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By Alana Rosenbaum
December 20, 2012 / canberratimes.com.au
THE birth dates of babies who were adopted were often changed to prevent them from ever reuniting with their birth mothers, according to adoption activist and researcher Christine Cole.
Ms Cole said it was common practice to try to erase a child's identity so that the relinquishing mother could not trace or reclaim her infant. ''Anyone involved - adoption agents, parents - were always terrified that the mother and her extended family were going to reclaim the child.''
From the 1950s to the '70s, an estimated 150,000 Australian babies were taken, mostly from unwed mothers, and put up for adoption.
The Gillard government announced this week that it would formally apologise for past adoption practices, following the lead of the Baillieu government, which said sorry in October.
Ultimately, the practice of changing birth dates did not prevent adoptees from reuniting with their birth mothers. New adoption legislation introduced state by state in the '80s opened the way for adoptees to get access to their birth records and their birth mothers' personal details.
Jane Potter, who was adopted in 1963, tracked down her birth mother ''Christine'' when the law changed and learnt she had spent a lifetime celebrating her birthday on the wrong day.
Christine told her that when it came time to sign the adoption papers, she noted that September 23 had been crossed out and September 24 written beside it.
A historian at the Australian Catholic University, Shurlee Swain, said it was considered best practice to attempt to hide the past of an adopted child, who may well have been conceived out of wedlock.
''In adoption, people thought they were erasing the shame so that a child would not know where they came from, and that was a jolly good thing. If you go back to the '20s and '30s, you see people writing in to problem pages saying, 'I am engaged to be married and just found out I was adopted. Should I break off the engagement?' Illegitimacy was a terrible stain.''
Adoption activists say only a small proportion of adoptees who search for their birth mothers are unable to locate them. In some cases the records have been lost or destroyed, or the birth mother simply did not want to be found.
For Peter Dale Raymond, there seemed to be no record of his birth or his adoption into the home in which he grew up. He could not tell you where or when he was born or to whom; his first months of life are shrouded in a mystery that 40 years of investigation have failed to unlock.
Mr Raymond said there was no epiphany: the realisation that he was not who he thought he was dawned on him gradually and reluctantly. But time has not tempered his curiosity. ''I wonder if my father was a famous person or a criminal. I wonder if I am the product of an assault. Am I a hand-me-down or a pass-me-round?''