Life of loss and trauma
19th August 2012
Updated 21st August 2012
WHAT do you say to the woman who had a pillow held over her face as she gave birth, to prevent her from laying eyes on the baby she was being forced to relinquish?
What do you say to the woman who, during a forbidden cuddle with her newborn, stroked the downy softness of her baby's cheek knowing the single memory would need to last a lifetime?
What do you say to the woman whose fretting for her lost son became so intolerable that she tried to reclaim him with a shotgun only to end up in jail, locked away from the child she ached for?
The Tasmanian Government is poised to say "sorry".
In the upcoming session of Parliament, which begins this week, Premier Lara Giddings will apologise to the many hundreds of Tasmanian parents and children separated by forced adoptions.
But is "sorry" enough? Some of the victims say it will go some way towards healing the pain, while others say their scars are too deep to be touched by the gesture.
Christine Burke, whose baby daughter was taken from her when she was 17, said she would like to see help of a more practical nature.
Mrs Burke, who has helped lead the fight for acknowledgement of forced adoption in Tasmania and now runs a support group, said "sorry" was a good starting point but there was a need for more.
She called on the Government to consider free counselling for the victims, many of whom still struggle to cope. Mrs Burke was an unmarried 17-year-old living in rural Tasmania when she fell pregnant in 1968. The family kept the pregnancy secret because keeping the baby was not considered an option.
Mrs Burke recovered in the hospital for seven days after the birth, and managed to snatch a secret daily cuddle with the baby that she had been forced to give up.
Mrs Burke, who is now 61, said those fleeting encounters formed an indelible memory and longing.
"Even now, if I shut my eyes, I can still feel how soft her skin was. I rubbed my finger down her cheek, trying so hard to absorb all these memories because you think they are going to have to last another 80 years," Mrs Burke said.
"And I promised her I would do all in my power to one day find her."
Mrs Burke said that in her own case she didn't really need an apology from the Tasmanian Government since the past injustice was not its fault. But she would like to see the forced adoption practices publicly acknowledged to record the mistakes from the past and learn from them.
While there is speculation that a formal apology may open the way for compensation, Mrs Burke wanted to see more practical assistance.
She said that any compensation should include free counselling to help the hundreds of Tasmanians still coming to terms with the past.
Mrs Burke would also like to see mums and children able to access the relevant files without charge.
She said any such documentation helped fill in the gaps, especially in cases where people had been lied to.
In terms of an apology, Mrs Burke said "sorry" would be a good starting point for some.
So far the WA and SA governments have apologised, while Victoria, Tasmania and the Federal Government have committed to apologies.
Ms Giddings told the ALP state conference this month she would consult with those who were affected on the wording for her apology.