Written Testimonies

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 138 - Jack
    Fiji, Torres Strait
    Age at time of removal:

    ... the Australian Government owes a historical debt to Jack's grandmother (my sister) which it can only repay by granting Jack the right to remain in this country. Jack's birthright was stolen from him by Missionaries acting with the consent of the Queensland Government at the turn of the century and he is morally entitled to compensation. The least that can be done to compensate him would be to grant him a right to reside in his own country.

  • Confidential evidence 313
    Age at time of removal:

    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 678 - Sarah
    Perth (Queen's Park)
    Sister Kate's Home
    Age at time of removal:
    4 years

    When I accessed my file, I found out that the police and the station people at B... Station felt that my mother was looking after me. And they were unsure of why I was being taken away. They actually asked if I could stay there. But because I was light-skinned with a white father, their policy was that I had to be taken away. I was then the third child in a family of, as it turned out to be, 13. I was the only one taken away from the area [at the age of 4 in 1947].

    The year that I was taken away, my [maternal] uncle wrote a letter to the then Native Welfare and asked if I could be returned to him, because he had an Aboriginal wife and he was bringing up his child. And he gave an undertaking to send me to school when I was of school age and to ensure that I was looked after. The letter that went back from the Commissioner of Native Affairs said that I was light-skinned and shouldn't be allowed to mix with natives.

    My mother didn't know what happened to me. My eldest brother and my auntie tried to look for me. But they were unable to find out where I'd been sent.

    When I was sent to Sister Kate's in '47, the policies of Sister Kate, even though she'd died the year previous, were still very much in hand. There was possibly something like one hundred kids there and we were brought up in various stages by various house mothers - who were usually English ladies who were not really interested in us. So it was a situation where the younger kids were looked after by the older kids and they were really the only parents that we knew.

    We were constantly told that we didn't have families and that we were white children. It wasn't until we went across the road to school that we were called the names of 'darkies' and 'niggers' and those sorts of names. So when we were at school we were niggers and when we were home we were white kids. The policy of the home was to take only the light-skinned children because Sister Kate's policy was to have us assimilated and save us from natives.

    We were sent to school. We were given religious instruction seven days a week. We were all baptised, then confirmed in the Anglican faith. Usually the boys were sent out at an early age to work on farms; and the girls too, as domestics. So all of our training was consistent with the aim that we would become subservient to white people as domestics or farmhands. We started doing our own washing and things like that from the time we went to school. And we were also involved in the main washing at the big laundry - that's the sheets and things.

    But generally your own washing was done on a weekly basis at the house that you lived in, which was a cottage arrangement.

    You all had chores before and after school. There was a main kitchen which did all the meals for the home, and once you started school you were old enough to go over early in the morning and peel vegetables for one hundred kids. So that was all part of the training to be domestics.

    We had cows at Sister Kate's. So the boys had to milk the cows and make sure the milk was ready every morning. The boys did the gardening and the general labouring work. The boys were basically being trained as farmhands or labourers and the girls as domestics. There was no thought of any other alternative.

    We were discouraged from any contact with Aboriginal people. We had to come into Perth to go to the dentist and the hospital and we would usually be sent in with a house parent or one of the older girls. And you'd come in on the train to East Perth. Our instructions were quite explicit: run across the park, don't talk to the natives. Go to Native Welfare, get your slip, go across the road to the dentist, get your dental treatment done, back to the Native Welfare to report in, run across the park and catch the 3.15 home. You were never allowed to catch the next train. If you missed that train you'd be in trouble when you got home because you might have talked to natives.

    But the problem was that a lot of the people who were in the park, while they were drinking or just in groups, actually knew some of the kids, and used to yell out to you. And you had then little hints that somebody knew you. Not so much me, because I was from the country. But other kids had a feeling that those people must know somebody.

    As we got older, some people's family used to turn up and they were discouraged, they were sent away, or the kids were removed from that particular area.

    We were sent out to families for holidays. That didn't occur until my upper primary school years. And I used to go to a place in G. And they had one little girl there. I wasn't overly sure why I was being sent there because I didn't like it. It came to a head one Christmas when I found out. I got up in the morning - Christmas morning - and the little girl had been given this magnificent bride doll, and I'd been given a Raggedy Ann doll. So I asked could I go home and I was taken home. I got a good hiding and was sent to bed and told how ungrateful I was because those people wanted to adopt me. I didn't know what 'adopt' meant. But I said I couldn't go somewhere where I didn't get the same as the other kid.

    There was no love or anything in the home. That only came from the other kids. But you never really had a chance to confide in anybody about your problems. You found out the hard way about the facts of life. Girls with menstrual problems, things like that, nobody ever told you about it, they just happened.

    Children would disappear from Sister Kate's in the early '50s but we didn't know where they went to. We later found out. The scars on the kids are still there. If you were naughty - and naughty could mean anything - if you were extra cheeky or if you ran away overnight or played up with the boys - if you were just caught mixing with the boys too much - the girls were sent to the Home of the Good Shepherd. One girl that I grew up with was sent there for three years from the age of eleven. She never knew why. She just disappeared one morning. That was a lock-up situation at the Home of the Good Shepherd. They were never allowed out of the compound itself. At that time, they did all the washing and ironing for the private schools. That's the sort of hard life those kids had and there was constant physical abuse of the kids ...

    Some of the boys that disappeared, we discovered they'd gone up to Stoneville, which was the boys' institution at that time. One boy at one time ended up in Heathcote [psychiatric institution]. I don't think we know to this day why he ended up in Heathcote. But it just seemed to be that the power was enormous. We were able to be dealt with just like that.

    In 1957, with two other children, I was told that I had to go to court. I couldn't remember doing anything wrong. But I was taken down to the Children's Court. I was made a State ward because I was declared to be a destitute child. And I still to this day can't work out how I was declared to be a destitute child when the Government took me away from a mother who was looking after me. Being made a State ward gave Sister Kate's another income, a regular income until I was the age of 18. They then didn't have to depend on Native Welfare for the six pounds a year or whatever they used to get for us. They got extra money and when I turned 18 I'd be eligible for a clothing allowance, even though I was going to be sent out to work earlier.

    I was told I was going to be sent out as a domestic. I was told if I didn't do well I'd go out as a domestic. I put my head down with about six other kids. And we got through second year [high school] and then third year, so we were saved from being domestics.

    When the Presbyterians took over the home in the mid '50s, they then added an extra lot of religion to us. We used to have religion from the Presbyterian faith as well as the Anglican faith. So we weren't sure what we were. And the policies of Sister Kate's were still adhered to in as much as we were discouraged from having any contact with families.

    In my second year [high school] I received a letter from my second eldest brother and a photograph telling me he'd had information from a girl my same age who was in Sister Kate's but had gone home [about] where I was and all that sort of information. So he sent me a letter asking me to write back. I don't know how I managed to get the letter. But I went to see Mr D. [the superintendent] and was told that people do that all the time; I should ignore that because some of these people just want us and they would take us away and we'd be with natives. We had a fear of natives because that had been something that had been part of our upbringing. So we were frightened.

    [Sarah was finally traced by a nephew when she was in her thirties.]

    And suddenly I met a mother I never knew existed and a whole family that I didn't know. My mother blamed herself all those years for what happened. Because I was the only one who was taken away, she thought it was her fault somehow.

    Confidential evidence 678, Western Australia.

  • Confidential evidence 696
    Age at time of removal:
    13 months

    I went through an identity crisis. And our identity is where we come from and who we are. And I think, instead of compensation being in the form of large sums of money, I personally would like to see it go into some form of land acquisition for the people who were taken away, if they so wish, to have a place that they can call their own and that they can give to their children. My wife and I are trying to break this cycle, trying our hardest to break this cycle of shattered families. We're going to make sure that we stick together and bring our children up so they know who they are, what they are and where they came from. Confidential evidence 696, New South Wales: man happily adopted into a non-Indigenous family at 13 months in the 1960s.; p. 258 I think compensation for me would be something like a good land acquisition where I could call my own and start the cycle of building good strong foundations for Aboriginal families. Because the whole thing started from people coming to this country and stealing the land, and then everything fell apart from then on. So I think for people who have been dispossessed of land, but more importantly dispossessed of our identities and dispossessed of where we came from ... I think to give us compensation in the form of some land acquisition would go very well into helping start stable family relationships and stable generations from here on in.

  • Confidential submission 82 - Tony
    Boys Town
    Age 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.

  • Submission 186b (quoted by Linked-Up NSW
    Age at time of removal:

    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.