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Australia’s stolen wages: one woman’s quest for compensation

Melissa Tyler and Leanne Cutcher write in The Conversation (14.5.18) about the difficulties faced by Indigenous people making reparations claims for stolen wages, when governments can deny access to required documentation.

‘Bigali Hanlon is a Yindjibarndi woman born in 1940 at Mulga Downs in Western Australia. At the age of six, she was taken from her mother and sent to live in a church-run hostel for “fair-skinned” indigenous children. She lived there until she was 13, when she went into indentured domestic service. As in many other cases, wages were paid – but never to Bigali.

‘She is one of thousands of people who sought compensation for the work they did under the oppressive institutionalised dispossessions enacted by the white colonial administration in Australia from 1890s right up until the 1970s.

‘… In October 2006, the federal government held an inquiry into stolen wages. It concluded that state governments must allow better access to archives, fund education campaigns and provide legal research to support claimants in seeking compensation for wages or benefits never paid. Stolen wages commissions were set up in four states: Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria and New South Wales.

‘But Bigali and the other claimants were required to support their cases with a verifiable story. The documents that the government tried to deny Bigali access to contained the evidence she needed to prove to that same government that she had been stolen, where she had worked and for how long.’

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