Since beginning my tours of South East Queensland libraries, it has amazed me just how many families have been touched by adoption. At every author talk, there is plenty of discussion – and sometimes revelations – about how government policy of the 1950s, 60s and 70s affected people’s lives.
Why was it secret, and why was it done at all?
For those who don’t remember the 70s, I’ll paint a little picture based on the experiences of others.
Parental expectations: Complete Junior certificate (Year 10), passing commercial subjects such as typing, bookkeeping, and shorthand. Work in an office until age 21, upon which marry a young man who has a trade. Have 2 children and stay at home to look after them. But most importantly, DO NOT GET PREGNANT.
Teenagers and sex education: Rely on stories told behind the girl’s dunnies about where babies come from and how to prevent them. These include not sitting on the toilet seat after a boy, jumping up and down or having a hot bath after sex to avoid pregnancy. Condoms, if used at all, came out of the boy’s glove-box. Sometimes they’d been kept there for years and the rubber had perished. If a single girl took the initiative and got a prescription for the pill (which was only widely available from the late 1960s), she was likely to be the brunt of ridicule from the pharmacist who filled the script.
Support for girls who got pregnant: Locked away in an institution or ‘naughty girls’ home’ before the baby bump showed. Parents lied about where their daughters were. Some girls went on ‘working holidays’ in New Zealand or other cities of Australia to avoid putting shame on their families. Many charitable institutions made them do unpaid work, such as hard labour in a commercial laundry, for their board and keep. There was no Supporting Parents Benefit, women earned two-thirds of the male wage for doing the same work, there was no child-care apart from informal arrangements between women.
Forced adoption: Unmarried mothers were told practically anything to get them to give up their babies, such as ‘How could you possibly support a child?’, ‘The only work you’ll get will be as a prostitute. That’s all you’re qualified for.’
Want to know more? Buy a copy of ‘Baby Farm’ and enjoy the 1970s … for better and for worse. Happy reading.