A black and white photo of a woman.
A young Lily. Shared with permission

‘Never let you touch him’: Qld woman whose baby was taken during Forced Adoption era calls for Royal Commission

At sixteen, Queensland woman Lily Arthur was arrested in the middle of the night after police found out she was pregnant.

Her crime? “Being exposed to moral danger”, aka being sexually active in the 1960s.

Ms Arthur was forced into a Magdalene Laundry in Brisbane, a place which was meant to provide protection and employment to unmarried mothers or women who were poor, but in reality, saw them forced to work full-time hours for a pittance.

She was forced to remain there until she gave birth – a moment which left a painful stain on her life from then on.

“When I went into labour, I was tied down like an animal … I gave birth with my face pushed into the mattress with a nurse leaning on my shoulder, pushing me down so I couldn’t see what was going on,” she told the Secrets We Keep: Shame, Lies & Family podcast.

“I had my child ripped from my body and then hidden in a hospital ward for eight days before an employee forced me to sign a consent to their crimes.

“Then they allowed me to see him after they’d been feeding me a barrage of drugs, they wheeled him up to a window in the nursery, I had to hold up a card with Baby MacDonald on it.

“I had to hold up that card and they brought him to the window, and they let me see him for five minutes … they never let you touch him.”

Ms Arthur’s son was one of thousands of babies that were taken from their mothers at birth and adopted out to married couples in Australia, all because the women were unwed.

It’s a practice known as Forced Adoption, which was rife during the 1940s to 80s.

Not only were babies taken, but many mums were coerced into signing adoption papers, some were tricked and told they were signing hospital release forms, while others were told their sons and daughters had died at birth.

The practice occurred in every state, territory and corner of Australia, and to this day many women, children and families impacted feel they’ve never gotten the answers or justice they need, or the institutions complicit ever held to account.

While there was a Federal State Inquiry into Forced Adoption in 2011, and a national apology issued by then Prime Minister Julia Gillard a decade ago, Ms Arthur said little has changed, and many of the Inquiry’s 20 recommendations still not implemented to date.

She’s now fighting for a Royal Commission.

“There needs to be some truth-telling, I’d like to get the record set straight for a start,” she said.

“I’d like to think that somewhere along the line there might be some form of reparation, financial redress for those women that were never able to get up from that experience, that were broken and lived in poverty.

“All of the records that were created on a pack of lies should be destroyed, original birth certificates should be reinstated, and adoption certificates should be marked for what they are.”

If this topic interests you, search for the Secrets We Keep podcast on the LiSTNR app, or wherever you get your podcasts.