Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

So the rest of Australia knows that the history of the Stolen Generations happened. And to educate the people that the Stolen Generations was a part of Australian history.


Eileen Moseley

Duration: 25:38

My name is Eileen Mosley.  I was born at Finke, which is on the southern part of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.  My parents were from the western side of South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia; that border there.  You know, the AP lands, Pitjantjatjara lands.  And I don’t how come they went across to Finke.  It’s such a long way, isn’t it?  And I think it is, you know, from the ration days, you know?  They had to go where there was depots in order to get some rations because they were way out in the desert near Pipalyatjara.  They spoke Pitjantjatjara, which is the language group for the Western Desert. 

[Life in Finke]
I was born on the other side of the sand hills.  There’s a big, big sand hill that separated the township and the racecourse and I was born on that, near the sand hill, in a traditional way. 
And a lot of the Aboriginal people lived round the sand hills.  They didn’t have houses, we just had our little humpies.  We lived traditionally out bush.  I remember going – I used to have a tantrum to go hunting which, traditionally, children or girls didn’t go with their fathers when they went with their boomerang and spears.  But I used to chuck myself down on the ground having a tantrum and my old man used to let me go.  So we’d go down the big Finke River for kangaroos and rabbits and I used to be getting in his way all time but, gee, he was a patient man.  I can understand why you couldn’t go because, you know, you’re scaring the animals away, little kids.  And, yeah, Mum used to do rabbiting.  All the women used to go and dig, dig, dig for rabbits.  It’s such a hard work.  I loved witchetty grubs and I loved honey ants and goanna.  Mum used to make me – she’d dig for the goanna and she used to make me put my hand in to get it out.  And I used to think Mum’s scared.  After she did all the hard work, I used to say, “Mum must be scared to put her hand in there.”  But she was teaching me how to get it out.  So I had to pull it out and hit it on the ground and it broke its neck straight away.

[In the Lock Up]
I remember Dad and Mother’s brother, Uncle Tiger.  They were locked up in the – it was like a round sheet of iron cell and we were thinking why do we have to talk through the little window?  And you can imagine how hot it would have been.  I was thinking – was asking them why they got locked up.  Because they killed one goat.  They had a lot of Aboriginal women looking after goats and they used to get the milk supply.  And, you know, being traditional people, anything that moved you … they killed it, speared it with a spear.  They got locked up for that.

[Eileen’s Biological Father]
My biological father was from – he was a fettler at Finke, which is a railway worker.  Apparently he was a very kind man.  Mum, when we came to Alice Springs, if they had no food, they’d go and see my natural father and he used to get big boxes, crates of food and get a new dress and even brought my Mum, an old man’s shirt and trousers.  And I thought, oh, well, he was a kind man.  But they couldn’t say they were our fathers, otherwise they would have been sent to gaol.  Most Aboriginal women who had white fathers, a lot of them didn’t stick around because of that law, you know?  And most of us all had tribal fathers, you know, our mother’s husband, and they treated us just like their own.

Avoiding the Authorities
I was taken away.  The patrol officers used to go down to the southern lands like from Alice Springs they used to go right through to Ernabella, which is in the northern part of South Australia.  And plenty of times they used to try and get me there but the Aboriginal people were that clever they’d hide.  They knew the patrol officers went through and they’d hide all us half-cast kids.  For about a week we used to stay in the hills because we knew they had to return, you know, on that same road. 

[Being Taken]
We went to … when we lived at Finke, I lived there like I did at Ernabella, Victory Downs, all those little stations around there.  And my step-dad, who was married to Mum – a very traditional old man – he was a traditional healer, a Ngunkari man.  He had this big sort of growth on his eye.  I don’t if it was to do with that, you know that bomb, atomic bomb?  Maralinga.  So the nursing people at Finke told us – we had to come in to Alice Springs so that he could have it operated on.  I don’t know how on earth we caught the train, not knowing how.  We couldn’t speak any English.  But we got on that train and we went to the Bungalow, which is the old telegraph station.  We were walking through – we used to walk that back way, not on the main roads.  At the Bungalow, we’d walk through the creek, the river, Todd River, to come into town for stores.  And opposite there was the court house in one corner, the welfare office and the police station.  So they saw me through the window and seen this little half-cast kid walking with all the tribal people.  They snatched me from there on the corner.  I can still remember it vividly.  They just grabbed me and took me.  Mum and Dad, of course, was really upset.  They were jumping round and round.  And they took me across to the welfare office, which was just there on the corner and made her sign a lot of papers; well, Mum was illiterate, she didn’t understand what she was signing but her cross was on all the paper.  Then they took me out to St Mary’s.

[St Mary’s]
I was pretty scared.  I mean, I was only seven years of age, approximately six or seven, and I’ve never been separated from my mother and father before.  So, yeah, that was pretty – I was crying, crying all the time even when I went out there to St Mary’s, you know?  But most of us did cry a lot for our parents but we soon had to adapt.  I think we adapted pretty well, I reckon.  And we all had each other as one big happy family.  We had a good, strong bond with all the children in the home.  Yeah.  And we all came from different language groups but we just blended each other’s little bit of language that we could sneak in here and there.  We’d blend all our little languages together, north, west, south and east, so we communicated pretty well.  And there were other children who still probably – still had a little bit of language in there and they’d talk to us in language, the bigger girls, telling us what to expect and what to do.

[Life in St Mary’s]
That was just the new world.  It’s like sending somebody from Alice Springs to go and live overseas, eh, in another culture.  It was a big shock but I learned to adapt.  I can still remember the crisp smell of the sheets.  You know, I’d never slept in a bed, let alone having linen that was crispy, crispy clean and seeing showers and bath tubs, which I’d never seen before.  They gave me a tooth brush and tooth paste.  I didn’t know what to do with it.  And when they were showing me, as I said, I couldn’t speak any English but they had other girls to help us. 
What the Big Girls Told Her
Like having to go to school and that.  There’d be people there called teachers and you could use a knife and fork when you’re sitting in the kitchen and, you know, how to eat and how to wear your clothes properly.  But a lot of us never used to have undies.  We would take it off as quick as we got it on.  Yeah.  Just all those little things that you teach your own family, I guess. 
We had house mothers, non-Indigenous, of course.  They had, like, several dormitories; little girls’ dormitory, big girls’ dormitory and the intermediate dormitory, like, in-between.  So all of those people, all those dormitories, had house mothers.  The boys had house fathers, of course.  Yeah.  But there was a superintendent there to cook and laundry ladies.  All the laundry ladies were all Aboriginal women.  Yeah.  It was good because we could connect with the laundry people, you know? 

[Keeping in Contact with Family]
I was one of the lucky ones. My Mum and Dad used to live down the creek, or Amoonguna, which is an Aboriginal settlement about 11 miles out of Alice Springs.  I think they had to go and live there but sometimes – at one stage Captain Steep let my Mum and Dad live within the premises of St Mary’s.  They had their little wilcha there.  And I was quite surprised because, you know, here’s a traditional couple living – and this Captain Steep didn’t take that, you know, like, having a tradition humpy type of thing, it’s a wonder he let them stay there, you know?  They got on well with him, my Mum and Dad.  Yeah.  Because normally, you know, they were trying to take the Aboriginal out of us because we weren’t allowed to speak language and I think that’s why I kept my strong Aboriginal ties and my language and culture because they were there around me all the time.  I wasn’t allowed to go and live there with them, of course.  Yeah.  But all the other children in the home, they didn’t see their parents, a lot of them, for a long, long time.  And they treated my mother and father like their own mum and dad.

[Moving Away from Tribal Lands]
Both Mum and Dad left their tribal lands, you know, for 40 years – for 20 years, sorry – just to be near me.  I mean, he still did his law around here.  He didn’t have to go back that way but he still did his law in the surrounding areas when he had to go and do his – whatever he had to do.  Because I remember Mum being on her own and being quite frightened.  That’s when she had a lot of – a lot of the other women used to stay with her down the creek then.  Because he was a Ngunkari, which is a traditional healer, all the Arrernte people got to know him and they’d all go and see him, you know, to fix them up, which I think was very nice. 

[More About Eileen’s Tribal Father]
He always carried his boomerang and spear.  A lot of the other people in town didn’t.  And I used to wonder why all these people were crossing over when I used to walk down the street with him.  I wondered why they were all crossing over.  I remember asking him in language - and I still remember his language – “They’re crossing over because we’re not from this country.”  At the same time I was thinking, they’re crossing over because he had dreadlocks and a spear and boomerang and they knew he was a traditional law maker. 
Yeah, I remember one incident there, Captain Steep wanted me to interpret and I was thinking, that’s strange.  He was telling us not to – we weren’t allowed to speak our language and this time my father sensed that I was sick.  I had a fever in the dormitory and my father came there early in the morning.  I work up with measles.  But my father knew.  I don’t know.  They had some sort of telepathy.  He knew I was sick, he come there.  My skin, being fair, and all these little red marks, I was covered.  He got his spear – he nearly speared the superintendent and that’s when Captain Steep told me to start talking your language because he knew – old man said, “You let Mamu come to my daughter last night.  Because in our culture there’s no such things as germs, it’s an evil spirit.  Yeah, he said, “Your dad nearly speared me.  Just thank goodness that you were still able to speak your language and he explained why you got sick.”

[Eileen left St Mary’s when she was 14]
After St Mary’s, when I turned about 14, I was sent away to – prior to going – every year we were billeted out with Christian families.  We’d get all these new clothes and shoes.  Everything was brand new.  And I still remember the clothes, the smell of it all.  Just to be billeted with good, Christian families down south, Adelaide, Melbourne, Tasmania.  We’d go on the train - and only for it – when we came back, we were back down to rags, you know?  But most of those clothes became - you know, that was our Sunday best and all that.  Yeah.  So after awhile, they probably saw who fitted in with different families down south and obviously I was one of them because I was sent down there at 14.  I went to live with a family in Eltham in Melbourne and didn’t last too long there. 
The people probably couldn’t handle me.  So I stayed at the rectory with the Reverend and his wife and then I went to live in Warrandyte with a lovely, lovely couple.  They had a bit of money.  They were just beautiful, beautiful people, absolutely beautiful.  They were the only ones that taught me to show emotion.  They treated me just like their own daughter.  They had a son and a daughter.  And she’d kiss me before I went to school, she’d kiss me when I got back, she’d kiss me when I went to bed and I was thinking this is nice because we never got any affection in St Mary’s.  So it was nice.  I just learned a whole new range of emotions and how to survive in another culture down there.  I loved it.  And I learned music and I learned a lot of art because I lived with a family that lived in the art world, gardening.  I used to go to the garden shows and I lived quite a nice life down there.  But it was different to what was here. 
Eileen returned to Alice Springs as a young adult and spent time with her parents
Yeah.  I actually spent 20 years with them here before they passed on so that was a pretty good innings. 
Yes I learned my language back and I still speak fluently today.  But I mean I lost a lot of, you know, the dancing and the stories.  All I can do is just speak.  I don’t know my songs.  I think it was hard enough to learn to speak my language; good enough, I think, to learn my language back.  Yeah.  And today I work at the hospital.  I’ve been there for 26 years, Nganampa Health and my language has got me a long way in communicating to my own people.  I was one of the lucky ones, actually, to be able to re-learn my language.  There wasn’t very many of the children that – as adults they could have learned their language but it must have been too traumatic.  Plus there’s a lot of mental blocks for other people.  Like some of the brothers and sisters can’t even remember when they went there and yet that’s embedded in my – you know, real strongly.  I remember the first day going out and seeing all these – I’ve never seen so many half-cast people in my life. 
I’d say, “Can’t you remember this story?  Can’t you remember that?”  “No.”  They can’t even remember some of the people’s names that looked after them.  Yeah, it’s traumatic.  Some kids went there as four year olds and they’ve just blocked it all out.

[Weighing It All Up]
You know, you can’t say now … “What’s happened is happened” and I accept that, you know, we just got to learn to get on in life.  There’s still things that are traumatising but we still just got to keep on going on.  I think over time, you know, we heal.  But I get – sorry.  When you tell your story over and over it is traumatising.  I mean, I watch other people going through – I watch other stories of Stolen Generation and it’s just as heart breaking, you know, even though it happened in Western Australia or New South Wales.  Every time I watch there’s still trauma.  We can easily say we’ve got on in this world but when you watch things like that your heart hurts as you can feel what we all went through, you know?





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