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Personal Statement

I was too young to understand anything. I had no choice in what happened to me.

Transcript

Johnny Ross

Duration: 21:56

My name is Johnny Ross.  I usually call myself John for short.  I had a white man father and an Aboriginal mother.  I was born in a town called Alice Downs, that’s past Halls Creek.

[Being Taken]
I was just too young, too small.  Just what I’ve been told, but I’m not too sure of the years.  I was taken to Moola Bulla and I think my dad had a lot to do with that.  They said he had a lot to do with it because they said he wanted to get me some education and things like that.  My mother’s side of the family they use to tell me, they use to paint us up.  They always knew when the welfare was coming around to pick you up.  They’d paint you up with some red dirt.  Or charcoal, and these welfares couldn’t tell the difference, me galloping around with all the other kids until they woke up to it and they used Aboriginal trackers when they were looking for kids, and they could pick you out from a big bunch of us, they could pick out which is which, what they were looking for and that’s how they got me. 

And when I was taken to the car, according to another guy, a bloke that was in there already, in the car, Charlie McAdam, he passed away now, but he said they took me to the car and they put me in the car and they, he said my mother came running and the welfares just grabbed her and threw her like a bag of potatoes you know.  Just threw her to the ground and jumped in and they took off.

[Moola Bulla Station]
When I was taken to Moola Bulla they’d that’s how young I’d been because they had another lady that use to, just had a baby too, use to breastfeed me at night.  Moola Bulla was a government school those days.   But I can’t remember schooling there, I might have been too small, and I could speak lingo when I was taken from home, from Alice Downs.  While I was at Moola Bulla it’s all Gidja tribes so, everybody use to speak Gidja those days and I could understand a lot you know, and it wasn’t bad.  Gidja was still with me when I got to Beagle Bay … that’s when I lost it. 

I remember very little about Moola Bulla because I would have been too small, that’s all, you know.  There’s nothing I could remember about Moola Bulla.  It’s only what people has been telling me you know what happened and this and that.  The only part I can remember is one Bishop R. came up there.  He was a Bishop from Beagle Bay, and you know they said, you there, you there, there was just drafting everybody to which place they were going to go, like U.,that Fitzroy Crossing.  They had some for Broome, Beagle Bay, and I was, I was lucky to go with most of the crowd to Beagle Bay.  So it was 86 of us went to Beagle Bay.

[Beagle Bay Mission]
I remember when they took us to Cable Beach when we got into Broome and they took us out to the beach for a swim and we were all surprised at the size of this river you know, it was so big.  We was looking for the land on the other side till we tasted the water and we thought it was funny.  It didn’t taste like river.  Then they took us to Beagle Bay as far as I was aware at that time they said we were going for a big holiday and we were chasing that truck when it left Beagle Bay trying to get back on it.  We knew it was leaving.  We was running behind it trying to catch up to it, after that truck left, that was the end of it. 

Well we went there, I’m not too sure, ‘46, ‘46 we went to Beagle Bay, and I left there in ‘58 in September.  They kick you out when you were 16.  Well they had three or four dormitories in those days.  They had for kids our age and then as you higher and higher they had a dormitory for the older boys.  So you’re pretty well kept with kids your own age and you know you learn to make friends quick when you’re that small.  Maybe because there were other kids your own age you don’t seem to miss anything.  See a lot of them say we use to cry at night but I can’t recall them.  Maybe some of us did cry at night you know. 

Beagle Bay was a Catholic run place.  We actually had a good life.  If we did anything wrong you know, they, you know you’d pay for it.  But I got a flogging from one nun there once when I was a kid in front of the whole class and that really hurt me for years.  One of the older girls told her something I said which wasn’t true and and she just came in the class and just grabbed me and flogged the living daylight out of me and I couldn’t sit for weeks.  My whole backside was raw and the worst part was it was done in the classroom and the girls and boys were there.  Otherwise, beside that I had a good life. 

Beagle Bay was good.  Good you know, nothing like other places around the cities and all that where you know you had abuse and all that with kids.  I can’t remember anybody in Beagle Bay having that.  Nobody been sexually abused or nothing.  So in a way we had a good life there really. 

It was a self-supporting place, and you had millions of goats, you got milk any day you want.  They had millions of donkeys you could ride, so that use to be good fun for the kids.  There were always plenty of kids you could play with.  Fishing yeah we use to go out fishing and hunting and and we use to go out on holidays, school holidays you know they’d take you out in donkey carts in the beaches.  You know and you know the boys, the local boys use to play a lot of tricks on the guys up there when we were small.  Like grabbing octopus on the ground and they’d never tell you it sticks to you when you grab it no, I remember my friend Frankie Burns he put a foot on one.  They said put a foot on it and hold it down while we grab it.  They put his foot under and the whole thing comes up on his leg and he couldn’t get rid of it and he ran, he must of ran for a mile trying to get it off.  I, I really enjoyed Beagle Bay.  I’ve got good memories of Beagle Bay.

[Life After Beagle Bay Mission]
I was truck driving.  I was only a kid myself.  These blokes they needed a truck driver but I was too young and when they found out I was one of the Stolen Generation kids they said to me, government usually gave you blokes racehorses dates you know, well if you don’t have any we can give you one, we’ll get you to 21 and that’s how I got first of the first 40 because they had to bring me up to 21 so I could get my truck licence.  I use it all the time now.  So I got married in Broome and that’s another hard part I had was trying to convince Magistrate’s I was over 21. 

Because I didn’t need parent’s permission to get married and they gave me a hard time, but there was a sergeant who used to like my footy and basketball playing so he just told me just stick with my driver’s licence, whatever they tell me, you’ve got it there in black and white, so I did that and it worked.  Yeah, so we got married and stayed in Broome for what another four years and Derby was the place for jobs, so I came back here.

[Johnny Discovered His Mother Was Still Alive]
They said my mother was no longer.  She passed away. I suppose it was a way of so you don’t worry too much about your mother, maybe other things.  I went back in 58’ and found my mother.  I went with a priest that every year they use to go and say mass in all the stations, Catholic stations.  I went on one of the trips and they put me off at Halls Creek.  They were supposed to pick me up on the way back, but I wasn’t around.  I was, I thought if I stay around for a while I could learn a bit more about family. 

But yeah I went back and I I knew a couple of boys that went back before me and it wasn’t hard finding them.  I just went asking for them until I found them.  And they took me around and I met my mother.  Well I was a bit shocked in the first place.  I didn’t realise I had a full blood mother and and so short.  You know she was only up to me here.  And I told me mates are you blokes certain this is my mum.  And they said yeah that’s here, and I I never got to see my father because he already left the place.  I said very little because I was still in a shock when I first met her and she was just crying and I had a job trying to calm her down. 

Then all the rest of the family came around and she was rattling off lingo to me and I couldn’t understand the words she was saying until they told her I couldn’t speak that lingo anymore.  So they tried English and I could understand.  Then I found out I had heaps of relatives all over Halls Creek, so that took off a lot of pressure off me, you know finding out all the relatives I had, I had no idea.  I was a bit surprised you knew, other mothers came up there, Beagle Bay… and I asked her if she knew I was still there and she said no, she had no idea until she, they told her that was me in Halls Creek. 

A few years later I was asking her what was it like and she said oh, she was telling me they were very rough on me, she said.  She was telling me you know what I was already told, they grabbed her and just threw her down so she couldn’t grab me and that’s when I found out it actually did happen because she told me the same thing.  I would have thought about it, what she went through, you know, any mother, you know you take any kid off any mother you go through hell trying to grab the kid back. But yeah she must have went through hell.  It took me a while to say mum even, because you know it’s hard to say mum to someone you don’t know, really know.  But you know she’s your mother, but the hardest part is saying mum.  I said it in the finish you know and she always had that big smile on her face.  She recognised I’m back home properly.  That was the hardest part.  Trying to adapt to Halls Creek. You know three months and I was finding it very hard.  It wasn’t home anymore to me.  Beagle Bay was.  It will always be home now, you know you grew up there.  That’s something you can’t throw away.

[Finding His Father’s Family]
I had the chance of going up there and meeting but I wasn’t too sure if he’s married and got kids of his own so I thought that’s one thing you you’d have to look at closely and I was advised from some of my other relatives if he’s got family’s of his own, they might not want you because you’re different to them.  So I thought oh yeah, well, must be right then.  I didn’t give it a go and then I found out that he never had any wife up there and he’s too, when he’s in Tamil he used to come back doing saddles here in Fitzroy.  Up Gibb River road and I had no idea.  I was here living in Derby when he was doing that. 

Well I was with Stolen Generation and I had them looking but on and off about three or four years.  Yeah four years and all they could find was my father, a photograph of him in Alice Downs, and just a photograph.  So, my daughter went to Paraburdoo and she’s working up there and one day she said out of the blue would you like me to, she got herself an Internet and all that, would you like me to have a crack at it and see who I can find?  And I said well there’s not much to go on.  His name, I got his name, he was Ralph Ross, and I am John Ross and I said I don’t know what else I can give you and so she she went through the election rolls, telephone numbers, anything she could find and in six weeks she found the whole lot of them. Six weeks. 

And then she was talking to one of them and she said, “Oh I came through these names …” She said “My dad’s trying to locate his father.”  They knew she was, she had to be an Aboriginal the way she sounded.  They asked her who she was and she said I’m Sheree Ross and Dorothy was the one that she rang and she said well if you’re Johnny Ross’  daughter you’ve got the right people. We’ve been looking for him for the last 30 odd years in the archives, and in Beagle Bay they didn’t have my full name, Johnny Ross.  They had me as Johnny Dowl and Dowl was Alice Downs spelled back to front and that was, the idea was to the government which station you come from and they said, “Where can we find him?”  And she said, “He’s in Perth at the moment up there for hospitals.” And they didn’t waste any time. They rang me one after the other and we had a big reunion there. And when I was walking in one of them got up and said, “That’s him there,” and they yelled out to me and I said, “Oh shit, you’ve got me all right.”  And I said how you blokes reckon and they said, “Well you’re the splitting image of one of the other uncles”.  Some had, I had a big mob of them there.  So they came up here and spent some time with me and I you know they I couldn’t get over how good it is, you know and how genuine they are.  Yeah I was, I was, I’m so happy really you know, and yeah, and yeah they tell me when you get sick of this place come over and spend some time with us and it’s funny because I’m splitting image of most of them, only wrong colour. 

[Thoughts About Being Taken]
Oh God I was already a teenager when I started to think about why was I taken.  But we had people telling us too in Beagle Bay, from the older ones that used to talk that we were government property and that I found out from an old brother that was in Beagle Bay, that brother’s Father’s nuns and all that, it was government policy in those days.  They couldn’t leave you in the camps if you were a half-caste kid.  Yeah, just one of those things.  It is a $64 question mark, question. 
No look I don’t know how I’d turn out to be, you know, I’d probably be a ringer in a station or something like that.  No school.  Maybe my dad was, had an idea that certainly were, I could be someone or make something of my life, which I did.  But if I was still back home I wouldn’t know where I'd be today.  Maybe things wouldn’t have been that good for me.  Probably wouldn’t have met her.

You know I’d never do that to my kids.  I’d never let anyone take them from me.  But in those days you know when I was a kid up in Alice Downs, we were a property of the government in those days, any half-caste kids.  They’d remove you from camp straight away, and whites could not marry Aboriginal person and that was still in progress in the ‘60s and ‘70s.  Late ‘60s.  I remember when I was living here in Derby, I know a couple of white blokes that caught in the reserve and they’d be taken into court and everything.  It was taboo.  It was you know law of those days, and that’s all. 

I’d feel hurt if they were doing to other kids, still the same.  And when you look at the news you know some of the kids that were still mentioning that their mothers’ saying their kids were taken away in the ‘60s, 65’ you know that’s, that’s beyond a joke I’d say.  But, what are they been taken for?  Were they taken because the parents were abusive or drunk or something like that?  You know that’s, that’s understandable but if it it’s just for the reason of you being half-caste, then I think that’s bad.  I sort of put everything behind me but if I was still worrying about it I would still ask more questions.  But I don’t, I don’t question things like that anymore. You know I made a life, and I made it a-okay for myself.

END TRANSCRIPT

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