In Australia, they were sometimes called "the stolen generations": the tens of thousands of half-white, half-aboriginal children who, by government fiat, were forcibly separated from their parents and assimilated into white society.
Church groups, welfare officials and the police enforced the effort in the belief that they were saving the children from a life of poverty and ignorance. The policy ended by the early 1970s, thanks to changing social attitudes and political will regarding aboriginal rights.
The history of the stolen generations began to emerge more widely in the 1980s, triggering a painful national debate about the morality of what had been done in the name of education and social welfare.
Doris Pilkington Garimara -- who died April 10 in Perth, Australia, and was believed to be 76 -- wrote perhaps the most gripping and personal narrative about the assimilation process. Her 1996 book, "Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence," traced her mother's escape at 14 from a government-approved native settlement and her audacious, 1,000-mile trek home through the harsh wilderness in western Australia.
Director Phillip Noyce's acclaimed 2002 movie version of Pilkington's book reverberated deeply. It was a crucial factor in then-Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's decision to issue a formal apology in 2008 for "laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on . . . our fellow Australians." He also launched a state and federal agreement to dramatically improve health and life expectancy among the indigenous.
, 14-year-old Molly and two of her cousins were rounded up and sent on a journey by car, train and boat to the Moore River Native Settlement, near Perth. Their new home was like a prison, with bars on windows and padlocked doors.
Escape attempts were punishable offenses. But the night of her arrival, Molly planned her breakout, with the goal of reaching the rabbit-proof fence that would serve as a map home. The next day, the girls ran.
They slept in rabbit warrens and makeshift shelters, surviving from the land and occasional mutton sandwiches supplied by strangers.
With their footprints wiped away by heavy rains, they eluded trackers sent by the department of native affairs.
By the time they found the fence, they were midway home to Jigalong. The older of the two cousins surrendered, worn down by the cuts and sores from the terrain. Molly and her youngest cousin continued, finishing the trip nine weeks after they began it.