Shirley Colleen Smith, more popularly known as Mum Shirl, worked to improve the political and social lives of Aboriginal Australians throughout her life. Smith was honored by British, Australian, and indigenous organizations throughout her life, and recognized as one of Australias "living treasures" before her death in 1998.

Photograph by Robert Madden, National Geographic

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  • On February 13, 2008, the prime minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd, apologized to indigenous Australians for the “Stolen Generations.” From 1869 to 1969, children of indigenous people in Australia were often forcibly removed from their families. This was done by the government and church missions across the country. The acts were justified at the time as protective measures to care for neglected or abused children. The practice has been criticized, however, for its racially motivated nature.
    At least 100,000 children were removed from their homes and placed in state- or church-run orphanages. They were not allowed to speak their native languages or participate in their cultural customs. Though the practice ended in the mid-1900s, the effects of breaking apart families continues to haunt Aboriginal Australian societies.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    Aboriginal Australian Noun

    people and culture native to Australia and its surrounding islands. Also called Aborigine.

    custom Noun

    a way of doing things that has been handed down from one generation to the next.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    indigenous Adjective

    characteristic to or of a specific place.

    Encyclopedic Entry: indigenous
    language Noun

    set of sounds, gestures, or symbols that allows people to communicate.

    neglect Noun

    failure to pay attention.

    orphan Noun

    child with no parents.

    prime minister Noun

    leader of government in parliamentary systems of government.

    Stolen Generations Noun

    (1869-1969) Aboriginal Australian children taken from their families and raised under European supervision in group homes.