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Pioneering litigant for the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal Australian Lorna Cubillo (1938-2020), was in kinship and residential care as a child.

Lorna Nelson was born at Banka Banka Station about 100 km north of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. Lorna’s family lived and worked on the cattle station and she was cared for by her Aunt Maisie and Granny Alice after her mother, Maude Nampijimpa, died when she was a baby. Lorna did not know her white father but was told he was Horace Nelson, son of Harold Nelson (1881-1947), the first Member of Parliament representing the Northern Territory.

I was always well cared for. I was surrounded by my tribal family. Food was always in good supply and I regularly drank goat’s milk, and ate vegetables, meat, and bush tucker. I could speak two traditional languages, Walpiri and Waramunga (Cubillo).

When Lorna was five years old, she was removed from her family by patrol officers and taken to the Alice Springs Telegraph Station where she had family. Her Aunt Maisie and Granny Alice came to visit. Lorna and her grandmother were soon moved on, first to an Aboriginal settlement called Seven Mile, and then to Phillip Creek Mission. At Phillip Creek, Lorna saw her grandmother, Granny Alice, only occasionally until her death. Aunt Maisie travelled to visit the child, but was always separated from her niece at night.

In June 1947, when Lorna was eight years of age, she and fifteen other children were told to get into the back of a truck because they were going on a picnic. Over the several days it took to get to the Bagot Aboriginal Reserve in Darwin where the Retta Dixon Home was located, young Lorna cared for a baby who was unwell with diarrhoea.

From 1947 until 1956, Lorna Nelson lived at the Retta Dixon home which was set up by the Aborigines Inland Mission and operated from 1946 to 1982. It featured in the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2013 to 2017 which found “dozens of cases of sexual and physical abuse were perpetrated by staff” (Zwartz).

We lived in a dormitory style building. For the first few months I lived in the dormitory, then I was placed in an area at the end of this dormitory. It was a gaol house, with bars and everything … I stayed in this dormitory until I was about 16 years old (Cubillo).

There were two missionaries responsible for Lorna’s care. Mrs Walters was kind, but her husband was physically and sexually abusive. Severe beatings were common at the Retta Dixon Home. Other punishments included solation and withholding of food. The children were shown no affection and were forbidden from speaking their native languages.

Lorna attended school in Darwin. She was a high achieving student but could only one year of high school. Then, she was instructed to “stay at Bagot and become a domestic servant working in the nursery, or in white homes in the district” (Cubillo).

Lorna married Joe Cubillo in 1957. She had already been staying with him and his foster parents for a while, refusing to go back to the Home.

In 2000, and along with Peter Gunner, Lorna Cubillo sued the Commonwealth Government in a landmark case which opened the way for other members of the Stolen Generation to seek financial compensation for their experiences.

In his decision, Justice O’Loughlin found that there was neither enough evidence to support a finding of a general policy of removal of ‘part-Aboriginal’ children’ … he concluded that the Commonwealth was not liable because the burden of proof had not been satisfied (Luker).

Lorna Cubillo received only $110,000 in damages for pain and suffering, plus interest.

Reported her nephew, academic Eddie Cubillo, on her death:

On the rare occasion Aunty Lorna spoke about the case, she told me that she felt the hearing made her out to be a liar. She told me that it hurt her deeply and that she had no reason to lie about what happened to her.

It took until 2008 before Lorna Cubillo, along with other members of the Stolen Generation, received an apology from the Federal Government for having been removed from her family. In 2017 inmates of the Retta Dixon Home were “awarded compensation after a successful class action against the Commonwealth” (Burney & Dreyfus).


 “Aborigines Inland Mission (1905-1998).” Find & Connect, 2021.

“Bagot Aboriginal Reserve (1938-1978?).” Find & Connect, 2019.

Brennan, Bridget and Dias Avani. “Abuse survivors welcome compensation settlement over Retta Dixon home in Darwin.” ABC News, 30 March 2017.

Burney, Linda and Dreyfus, Mark. “Statement on the passing of Lorna Cubillo.” Linda Burney MP, 2020.

Cubillo, Eddie. “A courageous and remarkable woman who should never be forgotten.” NITV, 17 September 2020.

Cubillo, Lorna. “Statement.” Royal Commission into Institutional Response to Child Sexual Abuse 2013 to 2017,

Cunneen, Chris and Grix, Julia. “The Limitations of Litigation in Stolen Generations Cases.” Institute of Criminology, University of Sydney Law School, 2004.

Guilliatt, Richard. “Their day in court.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 November 1999.

Hanifie, Sowaibah and Zwartz, Henry. “Lorna Cubillo, a pioneer who fought for the Stolen Generation to be compensated for abuses while in state-sponsored care, dies aged 81.” ABC News, 14 September 2020.

Luker, Trish. “Witness Whiteness: Law and Narrative Knowledge.” ACRAWSA Journal, 4 (2008): 1-14.

“Phillip Creek Native Settlement (1945-1956).” Find & Connect, 2018.

“Retta Dixon Home (1946-1982).” Find & Connect, 2021.

Rush, John. “Righting the Wrong: Achieving Reparations for the Stolen Generations.” Alternative Law Journal, 27 (2002): 257f.

Zwartz, Henry. “A child was sexually abused at a home for the Stolen Generations. 50 years later he’s still chasing an apology.” ABC News, 12 March 2020.

 Image from here