A MEMORIAL has been unveiled in Sale, commemorating the National and Victorian Parliamentary Apologies to mothers, who, due to 'forced adoption' practices, were separated from their babies at birth, causing a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering.
In a small ceremony on Friday, Gippsland MHR Darren Chester and Independent Regional Mothers of Victoria spokesperson Brenda Coughlan unveiled the sculpture to a tearful crowd in Victoria Park, Sale.
The unveiling coincided with the anniversary of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's national apology in March 2013, to the victims of 'forced adoption' practices in Australia from the late 1950s to the 1970s.
The sculpture also marks the apologies made on behalf of the State of Victoria by former Premier Ted Baillieu and former Deputy Premier Peter Ryan in October 2012, who both attended the ceremony.
'Cherished Mother and Child', sculpted by Andrew Poppleton and cast by Meridian Sculptures, depicts a mother looking lovingly upon her newborn.
Ms Coughlan said the sculpture represented the everlasting bond of mother and child, and was deliberately placed in a setting of peaceful contemplation, healing and solace.
"The mother's face of unconditional love . . . a reflection of what should have been, instead of the empty arms, the broken hearts and spirits and shattered lives," she said.
Ms Coughlan said the apologies acknowledged and accepted full responsibility for the crimes that were committed, denying mothers their fundamental rights to love and care for their children.
"This civilised nation and Victoria engaged in one of the most criminal practices humankind knows without legal authority, beyond the power of the criminal law and legislation . . . by criminal abduction," Ms Coughlan said. "It caused a lifetime of inconsolable grief, pain and loss.
"They never saw the beauty of their baby asleep, never heard their first words, or saw their first steps."
Ms Coughlan detailed how the new mothers were treated as "a lower form of life, with disdain, as worthless and beneath consideration".
"It destroyed the physical existence of their motherhood, to create a perfect society of approved family structures," she said.
"(Mothers were) treated as reproductive slaves in medical enslavement clinics, sexually assaulted (with) obstetric violence, injected with the nation's banned drugs, in serious peril, sedated with post-natal, hypnotic barbiturate impairing judgement, faced with the unspeakable heartless behaviour of professionals."
Mr Chester said the sculpture recognised a tragic part in the nation's history.
"I think it's very significant that our town, our region is going to host this quiet place of contemplation and reflection for families," Mr Chester said.
"It sends a very strong message to the mothers in particular, they did nothing wrong, it was the practices at the time, and it's a very poignant day for our community."
Mr Chester said the apologies didn't signal the end of the story or suffering for the people impacted by these inhumane policies.
"We cannot pretend the apologies and this memorial will take away the pain or suffering they have endured, but we can resolve to ensure such tragedies are never repeated and to support those broken-hearted souls during the remainder of their lives," he said.
"I do hope most sincerely that the national and state apologies and other public gestures of acknowledgement, such as this memorial, will give those who are suffering some comfort as they continue on their life's journey."
June Smith is a mother who had her son taken as part of the practices, and said a part of her will always be broken.
"We hadn't signed consents, they gave us drugs, I personally had heroin and the date rape drug . . . they dried up my milk," she said.
"I told them I was keeping him, and I was told I wouldn't be able to take him out of here.
"We loved our babies, we wanted them.
"We were treated differently than every other mother in that hospital; if I'd been married, and my husband beat me, spent all our money at the booze up . . . I would've been allowed to go home with my baby, but because my boyfriend shot through, and because I didn't have a man in my life, I had to be punished by having my son taken. That day has never left me . . . it never will."
Ms Smith said the term forced adoption was wrong, because it twisted the connotations of the story.
"This is not about adoption, it's about abuse and abduction; they abused the mothers to take the children, and a lot of the kids weren't adopted, they were put in orphanages," she said.
"We just want the truth out there, the fact that this was a criminal act.
"For years, people have said, you gave up your child, you're a birth mother or an unmarried mother, and every time you hear these words . . . for a mother, it's soul destroying.
"For 50 odd years, you have to live it over and over again. If ever my son reads this, his name's Michael and I love him."
In 2012, a Senate inquiry found 'forced adoptions' were widespread in Australia during the 1950s to the 1970s, with up to 250,000 babies taken from their mothers.
For more information, visit www.independentregionalmothers.com.au.