An Albany woman has shared her story of being part of the forced adoption era and how she is using art therapy to overcome decades of childhood trauma. Jen McRae describes herself as a survivor of a “terrible time in history for women” known as the forced adoption era. From the 1940s to the 1980s, thousands of unwed Indigenous and non-Indigenous young women had their newborns forcibly removed from their care and “given” to married couples. Like hundreds of others in WA, Ms McRae was taken from her mother after birth and forced into life with a foster family who lived on a farm in Porongurup. She didn’t reunite with her birth mother until her late teens. Ms McRae paused as she thought about the emotional reunion with her mother and described it as a “relief”. “It did settle that curiosity ... it was fabulous to know I had family — we’ve been in contact ever since,” she said. “It’s been a very long journey and we will probably never be able to replace those lost decades. “My mum didn’t get to see me grow up or I didn’t get to experience her being my mother. “You can’t fill that with lost memories — it’s not possible.” Now, 30 years on, Ms McRae has discovered the process of art therapy can help her heal. Despite being “no van Gogh”, Ms McRae meets with Albany art therapist Heather Barker once a month and freely explores her past with a creative flair. “We talk a lot, I tell her my story. I sometimes remember snippets of childhood memories, something I’ve forgotten or part-remembered through drawing, or an activity wakes them up,” she said. “I get into the zone creating colour. It surprises you where you end up or what you end up thinking about. It operates another part of the brain I don’t use often. It’s a way of unleashing some buried trauma and finding a healthy way to unravel all of that.” According to the Federal Department of Social Services, as many as 150,000 babies were the subject of forced adoption in Australia from 1951-1975. “A lot of what was going on was under a lot of duress — the mothers were treated with absolute cruelty,” Ms McRae said. Ms McRae’s biological mother was put on a train from Albany to Perth, then accommodated at a mothers’ home in Kensington, where she was “disconnected from friends and family” until her daughter was born and whisked away. “I grew up on a farm in Porongurup. My adoptive parents were farmers and I had an adopted sister so it was the four of us out there. It was an idyllic life in that sense,” she said. “From age three I knew I was adopted ... from the moment I knew I had another family somewhere, the curiosity and need to know where they were stayed with me until I found her when I was nearly 20.” In October 2010, the WA Government issued a formal apology for adoption practices, followed by a formal apology by the Federal Government in March 2013. Now, Ms McRae is calling on the State Government to launch a WA-specific inquiry into forced adoption practices. More than 500 people have signed a petition started by Ms McRae calling for an inquiry for several reasons, including apologies from institutions involved in the forced adoptions, and free services to help reconnect adoptees and their biological families. To see the petition, visit bit.ly/3xC1XIk.