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New books tells harrowing story of forced adoption

Dianne Bortoletto -

It is estimated that 150,000 adoptions took place between 1950 and 1975 in Australia, with one in 15 of those forced.

Proud Dhungatti woman Lynda Holden tells her own heartbreaking story in her new book – co-authored with Jo Tuscano - This Is Where You Have To Go.

In 1970, Ms Holden was eighteen, unmarried and pregnant when she was forced to give her baby up for adoption. Sent by a doctor, with the firm instruction, "This is where you have to go", to a Catholic girls' home for unmarried mothers, she was told she'd have no hope of keeping her baby because she was Aboriginal.

Ms Holden went on to marry and have a further four children, but she never forgot her first beautiful baby boy.

Ms Holden's story is the driving force behind her ongoing fight for justice and the prevention of removing Aboriginal children from their parents and families.

She was the first Indigenous woman to sue the Catholic church over forced adoption and win.

The layers of lies she was told were deliberate and tricked her to give up her son and worse, prevented her from finding him.

"The first lie was that they made me sign a form, covering the word 'adoption' but told me it was so they could look after my son while I sorted out a few things," Ms Holden said.

"They told me was my son was sent overseas, he wasn't, he was in Bateau Bay near Eden in New South Wales, and they changed my family history to document that my parents – who were married for 25 years until my father died in 1975 – were divorced and that I didn't get along with my own mother.

"When I returned back to the Sisters of Mercy to pick up my son, it was just as well that the sister was behind a door when she told me he was sent overseas or I would've done time, I was so angry."

Lynda Holden and her mother in 1976. Image: supplied.

Ms Holden said that while she was preparing to sue the Church, one of the barristers suggested her story could become a book, and introduced her to his wife Jo Tuscano, the co-author.

After 26 years, Ms Holden finally found and contacted her son, however, it wasn't the much-wished-for reunion she'd hoped for. It didn't go well. Not only was her son angry about being given up for adoption, he was also unaware of his Aboriginal heritage.

When Ms Holden received copies of the paperwork from the adoption, looking for proof of her attempts to keep her son, the web of lies was exposed: lies about her family, the baby's father, her 'consent' to adopt, and her Aboriginal heritage, and she saw that her signature had been forged.

Ms Holden herself was taken from her parents when she was just eight years old, along with her sister and brother. After 18 months living in an orphanage, she and her sister were returned to her family, but her brother was not. He was adopted to a wealthy family and attended a private school but never worked a day in his life, became an addict and had his own children taken into care.

"My mother was told she was bad mother, that she wasn't doing a good job looking after us, and with my father away working in Gosford, she was not able to defend herself because she didn't know her rights," Ms Holden said.

"Aboriginal people need to know their rights, and they need to fight for their rights - I'm working on a program with Telstra to help with that."

A qualified lawyer, nurse and midwife, Ms Holden is on a mission to expose the wrongs of the past and the ongoing impact of forced adoptions in Australia.

In her powerful memoir, Ms Holden sheds light on the long-term consequences of the practice of forced adoption on mothers, children and their families.

On 21 March 2013, Prime Minister Julia Gillard apologised on behalf of the Australian Government to people affected by forced adoption or removal policies and practices.

Although the past is painful, Ms Holden has her sights fixed firmly on the future for the betterment of Aboriginal people. And she might write another book about a girl at the orphanage gates.

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