Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

The reason I want to share my story is to tell people that life must go on. It doesn’t matter whatever happens to you in life, you must go on. In that way, you soon find out that life is about progress. In life everybody is born to that effect, to progress in life, whether you take hold of it and really overcome all things that can affect you or just stay still and put up with whatever.


Clara Johnson

Duration: 24:11

My name is Clara Johnson, at the moment. But I was born as Clara Brady and by the name Brady it’s --- you can realise that I’ve got Irish in me. Part Irish. My father was an Irishman.    

Way back in those days, round about 1924, round about that time, the government gave permission for white people to go out and open up the country. Just like it had never been opened up. It’s amazing that people who have come into this country, into our country, that they didn’t realise that my people of this country were here years and years before they came out.

[Clara’s father]
My father and others who went out into that part of the country had to, you know, show the government that they found water. Good water. It meant that they wanted to learn how to survive in the desert. How to survive just off the land.

I had a lot to do with my people. Although I had a white father and he had a lot to do with learning from them. There weren’t many bad people. There were some. One or two people that had children, dropped them, left them there with the poor mother to battle to go out hunting and to provide food and that. But on the whole people who had children had --- well were providers of, you know, food and that. My father used to go into Oodnadatta and get food and bring back materials and the women sat down and soon made themselves busy making dresses and skirts and long tailed shirts for the kids and pretty dresses for the girls and that.

[Family structure]
I was born in 1929, in January 1929. I was born in the Northern Territory area, at a place called Lilla Creek. And that was our tribal area, which is above the Northern Territory boundary and South Australian boundary. And it went across to the west to a place called The Petermann Ranges.

Yeah, there were four Brady’s and we’re all made up so differently. My sister, who was older, well she was just like my mother when I was young. Most Aboriginal children who are older always look after the younger ones. And so then that meant when we were taken away, I was taken away from Ernabella, my brother and I --- well I was his protector.

[Early memories]
Before I was taken away life was exciting. We had the opportunity of being loved and cared for by all the family. Like it, as you realise, that it was the grannies and grandfathers and that that had more or less the duty to be able to help us to grow up as happy children. And that was one of the things that was very important to me. We were always happy children because we were with granny and we were with grandfather and we were with mum and dad. And that’s a complete family.

We were privileged more than some other children who were growing up with us or who were in the community, or in the tribe, as we realised. It was because we had our own camel, riding camel, my brother and I. And there we were, we used to be sitting on the camels, on top of the camels and just going round and picking, you know, having a feed of the quandongs or mangatas as we call in our language. Mangata. 

We travelled around in the area where you had your grandparents with you and they told you the stories about different areas which you belonged to. And that’s where --- how we sort of looked up to our grandparents to, you know, tell us exciting stories. And the other important thing was that it was very exciting when you realised they were going to perform some ceremonies, which included both old people and younger generation people.

We were children who had the teaching and the understanding of what that dance was about and it was --- most of the time were dances of story time. We’d know exactly what that dancing was all about because you were taught at night time certain stories and it was in those times that when they went and performed and danced those stories, well it was just --- it was exciting.

I learned as a child to listen and all through life I’ve been listening. You learned to be obedient and that was the most important thing, you know, in life as a child up in our country, in our land. So that was a happy time of life out in our part of the country.

[The move to Ernabella]
Because of my father’s health, and he had to go away, he took us into Ernabella. My father died. He died in Adelaide. That was the time that the order was given for myself and my brother to be taken away from family. It was --- probably it was from the Protector of Aborigines. And they would be part of the authority of what was happening amongst the Aboriginal people.

Leaving my grandmother and my mother and the rest of the grannies and the rest of the mothers - I’m talking in the areas of --- when you’ve got a granny and she’s got relatives like sisters and that, they’re your grandmothers too. And the same as your mother. She’s got sisters and that. They’re your mothers too. And it was, you know, it was those sort of things that were very important to us when we was kids growing up amongst our people.

And then to be dragged away. I’ll tell you what, that’s --- those memories stay back with me. Tell you what, I fought hard. The policeman --- I’d like to really find out who was the police that came out and took us away. They came out from Oodnadatta and I’d like to really find out who they were, just to I suppose get from them their feelings. Their feelings of when they had to carry out their orders. They were ordered to take children away.

I was a six year old. I remember the pain of that when my mother was told that, by the police, that they were going to take my brother and I away. Well, naturally a mother fights for her cubs. And naturally a cub doesn’t --- wouldn’t like to see their mother being, you know, hurt. Being told. Because naturally I had my --- I’ve got my genes from my mother. From my father. And naturally I had to do the same as what she was doing.

They were --- that policeman, those police, they got my naked little feet pumping at their legs and also pulling and tugging and all sorts. And crying. I mean people don’t realise the real action of being in that situation where you’re hurt. And that’s --- those memories never leave me. But I’m a person - I fight on. I fight on for my people. Yes. Not realising then, it was, when you don’t understand the reason of assimilation or whatever they called it, thought about, you know, in those in authority. Well, you know, they didn’t take into account the effects at that moment. The effects that that moment that would, you know, cause pain. 

[Arriving at Colebrook home, Quorn SA]
When we eventually arrived into the place of assimilation --- there was a difference --- out in the bush, with our grannies and that, we had food straight away and so it was different. Whereas you were served up a food after it’s been cooked and cooked and cooked. And sometimes it was hard to, you know, sort of swallow and hard to get accustomed to the taste of another cultural food supply.

It was a time of when we had to be --- get so accustomed to the different ways of living. And that was, the thing that I really missed was that contact with older people. Our grannies and that were our mentors. They sat down and talked about when they were growing up and everything and what they had to learn. And that was --- it was, there again, it was one way of teaching. One way of learning us what life is all about and what the next stage of life is. We never had any bad experiences of being flogged or whatever. And we --- because I think we were obedient children.

[You never forget family]
Being taken away, it was traumatic. And while we were here, while I was here growing up, it was --- at night, it was crying time for us, at night time. Crying time. And my thoughts were always back with my people. I even, you know, thought --- I used to think - I’m going to go through and to go back and see my mother and to see my granny and all the other grannies and mothers. But we never had that opportunity because the mission had no money. The mission couldn’t afford to send us all back.

But the other reason was they were afraid if we were given the opportunity for finances to go back to see our people, that we’d never come back. So time comes when you see a relative of yours come to visit us here, my old uncle, and the first question I asked was ‘Have you seen my mother?’ And to tell you the truth that when Uncle --- he didn’t have to say anything. He just put his head down. He put his head down and stood there for some time before he could tell me that my mother had passed away.

We had to be assimilated into the white culture. But I appreciate that because I had that opportunity to be able to learn how to read and write. I appreciate what was happened, which seemed so traumatic to us at that time, has turned out to be a gift of preparing me to be able to help my people.

[Clara’s goals]
Right from the beginning my goal in life was returning to find my people. I thought - oh yes, they’re not --- well how --- no, I’ll use the mission. United Aborigines Mission to get up there. So I joined them. I was accepted as a teacher up at Nepabunna and then from there on, when I heard that there was going to be a children’s home set up at Oodnadatta by the mission, so my goal was there. Oh it’s getting nearer. You get that really vivid experience of things are moving into the direction that you’re making your goal to.

I applied for the job. I got it. And it was there that, in Oodnadatta, that I met some of my people. And I met my only sister and her two children at Oodnadatta because they used to come to the mission house. And because everybody heard that there was a --- but they knew. They must --- isn’t it amazing how they know that one of their own are coming back? And they all come. I was still very tired after two days travelling on the train and the missionary, his wife, came into my room and said ‘Oh there’s a lot of people outside wanting to see the new worker.’ And I thought - oh better get up then.  So I got up and there they were. Men on one side. Women on the other side. And well, if you’d only heard the wailing that went up. They wailed because that was the first time they seen me after losing my mother and also they wailed --- the other thing is they wailed because they’re so happy that I come back.

And they said ‘Oh you’ve come back to us. You’re the one that, you know ‘the first one that’d come back to see us. After all these years.’ Yeah. Well, you know, really that was an experience where I felt so humbled. I really felt humbled. And my heart was crying for those people. And my own people. And the missionary said to me ‘Do you know anybody here? Do you remember anybody here?’ I said ‘Yes. I remember one lady.’ And ‘Who is it?’ I pointed to my sister. I said ‘That’s my sister. She used to carry me on her back whenever we went travelling, gathering food and digging rabbits and all those sorts of things.’ And there she was.

My next goal was, and I enquired about my grandfather and they said ‘Oh yes, he’s at Ernabella.’ Okay, that was the other goal. I had to go and find old grandfather. He was so happy. And he really, he couldn’t fit in enough words when he was talking to me. And I had my auntie with me and she could understand the language and I said ‘What is he talking about?’ And she told me. And I told her ‘Tell him I can’t understand it. His language. Our language. Because I lost it all when I was taken away.’ And he understood. He understood.
He was so happy that I’d come back. He said ‘You’re the first one that’s come back out of all the children that have been taken away.’ I said ‘Yes. I had that right in my heart.’ I said ‘I had it in my heart from the time I was taken away that I’m going to come back and find you all.’ So, you know, he was so happy about that. That I eventually went back to find him.

[For her people]
I’ve --- I’d reached my goal but I had to go further. I had to do something better for my people. And so I went into different areas of, you know, learning.  First of all I was with the --- helping in the needs of health. Helping in the needs of different health problems. Aboriginal Disability Network. I’m still, although I’m 80 years old, I’m still working towards that. For the government to realise - come to us and hear from us who are at grass roots. Who have got a heart. Who’ve got a heart and understanding of their own people. And that’s the sort of thing that I feel when that happens, I mightn’t be around but at least I’ve tried to do my part.

[A final thought]
I hope that the people realise, so many of us went through in the areas of being taken away and that, some people still hang on to those hurts. But I’ve learned in life not to hang on to hurts, you know, really. Like Yvonne came over and she said ‘Oh mum I’m sorry for what happened.’ And I said ‘That’s alright.’ I’ve learned never to hang onto a hurt. Because if you hang onto those hurts you’re hurting yourself. [laughs]





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