Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Apology to Australian Aborigines

I wanted to share this with my non Aussie readers. Our new Prime Minister apologised to our Aborigines today for the stolen generations. I have always felt sorry for them since I was a kid because of how we invaded their country and treated them, but only until a few years ago I never knew we were stealing their kids. It's not exactly something they taught you in school history lessons!

What is worse is that, this is pretty recent, Aborigines my age and even younger were stolen from their families up until the mid 70's, I find that all very barbaric and disgusting. There was a touching movie called Rabbit-Proof Fence that I think everyone should see.

Of course, this has been very controversial with our previous Prime Minister refusing to apologise. Frankly, I don't see the big deal, regardless of what this may mean compensation wise, what our previous governments and people involved did was wrong, very, very, wrong and we should say that to them, give them that validation for what happened to them. I know, I sure as heck will never understand why this happened and I am not Aboriginal!

Our opposition leader then did an apology speech and I wish he never spoke, he turned it into a speech about our good intentions back then and how now there are some horrible things such as the raping of young children happening in the Aboriginal communities up north. Yes it is something that desperately needs to be addressed but not today. Today is a day where we apologise for non Aboriginal people committing such crimes.

Here's a few quotes I found on a page showing children's experiences during that time. There is much worse but this is a "G" rated blog:

"Y'know, I can remember we used to just talk lingo. [In the Home] they used to tell us not to talk that language, that it's devil's language. And they'd wash our mouths with soap. We sorta had to sit down with Bible language all the time. So it sorta wiped out all our language that we knew." Confidential evidence 170, South Australia: woman taken from her parents with her 3 sisters when the family, who worked and resided on a pastoral station, came into town to collect stores; placed at Umewarra Mission.

"If we got letters, you'd end up with usually `the weather's fine', `we love you' and `from your loving mother' or whatever. We didn't hear or see what was written in between. And that was one way they kept us away from our families. They'd turn around and say to you, `See, they don't care about you'. Later on, when I left the home, I asked my mother, `How come you didn't write letters?' She said, 'But we did'. I said, `Well, we never got them'. We were all rostered to do work and one of the girls was doing Matron's office, and there was all these letters that the girls had written back to the parents and family - the answers were all in the garbage bin. And they were wondering why we didn't write. That was one way they stopped us keeping in contact with our families. Then they had the hide to turn around and say, `They don't love you. They don't care about you'." Confidential evidence 450, New South Wales: woman removed at 2 years in the 1940s, first to Bomaderry Children's Home, then to Cootamundra Girls' Home; now working to assist former Cootamundra inmates.

"I remember this woman saying to me, `Your mother's dead, you've got no mother now. That's why you're here with us'. Then about two years after that my mother and my mother's sister all came to The Bungalow but they weren't allowed to visit us because they were black. They had to sneak around onto the hills. Each mother was picking out which they think was their children. And this other girl said, `Your mother up there'. And because they told me that she was dead, I said, `No, that's not my mother. I haven't got a black mother'." Confidential evidence 544, Northern Territory: woman removed to The Bungalow, Alice Springs, at 5 years in the 1930s; later spent time at Croker Island Mission.

"They changed our names, they changed our religion, they changed our date of birth, they did all that. That's why today, a lot of them don't know who they are, where they're from. We've got to watch today that brothers aren't marrying sisters; because of the Government. Children were taken from interstate, and they were just put everywhere." Confidential evidence 450, New South Wales.

"I grew up sadly not knowing one Aboriginal person and the view that was given to me was one of fear towards [my] people. I was told not to have anything to do with them as they were dirty, lived in shabby conditions and, of course, drank to excess. Not once was I told that I was of Aboriginal descent. I was told that with my features I was from some Island and they [foster family] knew nothing of my family or the circumstances." Confidential submission 483, South Australia: woman removed to a children's home at 18 months in the 1960s and subsequently fostered by the caretakers.

"When I was 14 years old and going to these foster people, I remember the welfare officer sitting down and they were having a cup of tea and talking about how they was hoping our race would die out. And that I was fair enough, I was a half-caste and I would automatically live with a white person and get married. Because the system would make sure that no-one would marry an Aborigine person anyhow. And then my children would automatically be fairer, quarter-caste, and then the next generation would be white and we would be bred out. I remember when she was discussing this with my foster people, I remember thinking - because I had no concept of what it all meant - I remember thinking, `That's a good idea, because all the Aborigines are poor" Confidential evidence 613, New South Wales: woman removed to Bomaderry Children's Home as a baby in the 1940s; foster placement organised from Cootamundra broke down after 17 months and she was then placed in various work situations.

... the consistent theme for post-removal memories is the lack of love, the strict, often cruel, treatment by adults, the constantly disparaging remarks about Aboriginality - and the fact that the child should be showing more gratitude for having been taken from all that - and of course, the terrible loneliness and longing to return to family and community. Some commented that "I thought I was in a nightmare". "I couldn't work out what I'd done wrong to deserve this". "It was like being in prison". "It was very strict - you weren't allowed to do anything" (submission 20 page 6).

"There was no food, nothing. We was all huddled up in a room ... like a little puppy-dog ... on the floor ... Sometimes at night time we'd cry with hunger, no food ... We had to scrounge in the town dump, eating old bread, smashing tomato sauce bottles, licking them. Half of the time the food we got was from the rubbish dump" Confidential evidence 549, Northern Territory: man removed to Kahlin Compound at 3 years in the 1930s; subsequently placed at The Bungalow.

"I've seen girls naked, strapped to chairs and whipped. We've all been through the locking up period, locked in dark rooms. I had a problem of fainting when I was growing up and I got belted every time I fainted and this is belted, not just on the hands or nothing. I've seen my sister dragged by the hair into those block rooms and belted because she's trying to protect me ... How could this be for my own good? Please tell me." Confidential evidence 8, New South Wales: woman removed to Cootamundra Girls' Home in the 1940s.

Girls were more at risk than boys. For girls in particular the risk of sexual assault in a foster placement was far greater than in any other.

Almost one in ten boys and just over one in ten girls allege they were sexually abused in a children's institution.

"We were totally isolated in the Home. You never knew anything of the outside world. We didn't know if that was right or wrong. Every time I knew she was coming, when matron was going on holidays, I would beg to matron not to go, because I knew she'd be there. She was always there - in my life, in my life in the Home. Her bedroom used to open out onto the dormitory ... I'd hear my name being called ... It was always me ... One night I hid under the bed. I held onto the bed and she pulled me out and flogged me with the strap. She is my biggest memory of that home." Confidential evidence 10, Queensland: NSW woman removed to Cootamundra Girls' Home in the 1940s.

"When I was at Castledare I was badly interfered with by one of those brothers. I still know the room [in the church]. I was taken, selectively taken, and I was interfered with by one of those brothers. And if you didn't respond in a way, then you were hit, you were hit. I never told anyone that." Confidential evidence 679, Western Australia: man removed at birth in the 1940s.

"I ran away because my foster father used to tamper with me and I'd just had enough. I went to the police but they didn't believe me. So she [foster mother] just thought I was a wild child and she put me in one of those hostels and none of them believed me - I was the liar. So I've never talked about it to anyone. I don't go about telling lies, especially big lies like that." Confidential evidence 214, Victoria: woman removed at 7 years in the 1960s.

"I led a very lost, confused, sad, empty childhood, as my foster father molested me. He would masturbate in front of me, touch my private parts, and get me to touch his. I remember once having a bath with my clothes on `cause I was too scared to take them off. I was scared of the dark `cause my foster father would often come at night. I was scared to go to the outside toilet as he would often stop me on the way back from the toilet. So I would often wet the bed `cause I didn't want to get out of bed. I was scared to tell anyone `cause I once attempted to tell the local Priest at the Catholic church and he told me to say ten Hail Mary's for telling lies. So I thought this was how `normal' non-Aboriginal families were. I was taken to various doctors who diagnosed me as `uncontrollable' or `lacking in intelligence'." Confidential submission 788, New South Wales: woman removed at 3 years in 1946; experienced two foster placements and a number of institutional placements.

It has been known for years that these unfortunate people are exploited. Girls of 12, 14 and 15 years of age have been hired out to stations and have become pregnant. Young male aborigines who have been sent to stations receive no payment for their services ... Some are paid as little as sixpence a week pocket money and a small sum is retained on their behalf by the Board. In some instances they have difficulty later in recovering that amount from the Board (quoted in NSW Government submission page 41).

One NSW employer pursued her servant's former employer with rape charges. `In 1940 she arranged for a state ward formerly in her charge to sue her [previous] employer for assault' (Read 1994 page 8). This servant, a Koori girl of only 16 at the time the allegations were made public, had been raped by her previous employer. This was confirmed by two subsequent medical examinations. Nevertheless, the Aborigines Protection Board officials to whom the matter was reported `accused the girl of being a "sexual maniac" who had lived with "dozens of men" ` (Hankins 1982 page 4.6.6). In 1941 this young woman was `committed to Parramatta Mental Hospital where she remained for 21 years until the authorities discharged her as having no reason to remain' (Read 1994 page 8). No charges were ever laid against her attacker.

In WA even the Chief Protector himself recognised the sufferings of many of the children he had placed `in service'.

"A good home with a kindly mistress is heaven to a coloured girl of the right type, yet failures are often due to the attitude of employers and their families. It does not help matters much to have the children in a family refer to their mother's coloured help as a `dirty black nigger' or a `black bitch' - such are amongst the complaints that the girls used to bring to me. One lad told me that when he asked for his wages, the Boss said, `What does a black -- like you want with money, you ought to be shot' ... I must confess that as regards some of the homes I personally visited, I could not blame the employee, indeed I felt like apologising to him for being the means of placing him in such a position" (Neville 1947 page 190).

"We didn't have a clue where we came from. We thought the Sisters were our parents. They didn't tell anybody - any of the kids - where they came from.Babies were coming in nearly every day. Some kids came in at two, three, four days old - not months - but days. They were just placed in the home and it was run by Christian women and all the kids thought it was one big family. We didn't know what it meant by `parents' cause we didn't have parents and we thought those women were our mothers.

When you got to a certain age - like I got to 10 years old ... they just told us we were going on a train trip ... We all lined up with our little ports [school cases] with a bible inside. That's all that was in the ports, see. We really treasured that - we thought it was a good thing that we had something... the old man from La Perouse took us from Sydney - well actually from Bomaderry to Kinchela Boys' Home. That's when our problems really started - you know!

This is where we learned that we weren't white.

First of all they took you in through these iron gates and took our little ports [suitcases] off us. Stick it in the fire with your little bible inside. They took us around to a room and shaved our hair off ... They gave you your clothes and stamped a number on them... They never called you by your name; they called you by your number. That number was stamped on everything.

If we answered an attendant back we were `sent up the line'. Now I don't know if you can imagine, 79 boys punching the hell out of you - just knuckling you. Even your brother, your cousin." Confidential evidence 436, New South Wales.

"They [foster family] started to get very nasty towards me. Every time I would sit down at the table for meals [they] would always have something to say to me: about my manners at the table, how to sit, how to chew, how to eat, when to eat. If I would make a mistake they would pull my hair bending my head until it hurt. I would cry saying sorry. I couldn't understand them. It seemed like I was always in the wrong. I started to feel very uncomfortable. I kept crying and thinking about my family. I wanted to go home. I was sick and tired of this sort of life. I hated it. I was very upset with this family. I couldn't even see anybody to tell them what was happening. A lady from the welfare came to see me. I told her how I was feeling. She just took no notice of me and done her reports saying I was very happy with [them]. I just had to put up with it all. So one day I went to Port Adelaide and stole a pocket knife from one of the stores just so I could get into trouble and leave this family." Confidential evidence 253, South Australia: man removed at 7 years in the 1950s; his second foster family treated him well and assisted his reunion with his natural father.

"I was very fortunate that when I was removed, I was with very loving and caring parents. The love was mutual ... My foster mother used to take me and my sister to town. Mum used to always walk through Victoria Square and say to us, `Let's see if any of these are your uncles'. My sister and I used to get real shamed. I used to go home and cry because I used to get so frightened and could never understand why my mum would do this to us, when it made us upset. Only when I was near 29 did I realise why ... I know my foster parents were the type of people that always understood that I needed to know my roots, who I was, where I was born, who my parents were and my identity ... I remember one day I went home to my foster father and stated that I had heard that my natural father was a drunk. My foster father told me you shouldn't listen to other people: `You judge him for yourself, taking into account the tragedy, that someday you will understand'." Confidential submission 252, South Australia: woman fostered at 4 years in the 1960s.

"The authorities said I was removed from my parents so I could receive an education but the fact is the nuns never gave me that education. I didn't receive an education. I was very neglected." Quoted by WA Aboriginal Legal Service submission 127 on page 49.

"I don't know who decided to educate the Aboriginal people but the standard was low in these mission areas. I started school at the age of eight at grade 1, no pre-school. I attended school for six years, the sixth year we attended grade 4, then after that we left school, probably 14 years old." Confidential submission 129, Queensland: man removed to Cherbourg in the 1940s.

What education was provided generally aimed at completion of their schooling at the level achieved by a ten year old child in the State education system. It emphasised domestic science and manual training, thus preparing the children for a future as menial workers within the government or mission communities or as cheap labour in the wider community (Loos and Osanai 1993 page 20).

"I finished school in fifth grade. I think I was 17. I did alright at school but they wouldn't allow us to go on. They wouldn't allow us to be anything. I would have liked to be a nurse or something but when I finished school they sent me to work as a domestic on stations." Confidential submission 277, Queensland: woman removed at 7 years in 1934 to the dormitory on Palm Island.
Fifth grade here is primary school...

"I wanted to be a nurse, only to be told that I was nothing but an immoral black lubra, and I was only fit to work on cattle and sheep properties ... I strived every year from grade 5 up until grade 8 to get that perfect 100% mark in my exams at the end of each year, which I did succeed in, only to be knocked back by saying that I wasn't fit to do these things ... Our education was really to train us to be domestics and to take orders." Confidential submission 109, Queensland: woman removed at 5 years in 1948 to the dormitory on Palm Island.

"I was the best in the class, I came first in all the subjects. I was 15 when I got into 2nd year and I wanted to ... continue in school, but I wasn't allowed to, because they didn't think I had the brains, so I was taken out of school and that's when I was sent out to farms just to do housework." Woman removed to Cootamundra, NSW, quoted by Hankins 1982 on page 4.2.5.

"They sent me when I was 16 from Parramatta Girls' Home out to M, a property 137 miles from Nyngan. We never had a holiday. We weren't allowed to go into town with them. If you did go in or go anywhere and you saw any Aboriginal people, you weren't allowed to speak to them. So you had to live that isolated life. We never, ever got our wages or anything like that. It was banked for us. And when we were 21 we were supposed to get this money, you see. We never got any of that money ever. And that's what I wonder: where could that money have went? Or why didn't we get it?" Confidential evidence 11, Queensland: NSW woman removed to Cootamundra at 2 or 3 years in the 1940s, spending the ages of 13-16 in Parramatta Girls' Home.

"[Chief Protector] Neville got our money. We were working on a station. Some of them worked six or seven years. And the money come down here to that office here in Wellington St [Perth]. When I finished up, coming back from the Territory, I told who I was and I said, `There's money supposed to be here'. I got 30 shillings - one pound ten - a red, white and blue blanket, and a pass to the Settlement [Moore River]. I said, `Hey, I don't want your pass to the Settlement. I can go to the Settlement. That's my home'."Confidential evidence 333, Western Australia: man removed to Sister Kate's Orphanage in 1933 and probably working during the 1940s.

It has been argued that early loss of a mother or prolonged separation from her before age 11 is conducive to subsequent depression, choice of an inappropriate partner, and difficulties in parenting the next generation. Anti-social activity, violence, depression and suicide have also been suggested as likely results of the severe disruption of affectional bonds (Australian Association of Infant Mental Health submission 699 page 3 citing Bowlby 1988 page 174; supported by Dr Nick Kowalenko, Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW, evidence 740).

"I remember when my sister come down and visited me and I was reaching out. There was no-one there. I was just reaching out and I could see her standing there and I couldn't tell her that I'd been raped. And I never told anyone for years and years. And I've had this all inside me for years and years and years. I've been sexually abused, harassed, and then finally raped, y'know, and I've never had anyone to talk to about it ... nobody, no father, no mother, no-one. We had no-one to guide us. I felt so isolated, alienated. And I just had no-one. That's why I hit the booze. None of that family bonding, nurturing - nothing. We had nothing." Confidential evidence 248, South Australia: woman removed as a baby in the 1940s to Colebrook; raped at 15 years in a work placement organised by Colebrook.

"There's still a lot of unresolved issues within me. One of the biggest ones is I cannot really love anyone no more. I'm sick of being hurt. Every time I used to get close to anyone they were just taken away from me. The other fact is, if I did meet someone, I don't want to have children, cos I'm frightened the welfare system would come back and take my children. Confidential evidence 528, New South Wales: man removed at 8 years in the 1970s; suffered sexual abuse in both the orphanage and foster homes organised by the church. It's wrecking our relationship and the thing is that I just don't trust anybody half the time in my life because I don't know whether they're going to be there one minute or gone the next." Confidential evidence 379, South Australia: woman fostered at 9 years in the 1970s.

"When I first met my mother - when I was 14 - she wasn't what they said she was. They made her sound like she was stupid, you know, they made her sound so bad. And when I saw her she was so beautiful. Mum said, `My baby's been crying' and she walked into the room and she stood there and I walked into my - I walked into my mother and we hugged and this hot, hot rush just from the tip of my toes up to my head filled every part of my body - so hot. That was my first feeling of love and it only could come from my mum. I was so happy and that was the last time I got to see her. When my mum passed away I went to her funeral, which is stupid because I'm allowed to go see her at her funeral but I couldn't have that when she requested me. They wouldn't let me have her." Confidential evidence 139, Victoria: removed 1967; witness's mother died two years after their first and only meeting.

And then, you have their families, having your child(ren) ripped away from you, it must have been so devastating, how could you live with something like that.

The interesting thing was that he was such a great provider ... He was a great provider and had a great name and a great reputation. Now, when this intrusion occurred it had a devastating impact upon him and upon all those values that he believed in and that he put in place in his life which included us, and so therefore I think the effect upon Dad was so devastating. And when that destruction occurred, which was the destruction of his own personal private family which included us, it had a very strong devastating effect upon him, so much so that he never ever recovered from the trauma that had occurred ...
Progressively the shattering effect continued in my father's life to the point that he couldn't see the sense in reuniting the family again. He had lost all confidence as a parent and as an adult in having the ability to be able to reunite our family. Confidential evidence 265, Victoria: woman removed with her sisters from their father and grandmother in the 1960s.

Mum was kidnapped. My grandfather was away working at the time, and he came home and found that his kids had been taken away, and he didn't know nothing about it. Four years later he died of a broken heart. He had a breakdown and was sent to Kew [Psychiatric] Hospital. He was buried in a pauper's grave and on his death certificate he died of malnutrition, ulcers and plus he had bedsores. He was 51. Confidential evidence 143, Victoria.

I remember my Aunty, it was her daughter that got taken. She used to carry these letters around with her. They were reference letters from the white fellas in town ... Those letters said she was a good, respectable women ... She judged herself and she felt the community judged her for letting the welfare get her child ... She carried those letters with her, folded up, as proof, until the day she died. Quoted by Link-Up submission 186 on page 21.

Professor Beverley Raphael told the Inquiry,
"Part of the reaction to being traumatised, like suddenly having your child torn away from you, is what we call a high level of arousal ... that heightened arousal can stay on a heightened level with physiological responsiveness for the rest of one's life ... so that people are aroused, alert. And one reason they take alcohol and other substances is often to dampen this down and they don't know its cause" (evidence 658).

"My parents were continually trying to get us back. Eventually they gave up and started drinking. They separated. My father ended up in jail. He died before my mother. On her death bed she called his name and all us kids. She died with a broken heart." Confidential submission 106, New South Wales: woman removed at 11 months in the late 1950s with her three siblings; children fostered in two separate non-Indigenous families.

"It has left me sick, also my son sick too, never to be the same people again that we were before, being separated from one another, it has made our lives to be nothing on this earth. My sons and myself went through a lot of pain and heartbreak. It's a thing that I'll never forget until I die, it will always be in my mind that the Welfare has ruined my thinking and my life. I felt so miserable and sad and very unhappy, that I took to drinking after they took my sons. I thought there was nothing left for me." Confidential submission 338, Victoria.

"I often used to ask my foster mother who she was, this old lady who would come to the gate, and the answer I always got was, `She is some silly old black woman'." Confidential evidence 56, Tasmania: man removed 1930s; his grandmother died before he was able to find her.

"I was there for 16 years and I was brainwashed every day of the week. You never go near Blacks. Your people don't want you anyway. They're just dirty. They don't want anything to do with you ... We were playing in the schoolyard and this old black man came to the fence. I could hear him singing out to me and my sister. I said to [my sister], `Don't go. There's a black man'. And we took off. It was two years ago I found out that was my grandfather. He came looking for us. I don't know when I ever stopped being frightened of Aboriginal people. I don't know when I even realised I was Aboriginal. It's been a long hard fight for me." Confidential evidence 10, Queensland: NSW woman removed 1940s and placed in Cootamundra Girls' Home

On that note I wish to also say I am very sorry to the stolen generations and their families...


Tanya said...

What an awesome post - thank you for the recognition and compassion Sherrie.

Thank you

Anonymous said...

Here in the U.S.A., we did the same exact kind of thing to many, many of our Native Americans. We had whole schools of stolen children where their languages and cultures were purposefully wiped out.

It's amazing to see the same kind of things happened in Australia. How sad.

Sherrie said...

Yes very sad, I don't understand how people could justify it back then!