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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 - aborigines, Australian History, civics and citizenship, discrimination, family, human rights, identity, Indigenous Australia, inequality, racism, remote areas, 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.

Curriculum Focus


Students will:

  • discuss and reflect upon the historical importance and influence of Aboriginal rights activist, Lowitja O’Donoghue, and the extent to which this illuminates and draws attention to the wider “Stolen Generation” issue in Australian history since European colonisation.
  • select and interpret information, formatting and aiming it at a defined, specific audience, using computer tools and technology.
  • research and adapt relevant information to a particular form of history presentation.
  • work collaboratively to research, plan and construct a media display of selective historical information.
  • demonstrate an understanding of a major historical document, critique and carry out an assessment and analysis of the document’s wider ramifications, and construct a report with additional recommendations.

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, write and edit a 500-word history biography about Lowitja O’Donoghue for a magazine aimed at young teenagers, drawing attention to her importance as a campaigner for the rights of Indigenous Australians. Ensure you select relevant information, giving it due weight and prominance, and that it is written in your own words. Use desktop publishing software to format your presentation.
  3. Read the Background Information for this video clip, carry out further research, then construct an annotated timeline of the history of the governmental removal of children from their Indigenous parents and communities, from its beginnings through to the Bringing Them Home report in 1997, and beyond. Include timeline references to where Lowitja O’Donoghue’s story fits into this scheme.
  4. In pairs research the findings of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report, then prepare an illustrated poster display of the findings and recommendations.
  5. Following from the previous activity, in pairs or small groups carry out further research then draft a report examining the extent to which the recommendations of the Bringing Them Home document have been put into practice. Include considered arguement as to the success of the recommendations, and your own recommendations for future development on this general question.

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