Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

My story needs to be told because of the hidden things, which now need to be revealed. People need to know what happened to us because a lot of people don’t know the dark side of Australian history, what they did to us.

Transcript

Lester Maher

Duration: 10:13

Lester Maher. Originally from Taree. From Birapi. That’s the name of our tribe. Born in 1954. Taken away in 1958. Returned back home 1967.

[Being taken]
My eldest brother, my eldest sister. There were three of us that were taken at the same time. I do remember the day they took me. I’ll never forget that day. I mean I was only four years old.

[The day]
A woman come to the house. She said ‘Oh we’re taking you on a holiday.’ Old lady. Went on a big steam train. Never to return. Taken away to Cootamundra Girls Home first. Spent two years there. Went from there to Kinchela Boys Home. And that’s when it all started.

[Life at Kinchela Boys Home]
Well put it this way, it wasn’t a home. There was no home family type of relationship. It wasn’t a home at all. It was an institution. There was no love there. There was no Christmas. No Easter. No nothing. No happy days or anything. We were just brought up in a prison really. And treated as prisoners. Slavery. You know. Because we run that place. We done everything, literally everything. Clean the place up. Run the farm.

I’ve got a fella living with me now who was living in the Boys Home and all he does is clean up. Very clean man. Spotless. Goes through the house and just cleans, cleans. That’s all he does because that’s all he’s been taught. To be clean.

[School life]
I started at school in Kinchela Boys Home itself. They had a school there. Just one room. Then we started going to West Kempsey Primary School and from there to high school. For me school days were good. You got away from the place but when you go back it’s like going back to jail again, because you’re locked up again. Which it was.

[Contact with family while away]
The first time I met my --- realised I had a brother - I met him for the first time in Kinchela. Even to this day me and my brother is very close because we went through the same thing. And his regret was when he ran away that he didn’t take me with him. My auntie came visited us when she could. They tried to get us out of the home but they wouldn’t let her. My grandmother wrote a letter to the Aboriginal Protection Board to try and get me out of the Homes. No way. No reason.

[Abuse at Kinchela Boys Home]
If you didn’t do as you were told you’d get a flogging. We wondered why we got belted around so much for nothing. So we were sort of scared really, in a way. 1967 after I actually ran away from the Boys Home. I started off running away on the railway track. I followed the railway track. Didn’t know where it would lead to but I just went. Train came too. [laughs] Eventually got off the track and sat on the station and the station master said ‘Oh we’ll go and get you some help.’ But he rang the police. Spent the night in the cell. Kempsey lock up. Next day they came and got me. Took me back and that’s when I got the biggest flogging.

The bashing that I copped from the manager. He was a so-called manager who was supposed to manage the place and protect us. They called themselves Aboriginal Protection Board. He was the man in authority who overstepped that mark. And most of the time he was drunk. He was --- yeah, he was an alcoholic. Lot of the other boys got bashed by that manager. He was a cruel man. Give me the biggest flogging of my life. Stripped me naked. Flogged me. I was in bed for a week. Bruises all over my back and body, whatever. From head to toe. A six foot cane. And first chance I got, hopped on the road. Went back home.

[Arriving home]
I didn’t know anybody but I went to one of my auntie’s place who came and visited us on a regular basis. Auntie Pat. She wasn’t home but her sister was there, Auntie Velma. I went down to her place. They showed me where she lived. I went down to her place and I had all bruises all over my back. She said ‘What happened to you?’ I said ‘That so and so manager at that home got stuck into me.’ So they went to court and got me out. He actually got the sack because of me. I never went back again.

[Meeting Mum]
When you meet up for the first time you didn’t know how to react. You didn’t know what the response was. You don’t know, you know, you never had that mother son relationship at all. So it was quite numb really. And there was no response, you know, from her cause I suppose she didn’t know how to react either. Same as my father. I didn’t have a relationship with him too. And when I did, when my brother and myself did start to develop a relationship with our mum, she died. So, here we go again.

[Importance of culture and identity]
Identity is knowing who you are and where you came from. Your roots. That was taken from us, see, so we weren’t brought up in --- we didn’t have our identity. We didn’t have culture. You know the word assimilate? Try and make us white fellas. That’s actually what they did. They told us that we weren’t black. That we were white. And you’re not to mix with any other Aboriginal kids at school. You were to keep to yourself.

Taking away everything that we --- that’s us. I mean I’m Aboriginal. I was born Aboriginal, stay Aboriginal, I’ll die Aboriginal, you know. But that’s the thing that they tried to do is take everything away from you and replace with a white man’s lifestyle. Yep. Well I think, for myself personally, is the white race has got a spirit of superiority. Always want to be on top. And the Aboriginal people have got a spirit of inferiority. Always looking down. Always feeling bad about themselves.

[Between two worlds]
When we went back home because of the lifestyle in the Boys Home, the white man’s way of living, that’s all we knew. So when we went back to our families to the Aboriginal way of life that was a big culture shock to us. We didn’t know the --- we didn’t know how to react to that. The drinking and the house was dirty and all that sort of stuff. But they was our mob. And we didn’t know how to interact with our own people.

So that’s one of the big things that struck me severely when I left the Boys Home. I didn’t know how to react to my own people. Mix in. And even today, they’re our mob but we’re still different. There’s no real closeness, you know, as a closely knitted family usually should be - it’s not there. I don’t think it will ever be there because of the separation we had. Taken away.

[Why?]
Why did they take us away in the first place? And they’re saying, you know, it was for our own good. How could you say it was for our own good when they done all those terrible things to us. You couldn’t say that was good. Yeah, I think that’s the bottom line. Why? Why’d this all happen?


END TRANSCRIPT

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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.