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Commemorating childhood loss and trauma: survivor memorials in Australia

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Alison Atkinson-PhillipsORCiD


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This article considers the commemoration of the institutional abuse of children within Australia. National inquiries have drawn public attention to experiences of childhood loss and trauma associated with institutional abuse, and memorials are increasingly seen as a way such experiences can be acknowledged and that survivors can be provided with a space for ‘healing’ of some kind. Drawing on extensive research into the memorials to lived experiences created in Australia since 1985-2015, this paper will outline the different processes and power structures that have led to the creation of memorials to survivors of childhood abuse. This includes the entanglements of national inquiries and their recommendations; the move towards public memorialisation of experience; and the complexities of decision-making about location and place. I compare examples of memorialisation at sites of former orphanages and care homes with others created in public spaces and with direct government input. I argue that in the creation of memorials that acknowledge childhood trauma, good intentions must be matched by good processes that centre the needs of survivors.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Atkinson-Phillips A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Historic Environment

Year: 2021

Volume: 32

Issue: 2

Pages: 54-67

Print publication date: 13/06/2021

Acceptance date: 27/07/2020

ISSN (print): 0726-6715

Publisher: Australia ICOMOS