Mostof us girls were thinking white in thehead but were feeling black inside. We weren’t blackor white. We were avery lonely, lost and sad displaced group of people.Wewere taughtto think and act like a white person, but we didn’t know how to thinkandact like an Aboriginal.Wedidn’t know anything about our culture.
We were completelybrainwashed to think onlylike a whiteperson. When theywent to mix in white society,theyfoundthey were not accepted [because]theywere Aboriginal. When they went and mixed withAborigines, some found they couldn’t identify withthem either, because they had too muchwhite ways in them. So that they were neither black nor white. They were simplya lost generation of children. I know. I was oneofthem.
Confidential submission 617,New South Wales: woman removedat8 years withher3 sisters in the 1940s;placed in CootamundraGirls’ Home.
10 Children’s Experiences Children’s experiences following their removal contributed to the effects of the removal upon them at the time and in later life. In this chapter we briefly survey the evidence to the Inquiry concerning those experiences which have had the most significant impacts on well-being and development.
Placement stability As the following table shows, a high proportion of children (based on the experiences of Inquiry witnesses) experienced multiple placements following their removal.
Placement types, Inquiry witnesses PlacementNumberPercent Single institution 8825.1% Multiple institutions or institution followed by 9527.1% work placement Single foster/adoptive placement5014.3% Multiple foster/adoptive placements61.7% Institution(s) then foster/adoption or placement9527.3% followed by institutionalisation Other164.6% Total for whom information available 350100%
One-quarter of the Inquiry witnesses spent the entire period from removal to release in a single children’s home while only 14% spent that entire period with a single non-Indigenous family, whether fostered, adopted or both. Many children moved among institutions (27%) or from an institution(s) into a foster placement(s) or vice versa (27%).
So I went through foster homes,and I never stayed inoneany longer thantwo months … Then you’d be moved ontothe next placeand it wenton andonandon. That’s oneof the main reasonsI didn’t finish primary school.
Confidential evidence316, Tasmania.
The Inquiry was advised by the Australian Association of Infant Mental Health,
While separation and loss may become commonplace for the childwho experiences several foster placements, the multiplicity of separationsdoesnot make them any easier (submission699 page 4).
Totality of separation The overwhelming majority of the children forcibly removed under assimilationist legislation and policies were separated from their Indigenous family, community and culture. They were not permitted to use their languages.
Y’know, I can remember we used tojust talk lingo. [Inthe Home] they usedto tell us not to talk that language, that it’s devil’s language.And they’d wash our mouths with soap. We sortahad to sit down with Bible languageall the time. So it sorta wiped outallour language that we knew.
Confidential evidence170,SouthAustralia:woman taken from herparents with her3 sisters when the family, who workedand residedon a pastoral station, came intotown to collect stores; placedat Umewarra Mission.
Missionaries in the Kimberley region of WA as late as the 1960s continued to pursue this policy of forbidding the use of Aboriginal languages (confidential evidence505, Western Australia: manmade a State ward at 6 years in1966and placed ina church-run hostel in Fitzroy Crossing).
My mother and brother could speakour languageand myfather could speak his. I can’t speak my language.Aboriginal people weren’t allowed to speak their languagewhilewhite peoplewere around. They had to go out intothe bushor talk their lingoes ontheirown. Aboriginal customs like initiationwerenot allowed. We couldnot leave Cherbourg to go to Aboriginal traditional festivals.We couldhavea corroboree if the Protector issueda permit.It was completelyup to him. I neverhad a chance to learnaboutmy traditional and customary way of life when I was on the reserves.
Confidential submission 110,Queensland: woman removed in the 1940s.
This policy was usually applied by fosterand adoptive families as well as missions and other institutions.
We made a series of errors throughour ignorance and paternalism. Webroughthim up separate from the Koori population … away from theKooripeople. The ones we’d heard aboutin the paperwere havingbig problems, so we thoughtwewill keephim away from these problems till he matures.We didn’t understand thefullramifications of invasion,of dispossessionor dispersement. We learnt all this later. So we were – in the1960s we’re talking – we were ignorant well-meaningwhites.We had some problems of course when he was about 10 – identity problems.
Confidential evidence155b, Victoria:adoptive parents of a year oldboy.
Contact with family members was at best limited and strictly controlled.
My mum had written letters to us that were never forwarded to us. Early when we were taken she used to go into the State Children’s Department in Townsville with cards and things like that. They were neverforwarded onto us.
Confidential evidence401,Queensland: woman removed and fostered at 6 years inthe1950s.
If wegot letters,you’d end up withusually ‘the weather’s fine’, ‘we loveyou’ and ‘from your loving mother’ or whatever. We didn’t hearor see what was written in between.And thatwas one way they keptus away fromourfamilies. They’d turnaroundand say to you, ‘See, they don’t care about you’. Later on, when I left the home, I asked my mother, ‘How comeyoudidn’t write letters?’ She said, ’Butwe did’. I said, ‘Well, we never got them’.
We were all rosteredto do workand one of the girls was doing Matron’s office,and there was all these letters that the girls had writtenback to the parents and family – the answers were all in the garbage bin. And they werewondering why we didn’t write. That was one waythey stopped us keeping in contact withour families. Thenthey had the hide to turn around and say, ‘They don’t love you. They don’t care aboutyou’.
Confidential evidence450, 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.
Many children were told they were unwanted, rejected or that their parents were dead.
I remember this woman saying to me, ‘Your mother’s dead, you’ve got nomother now. That’s why you’rehere with us’. Then about two years after that my mother and my mother’s sister all came to TheBungalow but they weren’t allowed to visit us becausethey wereblack.They had to sneak around onto the hills. Each mother was picking outwhich they think was their children.And this other girl said, ‘Your mother up there’. And because they toldme that she wasdead, I said, ‘No, that’s notmy mother.I haven’t got a black mother’.
Confidential evidence544, Northern Territory: woman removed to The Bungalow, Alice Springs, at 5 years in the 1930s; laterspent time at CrokerIsland Mission.
I was tryingto cometo grips with and believe the stories they were telling me aboutme beingan orphan, about mehaving no family. In other wordstellingme just get up on your own twofeet,no matter what your size … andjust face this big world … and in other words you don’t belongto anybody and nobodybelongs to youso sinkor swim. Andtheyprobably didn’t believe I would swim.
Confidential evidence421, Western Australia.
They changed our names, they changed our religion, they changed our dateof birth,they did all that. That’s why today,a lot of them don’t know whothey are, where they’re from. We’ve got to watch todaythatbrothers aren’t marrying sisters; because of the Government.Children were taken from interstate, and theywere just put everywhere.
Confidential evidence450, New South Wales.
Children were given the very strong impression their parents were worthless.
When I firstmet my mother – when I was 14 – she wasn’t whattheysaid she was.They made her sound like she was stupid,youknow, theymadeher sound so bad.Andwhen I saw her she was sobeautiful.Mum said, ‘My baby’s been crying’ and she walked into the room and she stood there and Iwalked into my – I walked into mymotherand we hugged and this hot, hot rush just from the tip of my toesupto my headfilledeverypart of my body – sohot.That wasmy first feelingof love and itonly could come from mymum. I was so happy andthat wasthe last time Igottosee her. When my mum passed away I went to her funeral, which is stupidbecause I’m allowedtogo see her at her funeralbut I couldn’t havethat when she requested me. They wouldn’t let me have her.
Confidential evidence139, Victoria: removed1967; witness’s motherdied two yearsafter their firstand only meeting.
‘Yourfamilydon’t care about you anymore,they wouldn’t havegiven you away. They don’t love you. All theyare,arejust dirty, drunken blacks.’ You heard this daily … When I comeoutof the home and come to Redfern herelooking for the girls,you seea Koori bloke coming towards you, you cross the street, you runforyour life, you’re terrified.
Confidential evidence8, New South Wales:womanremoved to Cootamundra Girls’ Home in the 1940s.
I grew up sadly not knowing one Aboriginal person andtheview thatwas given tome was one offear towards [my] people. I wastoldnot tohave anything todowith them asthey were dirty, lived in shabby conditions and, of course, drank to excess.Notonce was I told that I was ofAboriginal descent. I was told that with myfeatures I wasfrom someIsland and they[foster family] knew nothingof my family or thecircumstances.
Confidential submission 483,South Australia: woman removed toa children’s homeat18 months in the1960sand subsequently fosteredby the caretakers.
In an attempt to force ‘white ways’ upon the children and to ensure they did not return to ‘the camp’ on their release, Aboriginality was denigrated and Aboriginal people were held in open contempt. This denigration was among the most common experiences of witnesses to the Inquiry.
All the teachingsthat we receivedfrom our (foster) family when we were little, that black people were bad … I wanted my skin to be white.
Confidential evidence132, Victoria: woman fostered at 10 years inthe1960s.
She [foster mother] would say I was dumb all thetimeand my mother and father were lazy dirty people who couldn’t feed me or the other brothers and sister.
Confidential evidence5, South Australia: man fostered at5years in the 1960s.
There was abig poster at the end of the dining roomand it used to be pointed out to us all thetime when religious instruction was going on in theafternoon. They had these Aborigine peoplesittingat the end of this big wide road and they were playing cards, gambling and drinking. And ithad this slogan which theyusedto read to us and pointto us while they’re savingusfrom ourselves andgivingoursoulsto the Lord. It had, ‘Wide is the roadthat leads us into destruction’, which lead up into hell. The other side they had these white people, all nicely dressed, leadingonthisnarrow road,and ‘Narrow is the road that leads us intothekingdomof lifeor the Kingdom of God’.
When I was 14 yearsoldand going to thesefoster people, I remember the welfare officer sitting down and they were having a cup of teaand talking about how they was hopingour race would die out. Andthat I wasfair enough, I was ahalf-casteand I would automatically live with a white personand get married.Becausethe system would make sure that no-one wouldmarry an Aborigine person anyhow.And then my children wouldautomatically be fairer, quarter-caste,andthen the next generation would be white and we would be bred out. I remember when she was discussing this with myfoster people, I rememberthinking – because I hadno concept of what itall meant – I remember thinking, ‘That’s a good idea, becauseall the Aboriginesare poor’.
Confidential evidence613, New South Wales:woman removed to Bomaderry Children’s Home asababy in the 1940s; foster placement organised from Cootamundra brokedownafter 17 months and she was then placed in variouswork situations.
Weweretold our mother was an alcoholicandthat she was a prostituteand she didn’t care about us. They[foster family] used to warn us that when we got older we’d havetowatch it because we’d turn into sluts andalcoholics, so we had to be very careful. If you were white you didn’t havethatdirtiness inyou … It wasin our breed,in us to be like that.
Confidential evidence529, New South Wales: woman fosteredasababy in the1970s.
I got told my Aboriginalitywhen I got whipped and they’d say, ‘YouAbo,you nigger’. That wasthe onlytimeI got told my Aboriginality.
Confidential evidence139, Victoria: removed1967.
Child and adolescent psychiatrist, Dr Brent Waters, has interviewed a number of people forcibly removed in NSW.
Thepeople that I’ve talked towhowereplaced in white families were – and I haven’t seen any that were absolutely fulsome about their family experience,most of them had some reservations –things seem to have gonequite well until they got into the teenage years. Then they started to becomemore aware of the fact that they were different.Some of thesewerequite light kids,but nevertheless that they weredifferent. And itwas the impact of whatpeerswere doing and saying which seemedto be most distressing to them. And sometimes theirfamilies didn’t dealwith that verywell. They were dismissive. ‘Look, thebest thing to do is just forgetyouwere ever Aboriginal’ or ‘Tell them that you came from Southern Europe’. Topassoffwhatwas obviously a difference inskin colour. Butin none of those families was there a sense that one way to manage this situation was to recapture your senseof Aboriginality. There seemedto be no honour and dignity inbeing anAboriginal, even if you’dbeen broughtupby a family (evidence 532).
Institutional conditions The living conditions in children’s institutions were often very harsh.
And for themto say she[mother] neglectedus! I wasneglected when I was in this government joint down here. I didn’t end up 15 days in a hospitalbed [with bronchitis] when I was with me mum and dad.
Confidential evidence163, Victoria: womanremoved at9 years in the 1950s.
The physical infrastructure of missions,government institutions and children’s homes was often very poor and resources were insufficient to improve them or to keep the children adequately clothed, fed and sheltered. WA’s Chief Protector, A O Neville, later described the conditions at the Moore River Settlement in the 1920s (Neville had no control over the Settlement from 1920 until 1926, his jurisdiction being limited to the State’s north during that period).
Moore River Settlement had rapidly declined under a brutalindifference. Here ‘economy’ had taken theform of ignoring maintenance andany improvement ofbuildings, reducing to a minimum the diet of ‘inmates’ anddoing awaywith the use of cutlery – the children in the compoundsbeing forced to eat with theirhands.The salaries of attendant and teachershadbeen reduced and anything that was not essential to the rudimentary education available was removed. Even toys, such as plasticine, were removed from the classroom. Unhappiness and the desperate anxiety to locate and rejoinfamilymembers led to a sharp increase in absconders and runaways. Punishment was harsh and arbitrary and the ‘inmates’ feared the Police trackers whopatrolled the settlement andhunted down escapees(quotedby Jacobs 1990 on page123).
Doris Pilkington described the conditions as ‘more like a concentration camp than a residential school for Aboriginal children’ (Pilkington 1996 page 72).
Young men andwomen constantly ran away (thiswas inbreachof the Aborigines Act). Notonly were they separatedfrom their families andrelatives, but they were regimented and locked up like caged animals, locked in theirdormitory after supperfor thenight.They were given severe punishments, including solitary confinements for minor misdeeds (Choo 1989page46).
The situation did not improve with Neville’s return. The per capita funding for the Moore River Settlement was half that of the lowest funded white institution (the Old Men’s Home). In 1936 Western Australia spent less per capita on Aboriginal affairs than any other State. In 1938 the West Australian newspaper wrote of the ‘crowded and unsuitable schoolroom’ at the Settlementwhere over one hundred school age children carried out ‘a campaign against two greatly-handicapped teachers’. The children were taught basic literacy, numeracy and hygiene, with a view to employment as domestic servants and rural labourers. There was no equipment for vocational training, therefore these skills were learnt by working on the settlement (Haebich 1982 page 56). An Aboriginal witness to the Inquiry in Perth who taught in the school at Moore River during the 1950s gave evidence that inmates were flogged with a cat-o’-nine-tails (now held in the WA Museum) (confidential evidence 681).
Conditions in other children’s institutions are also remembered as harsh. Melbourne
law firm Phillips Fox summarised the experience reported by their clients.
… the consistent theme forpost-removal memories is the lack of love, thestrict, often cruel, treatment by adults, the constantly disparaging remarks aboutAboriginality – and thefact that the child shouldbe showing more gratitudeforhavingbeen takenfrom all that – andof course, the terrible loneliness and longing to return to family and community. Somecommented that ‘I thoughtI was inanightmare’. ‘I couldn’t workout what I’ddone wrong todeserve this’. ‘It was like being in prison’.‘It was very strict – you weren’t allowed to doanything’ (submission 20 page 6).
There was nofood, nothing. We was all huddledup in a room … like a little puppy-dog … on the floor … Sometimes at night time we’d cry with hunger,no food … We hadto scrounge in the town dump,eatingoldbread,smashingtomato sauce bottles, licking them. Half ofthetime the food we got wasfrom the rubbish dump.
Confidential evidence549, Northern Territory: man removed to Kahlin Compoundat3 years in the1930s; subsequently placed at TheBungalow.
It’s a wonderwe all survived withthefood we got. Forbreakfast we gota bitof porridge with saccharine in it and acupoftea. Theporridge was always dry as a bone. Lunch was a plate of soupmade outof bones, sheeps’ heads and things like that,novegetables. For dinner we had a slice of bread with jam and a cup of tea. After our dinner we were locked upin a dormitoryfor the night.
WAwoman who lived at Moore River Settlement from 1918 until 1939,quoted by Haebich1982 on page59.
We didn’t have enough meal. We used to gojump over the fence to the garden and steal rockmelon, watermelon, whatever we can get hold of, just to fill our stomachsfor the night.
Confidential evidence820, Western Australia: man removed at 6 years in the1940s to Beagle Bay Mission in the Kimberley.
Institutional regimes were typically very strictly regulated.
Dormitory life was like living in hell. It was not a life. The onlything that sortof come out of it was howto work, howto be clean, you knowand hygiene. That sort ofthing. But we got a lot bashings.
Confidentialevidence 109, Queensland:woman removedat5 years in1948.
Children’s well-being was sometimes severely neglected.
These are people telling you to be Christian andtheytreat you less than a bloodyanimal. One boy his leg was that gangrene we could smellhim alldown the dormitories before they finally got him treated properly.
Confidential evidence, New SouthWales:man removed to Kinchela Boys’ Home in the 1960s.
Many witnesses related receiving or witnessing severe punishments.
Atthe time, we used toget a lot of coke. Yougotto fill the coke bins up. That’s what you got tokneel on – on the coke [asa punishment].You got nolong trousers,[only] shorts and bare-footed.You know what we got to eat? Strawandbuns. That was our tea. That’s besidesgettingthe cane. Get straw and buns.Quitenaturally you’re going to pull the straw outandchuckit away. You do thatand you get caned. You’re supposed to eat it.
Confidential evidence531, New South Wales: man removed to Kinchela Boys’ Home at 9 years in 1950.
I remember the beatingsand hidings [they]gave us and what I saw.Iremember if you played up, especially ona Sunday, you gotthe cane.Youplay chasing,you had to dropyour pants, lie across the bed and get3-5 whacks. If you pissed the bed – another3-5.I rememberseeing,whenIwas about 7 or 9 – I think it was IMget pulled by the hair and her armtwistedbehind her back and hit in the face …
Confidential evidence251,SouthAustralia:man removed to Colebrook at 2 years in the1950s.
They were very cruel to us,very cruel. I’ve donethings in that home that I don’t think prisoners in ajail would do today … I rememberonce, I musthavebeen 8 or 9,and I was locked in the old morgue. The adults who worked there would tell us of the things that happened in there, soyou can imagine what I wentthrough. I screamed all night, but no one came to get me.
Confidentialevidence 10, Queensland:NSW woman removed to Cootamundra Girls’ Home in the 1940s.
I’ve seen girls naked, strapped to chairsand whipped. We’ve all been through the locking up period, locked indark rooms. I had a problemof fainting when I wasgrowing up and I gotbeltedevery time I faintedand this is belted, not just on the handsor nothing. I’veseen my sister draggedby the hair into those block roomsand belted because she’stryingto protect me … How couldthis be for myown good? Pleasetell me.
Confidential evidence8, New South Wales:womanremoved to Cootamundra Girls’ Home in the 1940s.
They used to lockus up in a little room like a cell and keep us on bread and waterfora week ifyou played up too much.Stand us ona cement blockoutside in the rain with raincoats onifyou gotinto trouble – for a month, afterschool, during playtime.
Confidential evidence358b, South Australia: man removedasababy in the 1950s; first placedat Koonibba Mission, thenaSalvation Army Boys’ Home where he experienced above punishments, thenon to reform schoolandprison.
In some cases administrators were admonished for their treatment of inmates or
residents. Former WA Chief Protector, A O Neville, described in his 1947 book some of the treatments meted out by his staff at the Moore River Settlement.
One SuperintendentIhad,becausehe suspected him of somemoral lapse, tarred andfeathered a native, and hedid thejob thoroughly, calling the staff to see therarebirdhe had captured … Another Manager I did appoint, an ex-Missionary, and a good man too,Ihad todismiss for chaining girls totablelegs … Indeed,it was found necessary to provideby regulation for the abolition of ‘degrading’ and injuriouspunishments and the practice of holding inmates up to ridicule, such as dressing themin old sacksorshaving girls’ heads(Neville1947 pages 112-113).
Verbal complaints and formal petitions were dismissed by one superintendent who told the commissioner, ‘the natives generally feel that they must always have some complaints when you visit them’ (quoted by Haebich1982on page59).
In 1927 Mrs Curry, a former employee at Cootamundra Girls’ Home in NSW, alleged that girls had been ‘flogged, slashed with a cane across the shoulders, and generally treated with undue severity and lack of sympathy, the use of the cane being a daily occurrence’ (NSW Aborigines Protection Board Minutesquotedby Hankins 1982on page 6.1.11).
In 1935 the NSW Aborigines Protection Board commissioned a report on the conduct of the manager of Kinchela Boys’ Home following receipt of allegations of insobriety and ill-treatment of the boys. Upon consideration of the report late in that year, the Board determined to ‘strongly advise’ the manager ‘to give up taking intoxicating liquor entirely’ particularly when in the company of the boys and to inform him ‘that on no account must he tie a boy up to a fence or tree, or anything else of that nature, to inflict punishment on him, that such instruments as lengths of hosepipe or a stockwhip must not be used in chastising a boy, that no dietary punishments shall be inflicted on any inmate in the Home’. He was also to be told that the practice of loaning out boys to local farmers was disapproved (NSW Aborigines ProtectionBoardMinutesof Meetings, 4 December 1935).