'Finding my Family' by Rooth Wilay Robertson

'Finding my Family', Rooth Wilay Robertson

My painting depicts each family member, with all the different skin colours, as puzzle pieces finally all joined up to complete our story.

”On 13th July 1921, the Smith children were removed from Warangesda. White history would record that these actions were taken in the best interest of the children. White history lies. Lillian and Flora were taken to the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home and the three boys were taken to the Singleton Boys Home, thence to Kinchela Boys Home in Kempsey. Lillian was never to see her mother, father or brothers again. Her sister Flora was to provide the only information on Lilly's time in Cootamundra: 'Lilly was a good writer and a good singer, but she was never happy, she cried all the time.'

My aunt Lillian died on 27th July 1991. My mother Flora died the same year on 21st November. On 12th March 1992, the two small caskets containing Lilly and Flora's ashes were buried in their mother Violet's grave in the Goulburn Cemetery. Separated for 72 years in life, they were finally reunited in death.”

- Beverley Gulambali Elphick


Baldwin, Helen: This letter is written by Helen's great Grandfather, Frederick Carmichael requesting the return of his three grand daughters, Helen's mother Nellie and Nellie's sisters, Mary and Sarah after they were taken from his care on the Lake Tyres Mission Station in Victoria. Nellie's children were also taken at birth and placed in institutions. It has taken Helen 25 years to locate all five of her brothers and sisters. The story of Helen and her family can be found at:

Barber (Morgan), Sandra: Sandra is a Yorta Yorta woman. She was taken from her mother and placed in institutions and then placed in foster care with the woman who had also adopted Sandra's mother, taken from her family in the 1930's. She has three children and lives in Melbourne.

Bates, Kiedan: Keidan attends primary school in NSW.

Bingham, Veronica: Vonnie attends high school in Cockatoo. Her letter is addressed to an anonymous woman, 'Jennifer' who gave evidence at the original National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. Her story is part of the Commission's educational materials on the Bringing them home report, which can be accessed at: www.humanrights.gov.au/bth

Butler, Kevin: Kevin is from the Gumbaingirr community (Nambucca Heads) in NSW. He was adopted out as a child. In 1988, Kevin began to paint Aboriginal art. This was his way of getting in touch with his lost heritage. Kevin's artwork also featured in the Bringing them home Report.

'Someone once told me I should paint my dreams. I went one step further and painted my nightmares. For many stolen children who were raised by people who do not even share the same DNA, it is like being a restrained prisoner behind metal bars.'

Clark, Fred: Fred is a Yorta Yorta man. He and his two brothers were separated when they were stolen. Fred grew up in Ballarat Orphanage. Fred has a daughter and a grand-daughter and lives in Melbourne.

Connors, Tahlee: Tahlee is attending primary school in Glebe.

Coolwell, Alfred: Alfred began searching for his family as a young adult.
His tribe is the Mununjali from Beaudesert, South East Queensland.

This photo was taken by Emily Bullock:
Back row from left- Ailsa Coolwell (father's sister), Alfred Coolwell, Grace Coolwell (Alfred's sister), Mary Sandy (Alfred's aunt), Norm (Ailsa's husband). Front row from left- Lena Yarry (Alfred's sister), Bradley Coolwell (nephew).

Copely, Ivan: My name is Ivan Copley “Tiwu” and I'm the second of six children.
Ngai Tandanya-ngga Worni. (I'm of Adelaide). I am a Kaurna/Peramangk man, my Great Grandmother was born near Womma-uk-urta (Mt Barker) 1860's on the land of the Per-a-Mangk People, near a government water hole and my Grandfather, Father, Mother & myself were raised on Kaurna land around Plympton and the Sand hills around Glenelg North.

Most of my life has been learning about my Aboriginal heritage, customs and have a good knowledge of sacred sites and their dreaming through out the Peramangk, Kaurna Lands and some of their surrounding Nations in South Australia. My Family also came from West Coast or were at the Poonindie Mission, Point Pearce, Point McLeay and Harrogate.

Cox, Jonathon: Jonathon was taken from his mother two weeks after he was born. He was made a ward of the state and fostered until, at 21 months, he was adopted and raised by loving adoptive parents Ron and Marie Cox, to whom he dedicates his contribution to this publication. They worked for much of their lives to better the lives of Aboriginal Australians.

Dennis, Stephanie: Stephanie attends high school in Melbourne. She wrote this letter of support to 'Jennifer' a confidential submission to the original National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. Jennifer's story is part of the Commission's educational materials on the Bringing them home report, which can be accessed at: www.humanrights.gov.au/bth

Elphick, Beverley Gulambali: Lillian Smith is Beverley's aunt. She and her sister Flora (Beverley's mother) and brothers, Clarence, Hector and Bruce were taken from their family in 1921.

Fallon, Yveane: Yve has both Koori and Celtic heritage, and spent time in institutional care as a child. She is still searching for her Aboriginal roots.

Artwork: The Rainbow Serpent
'This painting is in Indian ink and is a variation of the Aboriginal flag. The Rainbow serpent entangled from the centre of the sun and spreading to all corners of our nation signifying first people's unity and the spirit of the rainbow serpent across the land. The patterns although varying, are interlocked and overlapped in displays of Koori and Celtic styles to show the connectiveness and diversity of our peoples. The land in white, the sun centre circle, and each dotted line are representing our ancestors, descendants and future generations.'

Grant, Beverley Lipscomb: Bev is a Wiradjuri woman and spent her first three years with her family on the Lachlan River at Goolagong NSW until she was taken to the Aboriginal Mission Children's Home, Bomaderry. She excelled at school and went to University to train as a nurse. Bev has been working in health, particularly Aboriginal health research ever since. Beverley's mother was also taken and attended the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girl's Home.

Haines, Roseanne: Roseanne was born in Tasmania. She is the sixth of 15 children that were all taken from her mother. 'My family is still torn apart and still today the pain is still very fresh and fractured.'

Artwork (below): My first two years of life were blessed with love; this love gave me my spiritual inner strength to survive when I was taken away. I was made a state ward and placed in foster care. After the birth of my first child I knew I had to express the pain I felt from within before it consumed my entire body, spirit and soul. I couldn't write it or speak it, the pain was so intense, I felt shame. So I thought I'd try drawing it. This is the result I've kept shamefully hidden for 24 years. This is part of my story.

Artwork by Roseanne Haines

Hayes, Jeannie: Jeannie is the fourth child of ten. Her parents are of Aboriginal and Irish Catholic descent. Jeannie was raised in Tailem Bend on the banks of the Murray River, South Australia. She was incarcerated between 1968 and 1970 in various state institutions in NSW. Jeannie has one son and enjoys the outdoors- the beach, bushwalking and camping. She now lives on the Central Coast.

Hooker, Mary: Mary and her brothers and sister were taken away from their mother, separated and sent to various homes including Rystone, Yarra Bay, Montrose and Lynwood Hall.

Kruger, Alec: As an infant, Alec Kruger was removed from his family and spent much of his early life with his people, and became aware of how much had been taken from him. In the 1990s, Alec initiated legal action against the Commonwealth. He claimed that the Northern Territory Ordinance under which Aboriginal children like him were removed from their families was invalid because it violated a number of rights (explicit and implied) in the Constitution. He also claimed that the Ordinance was an instrument of genocide and was therefore unlawful. In 1997 the High Court of Australia found that the territories power in the Constitution (s122) could be exercised by the Commonwealth without regard to the rights of Australians living in the territories, and therefore the Ordinance was valid. It also found that the intent of the Ordinance was not to destroy Aboriginal peoples, and so was not an instrument of genocide - regardless of its impact. While Alec Kruger's case failed, it threw into sharp relief the lack of rights of all Australians, including Indigenous Australians, under the Constitution. It also flagged some of the hurdles that other Stolen Generation litigants might face. In this way it paved the way for the first successful claim for compensation by a member of the Stolen Generation - in Trevorrow v South Australia - ten years later.

Leon, Charles Larry: Charles was taken at three yrs old and placed in foster care. 'When I was growing up I felt there was something different about me. In 2003 I met my birth mother. I found out that I had nine sisters but I never knew any of them until April 2003 when I went to a religious rally at Redfern Block. On the second night I sat next to an Aboriginal woman who offered me something to eat. I told her I was looking for my birth family. It was a miracle! She knew two of my sisters and a couple of days later brought one of my sisters to meet me. So far I have met six sisters, and yet my journey has just begun as I recover my lost history and culture.' Charles has been singing with the Sydney Street Choir for six years.

Love, Lawry: Lawry is an artist who has spent considerable time in the Northern Territory over the last 7 years.

'I was working for a Mini Bus company and got talking to many Aboriginal people, who told me they were taken away as children from their land and their people, and put in institutions. I started to wonder in what way I could do something to inform the general public about the things that happened to these children, and the way that being taken away stripped them of their culture.

Being an artist, I decided to paint Culture Shock, an exhibition of 18 paintings. I approached the South Australian Museum to discuss exhibiting the story, and they came on board, along with ATSIC. During the five months of the Exhibition, I made available blank canvasses, for anyone who had something to say, or a message to leave, to write it on those canvasses. Many people from the Stolen Generation, ex Police Officers involved in taking the children, and members of the general public expressed their sorrow.'

Mason, Christopher: Chris Mason is an Aboriginal man of the Gnemba clan from Brewarrina. He has been learning about Aboriginal art as a way to reconnect with this culture and country and looks forward to meeting his family as he finds them. This dot painting is his second artwork.

McGee-Sippel, Lorraine: Lorraine is a Yorta Yorta woman. She has performed her work at the State Library of NSW, the NSW Writer's Centre, Reconciliation meetings and the Koori radio program, Awaye. Excerpts of Lorraine's story have also appeared in Many Voices: Reflections on experiences of indigenous child separations, edited by Doreen Mellor and Anna Haebich. Lorraine's autobiography, Hey Mum, What's a Half Caste? was short- listed for the David Uniapon Award in 2006.

'My writing is in response to the pain I felt from not knowing my family and true cultural identity.'

McHugh, Siobhan: Siobhan is a freelance Irish-born documentary maker, oral historian and writer. These extracted interviews were taken from her radio documentary, Beagle Bay: Irish Nuns and Stolen Children. The documentary features Phyllis Bin Barka and Daisy Howard and their experiences of being stolen from the East Kimberley and growing up with the Irish nuns at Beagle Bay. The documentary was short- listed for a Walkley Award for Excellence in Journalism.

This documentary can be accessed in full here: www.humanrights.gov.au/bth
For more information about Siobhan and her work visit www.mchugh.org

McInerney, Kunyi: June- Anne, named Kunyi by her family, was born on Todmorton Station, South Australia in 1951. At the age of four, Kunyi along with her sister and two brothers were placed in the Oodnadatta Children's Mission Home. The Missionaries renamed her Anne. At eight, Kunyi was fostered out in Adelaide where she was named June. She still lives in Adelaide with her three children.

Kunyi's works portray a landscape remembered from childhood- paintings of family and friends, remembered experiences expressing a strong feeling for her people and environment. Her works shown here are rendered in oil on canvas. Kunyi graduated from the University of South Australia in 1995.

Artwork 'The Punishment', 1994
'This painting is about us in Oodnadatta Mission. If we ripped our dresses or shorts we were made to wear potato sack dresses. The missionaries cut a hole for the head and two holes for the arms to fit in.

We could not play in this bag dress, as it was too itchy. That is why the girl is sitting on the tin can. The boy is sitting next to her as a comfort to the girl- avoiding eye contact with the missionary as she would hunt him away. We would wear this sack till we had learnt not rip our clothes again. Our clothes got ripped because we climbed wire fences that surrounded the mission home and we would climb over them instead of going through the gate, as the gate was further down the fence. If we were playing chase it was quicker to climb the fence than get caught by the person who was chasing.'

Artwork 'The Box', 1994
This painting is about me trapped in a world of daily torture and yelling abuse. I never seem to do anything right, - the foster parents- had no patience or love for us. To me they fostered us to get praise etc from the church we used to go to and because of us; they received handouts of clothes and food etc.

I have my ears closed so I cannot hear anymore-negative talk about me. I went to school with so many bruises on my legs and arms and buttocks from daily physical abuse with either sticks, whips, bamboo or flexible thin sticks that were more painful than straps.

I am dressed like an angel as I did not think I was as bad as they said I was and I have my fingers in my ears as I do not want to hear anymore abuse.

Milroy, Gladys: Gladys is an elder of the Palku people from Marble Bar in Western Australia. She was born in 1927, taken from her mother when she was two years old and placed in the Parkerville Children's Home run by the nuns of the Church of England. Gladys stayed there until she was 12. Gladys is a story teller and a poet and has five children, 14 grand children and one great grandchild.

Narkle, Harry and Jennifer: Harry and Jennifer live in Kulin, Western Australia.

Nelson, Susanne: Susanne is a Yorta Yorta woman. Susanne, her sister and two brothers were removed from their family in 1962 when she was 5 years old. Susanne grew up in the Lutheran Children's Home in Kew, Victoria.

'My returning to my family over the last 26 years has been too painful. I had to make the decision to walk away from my brothers and sisters this year. I am just worn out emotionally, physical and spiritually. Our lives were dramatically destroyed in one day. Do I think about my siblings? Yes. Everyday, and the warm bed that we will never have again.'

Nolan, David: David grew up in Bethcar Children's Home, Brewarrina.

Poetry: The poem 'Mission Breed' is about my life on the 'Mish', with the people I grew up with in the Home. The poem 'Your Spirit in my Hands' is about reconnection with my mother after getting out of the Home. Things would never be the same after learning of my mother's overdose.

Penny, Fred: Fred is a Nyoongar man and grew up on Wandering Mission.

'As a musician I contribute to the betterment of Aboriginal people and the awareness of non-Aboriginal people. My songs are driven by justice, equality and a fair go for all. I am always pleased to play alongside my son and always hope that it encourages our fathers and sons and mothers and daughters to do things together.'

Ridgeway, Les: Les was one of only three Aboriginal people in NSW to manage a mission station. He continues to fight for the rights of Aboriginal people in Australia, particularly in relation to the return of 'stolen wages' in NSW.

Roach, Vickie Lee: Vickie and her brother were taken from her mother when Vickie was 2 ½ years old and placed with separate families from the Church of Christ. Vickie's has been writing poetry and plays for many years. Her writings have been published and performed as plays, songs and performance pieces. In 2007 Vickie was awarded first prize in the Bridge Foundation's Literary Competition. While in prison in the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre in Victoria, Vickie completed a Masters of Writing through Swinburne University in 2006 and is currently writing her PhD. Vickie has also successfully challenged in the High Court Commonwealth legislation which prohibited prison inmates from voting.

Roberts, Kerrie: Kerrie is a Kamillaroi woman. She was adopted at six weeks old by lovely people. Kerrie found out she was Aboriginal when she was 12, but only began to pursue her Aboriginal heritage as an adult. She has two children and works as an Indigenous teacher's aide. The photograph shows Kerrie with some of her brothers and sisters. From left to right: Jason, Kerrie, Kevin, Joanne, Clancy and Della.

Robertson, Rooth: Rooth's family is from the Wiradjuri people. Rooth is an Aboriginal artist who has been searching for her family roots for 30 years. She has expressed her joy at finding her family in the artwork featured here, 'finding my Family.'

Rutty, Tim: Tim is a student at Sherbrook Community School in Victoria.

Stuurman, Robert: Robert Stuurman was born as John Ronald Cuttabut. He was adopted out to Dutch migrants in the 1960's and lived overseas in Holland and on Bougainville Island in the 1970's.

He came to Brisbane in 1992 and had a reunion with his mother Alma Toomath in 1994. This is where he was taught Aboriginal art and spirituality and has continued to express his culture through art practice. Robert also met his father in 2004 who was an English Orphan shipped out after WWII. He only met his father once.

Having both reunions has given Robert closure and acceptance of who he is and is an advocate for identity and social change using art as a medium. He is currently lecturing at the Queensland University of Technology in the Oodgeroo unit and is researching Aboriginal Art practice.

Thomas, Eddie: Eddie was stolen from Flinders Island and taken to a home on the Tasmanian mainland in a suburb of Launceston. He spent the next 18 years in a series of institutions.

Eddie thought it important to contribute to Us Taken-Away Kids in light of the positive events that had occurred within Tasmania in the last 12 months, specifically the passing of the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal Children Bill 2006 during 2006. He now works with the Tasmania Aboriginal Corporation assisting others in finding their families and working through the emotional difficulties associated with being a Stolen Child.

Toongerie AM, George: George was the first baby boy placed into care at Colebrook in South Australia; this was in 1926. George is the current Chairperson of the Aboriginal Lands Trust at Walkley Heights in South Australia.

George wanted to contribute to Us Taken-Away Kids because he has witnessed the damage done to people through the forced removal from their parents particularly in his interactions with the criminal justice system.

Turnbull, Elaine: Elaine is from the Gumbaynggirr community and grew up in the Coventry Church of England Girls Home. She is currently in her final year of a Bachelor of Adult Indigenous Education at the University of Technology, Sydney.

'My personal experience of huge trauma was and is ongoing. The healing process of still being conducted today. Even merely talking of my experience helps relieve pent up emotions and helps turn them into positive feelings. The journey may not work for everyone, however, I am convinced that by addressing the traumatic feelings the journey of healing begins.'

Williams- Mozley, John Ntjalka: The oldest of eight children, John was the first to be taken away from his mother, Mary Barbara Williams from Palm Valley, NT at the age of eight months old. John grew up in Charleston, in NSW. He did not find out he was adopted until the age of 9 where he then began the long search for his family. His determination and the help from people such as Mum Shirl saw him locate his mother, whom he spoke to for the first time when he was 27 years old. All of John's brothers and sisters were also removed, just as his mother had before them. Upon being reunited with his family, John's mother told him that she had never stopped believing he was alive. Today, John is a proud traditional owner of his family's country, Palm Valley, Ntaria.

Yarry, Lena: Lena and her sister Grace were taken and placed in the Toowoomba Girls Home for 5 years, then the Kulinna Girls Home for a year. They had a terrible time in the homes, and Lena tried to escape several times. Lena and Grace were never able to reconnect with their Aboriginal heritage, but an adult, Lena has stressed the importance of cultural knowledge to her children who are proud of their Aboriginal heritage. Lena particularly feels that it is important her children do not feel the anger and prejudice towards white Australia that she herself has felt for much of her early life- and it is the only way to move forward, 'you can't walk around with the prejudice, but you gotta teach the kids'. She is very proud of her children and has found some peace in finding her siblings. (Alfred Coolwell, listed above, is Lena's brother).

Your Spirit in My Hands

I wish I knew the truth behind
Why you'd want to die
To end your life and leave your kids
For heaven in the sky
recall the seizures,
The comas night and day
The fear and expectation
Of you passing away
So many empty questions
No one to explain
The endless box of Bex powders
And valium for pain
Was it 'cause the welfare man
Took us all away?
Or your fathers' blaming you
For your brothers' death that day?
Someone out there knows the truth
That someone I must find
The reasons why you overdosed
Us out of your mind
A mother's love toward her kids
Vanished in the air
Taken captive by the drugs
That took her mind somewhere
No longer knowing family
Her daughter, her four sons
No longer feeling pain or love
For us or anyone
I cherish one small memory of you
In your fathers' yard
Sitting in Nan's rose garden
Concentrating hard
On crimson petals in your hand
A sketch pad lies in wait
Longing to embrace the image
Only you create

You're here with me in every way
In everything I do
I sense your spirit in my hands
When I start sketching too
My father taught me Koori culture
My identity
Mum you gave me all my talents
For everything that I do
That I aspire to be
I draw from you, my heroine
You gave your strengths to me.

- David Nolan Possum, Wiradjuri