Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made an emotional apology on Monday to half-a-million "Forgotten Australians", including British child migrants, who faced abuse and neglect in care homes over decades.
Rudd, echoing his historic 2008 statement to Australia's Aborigines, addressed about 1,000 victims of abuse in orphanages and institutions between 1930 and 1970 who packed Parliament House.
"We come together today to offer our nation's apology. To say to you, the Forgotten Australians, and those who were sent to our shores as children without their consent, that we are sorry," he said.
"Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care.
"Sorry for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost.
Childhoods spent instead in austere and authoritarian places where names were replaced by numbers, spontaneous play by regimented routine, the joy of learning by the repetitive drudgery of menial work."
A 2004 Senate inquiry recommended the apology to those who suffered sex abuse, violence and emotional trauma in state and church-run orphanages, foster homes and institutions.
The probe unearthed hundreds of disturbing stories of children placed in care due to family breakdown, because their mothers were unmarried or because they were considered uncontrollable.
It found widespread assault and emotional, physical and sexual abuse, as well as neglect, humiliation and the deprivation of food, education and medical care.
"The truth is, this is an ugly story. The truth is great evil has been done," Rudd told Parliament House.
The statement has already made waves in Britain where Prime Minister Gordon Brown is set to apologise for sending more than 130,000 poor children to Australia and other former colonies.