Launch of Forced Adoptions History Project website and First Anniversary Event – Forced Adoptions National Apology

A speech given by Director-General David Fricker at Parliament House in Canberra on 20 March 2014.

I was at the national apology on the 21 March 2013 and saw personally the power that the apology, in acknowledging the impact of forced adoptions, had on those to whom it was offered. I sincerely hope the work of the National Archives of Australia continues that acknowledgement.

I would also encourage you to take the time to look at the national forced adoptions apology parchment, unveiled today by Minister Andrews. I am pleased the National Archives is able to make this beautiful parchment available for display in Parliament House. Not only making it accessible for thousands of Australians to view and read but acknowledging the importance of this apology in the process of healing.

I am proud that the National Archives was given the responsibility to develop public engagement programs – for this first anniversary of the apology, the website; and for the second anniversary a national touring exhibition as part of the Federal Government's response to the 2012 Community Affairs References Committee report.

These types of public programs are critical in engaging the broader Australian public with history, regardless of whether that history is sensitive and difficult to understand. And the National Archives excels at creating and delivering public engagement programs.

I am pleased to be launching this website today. This is not a website providing access to archival records. It is a website that provides an insight into a little known and traumatic period of Australia's past as well as an opportunity for those impacted to share their experiences.

The policies and practices of forced adoptions after World War II has impacted on our society, across generations. The loss of a child, not knowing your past, a lack of connection – all have long-term consequences we are only just beginning to understand.

Bringing together the formal history and effects of forced adoptions with the personal experiences of all those affected gives the rest of us, not affected, a great opportunity to better understand the impact of a forced adoption on a mother, an adoptee, a father as well as other family members.

When the National Archives first took on this challenging project we had to re-think our role in terms of connecting records to individuals. Much of our work is providing individuals with personal records relating to identity – war service records, immigration records being the most sought after records – and to discover more about their story.

This project has us not working with records but with people who know their own experience. And through these experiences, finding the records, the images, the past to raise awareness of this aspect of Australia's adoption history.

I believe the National Archives was most suited to this project because as the national archival organisation of Australia we understand the value and the power of records. The National Archives, more than any other cultural institution, knows what the discovery of a record can do for someone trying to find themselves and their family in amongst the thousands of records created by government and organisations.

We understand what it feels like to hold that document. We understand what it feels like to share that document and connect it with other documents to create a more complete record of an experience.

Through a number of workshops National Archives staff have developed an understanding of what those of you who are affected by forced adoptions are expecting the website to achieve – to raise awareness of forced adoptions in Australia's post-World War II history. I hope that we have met that expectation today.

The website I am very proud to launch today is the culmination of 12 months' hard work by the Archives Forced Adoptions History Project team. It brings together the personal experiences and the formal records of forced adoptions to tell a history that we all need to learn about.

Now that it is launched the hard work begins. To add to the history, the effects and the experiences already online we need your support to promote the site and to let us know what other information could be included.

The website will also form an important part of the exhibition – in development and on tour. The curator will draw on this content to create an exhibition that engages with the broader Australian public and tells the history and experiences of forced adoptions in Australia. Please don't ask me how they do this. I just know they can. I would like to say thank you to some:

The team have been supported by Megan Shipley and her team in the Department of Social Services, the Hon Professor Nahum Mushin and the members of the Implementation Working Group. Your honest and fearless feedback has been invaluable.

To all the advocacy groups and support services staff across Australia – a tremendous thank you for engaging with the team and sharing your vast wealth of experience and knowledge.

And to the individuals who the team have spoken to over the last 12 months. Without your honesty, your desire to share and your confidence in us, this website would not be what it is. Thank you.

And finally I would like to acknowledge the National Archives staff who have worked so hard on this project. I know they are very conscious that what we have today is a website for now and for future learning.

It now gives me great pleasure to launch the National Archives of Australia’s Forced Adoptions History Project website. I invite you all to have a look at it.

Thank you all for helping us celebrate the launch of this important website and marking the first anniversary of the national forced adoptions apology. We look forward to the next 12 months on this important project.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014