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Reflections on the Stolen Generation

This year (2001) the Journey of Healing will focus on the families and communities left behind when children were removed from their families. The Journey of Healing aims to engender a national determination to heal the wounds of all those affected and to overcome their disadvantage. To launch the Journey of Healing 2001, Malcolm Fraser and Lowitja O'Donoghue stated:

Many Aboriginal communities were torn apart by the assimilation policies. Families were moved frequently from one reserve or mission to another. Sometimes they were separated. Some fled to avoid having their children taken. These experiences are integral to the social disruption among Aboriginal Australians today. For trust to grow between them and the wider community, their stories need to be heard.

This Sophia Circle is based on David Hudson's music, The Stolen Generation: Rosie's Freedom (David Hudson, Didgeralia). It has 4 movements:

1) Homeland
2) Capture
3) Mission Life
4) Freedom

Homeland

In the setting is a large candle, a variety of brightly coloured cloths, greenery, an Aboriginal flag, and an Indigenous baby in a coolamon. As the music begins, an edited version of Miriam Rose Ungunmerr's Dadirri is read. During the reading, the candle is lit representing the spirit of Dadirri.

Dadirri

A special quality, a unique gift of the Aboriginal people, is inner deep listening and quiet still awareness. Dadirri recognises the deep spring that is inside us. It is something like what you call contemplation. The contemplative way of Dadirri spreads over our whole life. It renews us and brings us peace. It makes us feel whole again. In our Aboriginal way we learnt to listen from our earliest times. We could not live good and useful lives unless we listened.

We are not threatened by silence. We are completely at home in it. Our Aboriginal way has taught us to be still and wait. We do not try to hurry things up. We let them follow their natural course - like the seasons. We are like the tree standing in the middle of a bushfire sweeping through the timber. The leaves are scorched and the tough bark is scarred and burnt, but inside the tree the sap is still flowing and under the ground the roots are still strong. Like that tree we have endured the flames and we still have the power to be re-born.

Our people are used to the struggle and the long waiting. We still wait for the white people to understand us better. We ourselves have spent many years learning about the white man's ways; we have learnt to speak the white man's language; we have listened to what he had to say. This learning and listening should go both ways. We are hoping people will come closer. We keep on longing for the things that we have always hoped for, respect and understanding.

There are deep springs within each one of us. Within this deep spring, which is the very spirit, is a sound. The sound of Deep calling to Deep. The time for rebirth is now. If our culture is alive and strong and respected, it will grow. It will not die and our spirit will not die. I believe the spirit of Dadirri that we have to offer will blossom and grow, not just within ourselves but in our whole nation.

An opportunity is now given for anyone to light a small candle from the Dadirri candle and make some response to the first movement.

Capture

As the music plays, various extracts from the Report compiled by Ron Wilson for the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission are read. (The extracts are noted as "Report" and page number.)

In NSW in 1890, the Aborigines' Protection Board had developed a policy to remove children of mixed descent from their families to be merged into the non-Indigenous population. The board reasoned that if the Aboriginal population, described by some as a wild race of half castes, was growing, then it would somehow have to be diminished. If the children were to be de-socialised as Aborigines and re-socialised as Whites, they would somehow have to be removed from their parents. (Report p. 40)

The baby is removed from the coolamon and a second empty coolamon is placed in the setting.

As the Board had very little resources, it relied on local police to administer its child removal policy: The policeman, who no doubt was doing his duty, patted his handcuffs, which were in a leather case on his belt. And which May (my sister) and I thought was a revolver. "I'll have to use this if you do not let us take these children now." Thinking that the policeman would shoot Mother because she was trying to stop him, we screamed, "We'll go with him Mum, we'll go." ...Then the policeman sprang another shock. He said he had to go to the hospital to pick up Geraldine (my baby sister), who was to be taken as well. The horror on my mother's face and her heartbroken cry! (Report p. 41)

Pause and allow coloured cloths to be removed and broken sticks to be placed in the setting.

Because my mother wasn't educated, the white people were allowed to come in and do whatever they wanted to do - all she did was sign papers. Quite possibly, she didn't even know what she signed... The biggest hurt, I think, was having my mum chase the welfare car - I'll always remember it - we were looking out the window and mum was running behind us and singing out for us. They locked us in the police cell up here and mum was walking up and down outside the police station and crying and screaming out for us. (Report p. 48)

Pause for opportunity to exchange coloured cloths for broken sticks.

All of a sudden the Welfare just came and took them, they didn't say anything to me, just picked up the boys coming back from the shop and the Welfare made them wards of the State. I used to work at the hospital nursing, keeping my little family together. If the Welfare wanted to help they could have given me money every fortnight... They weren't helping taking them away and splitting us up, that was the most terrible thing that they done to my family, my sons and myself. (Report p. 112)

Pause for opportunity for coloured cloths to be exchanged for broken sticks and for small candles to be lit from the Dadirri candle and some response made to the second movement.

Mission Life

As the music starts, put in the setting pictures of children in the mission stations or government homes and anything that symbolises white Christian education.

Moore River Settlement had rapidly declined under a brutal indifference. Here economy had taken the form of ignoring maintenance and any improvement of buildings, reducing to a minimum the diet of inmates and doing away with the use of cutlery - the children in the compounds being forced to eat with their hands ... even toys, such as plasticine, were removed from the classroom. Unhappiness and the desperate anxiety to locate and rejoin family members led to a sharp increase in absconders and runaways. Punishment was harsh and arbitrary, and the inmates feared the police trackers who patrolled the settlement and hunted down escapees. (Report p. 158)

These are people telling you to be Christian and they treat you less than a bloody animal. One boy, his leg was that gangrene we could smell him all down the dormitories before they finally got him treated properly. (Report, p. 160)

There was a big poster at the end of the dining room and it used to be pointed out to us all the time when religious instruction was going on in the afternoon. They had these Aborigine people sitting at the end of this big wide road and they were playing cards, gambling and drinking. And it had this slogan which they used to read to us and point to us while they're saving us from ourselves and giving our souls to the Lord. It had, "Wide is the road that leads us into destruction" which lead us into hell. The other side they had these white people, all nicely dressed, leading on this narrow road, and "Narrow is the road that leads us into the kingdom of life or the Kingdom of God." (Report p. 157)

Extract from the poem Six o'Clock... Outa Bed by James Miller 1994 (Report p. 56):

Six 0'Clock... Outa Bed

She entered Coota a young girl
about eleven/twelve but already
mature for her years.

She knew how to look after
her younger brothers and sister, keep house
and herself, her mother made sure of that.

Her life was forcefully changed.
She was parted from her brothers.
White washed in a 'new alien' white
way of thinking.

She never really had a childhood,
she went from baby clothes to
Government uniforms, controlled by the
times of day.

Six o'clock out of bed, wash, dress, work, breakfast,
work, inferior schooling, home, change clothes, work,
wash, tea, bed, nightmares, worry, little sleep,
cry.

Six o'clock, out of bed, wash....

Talk like whites, behave like whites,
pray like whites. Be white.

An opportunity is offered for the lighting of small candles from the Dadirri candle as response to the third movement.

Freedom

Going home is fundamental to healing the effects of separation. Going home means finding out who you are as an Aboriginal; where you come from, who your people are, where your belonging place is, what your identity is; going home is fundamental to the healing process of those who were taken away as well as those who were left behind.

The baby is returned to the empty coolamon.

Just as there are many homes, there are many journeys home. Each one of us will have a different journey from anyone else. The journey home is mostly ongoing and in some ways never completed. It is a process of discovery and recovery, it is a process of rebuilding relationships which have been disrupted, or broken, or never allowed to begin because of separation. (Report p. 233)

The journey home is a journey to find out where we come from, so that we can find out who we are and where we are going. Going home is essential to healing the wounds of separation. At the core, going home means finding out who you are as an Aboriginal person, finding your identity as an Aboriginal person, finding out where you belong. It may or may not include physically going home and meeting relatives, but at a minimum it should include having sufficient information about where you come from in order to make that decision. (Report p. 234)

Pause for opportunity for coloured cloths to be put back into the setting.

I was never proud to be black - I never was. It wasn't until I met my family for the first time in my life that I was actually proud to be who I was. (Report p. 234)

Pause for opportunity for coloured cloths to be put back into the setting.

It was this kind of instant recognition. I looked like her, you know? It was really nice. She just kind of ran up to me and threw her arms around me and gave me a hug and that was really nice. And then suddenly there was all these brothers coming out of the woodwork. I didn't know I had any siblings. And uncles and aunts and cousins. Suddenly everyone was coming around to meet me. (Report p. 235)

Pause for opportunity to put coloured cloths back into the setting and the lighting of small candles from the Dadirri candle in response to the fourth movement.

All say together the Prayer for the Journey of Healing.

Prayer for the Journey of Healing
(A contribution to the nation, for use and adaptation,
from the WA Reconciliation Inter-faith Working Group)

God of all creation,
We who have come from every land give thanks for Australia;
This earth that feeds us;
The shores that bind us;
The skies that envelop us in freedom.

We stand together, united as one people;
Proud of our ability to work together;
Grateful for our gifts;
Nourished by our diversity and our harmony.

Yet we turn to the original owners of our land, and see, too, what we have taken.
We weep for their loss of freedom, of country, of children - even of their very lives.
We stand in awe at their survival, and in debt for their land.

We have shadows in our history which if unfaced diminish us.
We have taken without asking;
Our nation has taken without asking;
Lives are wounded. We see the pain, feel the sorrow and seek forgiveness.

Let us look back with courage, see the truth and speak it.
Let us look around with compassion; see the cost and share it.
Let us look forward with hope; see what can be and create it.

Give us courage to face the 'truth'
Compassion to share the burden -
Strength to play our part in the healing -
And hope to walk forward to a place of justice.

With courage, compassion, strength and hope,
We will walk together on the journey of healing.

All join in or listen to the song Took the Children Away by Archie Roach, produced by Paul Kelly and Steve Connolly, 1990.

Took the Children Away

This story's right, this story's true
I would not lie to you
Like the promises they did not keep
And how they fenced us in like sheep
Said to us come take our hand
Sent us off to mission land
Taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away.
Took the children away.
The children away
Snatched from their mother's breast
Said it was for the best
Took them away.

The welfare and the policeman
Said you've got to understand
We'll give them what you can't give
Teach them how to really live
Teach them how to live they said
Humiliated them instead
Taught them that and taught them this
And others taught them prejudice
You took the children away
The children away
Breaking their mother's heart
Tearing us all apart
Took them away.

One dark day on Framingham
Came and didn't give a damn
My mother cried go get your dad
He came running fighting mad
Mother's tears were falling down
Dad shaped up, he stood his ground
He said you touch my kids and you fight me
And they took us from our family
Took us away
They took us away
Snatched from our mother's breast
Said this is for the best
Took us away.

Told us what to do and say
Told us all the white man's ways
Then they split us up again
And gave us gifts to ease the pain
Sent us off to foster homes
As we grew up we felt alone
Cause we were acting white
Yet feeling black.

One sweet day all the children came back
The children came back
The children came back
Back where their hearts grow strong
Back where they all belong
The children came back
Said the children came back
The children came back
Back where they understand
Back to their mother's land
The children came back

Back to their mother
Back to their father
Back to their sister
Back to their brother
Back to their people
Back to their land
All the children came back
The children came back
The children came back
Yes I came back.

 

28 May 2001

Graphic of Australia from New Horizons Australian Graphics Selection CD

 

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