Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

I wish to share my story so people know what really happened.

Transcript

George Tongerie

Duration: 12:00

Apparently my mother was young and she passed away just after I was born. I was taken away as a baby and put in a mission.  I was the first baby in Colebrook home in Oodnadatta.

[Colebrook children’s home]
There was – we had dormitories, the boys had a dormitory and the girls, yeah. To a lot of us it was home.  That was special to me because I was a baby when I was brought there. Went to the local school and local Sunday school and church.

Cause we were all treated as equal. And Colebrook made you feel equal as white kids. All the kids at the school were made to share their first lunch with us because a lot of the mission kids come to school. But we didn’t realise that till after, yeah.  So they were all treated the same, yeah.     

No we weren’t sad because we were, had each other as company. And we didn’t realise, they didn’t realise they come there and they wouldn't see their families again till they got older. I think they’ve all got different stories to tell, cause different experiences.  And some of them have had it pretty hard. 

Some of them come into Colebrook a bit older.  And they knew some of their family. Well I never had, didn’t know the other side of my family because I was taken away as a baby. And to me, my family was the Colebrook kids.

[Life after Colebrook]
I'm the last of the Indigenous Second World War veterans.  I was in the air force, New Guinea and Borneo.  And the natives up there used to look – couldn't make you out why I was with all the whitefellas, cause I was the only Aboriginal in the air force up there.

[Connecting to family]
No I didn’t see my family till I went back in ah, after the war.  I didn’t realise I had a family.  Then I bumped into a married sister of mine at Coober Pedy.  She knew that I was taken away and put in Colebrook, but – and her family said they had an uncle somewhere but they hadn’t seen him. That was me. 

And they said one day he’ll come back. Her kids knew they had an uncle somewhere. 

[The pain]
It is when you get older. Just comes. 

[Reconnecting with his people]
It was hard and sad but you knew deep down you were all related.  Well to think you’ve missed so many years of separation I guess, yeah. 

[In the late 1970s George and his wife Maude went back to Oodnadatta to work with the local Aboriginal community]
Well I was a war officer at the time at the department, and the railways had moved to Oodna, so all the services moved from Oodna. But I said the Aboriginal people will, I said, they were born here they will live here till they die. Services were moved because all the whites moved. So we went back, my wife and I to help them to run their own services. 

They were in a bad boat, because alcohol was a big problem then. So we felt that the only way to control that was to own it.  To control alcohol you had to own the, where it was supplied from the local hotel.  So the community bought the hotel and they got control of the sale and services of the hotel.  No take-aways.  It’s controlled by a board of directors, they're all local blackfellas. 

You got to sit down and listen to them. And we used to say, it’s not what Maude and I want, we’re here to do what you want us to do, yeah.  Let them know that they're in charge of their own lives, their families. 

[The results]
Oh hell of a difference. Cause you got control. We got houses and accommodation for the families. Yeah well we were both awarded the  Order of Australia for services to our people. 

[Some thoughts]
Well I think, you know the, I don’t like criticising the Government but they got to accept that we were the first people here.  I think we got to – once our kids and our people understand what really happened, and I suppose being interviewed like you – with you will help them understand what happened to us. 

Oh it makes you feel sad at times, yeah. 

The Government of the day then, really, they thought that was the right thing to do.  Take you away from your people. 

I think they should have supported families more to keep the kids in the family and the resources given to the people to look after them. 

[The apology speech]
I felt a big ah, you know, load removed from you.  To think that at last people accepted that that really happened. I think once the Prime Minster said sorry that sort of was the beginning of healing, that's right. 

I think main thing is that you recognise that that did happen to our generation. That you were taken away just because of the colour of your skin. And that we all got to get on together and make sure it never happens again. 

END TRANSCRIPT

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