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 submission 818Location:VictoriaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
We were brought into this life without serious thought. My Aboriginal mother was thirteen years old when she had me and Laura at fourteen or fifteen. I know myself, as a young mum, how hard things can be bringing up kids. Faith, my mother had come from a large family and did not have much sense of direction. There were eighteen kid's in my mother's family ... I feel they never knew how to help my mother. Faith, my mum had met our father at thirteen he was about twenty five and they had me. My father knew this family, a white family and they took me there to stay, as I was told, I stayed there many times. Betty Sullivan who was the mother of the family loved Laura and I very much. I suppose the more we stayed there the more she loved us. One day my father and mother asked the Sullivan family to look after us for a while because they had nowhere to live, so that was OK, Mrs Sullivan said yes. From then on there was a fight for us. I can remember how bad things were for my mother. I can recall when I was young how my mother went through custody battles for my sister and I to keep us. One day I remember very clearly leaving the court. In the taxi I somehow knew we, Laura and I, were going back to the home. So I started kicking and screaming to get out of the taxi. The driver stopped, got out, I saw him throw his hand's up over his eyes and said he couldn't take us, he didn't want to drive us kids away from our mother, so we then went in the police car with the lady police officer we knew. Our father was in gaol most of the time he wasn't there for her while she was at court. I love the Sullivan family very much. Mrs Sullivan taught me how to love and what was right and what was wrong. I'm glad she taught me values because I know now what was wrong. It was wrong the way my natural mother was treated. Mrs Sullivan told my mother she should lock herself away. The Sullivan family told people my mother was crazy and the court gave us to the Sullivan family. My mother was not crazy she was only nineteen. She was the right one and shouldn't have killed herself but she knew no better as there was no one to help her keep her children. I can remember the day she died - that has haunted me for the rest of my life. I remember the police coming to Mrs Sullivan's place where we were and told her that mum Faith died I'm sure I heard that. I turned and said to Mrs Sullivan 'Mummy Faith can't take us away anymore.' The day she died we died.
- Confidential submission 82 - TonyLocation:BeaudesertInstitution:Boys TownAge at time of removal:3 months
When I was three months old [in 1965] the welfare department sent the police to my grandparents' house. They came armed with a warrant to have me removed. Despite any opposition my fate had been decided. I was taken away. My family were left with the guilt of being accused of child neglect.
In 1967 I was adopted into a white family. They had two sons of their own. It is documented that, from an early age, my adoption mother had feelings of rejection towards me. She wanted a white son. She was taking offence to me as I grew up and my skin got darker. I can remember her always making fun of me. She had a favourite song that she always sung to me. It was that old country song called, 'the biggest disappointment in the family is you'. They adopted another son and my new brother was very fair, with blue eyes and blonde hair.
As I grew up, more problems arose. I began to notice that I was getting darker. My adoption father was often sticking up for me when my adoption brothers would come home and tease me about my colour. They were learning words like, boong, coon, abo ...
I'd ask her why I was dark. She would tell me it was because I kept playing with aboriginal kids at school. My adoption mother would make me feel guilty when I got into trouble for something. She would confirm her statement by saying things like, '... if you keep playing with aborigines, you'll end up turning into one'. I was beginning to believe that was why I was getting darker. I started to hate what I was turning into. I started to hate my own people.
In 1978 I went to high school. I was to be separated again. This time it was from my adoption brothers. They were sent to one high school and I was sent to another. When I wanted to know why, my adoption mother told me that she didn't want me to embarrass her sons.
Towards the end of 1978, I was running away from home and truanting from school. I was sick of my adoption family. I hated my adoption mother. I wanted them to send me back to the orphanage. I wanted my real mother. I didn't belong where I was. I just wanted to go back to where I believed my mother would come and get me one day. I committed my first offence at 11. I was trying to make my adoption family hate me so they'd send me back. I ended up back at the orphanage. When the welfare officer questioned me about my behaviour, I told him that I wanted to have my real family. He kept telling me that it was impossible. I didn't believe him and persisted in asking for many years to follow.
After a few months at the orphanage I was getting blamed for things that I wasn't doing. On one occasion I was blamed for starting a fire in the building. I never did it. They wanted to foster me with white families. I ran away. I was sick of getting into trouble and I was scared about being fostered. I just wanted my real family. I couldn't understand why they wouldn't take me home.
[After some months on the streets in Brisbane, at the age of 13 Tony was taken into care as uncontrollable.]
While at Wilson [youth centre] I felt like I was in a prison. In my mind, I hadn't done anything wrong to be sent there. I spent months asking what I'd done wrong. They told me that I was uncontrollable. I used to cry a lot. I kept asking the social workers to find my real mother. It was the same old story.
I ran away a few times. When I escaped I used to go to a family I'd met. They had aboriginal foster kids. I used to like going there. I felt that I had something in common with these kids. Everyone there liked me. The parents there treated me as if I was one of their own kids. I ended up getting caught and sent back to Wilson. I was depressed again. The family who I'd stayed with made several attempts at fostering me. The welfare department blocked all attempts. I didn't know how to feel. All this time, the welfare couldn't wait to put me into a home. Then when I found a family that I wanted to stay with on my own, they wouldn't allow it. It was like nobody cared what I wanted. It was as if I had no say in anything. It was being arranged for me to be adopted again by another family. When I became aware of this, I did what I was beginning to do best, run away. This made matters worse. People were beginning to give up on me. I was finally sent to Boys Town [aged nearly 14].
I ran away from Boys Town several times. On one occasion that I ran away, I caught a train back up to Townsville. One of the passengers - a woman travelling with her boyfriend - took care of me. We got on real good. She had brown skin just like me. This woman kept asking me questions about who I was and where I came from. I was a runaway, so I was restricted to how much I could say, in fear of being caught. I was in love with this woman. I remember falling asleep with my head on her lap. We talked each other to sleep.
The following day we arrived at Townsville station. She asked me if I had anywhere to stay. I told her no. Her and her boyfriend invited me to stay with them. I stayed only two days with them. She washed my clothes and made sure that I had a good feed. On the second day she went out with her boyfriend. I got jealous of her boyfriend and ran away when they left.
Until the age of 28 I wasn't aware just how close I was to finding my mother.
Later the next day I was arrested by the Townsville police. [Tony was returned to Boys Town where he stayed until he turned 15. He then found employment.]
It was a difficult time in my life. It was then that I was mature enough to realise the full ramifications of what everything was building up to. I started to convince myself that I was destined to spend the rest of my life alone. I often saw old people in the street, who were obviously homeless, and knew that that was how I was going to end up. I used to get really depressed about that. Those thoughts and feelings stayed with me for a very long time.
I was never sent back to my family. [When Tony was aged 17 his welfare officer recommended reintroduction to his birth family. The recommendation was ignored.] Nobody cared about the pain that I was feeling. So I tried my best to hide from it. Antisocial behaviour seemed the only way that I could deal with my problems for years to follow. I've been a loner since then.
[At 16 Tony stole a car from the family with whom he was staying and left the State. At 18 he committed a burglary and spent 10 months in prison.]
When I got out I started making contact with my adoption family by phone. It was becoming positive. My adoption mother refused me permission to go home to them when I got my holidays from work. She claimed that, '... dad doesn't think it's a good idea'. That hurt me a lot. A year later I tried to contact them again. This time my adoption father answered the phone. I rang up to wish my adoption mother a happy birthday. When I asked, '...is mum there?', I was told that she had died two months earlier. It devastated me. While I was on the phone, I made it clear to my adoption father that I loved him. I felt terrible because I never got to say it to my adoption mother. I'd spent the previous two years trying to make amends.
My life fell apart once again. I became a drug addict and started to abuse alcohol and everyone around me.
[Tony was soon convicted of robbery with wounding in company. He is serving a 14 year sentence. Link-Up (Qld) located his family in 1993. His mother had died 9 years earlier. She had been the woman on the train.] (p. 368-371)
Confidential submission 82, Queensland.
- Confidential submission 823 - KarenLocation:New Zealand, MelbourneInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Birth
I am a part Aboriginal woman, who was adopted out at birth. I was adopted by a white Australian family and came to live in New Zealand at the age of 6 months. I grew up not knowing about my natural Mother and Father. The only information my adoptive parents had about my birth, was the surname of my birth Mother. I guess I had quite a good relationship with my adoptive Mum, Dad and sisters. Though my adopted Mother said I kept to myself a lot, while I was growing up. As I got older I noticed my skin colouring was different to that of my family. My Mother told me I was adopted from Australia and part Aboriginal. I felt quite lonely especially as I approached my teens. I got teased often about being Aboriginal and became very withdrawn and mixed up, I really did not know where I belonged. As a result of this I started having psychiatric problems. I seem to cope and muddle along. I eventually got married to a New Zealander, we have two boys, who are now teenagers. One of our boys is dark like myself, and was interested in his heritage. I was unable to tell him anything, as I didn't know about it myself. My husband, boys and myself had the opportunity to go to Melbourne about 7 years ago on a working holiday for 10 weeks. While in Melbourne I went to the Aboriginal Health Centre and spoke to a social worker, as I had a copy of my birth certificate with my birth Mother's name on it. The social worker recognized my Mother's surname 'Graham', and got in touch with my aunty, who gave me my Mother's phone number. I got in touch with my birth Mother and made arrangements to meet her. I have a half brother and sister. My birth Mother and Father never married, though my Father knew my Mother was pregnant with me. My Mother did not know where my Father was, as they parted before I was born. My sister decided to call a local Melbourne paper and put our story in the paper on how I had found them after 29 years. My Father who was in Melbourne at the time, saw the article and a photo of my Mother and myself in the paper. He recognized my Mother and got in touch with her. My Mother and I had been corresponding, after we returned to New Zealand. For her own reasons, she would not give my Father my address, so my Father went through the social service agency and got in touch with me two and a half years ago. I have met my birth Father, as I had a family wedding in Melbourne shortly after he made contact with me, so I made arrangements to meet him. We kept in contact with one another, but I feel we will never be able to make up for lost time, as my birth parents live in Australia and myself in New Zealand. I still feel confused about where I belong, it has been very emotional and the result of this caused me to have a complete nervous breakdown. I am on medication daily and am having to see a counsellor to help me come to terms and accept the situation, where I am at right now and to sort out some confused feelings. My adoptive family really don't want to know too much about my birth family, which also makes it hard. I feel that I should be entitled to some financial compensation for travel purposes, to enable us to do this.
- Confidential submission 843Location:QueenslandInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:11
So this meant the grieving took place again. The grief came for my younger sister and two brothers whom I thought I would never see again. The day I left the Orphanage - that was a very sad day for me. I was very unhappy, and the memories came back. There was nowhere to turn. You was on your own. I was again in a different environment ... I had no choice but to stick it out. With the hardships going and thinking of my sister and brothers which I left at the Orphanage. My heart full of sorrows for them. Confidential submission 843, Queensland: woman removed at 11 years from an informal foster placement with an uncle and aunt arranged by her father due to his travelling for seasonal work and after the death of her mother and placed in an orphanage in the early 1940s.
- Confidential submission 851Location:South AustraliaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:6 weeks
I came into welfare care at 6 weeks of age when an officer of the [Department of Child Welfare] deemed my mother physically abusive towards me due to the fact of bruising on my body. This was not bruising it is what is known - and little known at that - as mongolian black spots. Many non-Caucasian babies have this birthmarking ... In fact nothing was wrong with me I was not malnourished, unhappy, retarded or unclean ... I was back and forth from my mother to welfare until I was about 3 ... I was relinquished by my natural mother at 6 years old to be adopted by my foster family.
- Confidential submission 9 - AndrewLocation:QueenslandInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
Before my son's birth and adoption I had been living in a defacto relationship with the child's Mother Gloria since [early 1990] through till [early 1992] during which time we had a son together named Peter and upon her leaving me in [early 1992] to live in a 2ND defacto relationship ... she was already pregnant with my 2nd son Andrew ... At the time of my 2nd son's birth and adoption I had no knowledge of either his birth nor his adoption; because [two weeks after his birth] during a private discussion with Gloria she informed me that the child had died, therefore I feel wilfully & knowingly she deprived me of the knowledge and at the time the choice in the matter of adoption, deliberately lying to me for her own ends without consideration for family ties between Peter and Andrew, being full brothers. If, at the time of birth, I had been informed of Andrew's existence and that Gloria did not intend to keep him, then I myself would have applied for full custody of my son ... Confidential submission 9, Queensland: father Aboriginal, mother non-Aboriginal; Andrew was adopted by an Aboriginal family.
- Evidence 325 - Michael MansellLocation:UnknownInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
We never ever questioned the right of any white person, whether they had a blue uniform or not, to come into our homeland more or less to do what they liked. That was just part of life and I grew up and people of my generation grew up in an environment where we had no rights other than the rights within our community ... If the teacher called us half-castes in the school there was nothing wrong with that. If the police would come into our homes and take people away because there was some offence committed somewhere in the vicinity there was nothing wrong with that. It was just the way of life and we grew up accepting that white people had some greater right than we did
- Evidence 7 - Mrs Isabelle & Mr John SmithLocation:Alice SpringsInstitution:The BungalowAge at time of removal:NA
... there was an air of gloom and repression about the place and the children were sad, silent and sullen. There was no laughter and it was a slow process to gain the confidence of the children ... The children and their mothers were frightened to say anything and had not the wherewithal to cope with the problems. Eventually one of the older girls plucked up enough courage to smuggle out a letter of complaint which came to the notice of the authorities ... On receipt of the letter the superintendent was immediately dismissed and left Alice Springs overnight. Girls of all ages from babies to adolescents slept in one dormitory that was poorly ventilated. There were rows of three tiered beds. Such cramped conditions led to all sorts of emotional and developmental pressures on those subject to them. The boys slept in a separate dormitory under similar circumstances. The advent of a new superintendent changed things markedly. The general situation improved ... [but] the children took a long time to recover from the repressive treatment
- Gertie Sambo (quoted by Rintoul 1993)Location:UnknownInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
I didn't have much schooling ... Now, thinking about it, we were told from the outset that we had to go to the mission because we had to go to school, but then when we got in there we weren't forced to go to school or anything. Gertie Sambo quoted by Rintoul 1993 on page 89.
- Muriel OlssonLocation:ColebrookInstitution:Colebrook HomeAge at time of removal:5
It was forbidden for us to talk in our own language. If we had been able we would have retained it ... we weren't allowed to talk about anything that belonged to our tribal life. Pring 1990 page 18 quoting Muriel Olsson, removed to Colebook, South Australia, at the age of 5.
- Pat O'shaneLocation:NSWInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:NSW
Education, employment, ethnocentrism
- Quoted by HankinsLocation:CootamundraInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
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.
- Quoted by Hebich 1982Location:Moore RiverInstitution:Moore River SettlementAge at time of removal:Unknown
It's a wonder we all survived with the food we got. For breakfast we got a bit of porridge with saccharine in it and a cup of tea. The porridge was always dry as a bone. Lunch was a plate of soup made out of bones, sheeps' heads and things like that, no vegetables. For dinner we had a slice of bread with jam and a cup of tea. After our dinner we were locked up in a dormitory for the night. WA woman who lived at Moore River Settlement from 1918 until 1939, quoted by Haebich 1982 on page 59.
- Quoted by Link-UpLocation:New South WalesInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
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.
- Submission 127 - Aboriginal Legal Service (WA)Location:UnknownInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
(Report of an Indigenous parent quoted in submission) p. 483 It's really awful. It is so difficult to try to bring up my children and send them to school when I am moving from one place to another. Since I was kicked out of Homeswest accommodation I haven't been able to find any accommodation. I live on Social Security and I have two children who are in high school. It is hard enough for our children to stay at school but when they have to move from school to school because we need to move and have a roof over our heads, it is very unsettling for them. That's why I have only got the two older boys. My daughter who is only ten lives with an aunty of mine in B. I wanted to look after her but some social worker from the Department said that it was best if we stayed in one place for my daughter's development. I was too scared to argue with the social worker because I know what the Department can be like. Quoted by ALSWA submission 127 on page 117.
- Submission 127 (quoted by WA Aboriginal Legal Service)Location:UnknownInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
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.
- Submission 127 - Aboriginal legal Service (WA)Location:UnknownInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
(Report of an Indigenous parent quoted in submission) p. 488 Sean is my son. He is 16 years of age. He is in jail at the moment. He has been in and out of jail since he was 12 years of age. He does not know how much it hurts me to see him locked up. He needs his family. I need him. When I go and visit him he tells me that he is very sorry for what he has done to me. He just cannot seem to help himself. He just cannot help getting into trouble with the cops. 'Sean has been in and out of jail for a number of offences. He does not really know what he wants in life. It is very hard for him and for me ... I have to look after five other children who are all younger than Sean ... Things have not changed that much from when I was taken away from parents and placed in a mission at Norseman. By the time I got out, my mum had died and I could not find my father. I think he had gone somewhere over east and from what I heard he hit the bottle pretty badly. Sean's father had also been taken away from his parents. He had gone to Mogumber Mission. He left me when Sean was only two years of age ... Sean's dad could not cope with his childhood. He was subjected to sexual abuse and made to work really hard. No wonder Sean is the way he is. I and Sean's dad have had our own problems and I suppose they have rubbed off on Sean. Quoted by ALSWA submission 127 on pages 335-6.
- Submission 186a (quoted by Linked-Up NSW)Location:UnknownInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
I didn't know anything about my Aboriginality until I was 46 years of age - 12 years after my father died. I felt very offended and hurt that this knowledge was denied me, for whatever reason. For without this knowledge I was not able to put the pathway of my own life into its correct place. When I did find out, for the first time in my life I understood why I had always felt different when I was a young man. Man whose Aboriginal father lived as a white, quoted by Link-Up (NSW) submission 186 part III on page 65.
- Submission 186b (quoted by Linked-Up NSWLocation:UnknownInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:Unknown
My grandfather wanted us to deny our Aboriginality so that we wouldn't be taken away. He used to say that none of his kids would live on a mission. We weren't allowed to say that we were Aboriginal, and we weren't allowed to mix with the Aboriginal people in the country town where we lived ... I didn't find out until Mum passed on that I was related to nearly everyone on the south coast. I even found out that the woman who lived across the street when were growing up was my Aunty. But all those years growing up I hadn't known. Quoted by Link-Up (NSW) submission 186 part III on page 64.
- Submission 345a (quoted by Kimberley Land Council)Location:Halls Creek, Lansdowne, Fitzroy Crossing, Derby, Moola BullaInstitution:UnknownAge at time of removal:12-13
When I was about twelve or thirteen years old I was taken to Moola Bulla. That's where I lost my Aboriginal ways. The Police came one day from Halls Creek when they were going on patrol to Lansdowne and found me, a half-caste child. The manager ... took me down to Fitzroy Crossing to wait for the mail truck from Derby to take me to Moola Bulla. When [the manager's wife] told my people, mum and dad, that they were taking me to Fitzroy Crossing for a trip, they told her 'you make sure you bring her back'. They did not know that I would never see them again. Quoted by Kimberley Land Council submission 345 on page 66.