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Lowitja O'Donoghue - The Stolen Generation

Video clip synopsis – Lois O’Donoghue was born in 1932 in a remote Aboriginal community. She never knew her white father and, at the age of two, was taken away from her mother, who she was not to see for 33 years.
Year of production - 1994
Duration - 1min 15sec
Tags - Australian History, civics and citizenship, human rights, identity, Indigenous Australia, inequality, racism, self-determination, social justice, Stolen Generations, White Australia Policy, see all tags


Lowitja O'Donoghue - The Stolen Generation

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About the Video Clip


Lowitja O’Donoghue:The Stolen Generation is an excerpt from the program Lowitja O’Donoghue (26 mins), an episode of Australian Biography Series 3 (7×26 mins), produced in 1994.

Lowitja O’Donoghue: Lois O’Donoghue was born in 1932 in a remote Aboriginal community. She never knew her white father and, at the age of two, was taken away from her mother, who she was not to see for 33 years. After a long struggle to win admission to a training hospital, Lois became the first black nurse in South Australia. In 1976, she was the first Aboriginal woman to be awarded an Order of Australia. In 1983 she was honoured with a CBE and in 1984 she was made Australian of the Year. In 1990 she became the founding chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. Since this Australian Biography interview, she has changed her name to Lowitja O’Donoghue.

Australian Biography Series 3: The Australian Biography series profiles some of the most extraordinary Australians of our time. Many have had a major impact on the nation’s cultural, political and social life. All are remarkable and inspiring people who have reached a stage in their lives where they can look back and reflect. Through revealing in-depth interviews, they share their stories – of beginnings and challenges, landmarks and turning points. In so doing, they provide us with an invaluable archival record and a unique perspective on the roads we, as a country, have travelled.

Australian Biography Series 3 is a Film Australia National Interest Program.

Background Information


Lowitja O’Donoghue was one of many Indigenous children separated from their families. The first removals took place during the early period of European settlement. Indigenous children were separated from their families for use as cheap labour on farms and inland stations, and as domestics.

In 1869, the first Aborigines Protection Act was passed in Victoria, with other Australian colonies following. This was the first formal government policy authorising the separations. The laws sought to protect Indigenous people from the effects of colonisation and settlement, and did so through segregation (by creating reserves and relocating Indigenous communities) and education of the young.

'Protectors’ were appointed and given significant control over the lives of Indigenous people. This was especially the case with their children, who were placed under the protector’s legal guardianship. This sweeping change of guardianship took place without consultation with Indigenous people.

By the early 1900s, although the full-descent Indigenous population was in decline, the mixed-descent population was increasing. Policies soon focused more on merging (assimilating) this mixed-descent population into the non-Indigenous community. Indigenous young people were sent to schools that would prepare them for absorption into non-Indigenous society as adults.

In the 1940s, a uniform set of child welfare laws was introduced and applied to Indigenous and non-Indigenous children alike. Children could only be removed if they were found to be ‘neglected’, ‘destitute’ or ‘uncontrollable’. Despite their equal application, the laws did little to reduce the number of Indigenous children removed.

From the 1970s, governments gradually moved away from promoting assimilation and towards policies of self-determination and participation.

In 1997, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission conducted a formal independent inquiry—the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families.

Classroom Activities

  1. After viewing the video about Lowitja O’Donoghue – The Stolen Generation, discuss in class then write answers to the following:
    1. Explain how and why Lowitja was given the name of Lois after she was born.
    2. Describe the circumstances that led to Lowitja being separated from her mother when two years old.
    3. Explain what you think Lowitja means by saying that when “half-caste” children such as her were taken away it was “meant to be for our good”. Do you think she believes this to be correct?
  2. Research and write a 500-word biography of the life of Lowitja O’Donoghue, drawing attention to her importance as a campaigner for the rights of Indigenous Australians. Ensure it is written in your own words.
  3. Re-tell the incident of Lowitja’s removal from her home as a short story. You may wish to discuss in class first how you would present the story’s viewpoint – whether it should be in the third person or first person. If the latter, who are the choices of narrator? Consider which parts of the story you would emphasise for impact.
  4. In pairs research the findings of the 1997 “Bringing Them Home” report (also known as The Stolen Children report), then prepare a poster display of the findings and recommendations.
  5. In small groups survey ten people who are not at your school about their awareness of The Stolen Generations, and the “Bringing Them Home” inquiry. You should first discuss in class the questions for your survey. For example, are your interviewee subjects informed by media reports? Have films such as Rabbit-Proof Fence influenced their thinking? As a class combine your group’s findings and come to a conclusion about the extent of people’s awareness and views on the issue.

Further Resources


Jane Harrison, Stolen, Currency Press, Sydney, 1998
Darlene Johnson (dir), Stolen Generations, 2000
Phillip Noyce (dir), Rabbit-Proof Fence, 2002
Doris Pilkington (Nugi Garimara), Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1996
Des Kootji Raymond (dir), Land of the Little Kings, 2000
Go to Australian Biography Online Lowitja O’Donoghue
Go to Reconciliation Australia
Go to Lowitja O’Donoghue
Go to The Stolen Generations
Go to Bringing Them Home