The National Inquiry into the Forced Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families took oral and written testimony from over five hundred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia, as well as from Indigenous organisations, foster parents, State and Territory Government representatives, church representatives, other non-government agencies, former mission and government employees and individual members of the community. The 524 page final report, tabled in Parliament on 27 May 1997, includes many of these personal testimonies. All of the testimonies quoted in the final report can be read here.
- Confidential evidence 248Location:QuornInstitution:Colebrook HomeAge at time of removal:Birth
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 (p. 161).
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.
Unfortunately, the effects of ongoing alcohol and substance abuse contributed to frequent short-lived depressive episodes with suicidal ideation. Her substance abuse was the result of the difficulty she experienced coming to terms with the diagnosis of manic-depressive disorder, her significant family problems and the effects of a childhood where she was dislocated from her family of origin, thus leaving her vulnerable to the events which followed (document provided with confidential evidence 248, South Australia) (p. 168).
- Confidential evidence 251Location:QuornInstitution:Colebrook HomeAge at time of removal:2 years
I remember the beatings and hidings [they] gave us and what I saw. I remember if you played up, especially on a Sunday, you got the cane. You play chasing, you had to drop your pants, lie across the bed and get 3-5 whacks. If you pissed the bed - another 3-5. I remember seeing, when I was about 7 or 9 - I think it was IM get pulled by the hair and her arm twisted behind her back and hit in the face ...
Confidential evidence 251, South Australia: man removed to Colebrook at 2 years in the 1950s.
- Confidential evidence 253Location:Port AdelaideInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:7
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
- Confidential evidence 265Location:VictoriaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
Pg. 162. The youngest member of our family, Jill, was perhaps more traumatised through all this process because she grew up from the age of 9 months being institutionalised the whole time. She actually had some major trauma illnesses and trauma manifestations of institutional life evident in her life and yet nobody knew the root of it, or the cause of it, let alone knew the remedy to it. [The cottage mother] used a lot of mental cruelty on Jill - I mean, through cutting all of her hair off at one time to exert authority and to bring submission and fear into you ... making the kids look ugly and dress like boys. She did that to the younger children - well Jill in particular because she was younger and more impressionable. Jill died because of those policies in law. She committed suicide. She was 34 and death was the better thing. Pg. 163. We had been brought up on the surrogate mother of the institution and that whole lifestyle, which did not prepare us at all for any type of family life or life whereby in the future we would be surviving or fending for ourselves; and then the survival skills that we needed in order to survive in the mainstream community, because those survival skills are certainly not skills that you learn in a major institution. And the whole family value system wasn't there and then the practice that comes with that wasn't there and put in place. Confidential evidence 265, Victoria: four Victorian sisters who were taken into care from their father and grandmother in a brief period of parental marriage difficulties during the early 1960s. Pg. 185. 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.
- Confidential evidence 283Location:South AustraliaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:5
Pg. 204. I run into my sister at the school and I just happened to know that it was her because of the same family name. And that's when I found out about my Dad being sick. I didn't get to see Dad. He passed away a couple of weeks after I found my sister. I went back for his funeral. I took my kids. Confidential evidence 283, South Australia: woman fostered at about 5 years in the 1960s. Pg. 306. I think they should be getting everyone's records together and handing it back to them, so that at least we know our own identity. A lot of it's still lost and I don't know if I'll ever find it. Confidential evidence 283, South Australia.
- Confidential evidence 284Location:South AustraliaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
Pg. 154. Actually what you see in a lot of us is the shell, and I believe as an Aboriginal person that everything is inside of me to heal me if I know how to use it, if I know how to maintain it, if I know how to bring out and use it. But sometimes the past is just too hard to look at. Pg. 192-193. There's things in my life that I haven't dealt with and I've passed them on to my children. Gone to pieces. Anxiety attacks. I've passed this on to my kids. I know for a fact if you go and knock at their door they run and hide. I look at my son today who had to be taken away because he was going to commit suicide because he can't handle it; he just can't take any more of the anxiety attacks that he and Karen have. I have passed that on to my kids because I haven't dealt with it. How do you deal with it? How do you sit down and go through all those years of abuse? Somehow I'm passing down negativity to my kids. Pg. 292. There's letters written there in my handwriting and I go berserk, I can't handle it. I can't go near them because I see my handwritten letters there as a little kid. You know, 'May I see my brothers and sisters? I haven't seen them for a long time. They're dear to my heart'. 'Do you know where my mum is? Can I please see my dad?' There's letters written back by them that my behaviour didn't warrant visits. There's letters there saying that if I didn't improve my behaviour that I would not be able to be with my brothers and sisters and that I would never see my parents again. Pg. 306. Why have they got records on us? I'm not a criminal. I never have been a criminal and I object to the government holding records on me. I didn't do anything wrong and I want those records to be - if they don't want to hand them over to me, then destroy them in front of me. I don't see why I should have that humiliation. Confidential evidence 284, South Australia.
- Confidential evidence 289Location:Ernabella, AdelaideInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
I felt like a stranger in Ernabella, a stranger in my father's people. We had no identity with the land, no identity with a certain people. I've decided in the last 10, 11 years to, y'know, I went through the law. I've been learning culture and learning everything that goes with it because I felt, growing up, that I wasn't really a blackfella. You hear whitefellas tell you you're a blackfella. But blackfellas tell you you're a whitefella. So you're caught in a half-caste world. Confidential evidence 289, South Australia: speaker's father was removed and the speaker grew up in Adelaide.
- Confidential evidence 305 - FionaLocation:QuornInstitution:Colebrook HomeAge at time of removal:5 years
1936 it was. I would have been five. We went visiting Ernabella the day the police came. Our great-uncle Sid was leasing Ernabella from the government at that time so we went there.
We had been playing all together, just a happy community and the air was filled with screams because the police came and mothers tried to hide their children and blacken their children's faces and tried to hide them in caves. We three, Essie, Brenda and me together with our three cousins ... the six of us were put on my old truck and taken to Oodnadatta which was hundreds of miles away and then we got there in the darkness.
My mother had to come with us. She had already lost her eldest daughter down to the Children's Hospital because she had infantile paralysis, polio, and now there was the prospect of losing her three other children, all the children she had. I remember that she came in the truck with us curled up in the foetal position. Who can understand that, the trauma of knowing that you're going to lose all your children? We talk about it from the point of view of our trauma but - our mother - to understand what she went through, I don't think anyone can really understand that.
It was 1936 and we went to the United Aborigines Mission in Oodnadatta. We got there in the dark and then we didn't see our mother again. She just kind of disappeared into the darkness. I've since found out in the intervening years that there was a place they called the natives' camp and obviously my mother would have been whisked to the natives' camp. There was no time given to us to say goodbye to our mothers.
From there we had to learn to eat new food, have our heads shaved. So one day not long after we got there my cousin and I ... we tried to run back to Ernabella. We came across the train. We'd never seen a train before and it frightened the hell out of us with the steam shooting out. So we ran back to the mission because that was the only place of safety that we knew. She was only four and I was only five.
Then we had to learn to sleep in a house. We'd only ever slept in our wilchas and always had the stars there and the embers of the fire and the closeness of the family. And all of a sudden we had high beds and that was very frightening. You just thought you were going to fall out and to be separated. There was a corridor and our cousins were in another room. We'd never been separated before. And the awful part was we had to get into that train later on with one little grey blanket and go down to Colebrook ... a matter of weeks after. From that time until 1968 I didn't see [my mother]. Thirty-two years it was.
[I stayed at Colebrook] till 1946 [when] I was fourteen or fifteen. We were trained to go into people's home and clean and look after other people's children. I went to a doctor and his wife. They were beautiful people. I stayed with them a couple of years.
I guess the most traumatic thing for me is that, though I don't like missionaries being criticised - the only criticism that I have is that you forbad us to our speak our own language and we had no communication with our family. We just seemed to be getting further and further away from our people, we went to Oodnadatta first, then to Quorn next, then when there was a drought there we went to Adelaide and went out to Eden Hills and that's where we stayed till we went out to work and did whatever we had to do.
I realised later how much I'd missed of my culture and how much I'd been devastated. Up until this point of time I can't communicate with my family, can't hold a conversation. I can't go to my uncle and ask him anything because we don't have that language ...
You hear lots and lots of the criticisms of the missionaries but we only learnt from being brought up by missionaries. They took some of that grief away in teaching us another way to overcome the grief and the hurt and the pain and the suffering. So I'm very thankful from that point of view and I believe that nothing comes without a purpose. You knew that in those days there was no possibility of going back because cars were so few and far between and the train took forever to get anywhere so how could a five year old get back to the people.
I guess the government didn't mean it as something bad but our mothers weren't treated as people having feelings. Naturally a mother's got a heart for her children and for them to be taken away, no-one can ever know the heartache. She was still grieving when I met her in 1968.
When me and my little family stood there - my husband and me and my two little children - and all my family was there, there wasn't a word we could say to each other. All the years that you wanted to ask this and ask that, there was no way we could ever regain that. It was like somebody came and stabbed me with a knife. I couldn't communicate with my family because I had no way of communicating with them any longer. Once that language was taken away, we lost a part of that very soul. It meant our culture was gone, our family was gone, everything that was dear to us was gone.
When I finally met [my mother] through an interpreter she said that because my name had been changed she had heard about the other children but she'd never heard about me. And every sun, every morning as the sun came up the whole family would wail. They did that for 32 years until they saw me again. Who can imagine what a mother went through?
But you have to learn to forgive.
Confidential evidence 305, South Australia.
- Confidential evidence 307Location:QuornInstitution:Colebrook HomeAge at time of removal:7 years
We were fortunate because we were just like brothers and sisters in Colebrook. We never ended up in reform. Our brothers and sisters were able to keep ourselves together. Because the Sisters were able to give us the Christian upbringing, we were able to keep some sort of sanity about ourselves. We were brought up very well. I think we had nothing but the best in Colebrook. When you were in Colebrook, the older kids took you on. The two Sisters could not give you the love that a mother could give you but the older one of mine was Emily, that did my hair, she was more than your sister, she was your mother/auntie. The older ones sort of took the younger ones under their care. So you got your love in a different way. Matron couldn't give everybody hugs and loves and kisses, but that minder was more like my mother. There was somebody missing that she took that place as that warm caring person and each one had their older one looking after them.
Confidential evidence 307, South Australia: woman removed at 7 years in the 1930s.
- Confidential evidence 313Location:UnknownInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
I could have at least had another language and been able to communicate with these people. You know I go there today and I have to communicate in English or use an interpreter. They're like my family, they're closer than any family I've got and I can't even talk to them. We may have upped and left but I can't imagine it because those people never left. That's their home, that's their country, they can't imagine ever living anywhere else and yet now when I go back I feel so isolated from it and I really would like to be part of that community and to work with them. But I find it very difficult. They accept me because of our blood link and things but I am not as good an asset to them as I would have been if I'd maintained all that other stuff. Confidential evidence 313, Tasmania: woman whose mother was forcibly removed to a mission in Queensland.
- Confidential evidence 314Location:TasmaniaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
Pg. 204. When I was 20 years old I was reunited with my mother for the first time shortly before she died. I suppose I had a natural curiosity to meet and know her. I had an urge to see my mother and when I met her she said, 'I knew you'd come'. I didn't know at this stage I was Aboriginal. My mother was the first Tasmanian Aboriginal person I had met. A few of my natural siblings were with her. I still haven't met some of my natural siblings. Pg. 207. I met my natural siblings at my mother's funeral but there was too much water under the bridge - 20 years - for us to have a real relationship. The biological ties were there, but that wasn't enough. We all tried to make a go of it but it just didn't work. I suppose Aboriginal people can get their land back but cannot get their family back. We are still strangers even though we have tried to reunite. We have barriers between us created by something other than us. Being taken like we were gave us all a sense of mistrust and insecurity. Confidential evidence 314, Tasmania.
- Confidential evidence 316Location:TasmaniaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
Pg. 132. So I went through foster homes, and I never stayed in one any longer than two months ... Then you'd be moved onto the next place and it went on and on and on. That's one of the main reasons I didn't finish primary school. Pg. 312. ... If they need counselling to be able to communicate with their families, give that to them ... I still can't talk to my mother and that's because of what happened to me. If I'd had counselling earlier on in that area I'd be right ... Counselling today would help a bit but not as much as it would back then. Today it is extremely hard just to communicate. Confidential evidence 316, Tasmania.
- Confidential evidence 321Location:TasmaniaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:11
Pg. 83. Welfare just took the lot, no reason - just took us. They took mum and dad to court here for no reason. But there was no neglect. We was happy kids, you know. We just - we lived in the bush all our lives. Dad never believed in bringing his family to the city, he just loved the bush and that's where we stayed. We were always fed and happy there but I suppose they were looking for this other family and when they came to take them they just decided, 'Well, we'll take these as well'. Pg. 207. ... your siblings ... your family - you can never get that back once you've lost it. The people are there, yes, but you can never get it back. Confidential evidence 321, Tasmania: man removed at 11 years in the 1950s along with his younger brother and sister and 4 children from another family who were staying with them at the time.
- Confidential evidence 323Location:TasmaniaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
Even though at home you might be a bit poor, you mightn't have much on the table, but you know you had your parents that loved you. Then you're thrown into a place. It's like going to another planet.
- Confidential evidence 329Location:Cape Barren IslandInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
I remember when I was very young though, that there was a big thing going around the community then that the government wanted to get the people off the island. I remember them saying, 'Well, I'm not going'. And next thing you see families going off. And one of the ladies ... she had a little girl out of wedlock, and the welfare came in and threatened her. They said to her she either had to marry the father of that baby or they would come and take the child, so she married. She was very young, and she married. Confidential evidence 329, Tasmania: woman who grew up on Cape Barren Island.
- Confidential evidence 332Location:QueenslandInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
We all adored our mother. She was petite, with long black hair down to her waist. Her skin was soft and chocolate in colour, her big brown velvet eyes were always full of love for all her children. She was a very outgoing caring woman, extremely clean in her home and she kept herself and all we children immaculate in appearance. She was always there for us, her arms wide to comfort us when we were unhappy.
- Confidential evidence 333Location:MogumberInstitution:Moore River Native SettlementAge at time of removal:Unknown
We were locked up at night. All the boys, young girls. Married girls and women what had no husbands and babies, they had one room. Another dormitory was for young girls had no babies. But we was opposite side of that, see? The boys' dormitory. I'm not going to complain about it because, you know, I survived. A lot of kids died. Depression time it was pretty hard (p. 92).
[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' (p. 150).
Confidential evidence 333, Western Australia: man removed to Sister Kate's Orphanage in 1933 and probably working during the 1940s.
- Confidential evidence 340Location:Perth (Queen's Park)Institution:Sister Kate's HomeAge at time of removal:Unknown
There was tampering with the boys ... the people who would come in to work with the children, they would grab the boys' penises, play around with them and kiss them and things like this. These were the things that were done ... It was seen to be the white man's way of lookin' after you. It never happened with an Aboriginal.
Confidential evidence 340, Western Australia: man removed in the 1930s to Sister Kate's Orphanage.
- Confidential evidence 354Location:South AustraliaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:2
It did lead to a career in crime in which, to me, well, it wasn't the crime that turned me on, even though I was successful at it. It was getting back at society. It was kicking 'em, y'know? It wasn't the crime, it was the fact that, well, I'm going to pay back now for 20 odd years. Now, I served something like 5 years in the prisons, not because I wanted to be a criminal, but because I didn't know where I was, I didn't know who I belonged to. Confidential evidence 354, South Australia: man fostered at 2 years in the 1950s; placed in a reformatory at 14.
- Confidential evidence 357Location:South AustraliaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
Lots of white kids do get taken away, but that's for a reason - not like us. We just got taken away because we was black kids, I suppose - half-caste kids. If they wouldn't like it, they shouldn't do it to Aboriginal families. Confidential evidence 357, South Australia.