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Stolen Generations hero, Kwementyay Peter Gunner (1948-2005), was in residential care as a child.

Until he was removed from his mother in 1956, Peter lived at Utopia Station, 270 km north-east of Alice Springs in Central Australia.

I clearly remember how I was taken … back of a truck … and it was caged and I was taken to Alice Springs … the mothers were scared about the white people. Everybody’s hiding behind bushes…

Peter Gunner’s memory is consistent with a note written by a patrol officer visiting Utopia Station in April 1955, that the “children on Utopia all disappear as quickly as possible… it might be added that they are all frightened that they will be taken away to the Bungalow School (cited by Rush).

Between 1956 and 1963, Peter lived at the St Mary’s Church of England Hostel in Alice Springs (previously the Mount Blatherskite Hostel), which was run by the Australian Board of Missions. Although the above patrol officer had promised the boy could return home during school holidays, the promise was not honoured; he did not see his mother again until he was twenty years of age.

In 1996, Peter Gunner, along with Lorna Cubillo and in what has been called “a test case on the federal government’s liability for the ‘Stolen Generations'” (Head), began proceedings against the Commonwealth of Australia. They were represented by the Northern Australia Aboriginal Legal Service, “claiming damages for wrongful imprisonment and deprivation of liberty, negligence, breach of statutory duty and breach of fiduciary duty” (Cunneen & Grix, p. 8).

The trial judge Maurice O’Loughlin in August 2000 found that the young Peter had not been wrongfully imprisoned because his mother had given consent to his removal.

The judge found the thumbprint on [a document called ‘Form of Consent by a Parent’] to be a consent. A consent by a mother who could write no English and, on any of the evidence, could speak little. This was a consent by a mother who had never travelled beyond the lands of her clan (Rush, 2002).

Peter Gunner was, however, awarded damages for “loss of Aboriginal culture” and for damages caused by his removal to St Mary’s and detention there (Cunneen & Grix, p. 21), in addition to being sexually assaulted by a Mr Constable. “St Mary’s”, the trial judge found, “failed in its management and its care for the children; it also failed in that it did not provide proper and adequate facilities based on the standards of the day” (cited by Rush, 2002).

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Social Justice Commissioner at the time, Dr Bill Jonas, expressed his disappointment at the outcome, and said that a reparations schemes, as set out in the Bringing them Home Report (1997), was needed.

Peter Gunner died in 2005 at Utopia in Central Australia. Although he never received an apology from the Federal Government of Australia for the hurt caused by their policy of removing and detaining First Nations children, his case was “a moral victory”, his friend and fellow Stolen Generations member, Harold Furber said, because “it gave the message across Australia and internationally that there were people here badly mistreated [and] taken away from their families.”


“Court decision demonstrates need for reparations scheme.” Australian Human Rights Commission, 2000.

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.

Head, Mike. “An inevitable outcome. Australian court dismisses “Stolen Generations” test case.” International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) World Socialist, 2000.

O’Connor, Pam. “History on trial: Cubillo and Gunner v The Commonwealth of Australia.” Alternative Law Journal, vol.26, no.1 (2001).

Rush, John. “Righting the Wrong: Achieving Reparations for the Stolen Generations.” Alternative Law Journal, vol. 27, no.6 (2002): 257.

Rush, John. “Cubillo and Gunner Revisited: A Question of National Character.” Australian Indigenous Law Review, no.12 (2008): 25-31.

“St Mary’s Hostel (1947-1972).” Find & Connect, 2020.

“The Bungalow (1914 – 1942).” Find & Connect, 2021.

“Tributes flow for Stolen Generations’ hero.” ABC News, 5 April 2005.

“Tributes pour in for Stolen Generations crusader” The Age, 6 April 2005.