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Survivors call for truth after 'secret' graves found

Dean Lewins/AAP PHOTOS

Survivors of the Stolen Generations are calling for the truth to come out after possible hidden graves were found in the grounds of a notorious boys home near Kempsey on NSW's mid north coast.

Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home was run by the NSW government from 1924 to 1970, housing Aboriginal boys forcibly removed from their families and deliberately reprogrammed to assimilate them into white Australian society.

Documentary evidence and testimonies from past residents have revealed it was a brutal and dehumanising place, with boys called by numbers rather than names, and routinely abused, physically, sexually, psychologically and culturally.

In December 2021, at the request of survivors, the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs engaged archaeologists to conduct a search of the site, which is owned by Kempsey Local Aboriginal Land Council, using ground-penetrating radar.

Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation board member Uncle Roger Jarrett said they wanted all identified anomalies to be immediately prioritised for excavation, and for further surveys to search for additional disturbances.

"It's gotta be published because the truth has gotta come out," he said.

"For the future, it's important to get the truth done, because a lot of stuff has been covered over by the government.

"For our justice and for our healing for all our brothers."

Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney backed the call for further investigation, saying claims of possible secret burial sites were "deeply disturbing".

"Fifteen years after the Apology to the Stolen Generations we are still coming to grips with our history," she said.

The boys sent to Kinchela were among thousands of Aboriginal children across Australia systematically kidnapped from their families and communities under accepted government and church policies and practices.

They became known as the Stolen Generations.

NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Harris said the department would continue to work alongside Stolen Generations survivor organisations to learn more about history and healing for Aboriginal families and communities.

"Missing children forms an important and sensitive part of this commitment," he said.

Mr Harris said Aboriginal Affairs NSW has not been granted permission to share the report and has no authority to move forward on any excavation work without express permission of the landowners and the necessary legal approvals.

Ian Hamm, who chairs the Healing Foundation's Stolen Generations reference group, said it wasn't a stretch to imagine children died and were buried in unmarked graves, given the brutality meted out at the home.

"There is a lot more work required in understanding the story of the stolen children," he said.

Mr Hamm pointed to Canada and Ireland, where mass graves of children have been found on the grounds of institutions.

"I think what this has done is awoken Australia to the possibility that the treatment of stolen children - even how they were treated in death - is still unresolved and unfinished business," he said.

Mr Hamm, a Stolen Generations survivor, said the discovery would have a profound effect on all Aboriginal people.

"I think what makes this even more confronting right now is that we're six weeks out from a referendum, when, for the second time, our worth as human beings is going to be judged," he said.

"Clearly, our worth as human beings a couple of generations ago wasn't very high."

Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation chair Uncle James Michael 'Widdy' Welsh told NITV that further investigation was needed to reveal the truth of what happened at the institution.

"This is truth-telling," he said.

"Their policies took us away from our families.

"I want their policies to give us back our heritage and build back our families.

"We know what works for us, the government needs to give us resources so we can make our families and communities strong again."