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Personal Statement

I wish to share my story to the wider community and to educate the younger generations on the things that happened in those days.


Herbie Laughton

Duration: 13:47

Yeah, my name is Herbie Laughton and I was born in the Central Australia here.  This is my my grandfather, his tribal place.  He’s from here at the centre right up to Darwin.

That’s what my great grandfather, aboriginal grandfather taught me all about that that I was born on the 7th of February 1927.

[Herbie was born on the banks of the Todd River, Alice Springs.]

[His father was a Russian miner and his mother was a local Aboriginal woman.]

Yeah we was we was living in a we had no house or anything like that.  We was just living off the land you know.

The old people use to be like a teacher to us you know tell us what you can eat, what you can’t eat.  What’s poisonous.  We use to know all those things.  That’s the main thing we learnt.  Anything eatable you know we learnt, and anything to drink, like water you used to call quacha. You learn that’s what it’s called in Aboriginal language.

It was good those old people you see were really kind old people you know, I could just still see my great grandmother.

[Herbie’s father.]

My elder brother use to try and tell me that he’s a Russian, there’s the Russian mob come inside they destroyed our language and all you know to try and get us, and my father was trying to fight for that same, our language and that, and he he got in trouble with this mob too.  He end up in prison.

Dad died when I was about four or five year old.  There was some white people disease come through and cleaned them all up you know, like some flu or something.

Herbie was taken from his mum when he was about 6-7. He spent most of his childhood living at the Telegraph Station (also known as The Bungalow) with other children of mixed Aboriginal heritage.

Well we was the first to, there was about seven of us, we was the first one in the Telegraph Station. That’s the Bungalow.  That’s where the railway use to come through there.  They put us in the Bungalow there and we sit in the Bungalow there and when we’re working in the Bungalow we see still they weren’t teaching us anything.  All we’re doing is swimming in the water hole and sliding down, we’d take in our shirt like this sand from the river and we’d spill it on the slippery rock and we’d got this sheet of white and come down and that’s all we use to have to play with.

I, I lived in the Bungalow there for what eight, nine years.  We were treated like bloody dogs.  Taken away from mothers and worked the bloody hell out of us for nothing at all.  We weren’t making nothing.
Just the food we was eating and to punish us they used to stand us in water up to there, up to your neck and you’re frightened to move you know, you’ve got water all around you and the bloody thing, they were really cruel that way.  You go to do something I don’t know how long we had to be put in there and then they take you out, you couldn’t move your arms or anything like that you know you were bloody water bound and all that you got to wait for a bloody long time till they come right again.  My fingers use to lock up like that still do a little bit and the coming good now.  But before I couldn’t even close them.

As a child living at The Bungalow, Herbie would sometimes work on the construction of the railway line from Darwin to Central Australia.

When, when we’re putting the railway right from Darwin and right through to the centre I was working with this with this white fellas that was putting these demolition charges into you know to break the steel, I was working on that and that’s where I got bloody deaf you know with all this blasting and then, and my elder brother we were trying to explain it to this, to this teacher.  He said “Bring my little brother forward, he’s hard of hearing he’s working on this demolition explosion all loud and he can’t hear properly” and this teacher she’s given me the cane and she say, “He’s not listening”.  You say my brother would say “Bring my little brother forward” and he wouldn’t listen to my elder brother I went back in my shell I wouldn’t speak or anything.  I never got to learn much English and that.

[The Missionaries]

That was alright in way, but we were trying to find out where our mother and fathers were, they was all, when I found out where mum and dad were I found out that dad already passed away you know. Yeah my mum was there for a while and she had to go and work.  She went oh that’s the last time I seen her and that when I was about six or seven years of age.  Just know my mother just you know I just had it in my mind what she looked like and all that and I kept that in my mind all the time you know then I use to ask my elder brother, “Where’s mum gone?”  He said oh they took her away.  They took your mother away and I think he said “I don’t know where they have taken her” and he was trying his best to find out where they took mum away.  And we found out later on that mum had this disease or something like that and they put her in the hospital, but we didn’t know that.  We had learnt that bloody years after you know our mum died.  She had this some disease what she picked up from this, where she was working for this white fella or that he had some … I don’t know what it was.  They used to call that disease.

[Herbie’s Aboriginal Grandfather]

I will always remember my grandfather.  He was so kind, he was so kind and gentle.  I never, I’ll never forget him.  He was always coming up in my mind, my dear grandfather, and in all this country from here, from Central Australia right to Darwin and back.  This was his tribal country, but he died and I never got to learn it properly.  He did tell me like whitefella’s name you know what they call different thing you know. 

I didn’t know what they call it.  And this, he was explaining to me that this train that goes from Brisbane to Darwin and back, he said that’s to name, that one there the train, but he couldn’t say train so he use to say that, he was telling and talking like in language, like a horse or something. Saying you ride this there and back you know.

The only time I can think him, he was so, I miss him, he was so kind.  I remember he always grabbed me and hugged me you know and that’s all he’d do and he was trying to teach me our language like the Aranda yarn and he was trying to explain things to me all the time you know.

Herbie’s views on the loss of his Aboriginal language

No never got to learn that properly, just now and again to my elder brother, later on when my grandfather died and that and grandmother, my elder brother learned a little bit about this Aranda, that’s our language and he was teaching me different words you know. Yeah I speak Aranda but my elder brother was smart on that because he had good hearing.

Yeah well those talking about why we was taken away, they couldn’t find our bloody, I couldn’t find no reason why we was taken away.  They they were saying those people that taken us away, that we was taken away to learn a bit of, you know education and that, but that wasn’t that, they were only doing that because I think they must have been getting paid so much for taking Aboriginal people and trying teaching them a bit of English and that thing, but that wasn’t the point I think.  They was just taking us away because the government, the government started paying any white people that’s looking after Aboriginal people. I, I can’t forget my poor mother.  Poor old mum.  She’s, she’s worked hard for our Aboriginal people.  She said she was going to take all this mob to court you know, but she couldn’t get the money, to raise money to like take some of these white fellows that was treating Aboriginal people, she couldn’t take us to court because she had to pay so much money for the courts and that, so I think she passed away.  But I’ll always remember her.  She was so kind. 





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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers should exercise caution when viewing this website as it contains images of deceased persons.The people speaking in this website describe being removed from family and community. They regard themselves as belonging to the Stolen Generations.