New exhibition Without Consent reveals the personal stories of Australia’s forced adoption past

"On the fifth day I was called into a back office to sign papers. When I refused to sign, I was told that if I signed I would be able to see my son and hold him. After I signed, that offer was taken off the table. I was then told that I was too young, there was no help and that I would be a bad mother and my baby would never forgive me."
- Linda (as told to the Senate Inquiry)

A new exhibition Without Consent: Australia's past adoption practices has opened at the Whitlam Institute's Margaret Whitlam Galleries (opens in a new window) in the Female Orphan School, Rydalmere.

Without Consent is much more than an exhibition. It is a significant contribution to the narrative of our national history, giving voice to an estimated 250,000 Australians affected by forced adoption policies and practices, largely occurring between 1950 and 1975.

A crèche in a large metropolitan hospital, 1953. A crèche in a large metropolitan hospital, 1953. Source:National Archives of Australia.

This touring exhibition of the National Archives of Australia provides an opportunity for these mothers, fathers, siblings, families and adopted persons to share their experiences in their own words, photographs and voice – many for the first time.

Their stories describe a dark period of Australian history, and begin to fill the silence created by the very few records kept by state and private institutions. Many of the accounts shared are those of unmarried mothers, whose babies were taken from them because of social stigma, and who subsequently were forced to live a lie for decades. Tragically, for some, their experience of forced adoption was a secret they took to their graves.

The exhibition and a website were developed following former Prime Minister Julia Gillard's national apology to those affected and in response to a specific recommendation by the Senate Community Affairs References Committee report entitled Commonwealth Contribution to Former Forced Adoption Policies and Practices. The exhibition challenges long-held assumptions and reveals the greater truth – that these forced adoptions were illegal and that the babies taken for adoption were dearly loved and wanted by their parents.

A nurse weighs a baby in Glen Innes, New South Wales, 1948. A nurse weighs a baby in Glen Innes, New South Wales, 1948. Source: National Archives of Australia.

Without Consent is a tribute to the courage and generosity of those who volunteered to share their experiences. The Whitlam Institute is privileged to be hosting the exhibition and invites you to share their remarkable – often moving – stories.

Without Consent: Australia's past adoption practices can be seen at the Margaret Whitlam Galleries (opens in a new window) from Friday 7 July - 22 September 2017.


Media contact: Jenna Beck

(02) 9685 9312, 0415 190 405,