Forced adoption apology recommended

LILY Arthur gave birth to her son, Tim, while shackled to a hospital bed in Brisbane. She was allowed to cradle him in her arms for five minutes - but only after signing an adoption consent form.

It was 1967, and Ms Arthur was 17 years old.

It took her three decades to track down her son.

Many other young, single mothers suffered the same ordeal; under a state-sanctioned policy pursued until the 1980s, an estimated 150,000 Australian women were made to give up their newborn babies for adoption.

The practice had the blessing of state governments, church organisations and adoption agencies.

Yesterday, following an 18-month inquiry, a parliamentary committee recommended that they should receive a formal apology.

The aim was to rid society of the stain of illegitimacy and relieve the state of the financial burden which the babies represented.

They were given to middle-class married couples - respectable people. Their young mothers have lived with the shame and the loss ever since.

The women say they were pressured and deceived into signing consent forms.

Ms Arthur, then in state care, was threatened with incarceration in a high-security children's home unless she complied.

Christine Cole, who was 16 when she gave up her newborn daughter, was drugged with barbiturates before and after the birth.

Doctors and social workers involved in the coercion allegedly "ordered" babies for friends and for themselves. The Senate inquiry heard that babies were earmarked for adoption months before they were born, and without any discussion with mothers.

Admitted to hospital in Sydney in 1969, Ms Cole gave birth to a girl 10 days later.

"She didn't cry, so I tried to get up to see if she was all right," she said.

"Three nurses threw me back on the bed and held me down as they took my baby out of the room. The midwife was at the end of the bed and she said to me: 'This has got nothing to do with you'."

Ms Cole and Ms Arthur were among more than 100 mothers and adoptees, watching from the public gallery yesterday as the committee's report was tabled in the Senate, some of them weeping.

Ms Arthur spent years trying to track down her son, armed only with his first name. About 15 years ago, she found him.

Ms Cole, too, managed to trace her daughter.

But their reunion was "the start of another rocky road," she said.

"She had grown up believing that her mother didn't want her, so she was angry about being abandoned."

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