Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

I think it is really important that our stories get out there so that the next generation will know what happened to us in the past. I think that is really important. I visit a lot of schools to tell my story. Otherwise people wouldn’t know.

Transcript

Marie Melito Russell

Duration: 34:45

I'm Marie Louise Melito Russell. I live here in Mount Druitt which is a suburb of Blacktown. I'm 74. I've got 4 children, 16 grandchildren. And I'm a Stolen Generation Aboriginal.

[Marie was adopted as a newborn baby]
I was adopted to a Scottish Irish parentage. They had fostered another girl ten years before me. My parents were really dysfunctional. You couldn't, you couldn't ask for anything, you couldn't talk to them about anything. We were always told that children should be seen and not heard. They did love each other, they desperately loved each other, you could see that, they lived for one another. And but I think my father thought that we were an intrusion. That we were taking too much of my Mum’s time. And he paid out on us for that. He sexually abused us when we were little. He was away during the war, he was in the Navy.  So for the time that he was away I had good memories with my mum. 

[Marie’s adopted parents]
They were really strange people. They didn’t mix with the neighbours, they never had any friends. My mum never ever came to school. When we were having a special event, they didn’t even come for my holy communion or my confirmation. I had to go to the church on my own. I mean things like that hurt. They never did anything with us. Never, ever. So I mean these are things that really hurt you when you're a child. And you store it all up.

[Marie’s friend Judy]
Once when I was about seven I made this friend called Judy. Her name was Judy and we got on really well together. And I was – we were never allowed to have anybody, we weren’t allowed to bring anybody home or have them in the house. And this particular day, Judy wanted to walk home with me. So we just sat in the front yard and we were playing and talking. And my mum came out and she went ballistic. And she sent Judy home and she said, I don't want to ever come back here again.  And she pulled me in by my ear.   And she said to me, I don't want you to have that child here ever again.  She said her family is dirty, a dirty diseased family. And in my innocence I just looked at her and said, but you don't know the family so how do you know that? And shae whacked me right in the face.  And we used to have a storage cabinet in the hallway.  And I used to get locked in there as punishment because I was scared of the dark and you can only turn the light on from the hallway.  And um, I couldn't understand why my mum… Judy was Aboriginal.

[Racism]
My mum wasn’t happy with my sister’s choice of her husband because he was Aboriginal as well. And when I met my husband who was Maltese, they wouldn't let him in the house. He used to sleep on Villawood station when we moved to live in Villawood because they wouldn't let him stay overnight and he’d missed the last train to Sydney where he lived. So he had to sleep on the station because they wouldn’t let him stay at our house for the night. And they were really racist.

One of my friends at, that I used to play with said that her parents said I was adopted. I think I was about eight at the time. And I come home and asked my mum was I adopted? And she got really, really angry. And she showed me a small segment of a birth certificate that had my name on it, her name, and dad’s name.  And she said, see that’s our names, don't ever ask me that question again. You are not adopted. They never ever, right up till she died did she ever say to me that we weren't her children. 

In the photographs we had at home I didn’t look like anybody. Both my parents were blonde hair, blue eyed.  Both my sister and I both had dark hair, dark eyes and dark skin. Any photos that you looked at of the family didn’t resemble anybody. And I did ask my mum once why we didn’t look like our cousins. And she told me it was a throw back, we were a throw back to another generation. 

It wasn't until my niece committed suicide at 19 and we were at the cemetery that my mum and her sister had an argument at the cemetery. And to get back at my mum, my aunty wrote me a letter on toilet paper saying, you don't belong to this family, you are not welcome at my house any more.  I got a bit of a shock. And but I never told me mum because I knew that she was aiming this at my mum rather than she was aiming at me. And it was about that time that my husband wanted to go back to Malta. And so because I couldn't deal with my niece’s death, I – we decided to go, sell the house and go. And live there. It wasn’t until I came back, and only because of my girlfriend that I grew up with, because she used to always say to me, these parents of yours aren’t yours, you’re adopted.  And I said, no can't be. I said, no I couldn't be Aboriginal because they're too racist, they wouldn't have had us. And she said, I bet anything you like when you start looking for your family you’ll find that you’ve got an Aboriginal heritage. And I just said, no, no.

[At age 54 Marie discovers her heritage]
I went to Adoption Triangle. Just to try and see if I could find anything unknowing that my surname had been changed.  They couldn't find anything. And then I’d leave it, I left it for a long time. And I was working at Fairfield Hospital. And I had this ESP feeling that I was born in Crown Street Hospital. I used to get all these ESP things happen to me, right through my childhood. But I've learnt now that that’s the ancestors telling, they're telling us stuff. And um, Crown Street had closed down so I wrote to Paddington Hospital where the records were.

And then I got a phone call and from Paddington and they said, we've got some information on the person you wanted to know, and she said, but I've got to ask something. Is this really for a patient or is this for you?  And I couldn't tell a lie.  And I had to say, no it’s for me. And she said, well I can't give you any information. She said, but I’ll ring an organisation called Link Up which has just moved from Canberra up to Lawson.  She said, do you know what Link Up is?  And I said no.  She said, it’s an Aboriginal organisation that helps people find their families.  And I said, are you telling me I'm Aboriginal?  And she said, oh no I'm not allowed to tell you anything. She said, but I’ll give you Link Up’s number and you ring them in half an hour. Just give me half an hour to give them the information got in front of me. But before that half an hour was up, Link Up rang me and made an appointment for the next day. And so I took my youngest son with me the next day and my youngest daughter. And we drove up to Lawson.  And in the office was Stan, he was the case worker. 

And he said, how do you relate to Aboriginal people? And I said, is this a trick question or something? He said, no, he said, children that have been taken away from their families and haven’t been able to interact with Aboriginal people, sometimes they’re told that they're Aboriginal people are dirty. And then I said, are you telling me I'm Aboriginal?  And he said, yes.  I said, and who was I taken away from?  He said, your mother.  And I went into shock. And I said, oh, I said, I don't have any trouble with Aboriginal people, I've got Aboriginal friends. And he said, well that’s fine because a lot of people who haven’t been able to have any contact with them, they feel a little bit awkward. And I said, no. It doesn’t  bother me. He said, fine. And I said, well do you know who me mum is? He said, well we've got a little bit of information here but he said, we can't actually tell you until the laws change. He said, and then you can apply for your natural birth certificate. And so, it was about twelve months before they changed the laws and made it legal and I was allowed to get my birth certificate. And I kept looking at the surname and I kept thinking, Russell, my name is Russell.  I'm a Russell. I couldn't get it into my head, you know.

[Confronting her past]
The week after we went to Lawson there was to be a Link Up weekend the following weekend where all the clients get together for the weekend and meet each other. And the first person that started to talk made me feel really uncomfortable.  Because he was bringing stuff out that had happened to me as a child.  Then the second person started to talk, and more stuff came out. And by this time I was getting really, I didn't want to be there, I wanted to run away.  By the time the third person started to talk this was all my story coming out. I had to get up and run outside.  And I ran out the back of the building and I started sobbing.

The next thing I felt these arms go around me and it was one of the case workers, Bruce. And he just held me. And he kept saying, it’s okay sister, just let it out, just let it all out.  And we must have stood there for about an hour.  And he just kept holding me.  And then when I managed to pull myself together, he said, is there anything you want to talk about?  And I said, no, I can't.  Because when we were growing up as children, the first thing that they used to say to us every single day when we left the house was, we weren’t allowed to talk about anything that happened in the house. And that sort of brings up a wall. And you can't, you just can't get past that.  And um, this went on for two years. 

I tried in the beginning to start to talk about what happened to us when we were kids. And I couldn't.  And, then Carolyn, because I was going to cry, and I didn’t really want to cry in front of everybody, I felt embarrassed. So Bruce got hold of one hand and Carol had the other. Then it went around the table again and then it came back to me, and I tried again.  And I, I couldn't. And at the morning tea break I just got into the car and never told anybody. And just took off down to the Nepean River. And I just sat there all day until 9 o'clock at night. Debating whether I’d jump into the river and drown myself because I couldn't take the pain. It just, everything came up at once.  And I didn’t know how to handle it. And um, my marriage at that time wasn’t a hundred percent. We were having problems and that stemmed back to what happened to me as a child. When my father sexually abused me, it was always a punishment for something I’d done. And this was a stumbling block for me in my married life. And um, we had a lot of problems.  And my husband didn’t know what had happened to us as kids and my sister went one way, she couldn't hold a relationship. She went from one relationship to another.  And I was the opposite. To me every time we had sex it was a punishment. And that caused me a lot of problems and heartache. And so I was really depressed. And I really wanted to drown myself. The only thing that stopped me was I’d lost my niece at 19.  She’d committed suicide. And after debating this for hours and hours, I thought, I can't do this to my kids. I can't and so I came home. 

Carol came up the next day and she said, what happened to you, where did you go? And I told her that I was down by the river and she said to me, Marie if you would open up, she said, you’ll feel the healing come in  and I said, I can't, I've got this blockage here.  My mother telling me I'm not allowed to say nothing.  I can't, I just can't get it out.

So Carol decided to try me with, in a primary school. She sent me out to do a talk at the primary school.  And I spoke about Stolen Generation, but not me in particular but things that happened to stolen generations and then we had question time.  And the kids asked the most wonderful  questions. And without you knowing it, you're answering them but at the same time you're bringing your own story out. And this happened to me several times that I went. And then I – it was true what Carol said, then I realised the more I could talk about what happened to me, the more healing I was getting inside.  And it was getting easier for me to talk more and more.  Especially about the sexual and physical assault that I went through with my dad. And um, eventually I could do it without getting all upset and uptight. And the only thing is you’ve got to learn to push it back down after you’ve done it. 

[Searching to find family]
For me, the biggest pain was the pain of not knowing family.  Not knowing my mum, not knowing what she looked like.  And not being able to find her. We were trying to get information, we couldn't find anything. There was nothing anywhere that we could find. So I decided to do some of the research myself. 

This is where the ESP comes into play again. And something was telling me she's not in the country.  And so, what I did, after I’d been to the electoral role I couldn't even find her on the electoral role, I had this feeling that she left the country and so I rang my case worker, Wendy. And I said to Wendy, I'm going to look at the Maritime Services archives tomorrow. And she said, well I’ll come with you. 

And we sat there all day and they close at 4 o'clock. And we’d been through so many books and I couldn't find anything. And at five to 4, Wendy was still going through her book. And she said, I've found it. And I just let out this great big scream. And she showed it to me, and there it was. Mum’s name.  She left on the Mariposa USS Mariposa the date, which was 1941. So we knew that she was in the United States.

By this time Bruce was helping out. And he actually found my Uncle Bill’s family. But Uncle Bill had passed away in 1988. And my Aunty wanted to meet me. My Aunty sent me the first photo of my mum. So I actually knew what she looked like. And I sat in the lounge chair and I just cried all day long. 

[Marie learns more from her aunty]
My great grandmother came from Mudgee. She lost six of her, the first six of her children. We don't know where because we couldn't – we backtracked, we can't find out anything about the first six. Then out of that family came my grandmother. And she married a Russell. And they had two children, my mum and my mum’s brother. And my mum and her brother were taken and put in separate homes.  And they’ve never met up since. And then my mum lost me.  So that was three generations taken away. 

[The search for mum in the USA continues]
Well I wrote to the State department again, got the same answer. We can't give you any information.  And I asked them, well can you tell me whether she is alive or dead. And they wouldn't even tell me that. So Christmas came, so I sent a Christmas card to the State department and asked them would they send it on to my mother if she was alive and about a month after I got a letter from the State department saying they had passed the card on. So then we knew that she was still alive.

So Wendy got onto ISS which is the International Social Services, because they’ve got contacts all over the world.  And the girl that was in charge of me, whose name was Claudia. 2001 came and the phone rang. And I picked up the phone and it was Claudia. And Claudia said, are you sitting or standing? And I said, I'm standing. She said, well you better sit down.  I said, what’s wrong. She said, we found her.  And I just screamed.  And she said, ‘are you okay? are you  okay?’ I said, ‘yeah I'm fine, I'm fine. Where is she?’  And she said, well, she said, the bad news is she's got early Alzheimer’s and she's been in a nursing home for four months.  She said, but I've spoken to the administrator there and she says she's fine.  And that it’s okay for you to go over.  So I rang Wendy, my caseworker who was then my caseworker and I said to Wendy, my passport’s update to date, when can we go?’

[Marie arrives in the United States of America]
We got into the apartment, then Wendy went down to the nursing home to meet the administrator. And then she came back and got me. And I said, ‘did you see me mum?’ She said, ‘yes I did’. I said, ‘well do I look like her?’  And she said, ‘just wait and see’. 

[Marie arrives at the nursing home]
We were walking down the hallway to the social worker’s office. And a member of the nursing staff went past. And she sort of looked at me and walked past me. And then she said, ‘excuse me, are you Joyce’s daughter?’  And I said, ‘yes I am’. And she said, ‘my god you look like your mother’. And I said, ‘Wendy do I look that much like her?’ And Wendy said, ‘just wait and see’. So we sat in the social worker’s office and the social worker Katherine went up to get my mum. And this is when they told us we weren’t allowed to get emotional if we could help it.  And we weren’t allowed to tell her exactly who we were.  We were visitors from Australia.  And when she walked in the door, oh shock. It was like looking at me 20 years later. I look so much like her. And so does my eldest daughter, looks so much like her, I couldn't believe it. And she sat on the lounge next to me. And she picked up my hand straight away. And she was holding my hand. And Katherine was explaining to her, these are our visitors from Australia, they just called in to say hello to you, and she's saying to me, ‘Oh that’s very nice. And where do you come from?’  And we’re saying Sydney. And she said, ‘I came from Australia too, you know’. And it just struck me that she's still got a really strong Australian accent.  I thought she's been there all these years and she's never changed her accent.

In the afternoon when we left and she went back to her room, she wanted me to actually go up to the room with her. And she said, ‘have you got somewhere to stay?’ And I said, yes we are staying at Bethlehem. And she said, ‘oh well I want you to stay with me, I've got a spare bed in my place,’ she said, ‘you come and stay with me’.  And I said, ‘yeah but I can't do that, we've got to go back to the apartment’.  And Katherine said, ‘I think she knows who you are’. 

[Marie helps her mum to remember]
Katherine said, ‘how do you want to do this?’ And I said, ask her if the 4th of September 1935 means anything to her.  So Katherine asked her and mum was sitting. And I could see that she was really trying to think, you could tell by the expression on her face, she was really trying to think if that date meant anything. And she was shaking her head. And I said, what about Crown Street Hospital.  And she started crying and she got really upset, she said, oh yes, she said, I had a baby girl and they took her away from me. She said, ‘why did they do that?’ And she was getting really, really uptight and crying. And I said, ‘it’s okay, it’s  okay. I am that little girl, I'm here.  We’re here, we’re back together.  We’re not going to, we’re not going to part again,’ I said, and she sat up and looked me straight in the face. And she said, ‘I'm your mother’. And that was me undone.  I started crying. And she put her arms around me. And she said, oh I didn't see you grow up. And I said, ‘that’s okay mum, I bought this photo album’. I said, ‘it’s got some photos in it of me growing up.  Some photos of my wedding.  My children’. And I said, ‘you’ve got all these grand – great grandchildren’. 

Then further back I had my aunty and her two girls and their husbands and their children.  And then a photo of her brother. And she saw the photo of her brother. She took it out. She put it to her heart. And she started crying. And she said, oh my brother Bill. Then she was asking me a lot of questions and then we were asking her a lot of questions and that’s when she told me that they were separated and put into separate homes.

[More about Joyce’s life]
My mum, when she came out of the home, she was put into a hospital. It was a mental hospital to work. And I don't know whether she was raped or whether she met a doctor because we tried to find out who my dad was.  And she kept changing the subject. And then we kept asking her and then she said that he was a doctor, but we don't know whether she just said that to shut us up or not. But after that happened to her, obviously she was pregnant with me.  And she had me in the hospital at Crown Street. And I was taken away from her there. 

The matron that was there took pity on her. She took my mum under her wing. And she put her though her nursing. And then she met, she met this American sailor. We asked her where she met him and she said, on the Manly ferry, and I started to laugh. And I think she got a little bit upset. But it was because we used to go on the Manly ferry when we were young to see all the good sorts. So I got the giggles. And he was old enough to be her father.  And I said, ‘are you still together?’ And she said, ‘oh no, no, no’. She said, ‘he was no good, drank too much, after one year I got rid of him’, she said.

One of the questions we asked her at one stage was, ‘why did you marry a man that was so much older than you?’ And she said to me, ‘because I had so much bad memories I just wanted to get out of the country’. And I just absolutely froze because, when I sold – when we sold our house and I was going to go to live in Malta. And when I came back, my people said to me, well why did you go to live there in the first place when it was a different culture all together? And I said, ‘because I've had so much pain in my life I just wanted to get out of this place’. There was nothing here for me anymore, all I could remember was pain. And I thought, oh here we are, we both left the country, basically to get away from the pain that we both suffered during our growing up times.  And it was just so eerie that I couldn't believe that she felt the same way I did.  And there was a few things that when we talked to each other, things that she’d done, things that I’d done which our lives paralleled, basically. 

[More questions]
We asked her did she have any children, any other children. And she said, no, no, no.  I only had one baby she said, just you. Just you. That’s when she’d get emotional and kept saying, why did they take you away? Why did they take you away? And I just kept saying, ‘it’s okay. Look the main thing is we are together now.’ 

[What the neighbours said]
She used to mind her neighbour’s children. They said she had a really good sense of humour and that she loved children. They just said, she loved kids so much. And it’s just so sad that she never ever got the chance to have her own child. All her photo albums are full of these kids growing up, their weddings and their children and everything. And that upset me too because I thought, that could have been me, mum grew up with these – with somebody else’s kids when she could have grown up with her own daughter. And then I think that must have been painful for my mum too. To know that she had a daughter somewhere.  And that here she was minding other people’s children when she could have had one of her own. You can't, you can't, sometimes I find it really hard to forgive. 

[The experience of meeting mum]
I can't even explain, to be able to have family that actually you can relate to is something that I can't even put into words. It’s just all feelings that you’ve got inside. And yeah, I just thank god everyday that I had the opportunity to meet my mum before she died. So she was in her eighties when we met her. 

People who have never been in our situation have no idea of what they’ve done to individuals. They also have no idea what happened to them. After they were taken from their families. I mean everyone’s got a story to tell, depending on where they were placed. And it’s not a pleasant story. And it’s none that any child should have to go through. And I always wondered why, if you're a placement, like I was made a Catholic placement why nobody followed up to see if we were being treated okay or not. If we were taken away from our families then there should have been a follow up to see how we were going. But nothing happened. And yeah.  And I mean time never wipes away the pain, it’s always there. And the biggest pain for me is I could have grown up with my mum. And she could have had me. But that didn’t happen. And they didn’t make it easy for us to find my mum. And that’s something I will never understand. And I just hope and pray that this never happens to another Aboriginal child. I hope that the lessons have been learnt. And that it never ever happens again.

[‘The Lost Generation; by Marie Melito Russell]
Once I had a mother, she was Aboriginal they say. I don't know what she looked like for they came  and took me away. I'm told she felt so full of guilt she had to move along. And now I'm trying so very hard to find where I belong. I want to say, I love you mum, and that I understand. Our lifestyle changed beyond control when the Gubbas took our land. I'm now a mother and a wife, and know how you have suffered. Why is that throughout the years the lies were not discovered? I'm learning fast about my past, the stories and traditions. We now have learnt to overcome the hardships and conditions. I've searched so hard to find you, since we were torn apart. Just know how much I love you, you're always in my heart.

END TRANSCRIPT

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