“Forced Adoption” in the Australian Story of National Regret and Apology


  • The authors gratefully acknowledge the support of an Australian Research Council Discovery grant for this research; and the comments on earlier drafts by Shurlee Swain and Kate Murphy.


This essay places the long-standing campaign for redress and apology of women separated from their children through adoption in an historical and political context, tracing the rise of the single mother as a political voice through the Council for the Single Mother and her Child and the emergence of birth mother advocacy groups. The political actions of these mothers must be seen alongside the two national apologies already delivered and the political activism which led to them. Activism for apologies for past wrongs ought be understood in terms of the contemporary Australian politics of apology in which, in the words of Hannah Arendt, “pity is elevated to the level of a political principle”. However, in the case of these mothers, the Australian story of national regret and apology is complicated by issues of gender and sexuality. The women, unlike the Stolen Generations, child migrants and institutionalised children, do not easily or readily fit within the terms of national apology as formulated in the apologies of 2008 and 2009 which were addressed primarily to wronged and innocent children. If and when an apology is addressed to these women, its terms will necessarily differ from the earlier apologies.