Stolen generation survivors during the Victoria Police apology
The commissioner's apology is part of reforms following Victoria's truth-telling inquiry. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS
  • indigenous people

Tears, hugs as police apologise to stolen generation

Rachael Ward May 24, 2024

Ian Hamm was taken from his family as a baby and like so many survivors of the stolen generation, he never thought he would live to see an apology from police.

When Victoria Police finally said sorry on Friday, it was not cause for celebration but instead left him feeling relieved.

“It’s the relief that I don’t have to argue my story is real, we don’t have to argue that our existence is real,” Mr Hamm said.

“The apology of the prime minister, the apology of the chief commissioner, moves past that.”

Ian Hamm
 Survivor Ian Hamm said the apology offered hope for Aboriginal-police relations. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS 

There were tears and hugs at the Melbourne event as Chief Commissioner Shane Patton delivered what he described as a “long overdue” apology to survivors and their families for the role the force played in removing children.

It’s the first apology of its kind in Victoria.

Tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were taken from their families from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1970s under government policy.

Another stolen generation survivor, Eva Jo Edwards, said she was proud to be involved in the occasion but was feeling emotional.

“For many survivors, our earliest memories are police coming into our homes, removing us, taking us to the nearest police station and then off to institutions,” Ms Edwards said.

“I am always emotional on days like this, we are making history today.”

Stolen generation apology event
 There were tears and hugs as Mr Patton delivered a “long overdue” apology. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Patton said the true number of children Victoria Police removed may never be known due to incomplete records, which he said had compounded the effects of the trauma.

“For over 100 years, whether on our own initiative or assisting other agencies or organisations, Victoria Police contributed to the stolen generations by enforcing policies and laws,” he said.

He also apologised for the way removed children were often treated as through they had a criminal background, which “cast a false shadow” over their character throughout their lives.

He acknowledged the deep impact the force’s role had on severing connection to family, community, country, language, culture and identity.

“I am deeply sorry for the harm which this has caused, and the harm which continues to be felt now,” he said.

The apology was met with a large round of applause from the audience at the sombre event, with many speakers detailing their hopes it will lead to meaningful change.

Aunty Eva Jo Edwards speaks during a Victoria Police apology
 “We are making history today,” stolen generation survivor Eva Jo Edwards said. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS 

Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency chief executive Muriel Bamblett urged police to commit to “eliminating the scourge racism both at an individual and institutional level”.

“I’m looking forward to telling my children and my grandchildren one day we have an apology that has actually changed the lives of our people,” she said.

Mr Patton’s apology is part of reforms stemming from the force’s response to Victoria’s truth-telling inquiry, the Yoorrook Justice Commission.

The inquiry is creating an official public record of the impact of colonisation on Aboriginal people in Victoria and will recommend actions to address historical and ongoing injustices.

The force has committed to carrying out 79 reforms by the end of 2025, including improved processes for Aboriginal people dealing with police.

Shane Patton
 Commissioner Shane Patton said he was deeply sorry for the harm the police’s actions had caused. Image by Diego Fedele/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Hamm, who is an experienced public servant and board member, said many unresolved issues remained between police and Aboriginal people.

But the apology offered a chance for the relationship to step in a different direction.

“Days like this give me hope,” he said.

WA Police delivered a formal apology in 2018 following the national apology from Kevin Rudd in 2007.