Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

It’s very important to tell people our stories because we are hurting. It hurts. We lost our family and we didn’t bring that on. It was the Government. Why? We don’t know why. We’re just as human as everybody and we’re hurting. People in the past thought white man was superior but we all breathe the same air, have the same blood. He not better than me, that’s the way I see it. I’m as good as everyone else. I can do anything what they can do, you know.

Transcript

Frank Byrne

Duration: 22:06

Yeah, hello, this is me Frank Byrne.  I born station called Christmas Creek, Western Australia in The Kimberleys.  My mother was Aboriginal women; her name was Maudie.  Her Aboriginal name was Yooringun and I had a good mother.  My father was a white fella named Jack Byrne and ... but I ... he actually wanted to marry my mother but in those days they wouldn’t let them so he had to go to another station to get a job.

[Frank’s Stepfather]

I had an old Aboriginal father who was married to my mother; his name was Lenbing; I don’t know what his Aboriginal name was but he was a good father to me and he worked like a white man, you know, he done all the roads and everything around Christmas Creek.

[Memories from Christmas Creek]

The old fellow he used to kill emus or turkey or ... he never kill a goanna; he never kill a goanna because that was my agreement or whatever but the old fella, he wouldn’t kill them; we never ever had one while we were living with him anyway.  Anyway, we end up some ... we spend the most time at Fitzroy Crossing.  Old grandmother was there; we used to go down the creek or river, Fitzroy River and go fishing; we used to throw the line in, tie it to a tree and leave it there and we used to go back to camp and she used to tell me all the stories, I don’t know, you know, all these local stores.  And then she used to say “Go on, you go and look for ... look at the line there”, and we had a line of catfish about that big or, you know, however.

Yeah, but I had a good life with the old people; they were wonderful people to me; I don’t know why the government took me away from them.  All us kids, you know, we didn’t ask to be born with this skin and our mother was very innocent; they never done anything wrong to anybody they just live in the camp where they ... my mother used to work in the big house for the manager, you know, washing their clothes and all that; there were several other young womans there too.  But they never done any harm to anyone; they didn’t drink any ... they never drink any alcohol or whatever; they’re just trying to grow us up in a ... you know, which they didn’t have to take us away from them; we had a good life.

[Being Taken Away]

I remember that day; I’m sure I was five years old; I was born in ... 20th of the 7, 1937.  ’37, ’38, ’39, ’40, ‘41 ... ‘41 or ‘42 they took me away from her to Moola Bulla.  I think I was four or five year old, five year old would’ve been, not sure, and they took me to ... took us to Moola Bulla.  Mum and my old stepfather they were there too and they ... we camped that night at the ... at a little house with a yard around it and the next morning early they woke up and this big long white fella he loaded up the truck; they chuck my mum and dad on the back and this man had the hold of me, two of them actually, and they drove away without, you know, I just watched mum and my dad being driven away gone back to Christmas Creek.

I just went mad there, you know, I couldn’t ... “Why are they doing this to me?”  You know, I had to get away and chase after them but when they went around the corner and gone they just let me go, opened the gate “There you are, away you go, man, away you go straight out in the Never Never.”  You know, all us kids like that, not only me, there’s many, many others. 

[Moola Bulla Station]

There was no school there; they just let us out in the big world; you can’t defend yourself against anybody, you know, we just ... we’re the survivors, we survived anyway but it was very painful I can promise you that.

There was a kitchen, if you will, like, I don’t know, little kitchen out in the prairie; there was a bit of a bash head over it but there’s a couple of big boilers that they cook a big lot of meat in there and the other boiler was where they make tea and if us little kids get something to eat ... there was that many people there, you know, if we got something to eat, like get a bit of lump of meat and maybe bread if you’re lucky, sometimes the big fellows they didn’t get anything; they take it off you, you know, you get a few bites and whatever but mainly our thing was (5:52) we used to kill birds and cook them, eat them and a lot of us used to follow the stock camp around where they were mustering, you know, we used to move ... we used to go and move in that light; the old stockman they used to ... they know we there; they used to save some tucker for us, you know, they used to give us and we used to ... that’s how we used to live.

We would follow their stock camp for miles and to every bore and then when we got sick of it we go back, you know, to Moola Bulla but while we were away there’s a lot of kids still back there; every morning they had to be outside the store where the old boss, the superintendent was name Alf George; he would call out a name; you had to answer; if you’re not there somebody else will answer you; he don’t know you there or not because there’s that many kids, you know.  If I’m not there well, somebody will answer my ... and so on but yeah, it was hard life.

[Frank’s Mother Returned to Moola Bulla Station]

Only one more time, could’ve been a couple of months after, maybe, I don’t know, could be six months after she come back; that was the last time and, you know, I can still remember that was the last time I saw her and you can see the ... you know, I’m big this time; I’m getting about seven year old and I can see, you know, some candies in her hand and all that and when she was driven away I seen the face and she’s very ... not good, you know, I sort of ... she didn’t look too good to me.

Frank’s Mum returned to Christmas Creek station and pined terribly for Frank. Authorities deemed her to be mentally unstable and admitted her into Claremont mental hospital in Perth. She was not suffering from a mental illness.

[Frank was moved on again by the authorities.]

They don’t tell you where you’re going, you just do what you’re told, you know.  They just pile us on this truck and away we went.  Where we set sail to Beagle Bay.  When we come to Christmas Creek we come up there like in the morning.  My old stepfather walk, I seen him coming, he took me off the truck, took me to the garden and looking around for my mother; my mum wasn’t there and I thought “Something’s not right here otherwise mum would’ve been the first one by the car ... by the truck rather.”  But she wasn’t there but all my other aunty, you know, his other wives they were there and they didn’t know what to say; they tried to talk to me; I kept looking for my mother and I couldn’t find her.

When Frank returned to that Christmas Creek station she had already been taken to the mental hospital.

All this time old fella, old stepfather Lenbing his ... he couldn’t talk because his tears just flying out of him, you know, and we were there for about half an hour and old aunty had been saying “Come on, we’ve got to go.” 

So he took me and put me back on the truck and as we were driving away the old man just stood there and tears just flowed out of his eye, you know, he couldn’t do nothing about it; he just stood there and shook, shook and cried, you know, I can still see it today; I see it lot, you know, at night when I lay down I think about all these things and it’s ... the memory it bring back, you know, it come back to me and make me cry, you know.  And I’ll never forget that one because the old man he was really like a father to me; I feel like I could cry now but I don’t want to.  I do that enough, you know, but I never forget that.

[Arriving at Beagle Bay Mission]

They dropped us off and there were more young kids from Halls Creek there already; there were big mother half-caste kids everywhere still again same like Moola Bulla, going nowhere.  Just we learned to pray there, you know, we learned to pray and we learned all ... there was a school there; we learn how to read and write and do sums and all you, you know, but it wasn’t good enough we learned; I didn’t know how to read anyway; I didn’t learn how to read properly there.  The school we had there was a little Irish lady, Irish Sisters, nuns, my God, they were very strict; they were very strict womans.  I tell you what, they discipline you all right; they like that switch, you know, (12:05) the stick.

The thing was that every night ... every morning you wake up you say your morning prayers and get ready for church.  You go to church; if you don’t go you’re going to get a flogging and from there you go and have your breakfast and then get ready for school; you go to school and the normal day, you know, like every other place.  We used to get tea and sugar when we, you know, every weekend; we can go 20 kilometres away or 20 miles, go fishing, go and ride there where ... by the sea, plenty of wood, you know, mangrove; have a good feed there and there’s water everywhere there, you know, in the marsh country.  See a little spring bubbling right in the middle of the marsh and it’s nice clean water; can’t perish, you know.  All them things there they’re all right but that’s ... we didn’t need that.


I had a better life home, you know, but the government they didn’t seem to see it that way.  So Beagle Bay, you know, it was ... it’s better than Moola Bulla, I mean, you wouldn’t ... I don’t like to run it down or anything but it was good, like we could get a feed and if we didn’t get a feed at the dining hall, really a feed, we used to get it in the gardens.

[News about Mum]

Summertime now I turned 13 or 10, 11, 12 or 13, I don’t know what them days; we didn’t care about the days or times or what age you were or what day is was.  They told me “Your mother’s passed away” and didn’t tell me where.  I felt lost; I’m already lost but now I haven’t got a mother to go back to, you know, if I have to ... if they were to send me back to my mother.  I don’t know what they going to do with me, you see; we don’t know; they control you these people; I don’t know where I am; I don’t know what they going to do but I was lost already anyway but all I thought about now was when they told me “Your mum’s passed away”; I can’t do nothing while I’m here.  Maybe I’ll plant a grave at home ... at Christmas Creek that is; I don’t know where else she would’ve been.

So that was it; I just stayed with it and ... but like I told you as soon as mum passed away I started to feel her; I could feel her all the time; don’t matter where I am and when I sleep, you know, I can feel her. 

At the age of 14, Frank finished school and was sent back to his white father Jack Byrne who was head stockman on a cattle station in the Kimberley.

They took me back to dad and I worked there for a couple of years and they were branding at the big stockyard at a place called Wallamunga Waterhole.  We pulled up and old Jack Byrne seen me there and he left what he was doing and he come over and he said “G’day, son, how are you going?”  And I thought “Well, this ...”  I said “Yeah”, I didn’t know what to say; I said “I’m all right, no worries.”  And then he started to talk to me and I started talking and I started to get used to him already, you know, and he said “Here, keep this tally”, you know, but then you see a cow, he branded you put a stroke, four of them and then the fifth one you cross it like that so we can count it like five, ten, something like that.

Yeah, he gave me a job straightaway to keep me occupied I suppose.  I ended up with a saddle and all the riggings, you know, for the ... I already know how to ride a horse; we used to ride them in Beagle Bay and that’s when I learned my stock work properly; I became a property stockman.  My relationship with my father was very ... he was a good man I can promise you that; he was very, very good man; all them black fellow they used to like him; they’d do anything for him, you know, he never used to give many orders or anything because they know what to do anyway.

Frank wasn’t paid for his work as a stockman because he was black so his father helped him to find another job.

That’s what he told me “I don’t want to see you working for nothing; you can go next door.”  And that’s where I ... first money I got paid, ten bob a week. 

Frank started to think about finding his mum’s grave. It was a sixty year search.

Me and my wife, we used to travel to Halls Creek, to Fitzroy.  Asked my Uncle Jock about my mother; they don’t know what happened to her and they were born there, you know, they were taken from ... she was taken from Christmas Creek station.  The government don’t tell nobody what they do, you see.  I never stopped work but I never stopped looking for my mother now, you know.  I’ve been looking for her for a long time; I’ve got too many stories to tell.

Anyway, one day I went to Broome; Pat Dodson, I stopped by his place and he said to me “Hey Frank, I’ve got to meet the minister today.”  And I said “Well, can you ... can’t you put me in there?”  And he says “Sure, I’ll get you in.”  So we went there that morning and we all walk in, he said “Come in, don’t worry.”  I actually walked in first.  Anyhow, the minister “Who’s this bloke?”  “His name is Frank; he wants to see you; I’ll let him have a word with you first.”  He goes “What do you want?”  And I said “What I want is very important to me” I told him “It’s got a lot of things to do with your government.”  “And what’s that?”  “It’s about my mother; I’m one of those Stolen Generation; you took me away from my mother and I don’t know where she is; I’ve been looking for her for all these years.  My mother’s been put in a hospital; I don’t know what hospital and she died in that hospital; I don’t know what hospital and I can’t find her grave back home at Christmas Creek.”  And he said “Okay, leave it with me; I’ll have a look into it.”

With the help of the minister Frank discovered his mother was buried in a cemetery in Perth.

He arranged to have her taken back home to Christmas Creek Station in the Kimberley.

Sixty years of search, you know, and that’s all I want to do is get mum back home.  When they were digging the grave I didn’t ... they asked me “You want to go?”  I told them “I don’t want to look at that bit; all I want is to take mum home.  Get it away from me; I take her back to her own home country.  She had no rest yet because I know this; she hadn’t had any rest yet; this is what we’re going to do.” 

[Frank’s Final Words to his Mum.]

I just went and told her “Mum, I never ... I didn’t forget you; I’m here now to take you home.” 

[Thoughts on Being Taken]

We were just like a mob of cattle being controlled, you know, but what for? 
I can’t understand.  I can’t see any reason in this sort of ... what government had in their head but we never had a family life and we miss all that, you know, we’re humans and the family life was very important but you see that’s why you see all the photos I got around me here they’re all my grandchildren and they make me feel like I’m wanted, you know, even the photos. 


I feel sorry for every one of us that been ... we’ve been treated this way but we’ve still got to vote for them, you know, if we don’t vote for them well, we’ll pay in some way but I’m going to try and enjoy my life; I’m going to live my life the way, you know, I survived all this shit that they put on you so we just carry on.

END TRANSCRIPT

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