Without Consent: Emotional Canberra exhibition remembers Australia's forced adoptions


The personal stories of those damaged by illegal forced adoption practices are on display at the National Archives of Australia in Canberra. Former prime minister Julia Gillard officially launched the Without Consent exhibition, which explores harrowing first-hand stories of thousands of women coerced into giving up their babies throughout the 20th century. Margaret Oakhill-Hamilton, one of the exhibition's contributors, was 19 years old when her son was taken from her."I was engaged to be married and three weeks before the wedding my fiance called it off," she said. "I was sent to St Mary's Home, and I stayed there until my son was born.


I was taken by an ambulance to Royal Brisbane Hospital, and there I believe I was drugged."

Ms Oakhill-Hamilton said she had no recollection of the birth and afterwards she was sedated until she signed a consent form.

"I signed it and 14 days later he was with his adopted parents.

"I was told to go home, get on with life and put it behind you."

Thousands of Australian babies were forcibly adopted

Ms Oakhill-Hamilton said her story was not an unusual one as the home regularly took in unmarried women who were pregnant.

"They had about 30 girls in there all the time," Ms Oakhill-Hamilton said.

"One would leave and another would come in.



She made contact with her son in 1990, and spent 24 years being part of his life before he died in 2014.

In 2013, the then prime minister, Julia Gillard, apologised on behalf of the Federal Government for the policy of removing babies from unwed mothers.

At the launch, she was greeted by guests with a standing ovation.


She praised the bravery of those who had stepped forward to make their voices heard.


"To find the courage to step onto the public stage, to go and see members of Parliament, to go and see local community members and to tell your story," she said.


"That takes a particular kind of courage.


"I felt it on that day two years ago, and I feel it still standing here."


She congratulated the exhibition's organisers for its apt name.


"Without consent, it was done to people without their ability to say yes," Ms Gillard said.


"A violation we truly seek to understand and never repeat."


Ms Oakhill-Hamilton echoed the sentiment in recounting her story.


"Even though it was consent, it was forced consent", she said. "To me [my son] was a stolen child."


The exhibition is on display at the National Archives until July 19, 2015.