Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

In order to make sense of my life, and the trauma of being taken from my Aboriginal mother at birth, I needed to write my story – ‘Hey Mum, What’s a Half- Caste?’ And after the writing, publication, and launch of the book I was still learning things I would have liked to have known before. Such as, my white grandfather who signed my adoption papers wasn’t my grandfather at all. I dedicate this story to my mother, Hazel (1925-1994), who never recovered from losing me.

Transcript

Lorraine Mcgee-Sippel

Duration: 18:56

My name is Lorraine McGee Sippel, I live in Lane Cove, Cammeraygal country. And I am Yorta Yorta Wemba Wemba.  That’s down along the Murray. I was born in 1943 which makes me 66 years of age. 

I mightn’t have been taken under the government policy of the day, but I was still taken from my Aboriginal mother as a baby. And she felt as if I’d been stolen from her. And she never recovered from losing me. I was her first baby.  And to add insult to injury, her father told her that she had to tell the family that she had her appendix out. 

[Lorraine’s mother was not married and one of the dark ones in the family]
I was born at Crown Street. And I don't know how long I stayed there, maybe a week or so. My mother went back to her family home at St Mary’s and I went from Crown Street Hospital, Darlinghurst New South Wales to Scarba Home at Bondi. 

[Lorraine was adopted by a white couple who could not have children]
Sounded like I was a little reject, they were told that nobody else wanted me.  So they got me. And yeah.

[So many questions]
That sense of who am I, why am I darker than my adoptive family, I could not understand.  I was obsessed with photographs because I didn’t seem to fit into that album.  Nothing about me was the same as my cousins, my aunties and uncles. And I felt ashamed because I looked different.  When I did find out I was adopted I kind of guessed when I was nine years of age. And that’s when I asked my adoptive mother, hey mum am I adopted? And then, hey mum what's a half-caste?  Because I was called a half-caste at school at a nine year old. 

These questions were never answered and it was that sort of response that negative response that, ‘who told you that?’ that made me think that I was adopted. And that there was something to be ashamed of. But it would be another three years before I found the adoption order.  That confirmed it. But then I was sprung, and my mother ripped it out of my hand and tore it up. But at least I got the name. And I didn’t know what to do with that name, but I kept it in mind for a long, long time. 

[Relationships as an adult]
I couldn't have a relationship, I thought, once you get to know me you won't like me either.  So that became a problem with relationships, particularly with, of the opposite sex as a young person. There was this barrier that would only let people go so far. Because I believed that there was something about me that was no good. And I didn’t know what that no good bit was, and, but I didn’t want other people to know about that no good bit. 

[Lorraine fell in love when she was 24 yrs old]
When I'm about to get married and told that my – dad said he had something important to tell me. And that night is etched deep in my heart and soul. 

[What her father told her]
Your mother was white, your father was black, he was a Negro and the social worker at the home said we had to tell you before you got married cause you could have kids, and they’d be throw backs and your husband would think you'd been playing around, and nobody wanted you as a baby but we did.  And I thought, how can I ever lumber anybody with this, with me, with a baby, with my baby?  So gone were those plans that we’d planned on having children.  And I didn’t tell Jack that. We had lots of problems from then on. And I was still in love with him, told him to go and meet someone else. 

I was disintegrating and dying inside. And I, part of me did die there when I made that decision. And I thought, no anybody that ends up with me is taking on far too much. I just wanted to find a hole and bury myself and not trouble anybody. 

[Lorraine’s suffering]
I'm sitting down on the floor, I'm 26 now. And I think there's only one way out of this and I have a bottle of tablets called Amytal. On the front of the label it said take one tablet three times a day and one at night. I thought, I’ll start with four. And if it doesn't work I’ll take the lot. So I took the four and then I realised what I was doing, I needed help. And I was on the floor and I thought, oh reaching for the phone book and I found Lifeline, and I rang Lifeline. And I hung on to that phone because it was my lifeline. 

[Lorraine had many counselling sessions before she felt strong again]
   
[She decided to live without love and become a nurse]
The denial of my own, I don't know how anybody could do that to themselves. I couldn't do it, I couldn't hurt anybody the way I hurt myself. But I had to survive and I knew that – I felt ashamed of, of seeking counselling, that I couldn't work these things out on my own. And I thought if I go nursing I will look after other people because I stuffed up my own life. I’ll look after other people, forget that, and walk away from it. And I went nursing and I won big prizes for it, didn’t mean a thing. Didn’t mean a thing to me, I thought, at what cost is this? I've done this to myself. No one's done it to me. But it was just I didn’t trust anybody. 

[At 37 Lorraine realised she needed to find her family]
You see at the time I was working on a ward with mothers and babies and I had a specialised ward, eleven bed unit, with mums with sick or premmie babies, or stillbirths or ones with relinquishing babies. And I had an extra love for those girls, an attachment to them for obvious reasons. 

I thought, I've got to find my family, cause I don’t like what I see of myself anymore, I'm drinking too much, I'm becoming bitter and angry, and I know where that’s coming from. I've got to do something about this because I won't make it my next birthday. So in 1980, when I'm 37 I go up to Adoption Triangle. And I'm starting to hear all kinds of stories about adoption. And all the lies that people have been told. And I thought, what does that mean about me? Have I been lied to? 

So I found out, you know. I knew what the surname was. So I thought I’ll write to all the Woodings in Australia. So I did. And worked my way through. And I was so determined.  Took me eleven months. And then I got the call. And it’s my mother on the line. And she says, is that Lorraine?  I said, yeah who’s speaking?  She says, Hazel. And I say, Hazel, Hazel my mother? So then she fills me in.  No she's not white, she's Aboriginal. My father is not Afro-American, no, he's white. She didn’t know any Afro-Americans.  Oh. But when I meet her I still don't recognise her because she's dark and I'm thinking she’s white.

[The reunion with her mum]
I see this woman coming through the gate, and I thought, lady I don't know who you are with your big bunch of flowers, you have to go next door, I don't know anyone living here. I'm a stranger, I'm going to meet me mother. And she's a dark looking woman, and she looks Maori or Islander.  And she's getting closer and I'm not happy about this.  She's smiling at me, and I'm looking around, somebody behind me is there. There's no one behind me, there's just me.  And that’s my mother coming towards me. But I don't know.  And, and I see her and I think, oh shit.  I've been lied to big time.  My life has been stuffed.  I didn’t have my babies.  The thing I wanted most.  I was too afraid for them, and that they might be rejected, or they were coloured. I was too frightened.  And I feel shamed, I felt ashamed of that. I felt, how can I say this to my mother so I never did.  And I had to hang onto that myself. But it took a big toll. It was the hardest thing I've ever had to work through.  And, and to see my mother. We just hung on. We hung on. 

I kept hitting her and touching her. She had beautiful silky dark skin. She said, don't worry, I'm still here, I'm not going anywhere.  And I couldn't believe this was my mother. But she wasn’t white.  And I thought, god how naïve, why didn’t I know? You know, it really, it really hurt so much.

That sense of worthlessness and low self esteem. But when I met my mother my friends at Adoption Triangle said, oh we’re so pleased you met your mother, your family. We can get close to you now. And I thought, what do they mean?  You know, I trusted people then.  Meeting my siblings they were so warm and I had so many reunions all over the country. 

[In addition Lorraine did something quite extraordinary for her own healing]
So what I did, I went back, I had to go back to where I’d been taken from, from Scarba Home. After I've tried to find out about my father. I'm about to go and I say can you tell me where the babies were kept? I didn’t know I was going to do this.  And I – she says, can't be sure but I think it could have been here – through here Lorraine.  Follow me. 

And I'm going into this place where this baby is. And I reach down, I reach down into the bassinet, there's no bassinet. I reach down into a bassinet, pick my own infant self up.  And I hold onto that dear little baby.  And I take her out of there with me, and I tell her this.  She is coming home with me and Kevin. Where she is loved and, I'm taking you home with me. So that’s what I do, that day I go, I go there. 

[Lorraine’s own Aboriginal identity]
And then it’s time to go home to country. How could I be Aboriginal if I've never lived it? Did I look it? Did I have the right? These are questions I asked myself. How can I identify? I didn’t take it as an automatic thing. I thought I had to earn it and how do I go about that? The bicentenary allowed me to do that, when I saw that Aboriginal flag, that I didn’t know what the Aboriginal flag was.

Well I was off on a journey.  It just overtook my life. I was driven, driven. And that was 21 years ago. And no turning back, no turning back. I got a book called Being Aboriginal because I thought, am I doing the right thing here? Am I speaking, am I acting the way I should be? So I've had to learn, you know. Non-Indigenous people think they have to learn. I had to learn because, well I didn’t grow up with it. And I was starting from a real ignoramus’s base because I was, well oh, it was very confusing.

I met so many people, and I kept going back and going back and then being identified.  Oh she’s McGee, she's a McGee. Doesn’t she look like Aunty Ettie?  And you know, there's – yeah I did look like Aunty Ettie.  We know who you are now, there's a big mob of McGees in Shepparton. Big mob, they walked off Cumeragunga mission.

[Lorraine wrote a poem for one of her brothers]
And it’s called, Tommy.  It appears to me dearest brother of mine that we stood alone as we were marking time. Why was it so, could it be true, who was it that cared for me and you?  Kids we were, but oh so old, neither of us wanting to feel so cold.  T’would be many years later that we would meet, a touch of déjà vu, I would feel from you. The hurt, the pain was so clear. Those eyes were clouded with a long ago fear. What could I say, what could I do, except brother Tommy, I really loved meeting you.

[Lorraine after she met her family]
   

END TRANSCRIPT

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