Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

I think people should know how we were treated and I’m not the only one. I don’t carry excess baggage with me. I’ve got over it. I’ve been so fortunate to have such good friends around me. After I got out of the Good Shepherd Orphanage I went to Sydney and met beautiful people who looked after me and I never looked back. I was very fortunate. I think my sense of humor kept me going. I only ever had one dear friend who wasn’t Indigenous. All my other every friends were Indigenous and I was drawn to those people and I still am today. Some of my friends I’ve had for over 55 years.

Transcript

Maria Starcevic

Duration: 14:37

My name is Maria Starcevic. And I am Kulin nation. My mother – my grandmother was born in South Melbourne. My grandmother was born in Warrnambool, which makes her Gunditjmara. 

Well I was a month and three days old, she was fifteen when she had me at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Carlton but previous to that, she had lived across the road with the nuns. When you had the baby evidently you come back to the, to live with the nuns.  But then she didn’t want to live there.  So she headed for Fitzroy. 

[Tug of war]
Yeah, they had a tug of war with me in Gertrude Street, Fitzroy.  And cause she was trying to hold onto me, but the police finally took her – took me.

[Reasons for removal in her files]
It had that I was without substance.  Now I know my mother, and she would never have had me hungry, and I would have been clean. She was one of the cleanest women you’ve ever seen in your life, you could eat off her floors she was that clean. And no, it just didn’t cut any ice with me. I suppose at the time, they thought it was the best thing. Whether it was or not, for my benefit, I don't think so because I grew up not knowing anything. And with nobody.

[Many institutions]
I was put into – they used to put us in like what they called depots. You know like you were a vehicle.  You know how the trams have depots and buses have depots and that. The first place I was in was Broadmeadows Foundling home. At two I think these people took me, then the lady died, and then I was handed to these other people. They were going on holidays, so they put me in the orphanage here in South Melbourne. Just dropped me off and that was it.

And then I lived with the nuns in Albert Park for a couple of years. And then I ran away. And um, police picked me up, put me in the Good Sheppard Convent in Abbotsford. 

[Living with the nuns]
The nuns weren’t nice to live with, they weren't good. If you didn’t eat your food, you didn’t get anything else.
And I could never eat tripe. My children have never had tripe in their life. I vomited it up and they gave me another plate of it. And in the end they knew I couldn't eat it. But I got nothing else. She was the meanest woman I've ever met in my life.  And she actually had a swing on her like Mohammad Ali, if she copped, oh god, she was only four foot six. God she was like dynamite. Just like a snake, she would spring on you, you know. 

[Rape]
This woman come to the door and spoke to the nuns and everything, and they just handed me over to her. I knew her. She was the daughter of the lady that died that looked after me, you know, when I was young. And she had six children, but she had rheumatoid arthritis, her hands were like claws, you know, she couldn't do a safety pin up; she couldn't look after the children. I knew nothing about children. I’d been with the nuns for so many years. Any rate, I battled through. But her husband was a drunk. And he used to creep around the house of a night. And I was really frightened of him. So this particular night I, I knew, you know, he was on the prowl. So I got out of the house because the kids were asleep and I thought I’ll go down – there was a river there, I will go down to the river. And these blokes stopped, and I’d seen them around Merbein and that you know. And where are you going? I said, ‘I'm going down the river’. 

And they raped me. And … seventeen. So then I had a baby to that rape. And ah, then I come back to Melbourne to have the baby. Never saw anyone after that. 

[Maria’s mother looks for her]
She had nothing except my name. But she knew she had to go to the welfare to find out where I was.  Because being a State ward they were in charge of me. She got private detectives to find me.  And ah, the day they rocked up …Yeah that was the day that I was free of the welfare and that. I was no more a ward. 

I met her in Fitzroy. And um, she was a Koori woman. And you can imagine the shock I got.  Cause I knew nothing about her background or anything like that. We started to talk about things. And you know, then she explained to me about her Aboriginality and that. She owned a brothel.  But see she couldn't admit she was Aboriginal because you weren’t allowed to own any property. She put all her money into property. So she used to say she was Indian or something. And then, of course it come out, she told me. She said, no I'm Aboriginal. And I said, ‘well why didn’t you say that?’ And she said, 'because we couldn't own anything'. 

[Ongoing relationship with mum]
There was never anything very much talked about. Between her and I. About growing up or anything like that. Her and I could never hit it off.  We’d argue. One day was when I said to her, ‘you – when I needed you, you weren’t there.’  You know, I accused her of not being there as I was growing up and I just broke down you know. And that’s when she said, ‘but I did come looking for you’. Course that ended up in a heated argument.
And then we never ever discussed it again. 

[Tragic discovery in her ward files]
I got them a couple of years after she died.  Through freedom of information. I got it sent through the mail. And I just went into my bedroom and read it.  And I just broke down, you know. And in one of the papers that I've got they said ah, the ward, that’s who they used to refer to you. The ward’s mother called at our office today, she is now Mrs Henderson of Mallacoota. Very fashionably dressed. Now what's that got to do with the price of fish?  You know, just nit picking.

And they wouldn't – wouldn't even tell her where I was.  And then of course I accused her of not coming and looking for me. And ah, she told me she had. Well when I got my papers I found that she had been looking for me. And of course by this time she’d died. So I've got to live with that everyday. I didn’t have time to apologise to her. 

It haunts me.  That I couldn't, couldn't really tell her how sorry I was, you know. And you know, as I've got older, I've understood a lot more.  Of how, what hard times were.  I mean she had her battle. But then, you know, you’ve got to live with those things. 

[Discovering her Aboriginal identity]
It was good that I had the association with Indigenous people before I found out. You know, Chicka Dixon?  You’ve heard of Chicka?  Well his sister, she's up there in one of my photos. Mavis and I used to track around together all the time.  And it was a funny thing, girlfriend of mine in Queensland which is Koori, Koori people drew me.  And Mavis said to me, you know why, she said because you had that blood in you, you didn’t know. But you were always drawn to your own people.  All my friends were Koori. 

I've done research on the, on the internet and that.  And I found out a good bit. But not enough, see our language is gone. The Bunnerong language is still around. But Gunditjmara language is gone, as we know, a lot of the languages have gone.  And it’s such a shame.

[The Stolen Generations]
I was talking to someone one day, and they said when were you taken?  And I told them. And showed them my papers and everything like that. And they said, you come under the Stolen Generation. Never had a clue.  And see you never questioned anything. You know the old saying, children should be seen and not heard?  Well that’s how it was, that’s the way I was brought up. And how could you ask the nuns anything.  They’d tell you sweet bugger all, you know. 

I don't think they thought they were accountable to anyone. Not even to the parent of the child. They had their own book of rules. And they abided by them. You know, they made the decisions because they wanted to absolutely abolish the Aboriginal race.  And the whiter the children become, the more they could mix with white society. 

People have said, there's no such thing as the Stolen Generation. But if they look at history they’ll know. And talk to people, broaden their minds a bit, don't live in that little glass case they're in. Get out and see what's happening in the world.  It’s only a few narrow-minded people that are against, you know, the Stolen Gen. And oh, but you know, I believe in karma.  All good things come to those who wait. 
   
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.