Forcible separation and assimilation as trauma: The historical and socio-political experiences of Australian Aboriginal people


  • Karen Menzies School of Nursing and Midwifery University of Western Sydney and The School of Humanities and Social Science University of Newcastle


Historical trauma, intergenerational and collective trauma, Australian Indigenous people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, child protection, forcible separation, assimilation, stolen generations


The concept of collective, historical, intergenerational trauma is something that has received particular attention in relation to holocaust survivors, refugees, and military personnel. However, it has not been systematically used as a framework to understand and address current experiences among Australian Indigenous children, families and communities, particularly within the Australian context. This paper makes the case that, similar to the experiences of other colonised Indigenous people in North America and New Zealand, the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia post-European arrival constitutes trauma and that the past child welfare laws, policies and practices of forcible separation and assimilation were a focal point for this trauma. There is significant evidence that the effects of this trauma continue today in Aboriginal children, families and communities and it is argued that this contributes to, and perpetuates, the pain and suffering they experience. This analysis has important implications for practitioners working with Indigenous communities in the education, health, legal and welfare sectors. Understanding of collective, historical and intergenerational trauma forms an essential base for effective practice.