Larissa Behrendt’s film After the Apology is a real look at the rising number of aboriginal children who have been placed into out-of-home care.
The film is now available for screenings. Paddy Gibson, who has supported the men and women in relation
The following podcast and transcript is the conversation we had with Paddy about the work and support he has helped with the Grandmothers Against Removal (GMAR) and the roll out of the film into communities.
Article written in the UTS June 2018 Research Special Issue
TRANSCRIPT OF PODCAST WITH PADDY GIBSON
My name is Paddy Gibson. I’m a senior researcher here at Jumbunna . I was working a tutor and casual researcher at UTS at the time, but I developed a relationship with Larissa and Nicole through voluntary work I was doing as an activist; organizing public meetings, preparing demonstrations that allowed people from the Northern territory to actually speak directly to people in Sydney about their experiences of the intervention.
I was working a tutor and casual researcher at UTS at the time, but I developed a relationship with Larissa and Nicole through voluntary work I was doing as an activist; organizing public meetings, preparing demonstrations that allowed people from the Northern territory to actually speak directly to people in Sydney about their experiences of the intervention.
Well, it’s probably one of the most rewarding and quite special for me personally. Aspects of my time working has been the development of that Grandmothers Against Removals organization and the work that we’ve done as a unit with those women. It really started out of the work I was describing before around the Northern Territory Intervention because I found myself in remote communities increasingly. It was increasingly common that people were approaching me particularly young women asking, “Can you do anything to help get kids back?” And this I actually found quite surprising. I was really quite ignorant of the extent to which child protection services were removing Aboriginal children out of communities and the scale on which that was happening.
When I first started to have a closer look at some of the cases of the women who’d come to me, it was really shocking actually to see the brutality with which removals were being executed, the use of police and raids on houses, children being taken hundreds of kilometers away from their family, put in situations where they’re cut off completely from their language and their culture. It was a very confronting reality that I had no idea about. And coming back to, and I did do quite a bit of what I guess you’d call just straight case work like really … and it builds on another area of Jumbunna’s work, which is strategic litigation, which is we actually get in and get our hands dirty working on legal cases and being advocates for people that are involved in legal cases for Aboriginal rights
I was doing some of that work around child protection. Assisting people to find legal support to challenge the removal of their children in court, accompanying them to meetings with departmental officials to put demands on the department about being able to access their children and time frames for potential restoration of children, helping people prepare affidavits, helping get support statements from other organizations that would assist in getting children back. When I came back to Sydney, I became quite quickly aware of the fact that the problems are actually worse in New South Wales than it is in Northern Territory.
The number of Aboriginal kids in out of home care in New South Wales was more than 10% of the Aboriginal child population, which is far and above the situation in the Northern Territory. And what I could really see going on was really actually the intervention was importing a model of forced child removal from the East Coast into Central Australia, what I realized what was going on. And so we just did similar work here on the East Coast.
There was a number of cases I was involved in actually, trying to get children back and sometimes successfully getting children back as well, which is always quite special when that does happen. But as I’ve described before, I’m a political activist, I do a lot of organizing rallies around a whole range of issues not just Aboriginal rights issues so I was always looking for an opportunity to try and take the issue of forced child removal from those individual case level that we’ve discussed and try and bring it actually into the political sphere and try and raise it as a serious campaign issue.
This is something we want people to actually get organized and fight about. I came to realize that there were Aboriginal people around Australia that were already doing this particularly out of Brisbane. The Brisbane Aboriginal Southern embassy out there had held a number of sittings of the office of the Child Protection Department to demand action in particular cases and this was really inspiring to say and I started talking with some women that we knew here in Sydney about that, and after the really, really shocking removal of the grandchild of one of the women that we’ve come to work with quite closely, I think they really just picked on the wrong family in that case.
Because I knew Hazel from other political movements. She’d been at rallies against mining, she’d been quite close to a friend of mine Olivia Negro who was doing some activism around mining and also knew about my concern with child removal, and out of that relationship and out of that discussion when they removed Hazel’s grandson, Hai Dzu knew that there was a network of people there that were wanting to do something about this and she said, “Well, I think we’re ready for a protest.” And that’s when the Grandmothers Against Removals first started.
She established a group in Gunnedah and they came to Sydney four years ago on the 13th February the anniversary of Rudd’s apology. We held the first demonstration, which really brought this issue into the public spotlight in New South Wales out from the shadows if you like. Aboriginal people had been living with this crisis of contemporary removal for quite some time. There’s always a lot of stigma and shame around the issue of department being involved in people’s lives but these women who spoke at that first rally they were just like, “The songs have to end. We need to break the songs. People need to know we don’t care the more they sing at us about all our so-called child protection concerns. We want to be out there talking about what’s happening with their kids.” And that’s when that really started.
I did a lot of work myself. On the weekends we had rallies and other things but here at Jumbunna there was some really serious support given to the formation of the Grandmothers Against Removals. As a proper network, we help people get press releases out, we help with the legal support as has been said. That culminated really a lot of that work in the production of this film after the apology, which is just such a wonderful resource to have. Larissa is a magnificent storyteller and a lot of the stories that came out of that period are now highlighted in this film, which is something that means a lot to me and also means a lot to a lot of these women that there is that recognition for the work they’ve done. It’s packaged up in such a way as after the apology.
There’s a long way to go before we get any real change in this space. The kids are still been taken at an incredible rate, but I think one of the things that we can be really proud of is being part of a movement to break the silence on the issue and make sure that people in Australia know the insane numbers of kids that have been taken today.
What we’ve got is incredibly well produced page documentary film funded by Screen Australia. A really wonderful resource, but no prospect really of a serious commercial distribution. People aren’t … Cinema houses aren’t going to take up showing films about Aboriginal kids getting stolen. It’s just not the reality unfortunately that we live in so the distribution of this film is really going to be, I’d say, I’ve been telling people it’s going to be a people per distribution. It’s going to be up to people themselves to organize screenings where they are, for their workmates, in their community, and the first way that that’s going to happen is actually through a formal cinema or on demand process so there’s a website people can visit. If you just Google After the Apology, you’ll be able to find the various websites and particularly if you look for After the Apology cinema on Demand, you’ll be able to find links to how May.
You can actually contact Yuraku Cinema and get them to start selling tickets for screening and if there are enough tickets to sell, then the screening goes ahead. It’s quite a simple way for people to make a contribution to make sure the story is heard. That can start now. You can start organizing those screenings since now and they’ll begin to be shown on the 14th of May and that will happen for two weeks and they’re laid up to the 26th of May, which is Saturday when the Bringing Them Home report was launched back in 1997. It’s the anniversary of that day and Stolen Generations organizations back in the Light Nannies use that day as a day of protest to demand the implementation of the Bringing Them Home recommendations, which we still haven’t had. We’ve got the apology which was recommended, but there’s a whole lot of things that were also recommended to go along with that apology that haven’t happened. One of them being Aboriginal self-determination in issues of child welfare. We’ve got the opposite of that at the moment.
We see it important to basically build a campaign of showing people after the apology, getting discussion going about the issues and there’ll also probably be some mobilisation on the 26th of May that we can use the screenings to promote. Whether it’s a demonstration, we’re trying to get a joint letter of various organizations, individuals to sign a petition that we can present on that day and then after Sorry Day, the film will be available for people to screen in the town hall or in the church hall. We’re also hoping that it’s used as an educational tool actually in the professions that deal in this industry, and certainly, it is an industry of Aboriginal child welfare.
We want to make sure that the child protection workers will see it, we want to make sure the core clinicians will see it, the magistrates that are sending kids away into out of home care, but we also want to make sure that a lot of the Aboriginal organizations that are out there struggling day-to-day to provide support to families that are going through this can see this film can see that there is an attempt to really challenge and push back against what’s going on.
AFTER THE APOLOGY TRAILER