In Summary

  • Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett delivers Swinburne’s annual Barak-Wonga Oration
  • The Oration is named in honour of significant Aboriginal leaders William Barak and Simon Wonga

Ripples from the Stolen Generation continue to be felt today as a disproportionate number of Indigenous children continue to be taken from their families, says Adjunct Professor Muriel Bamblett.

In Swinburne’s annual Barak-Wonga Oration, Professor Bamblett, Hon DLittSW AM, says Aboriginal children, some sixth generation, continue to be removed from their families.

Professor Bamblett says Australia’s welfare system has been shaped by the relatively large number of Aboriginal children placed into care.

And she says the current system does not suit Indigenous children who end up in care.

The stolen generation continues to impact us today.”

Professor Bamblett, who has served as Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency (VACCA) since 1999, has been integral in shaping the lives of many Indigenous families.

“VACCA was established in 1977 because of the high number of Aboriginal children coming through the legal system and into care,” she says.  

“These children had lost connection with their family. A number of them are the sixth generation of being removed from their family and we haven’t been able to break that cycle.

“The stolen generation continues to impact us today.”

Community ties

She says that while there are still many issues facing Indigenous families, a vast majority of them were doing well.

She says those families that maintain a deep connection with their culture fair better.

She says that after a campaigning the government to have 13 children transferred to the care of the VACCA, six of them ended going back to their homes, which was an unprecedented success.

“You do a high five if you get even one child home,” she says.

“When Aboriginal people do take responsibility you get better outcomes.”

Pursuing reconciliation

Professor Bamblett said she was a “bit sceptical” of reconciliation in the early days but changed her mind on the Reconciliation Walk in 2000.

“I saw a man who got off at the railway station, who was a quadriplegic and I thought, ‘you’re marching for us,” she recalled.

“I got choked up and I still think about that today. I think there are many Australians that are like that man.”

She says that the challenge for Swinburne and other universities is being open to different ways of working that acknowledge there is an uneven playing field between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, all while maintaining commitment to a quality education.

“If you give me rights, does it take anything away from you as an individual?” she asks

What is the Barak-Wonga Oration?

The Swinburne Annual Barak-Wonga Oration is named in honour of two significant Aboriginal leaders, William Barak and Simon Wonga.

The oration is a key element of Swinburne’s RAP and is designed to advance understandings in the wider community on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.

Who is Professor Bamblett?

Professor Bamblett is a Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Wurrung woman who has served as Chief Executive Officer of the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency since 1999.

Professor Bamblett was Chairperson of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care for 10 years (the peak agency representing Indigenous Child and Family Services nationally) and was awarded a Lifetime Associate Membership.

In 2017 Professor Bamblett has been awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters in Social Work by the University of Sydney in recognition of her outstanding contribution to Indigenous child and family welfare.