Healing Happen.

A National Centre for Healing, incorporating a national memorial for Stolen Generations to be located right here on Ngunnawal Ngambri Country in the Capital, will Make Healing Happen.

You are all needed to make healing happen. It’s time to act.

Thank you.

The Healing Foundation is a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that partners with communities to address 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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