Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

The reason I want to share my story is so my grandkids can learn about Australia’s dark past. It’s their family line and until we deal with the past we can’t deal with the future.

Transcript

Greg Ugle

Duration: 21:16

My name is Greg Ugle. Born at Mogumber Mission, just out of Perth back in 1954.

[Greg’s Aboriginal heritage]
My country is the Yuat clan and that’s the --- my father’s connection. My mother’s connection is Balardong down near the southern part of the wheat belt. Beverley, Narrogin.

[Greg’s family life]
There was ten of us. Ten of us in the --- all up. I’m in the middle. Grew up in the wheat belt area just out of Merredin.Most of the time that I remember was we did a lot of travelling.

We went from like Toodjay to Bencubbin - we camped up there. We wandered between Bencubbin, Mukinbudin and a place called Welbungin. And that was a reserve that we sort of had our base and we lived there. And it was just a gravel pit where a group of Noongar families got together and we decided to live there. Built houses. Built humpies actually. A hessian bag front door. The roof was just corrugated iron. We’d walk out and the bush was just right in our face.

There was about five or six families in this little area. We did a lot of hunting in that place. We stayed there because that’s where all the fathers got the work. After a while the shearing --- not the shearing, the seeding and all that, the harvesting would stop. There’d be a break so they’d go and we’d shift to the towns to get on the shire councils. So off we’d go and we’d go into Bencubbin.

[Memories of life in Bencubbin]
Dad had a railway job and I would’ve been eight years old I suppose. Moved into --- we was in Bencubbin in one of the railway houses. We’d go to school. We’d walk up the street. We’d go to the pub when dad would get his beer from the side of the pub.

The wadjela (whitefellas) had a bloody big German Shepherd and this --- they were cheeky people. Very arrogant people. But we’d go there and they’d call us all names. And they brought their big dog out. Big dog, big German Shepherd. And they said ‘Skitch him’ onto us and we’d run, up the road. All those little Noongar fellas. Flat out, hiking it. But the dog got Adrian, my eldest brother. Right on the arse - bit him! He shouted and we all shouted and kept running.

But we got away from them and we got home there and complained, telling mum about it. And she said ‘Oh you shouldn’t have went down there. Shouldn’t have went to the pub.’ But that all healed up over the next couple of days. And we just went to school and we beat them at their school sports. We gave them a hiding there, as Noongars do. We’d take our lunches to school. We had damper and dip, damper and kangaroo meat see. Take our lunch to school there and wadjela kid they sort of asked us to swap because they wanted to taste our damper and taste our kangaroo. So we’d swap our tucker for the ham and salad sandwich. We got a feed some of the time. But they didn’t know. That was our staple diet at the time. It was good.

[Being taken]
Dad was working all the time. He did a lot of work. Then he got into the drink and it started to get the best of him. Then he started --- then mum started getting into it. This one night it just exploded. Dad got angry. Drunk. Mum got drunk. And they got into a fight and mum ended up worse off. Dad was arrested. We had our eldest sister there, June, she was in the house with us. As children we found strength in each other. We didn’t want to go anywhere. We just wanted to stay in this little town of Bencubbin.

We went to see dad at the jailhouse. We laid down on our guts and sing out to him and asked him when he was coming home. So we’d go home and --- went home and seen these wadjelas (whitefellas) there at the house. And June was there and the little baby was there, little Susie. The welfare said ‘Oh you kids have got to…’ they were talking to June and decided to --- that we were neglected children.

All of us were gone from that place. We went to --- we were taken to Northam in the paddy wagon. Locked up. Don’t know for how long. Then welfare decided that they were looking for a place to put us all. Thankfully they had the sense to not split us all up. They contacted our auntie. Auntie Matilda Prosser and asked if she would take the kids. But the --- she said yes, she would take them. Then the welfare, according to the other children of the Prosser family because the welfare said there’d be too many kids in the house, you can’t have them. So she only took the little baby, which was Susan.

[There were other options]
There was Auntie Jean. There was Auntie Bertha Moore. These were ladies that had small families and living in the Perth area but they had their own houses. They would’ve taken us. But they only contacted Auntie Tilly.

We ended up in Kalgoorlie. Now Kalgoorlie is a 600 kilometre drive from Perth. To a little mission called Kurrawang and that mission was just 12 kilometres out of Kalgoorlie. We got into Kurrawang and we found out that there was no one in Kurrawang. All the kids and the missionaries, all were gone. They were down at Esperance. And Esperance is another four hour drive south, where we ended up. So the welfare consulted with the welfare in Kalgoorlie and shanghaied us straight through to Esperance. And we had no idea. We were not privileged to where we were going or what was --- what we were being told or whatever. We just went.

Got down to Esperance. Found the mission down there. The welfare lady found the mission. Left us at the doorstep and left. The missionaries came back. While they were gone we found a Christmas tree and toys and we opened every box in that room. We got stuck into the fridge. We had a wicked feed. We played with everything, you know, we were only, what? Seven, eight year olds running around there. The oldest was 12, my sister June.

And when the wadjelas, the missionaries, came back late in the afternoon, because they were down the beach somewhere they find these kids running around in their building. Mummy Sharpe, they made us call her Mummy Sharpe --- bellowed like a bloody bull. ‘What are you kids doing here and who are you people?!’ And all these kids just come to the windows of the building and just look through, you know, we saw all these black faces.

[The other kids in the mission]
The Wongais. The Wongai kids. The other Wongai kids. Yeah there was about 140 of them. We didn’t know what was going on. We looked at these Wongai’s faces and they were black people. To us they were just teeth and eye. White eyes, white teeth and black faces. And they scared the hell out of us.

Even to this day we are still not accepted by that mob up there. We are still outside. We’re still Noongars. But that’s where we grew up for eight years. That’s where I grew up for eight years. And all that time they never told our father and mother where we were.

[Life in the mission]
For first year that we was in the mission, in Kurrawang, we endured a lot of anger, resentment and a lot of rules. And a lot of things that you never experience out here, out in the real life, you know, they cook for you. They buy you clothes. They feed you. They tell you when to get up. They tell you when to go to sleep. And we never endured that outside. In our life, the little country towns, we got up when we wanted. We went to school and we ate what we wanted to eat. We didn’t adapt to it very well.

We were I suppose sooky a lot, because we wanted to get home. And but home was over a day’s drive, as far as we knew, because it was a day’s drive that we took to get here. The boys in the mission, there was like about 30 or 40 boys and to this date 94% are dead. That’s what the mission did to these boys. And the girls. The boys raped the girls in these missions and unfortunately we had to witness this because it was part of their aggro’ and abuse. The boys. And the missionaries were blind. They had their rules and regulations and they never knew our rules and regulations that the boys had for us. And for us to exist there.

[The Missionaries]
The missionaries, they raised us, they never knew us. They never understood us. We were children who needed saving and we --- I don’t know, I didn’t understand why I needed to be saved or why I needed to go to church. We’d sing in the church. We’d sing in the anniversary times in the congregation. And we’d sit there in Sunday School and we’d listen to their teachings and respect their God and the way they taught Christianity to us. But they never knew us.

We were a people. we were children of a land that we had no access to. That government policy said that because you’re neglected, you’re a neglected child, you go and live in the mission and grow up to be a good person. I never really understood why they thought that we were ever neglected. We had parents. We had a mother and a father. And we had a life. We had school. We had holidays. We ventured here and there.

And the missions restricted everything to getting up in the morning, 5 o’clock. Lighting the fire for the hot water system. Making sure everybody had showers. Making sure the water was hot in the boys’ dormitory and the girls’ dormitory. The girls cooked the feed. We’d go over there eat the feed at their place. Come back to our place. Get ready for school and that was our routine. Some people might say that’s good but we never had a chance to grow up as children.

We always wanted to go home. Go back home to our families. My eldest brother ran away. Twice. But he got picked up by the police twice and got chucked in the lock-up and brought back to the mission. I ran away once. Got belted for it.

[Welfare’s reasons for removal]
That file there. I got that file about eight years ago, from the welfare. That’s when they started releasing those files. They made up all the lies and the police believed them and then the courts believed them. The reasons they gave was because --- they called my mother a whore. In the file. They called her a prostitute. That welfare person that carted us to Kalgoorlie had all the right words to express to that magistrate in Northam as to why she thought we were neglected children. All of them are lies. My mother lived with us as children. She had --- and our father, them two were together for as long as I can remember.

They ran them down. They had to have a reason to get rid of us. To take us in the first place. They called dad a gambler. They moved around too much. They were nomadic. To too many places, like it was all seasonal work that dad had to chase. We had to go and look for the seasonal work and he couldn’t leave us in one town, we went with him. We didn’t want to stay there. And that’s what we did. That’s how we lived.

[Greg’s feelings about his parents drinking]
It was strange to us because alcohol then was restricted to Aborigines, unless you had a paper or a document to say that you had citizen rights and right to buy alcohol and drink yourself, that’s the only time you could get it see? So when he brought it home in the ‘60s mum --- he shared it with mum and it was just them two drinking in the house. It was just that one night. That one fatal night that they had that fight and we were taken.

[Leaving the mission]
I was 17 when I left. They told me I’m old enough to leave the mission. And I said ‘Oh okay.’ They said ‘You can go to Kalgoorlie or to Perth.’ And I said ‘Well I don’t know anyone in Kalgoorlie. I’ve got relations in Perth.’ And they said ‘Alright we’ll get you a train ticket.’

They bought me a ticket, gave me a backpack and away I went. That was it. No money. Nobody to meet me at Perth train station. Got off the train there with just a backpack. And said this is --- I’ve got to find my people. Find my relations. Find my parents. I ended up seeing a Noongar fella there and asked him if he knew the Prossers. And he said ‘Prossers probably in Midland. You have to get on the train.’ I said ‘Oh how do I get on the train?’ He gave me some money to get a train ticket to go to Midland. I had no money. I come there with nothing. 

And I go to Midland. Get off train at Midland. See another black fella there and I say ‘Look do you know any Prossers?’ ‘They’re down there in Cope Street. They’re down there.’ ‘Where that is?’ And they told me where to go and I walked right through Midlands about a mile, two miles long. So I walked all the way through down to Cope Street from the train station. Got down there and seen all these kids running around down on the road. These Noongar kids. And the eldest cousin, Kathy, she busted herself --- she shouted ‘Hey Bonarn [Language name]’ She’d never seen me for what, nine years. And she seen me coming down the road. And I thought that was amazing. My eldest cousin knew us from just sight. And I was just --- they took me in. They gave us a house for a year. Because I stayed there for a year and I enjoyed my relations but there was always - this was not my home. When they sent us away they sent us back to nothing. Back here was nothing.

[Where to belong]
We have ‘back to Kurrawang’ things and ‘back to Mogumber’ things but it’s very hard to go back to those places because you’re not --- I’m not welcome in both. Because Kalgoorlie is Wongai country. That’s their lands and their stories. My stories are down this way and these people here say ‘Prove who you are. Who’s your family? Who’s your family history?’

So I’ve still got to prove to my own Noongar people who I am. We had a Bringing Them Home committee, we had a meeting there one time and they said ‘Well we’re bringing all the people home.’ I said ‘To what? What are you bringing me home to? I own nothing. I have nothing. I don’t even know who I are or who I am or where my connections are. And yet people want to bring me home.’ I don’t want to come home.

It’s not until I actually came back here as an adult, as a grandfather --- because I’ve only been back here eight years, living in Perth and getting to know all my family connections. And still we’re --- I still don’t know it. We’re afraid to go and visit our uncles and aunties who are now our elders.

I know some of the Noongar language and I try to teach some of that language to my kids, my grandkids. But I teach them the Wongi because I speak that fluently. It’s a different culture. The Ngaanyatjarra language. I speak that language more fluently than I speak my own language. And that’s what they took us away from. These people that had the right to just stand up and say, on their own assessment, you’re a neglected child. And they were people who never had kids. I assume that they never had their own kids. And they took us away from a life of family. We were a family. And then they want to bring us home.

[How Greg feels about the welfare people working at the time]
We had no one to blame. We had no way of getting back at them, at anybody. Those people that signed those documents there, that put their name down the bottom there. They’re dead and they’re buried in my land. And that’s --- I’ve got the last laugh because they’re under my dirt. That I walked on. That my grandfathers and grandmothers walked on. That’s our land.

END TRANSCRIPT

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