Silent Violence: Australia's White Stolen Children

by Merryl Moor
Griffith University


This thesis makes a significant contribution to the existing knowledge on 'unmarried mothers'. Much of the literature on 'unmarried mothers' has been written by white, male, middle-class professionals who assume that unwed mothers are happy to place their babies for adoption so that they can be free to pursue other interests, meet other men and make a new life. However, after interviewing many of the mothers who gave up their babies in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s in Australia, I found this was not the case. Many of the mothers had wanted to keep their babies but were forced to relinquish them by their families and the wider society who seemed more intent on upholding nuclear family values than making available the resources needed to keep natural mothers and their babies together. My argument throughout this thesis is that given a choice - a viable economic and socially supported choice - many of the unmarried mothers, typified by those whom I interviewed, would not have parted with their babies. Most mothers interviewed, and presumably many of those in the community at large, have experienced much pain and grief as a result of the separation - a grief which is profound and lasts forever. Using Marxist feminist theories of the state and post-structural theories, my thesis highlights the perceptions and memories of birthmothers about the birthing experience and adoption as experience, process and life consequence.

I also argue that the removal of white, working-class babies from their mothers compares in some small way with the removal of the indigenous 'stolen children' in the same period. The removal of Aboriginal children from their homes and cultures has been referred to by some scholars and activists as a form of cultural genocide. While the removal of babies from white, working-class, unwed mothers was different in that it had few racial implications, I argue that the system in place at the time was patriarchal and class-based and as such left the young, unwed women with no options but adoption. The thesis makes a very important and socially significant contribution to our understanding of unmarried mothers in that it presents a largely unwritten history of women. Rich in the voices of unmarried mothers, there are important conceptual, empirical and practical policy implications flowing from the research findings.

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