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Personal Statement

On 28th March 1944 I was placed under the control of the Aboriginal Welfare Board (AWB) through the Children Court in Sydney. My two brothers Gustave and John and my six sisters Amy, Adelaide, Rita, Valerie, Dorothy and Patricia were split up & placed in different homes. My brothers and I were admitted to Kinchela Boys Home at Kempsey and my sisters were split up between Bomaderry Children’s Home and Cootamundra Girls Home.

Transcript

Vince Wenberg

Duration: 13:17

I’m Vincent Keith Wenberg, my name was and I was born in 1932, 28th of April 1932 at a place called Uligandi Island near Maclean.

[His mother’s Aboriginal heritage]
I think she came from more or less the Bundjalung tribe.  Cause she, she come from Cabbage Tree Island, she was born up in Cabbage Tree Island up near Ballina. Cause she usually had the people, her friends, her sisters and her brothers, they used to all speak the language.

Yeah, they used to, yeah.

My mother, she left, she left Uligandi Island and she married a Wenberg, my father’s name, took the father’s name, Wenberg. And we used to live up at Grafton. But Gus was born in 1933. ’34. ’34, yeah 1934.

[Memories of their mother]
She was very kind to us, just like anyone, she used to take us places and fishing. And take us for outings down to Maclean, she was very. She was very thoughtful, looked after us and she used to take us to shows. She made damper for us and cuddles, all those sort of things.

Typical mother, put it this way. 

Yes, and she made things that, that I haven’t tasted since. You know, the Johnny cakes and things, dampers, I can't make a damper. She used to make those dampers. And just, used to be real, you used to look forward to these things, but she used to make it in the afternoons. We were all down – the children, we never had television in those days, we just had to sit around the table with all the family. It was a happy childhood with mum, yes, very happy childhood with mum. And we used to look forward to going out with her. She married Wenberg, like our father. He didn’t give her much of a chance. 

No, I have to say that even though he's my father. He was just a horrible man on alcohol. Before he joined the army he never used to drink. But when he got in the army that was it. You wouldn't get a better bloke without alcohol. But that’s how it goes.

It was in March, March 1944 when the Aboriginal welfare board came and taken us. The whole family, there was about nine of us, came and got us and they put us in the car, and they drove us down to this courthouse which we now know was the children’s court in Glebe. And I remember the magistrate was a Mr Farquhar. And when we walked into the court, courthouse like in the court, my mother was sitting there, we had to go past, but they wouldn't let her, wouldn't let us talk to her. Talk to her.

And she had tears in her eyes, she was crying. And but they wouldn't let – all the family just walked past her, they wouldn't let us talk to her. And then after the sentence was over, they put – put into different homes. The boys were put to Kinchella, the three boys. And the youngest girl was placed in a home at Bomaderry.  The two youngest – three youngest at Bomaderry. And the eldest girl was taken and put into, into Cootamundra home. 

Well they say it’s on that paper it was neglect but mum always looked after us well. She never ….

She never neglected us, no, no way. 

No, she looked well ….In them days you could say – neglect was just a word they used. Just to take us.
Just to take you and nothing much you could do about it.

You find in your records of the – people have been taken from neglect. All neglect from the papers. And I’ll go as far as to say this, I reckon my mother died of a broken heart to be honest with you.

She did because she died, she died when I came out of the home in 1948 and she was only 34. 

So when they’d taken us from 1944 they devastated our family, the life of the family. We lost our youngest sister, just two – about a month after we’d been taken. Then another about three years after, our brother John died. Then another five years after that then our mother died. Because she more or less broke – died of a broken heart. 

I would say so. 

Yeah, because we found out letters later we got from the archive, where she used to write to the home to prove that – to let us return to her. But they wouldn't – just wrote back and said, your children were ordered by the court, neglected child and you neglected her.

That’s right. 

It’s more or less a mothers – all the mothers – all the Aboriginal people that were taken way they bore the brunt of everything, more harder than the children because they even would have lost their children and the, all those things about having a child to grow up, we know our own child where we've got children of our own.  And we say to all, we couldn't lose our children, just very hard. I don't know how mum, what she must have went through, terrific things.

For a start, others went to court and got their children back. But not her, she couldn't get us back could she? 

No, no.

[A father’s attempt]
He come, he tried to get us back too.

Oh, yeah he did. Yeah I got a letter in my, in my papers from the Aboriginal welfare board. Yeah he did.
Yeah, he do a lot of fighting, all these letters that we seen when the archive, pleading for us to come back, also our mother. They couldn't get anywhere but they used to write back and say, it was your fault, you neglected your children.  And you were – and they couldn't allow us back with the parents again. Being, when they tried to look for houses for us, they said they was knocked back for the colour of their skin. Landlords wouldn't let them have the house.  And so the, so she couldn't get us back. 

[What the homes told the boys]
They just said your mother didn’t want you.That’s what they said.

Yeah, mother didn’t want you, your parents didn’t want you. That's what we got, that was the answer. Your mother didn’t want you, that's how it went.  What could you say, you can't say anything can you?

No. You were frightened to say anything anyway cause you was under their supervision then, you know. It’s a different thing when you, you think you can say something but that was a tough home, Kempsey at the time.  Kinchela boys home.  We had some very sadistic attendants in charge, I can assure you. They were very sadistic. One used to carry a stick around all the time.  He wasn’t frightened to use it either.

What about the bloke used to have a cat o’ nine tails, took great delight in spinning it up like that, didn’t he, in front of the boys.  You know what a cat ’o nine tails is, don't you? A whip.

Yeah, used to whack us with it. Gee, he was sadistic, very sadistic. And I remember this boy used to wet his bed. And you know what this bloke used to do, this so called, attendants they called them, should have been a warden or something, he used to – this is the middle of winter, make that bloke strip down, take his pyjamas off, bend him over the bed and whip – get him with this whip.  And then when that was finished, pick up his soiled sheets and walk around to the laundry, this is in the middle of winter with no pyjama pants on, to the laundry, put his thing in there, put his sheets in the laundry. He was sadistic that bloke.  I never like to see a bloke like that again. 

No, no. Very sadistic. 

Yeah, used to have paedophiles there. And on top of that we had a bloke there that was a paedophile. You wouldn't believe it.

The authorities looked the other way.

They used to say, don’t go near the dirty Aboriginals.

Exactly.

The Aboriginal people, they're dirty. So don't you go near them. Stay away from them. Used to go to the showground, show, Kempsey show, but they used to – attendants used to watch us, if we didn’t go and mix with the local Aboriginal people.  They used to say, keep away. Local people, in other words, they're too dirty. 

You had to swallow that and keep that inside you all the time. It’s – it wasn’t a very pleasant thing. It’s alright for other people to talk, but when you experience that, it’s very hard to get out of your system, you know what I mean. 

But when we were in the home there, I remember in the home we used to face the manager – manager and he used to, two of them used to be there, and the managers say, well to me, Vincent Keith Wenberg, they say, oh he's half caste, three quarter caste something like that. And they write that down onto the book. And of course other kids, much darker than I, used to be – used to be just nearly full blood, not quite full blood.  Some of them. And we found out why they done that, later on. They wanted to – all depends what type of job you got, the darker you were the more westerly you got the job. The lighter skin people, they got jobs on the coast.

It makes you laugh because some of the reports, you swear blind they were reporting a horse or something.  You know, teeth, white, so tall, you know, I thought what the hell’s going on? I still got the report on my, in my papers, a report on how you were at the time. Medium and all this, health wise and…Teeth. Swear blind they were talking about a racehorse or something. It’s very funny to read some of it.  It hurts you in a way.

Those sort of things hurts you, reading all about that. It’s something you never forget, anyway for a start, you can't forget it because you’ve got the papers in front of you.

Yeah, got our own papers.

I found papers at home where I got it from the archives you know. What can you say, what can you say, it’s all over and done with now, but that’s not the point, is it. You suffered all them years …

And you still suffer …

With your family, you know, your culture’s gone, you know.  There's just, you know. It’s very hard to put into words really. It’s hurtful, you’ve been deprived of something which you should have had and haven’t got.  And it really hurts, deep down, you know. Something that never gets out of your mind, you know, of what you went through when you were younger, like through all these institutions.  Your mother, what she went through, and you know all that, it all comes into it.  I don't think she deserved what she got, put it that way.  I don’t think she got a …

Fair go. Fair go. You know. Never had a chance really. They should have done something more for her, you know. If they were going to do anything they should have done something for her too, you know. But she never got nothing. What did she get? Just too hurtful thinking about it, you know. 
   
END TRANSCRIPT

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