Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

I want the world to know the story so we can work side by side together to make this place a better place to live in. Let’s have both histories side by side.

Transcript

Marjorie Woodrow

Duration: 26:34

Well my name is Marjorie Woodrow. I was born on the 28th of May 1926. I was born under a tree in front of Keewong Station, it’s up near Hillston way, like through the Riverina.

Cause there was a mission out there called Carowra Tank. You see the mission was a mission that they took over then, and they moved them from there to Menindee then. So then there's cattle trucks and things like that. I was a baby then, you see. I was born there, that’s where my mother lived and worked for these people on the property you see. And that's where she was raped and fell pregnant, and I was the one then, was the baby to be born from there.

I was two when they come to Menindee and took me from my mother, two years old. Her father had played a big part in it. I found all that out later from my mum. He was half caste like me. She was black and he didn’t recognise her as his daughter. She had – I was, she had seven of us. 

They went straight into the institution the rest of them, he wouldn't fetch those children, they were black. I was the fair one see. And I would say that he knew the man that owned me. And I think that he might have been paid to take me. That's what I think.

[Living with her grandfather]
I can’t – really can’t understand why he made me call him uncle all them years. I can remember like he was my uncle. But when I went home and found my mum and told my mum, I kept talking about him, see. She said, that wasn’t your uncle that was your grandfather. That's my dad, my father, she said. He didn’t tell me anything that where I was from, who owned me. 

They had three children of their own. The kids didn’t know either, their children, I don't think their children knew the truth.  Think they thought I was one of them. There was no love and affection from my grandfather or his wife towards me. It wasn’t like an uncle I’d have liked to have had. And I can't say the things I’d like to say on film. He was the cause of some of my heartaches, you know, and I was nine when I went through that terrible strain. And old Alice Smith, when she come, she come later on and asked me what was wrong, and I told her I was sick. You know, told her the truth so she took me away from them, never brought me back to them. I knew when Alice Smith took me that I was Aboriginal, where I came from. She knew my mother. She said, one day you’ll grow up and you’ll come home to your mother. Don't forget she's at Menindee Mission.

[Marjorie lived with Alice Smith]
I could see the culture, she used to teach me the culture. And the way they cooked, the way they slept, the culture. I learnt the culture from that. She showed me how to make the Johnny cakes, you know, and how to put the damper in the ashes. And all the things, how to cook all that, you know. How the meat was cooked on a piece of net and over the fire, over the coals. Learnt all that type of thing, you know. And of course then, they had the goannas and things. I started to learn to eat that as well.  And it was just like eating fish, you know. No difference. So you get used to it, get used to all the wild fruits and out of the ground, she showed me what to look for in the ground, if you ever get lost you could always keep alive. I enjoyed every bit of it. 

[Marjorie told Alice she wanted a job so she could be independent and buy herself things]
I went to work when I was thirteen years old. I was sent out to my job in, 137 miles out of Nyngan to a property called Mangalpar. I wasn’t allowed to speak to any black person at all in the town. Not even to go near them. You had to keep right away, you weren't allowed. That was ordered by the government that sent you to that job. You know, and if you did go to town you sat in the car, you weren’t allowed to get out.

[Marjorie’s employer accused her of stealing]
There was a pair of stockings missing and I was blamed for those stockings. I never wore stockings in my life. And there was two of us working there. But I certainly didn’t take the stockings. But I was blamed for it.  Because I was the Aboriginal person, you see. So that’s how it was, because I was the Aboriginal child I suppose, I never wore shoes.  I don't know where the stockings would come in going barefooted, hey. 

I went to court and cried to the court, I had three great aunts there trying to save me, to take me.  And they said, no I had to go to a place where I would be disciplined. Where I’d be taught properly how to grow up. And they would not let my aunties have me as custody.

[Marjorie was sent to Cootamundra Girl’s Home aged 13 years old]
It was awful. And when I went in all these little faces looking at me, you know.  All different colours, like you know, some darker than the others and some lighter, you know. And of course they could see I was crying, they was crying, so I knew they were in the same boat as me.  You’d hear some of them crying, you know.  It was dreadful because you weren’t in a room. You were in one big dormitory.  With beds all each side, you know and a little cupboard next to your bed.  And everybody knew what you was talking about cause you could hear it.        

…the things that some of them used to cry about and what they used to talk about was enough even. At my age you never realised at that time that, it could happen to me. The men, you know, molested them, and all that where they were working, and they had to come back into Cootamundra Girls Home like, because they were molested, some of them was pregnant, you know.  And having a baby.  And they were twelve, thirteen years old. 

I remember one girl screaming, screaming, I can – and I found out later like that she was my own cousin. And she screamed and they took her out and we never seen her again.  She died.  Whatever happened to her I don't ever know, we’ll never know. 

If we got into any trouble there they used to lock us in this room. It was away from the building, you wondered what the, you know we couldn't  sleep in that room, that was the punishment room. And we found out then later when Dianne wrote my book, it was the hospital you see, and the room that I spoke about was haunted, it was the morgue. And that’s where they locked us up in there. You know you had to do everything even we were told to pray that we never turned black, you know.  Oh yeah, it was told to us, and we prayed alongside our bed to pray that we never turned black.  Some of the women that looked after us, yeah.  “Stay white”, they said. It’s easier for you to get a job and all this sort of thing, you know.  It was all drummed into us in that type of way.

We ran away, me and three other girls from there. Well there was me and the other one, we both, we were getting sick of it and of course the other two heard us, they said, well if you two going we’re coming too.  So we all knew like where we came from if we could get out we could get there, like you know, it was getting there. The two got on the, they got on the train but we were too small, me and the other girl. We both fell off, I had a sprained ankle. 

[Marjorie was picked up by the police and had to go to court in Glebe, Sydney]
I can remember crying when I went into it. And the police said, it’s no good you crying because they said, you're going to Parramatta Girls Home. And he said, you don’t have to talk, we’ll do all the talking for you.  Yeah, so I went in, and they just done it all, and they said like, I was uncontrollable, run away from the home. And uncontrollable, couldn't you know, be ah, managed. So the best place was to send me to Parramatta Girls Home because that was where they could manage us, like you know.  I tell you it was a tough place. 

[Parramatta Girls Home]
It was the toughest place I ever was in but I mean Cootamundra was, you know, not too bad, but when you went to Parramatta, cause it’s just pure jail.  And you’d have to get down and scrub the floors and every day that floor had to be scrubbed, and everything to be spotless.  If you didn’t do it, well then you went into a room, seven days on bread and water for seven days, that was your meal for seven days.  And I was in there quite a few times, I can tell you that now. 

I got into a lot of trouble in Parramatta, cause I had no family, see.  No family is coming to see me.  So whatever happened in there I’d say, no she didn’t do it, I done it, I don't that, see I’d take the blame for it.  And I was getting punished for it because I was covering up for the other one, like you know. It was like helping one another in some way to cope with what we had to cope with.

But they were cruel to us. I can remember, you know, you were lucky if you had a – I came out and there was an eleven year old girl pregnant. And I was cooking in the kitchen, and I brought some biscuits out in my pocket to give her. And of course one of the kids told on me, bringing – cause I done the cooking I give it to her.  Broke my nose, there's still a mark on my nose, that's from the – broke my nose, I nearly bled to death in there.

I had plaits and …with my plaits they threw me into the jail and slammed the door, and I took me dress off because my nose was bleeding like you know. So I couldn't see. And the kids come around and you’d knock on the brick and they’d say, are you alright in there?  And I said, go and get the sister, they went and got the sister and she come, she went off.  I was nearly dead. I was a job to move because I’d lost a lot of blood you see.  And me nose was swollen up, it was puffed right out, she took me around to the hospital. And put me in. But none of that is on me file.  Nothing like that is on the file, you see, you don’t find a thing like that on the file.  But we know that those things happened there.

We was molested in the Parramatta Girls Home.  Only kids ourselves, and what happened to us there, many a times, I could hear them coming up the stairs, and I’d jump out and put the pillows in the bed and lock myself up in the cupboard so they’d think I was asleep, they wouldn't touch you, they'd go to the next bed and take the next child if it moved out from there, like take it downstairs. So I was lucky in some nights, like to get away from that. We talked a lot about it, like we talked between ourselves, what could we do.  You know, who could we trust in there?  We couldn't trust any of them. 

[People in charge]
Well it was the superintendent and his wife, like mainly. You know, and I don't know what, they had employment like guards, women guards, men guards. Yeah they told us that, we mention anything about it, they’d cut out tongues out.  Or you’d go to jail, you know.  Kids was afraid of it. 

Yeah, they were cruel alright. And when they took me back, like and showed us into where we slept and that, I looked at the room wasn’t far from there, many a times I was locked in that room, it was my prison. I can, it had a toilet in there and a blanket in there, we slept on the floor. And if we had some way to cut that blanket to hang yourself we’d have done it, but we had nothing to cut it with. They made sure anything that you could hang yourself with you didn’t have it on you, you see. Only the blanket being there. I can remember when girls were pushed down the stairs.  And I often wondered why because they was pregnant. It was the easy way to get rid of them, see. 

And there's often time the girls, even now when we go back and meet, they said, they know their babies was born and never known what happened to the babies.  It was dreadful in there alright. And see it’s a place full of silence, like. I'm talking about the ‘30s when I'm there.  And most of them girls are dead, the girls that was in there with me that could speak up, what I've said, that’s why I never spoke about it before because I was only the one left.  But when the girls came they said, did you ever get molested in there, I said yes.  They said, we was too, would you come forward with us.  And I said, yeah, well I was one of the old ones, you see.

[Marjorie speaks up]
I had so much hate inside me that things that I've had to go through from the court law and I felt I couldn't trust no one. And I thought, you know, to be on your own, you didn’t have nobody. Where was our people, where was our people, like. And that was something that was very hard for all of us. Where was our people, why didn’t they come forward to look for us, you know. They wasn’t allowed. We found that out later. One you – once you was taken that was it. 

[Slave labour and stolen wages]
Stolen wages, well that was because when they put us out to the farms, and you see, from the home we went out to the farms, apprentices then you see.  We had to sign the contract. But that money had to go into the bank till we was 21.  And when we was 21 we’d get that money. See. But there's often time, you turn 21 well then when – there was no money there. 

[Marjorie wrote to the Aboriginal Welfare board when she turned 18]
I'm writing to you, you know that um, I'm getting married as I am eighteen myself. And in – I felt, I feel I would like to be out from under the, the board. The point is I would like to manage my money and take it out. I get, you know you just wanted it. And um, I got the five pound, that’s all I got – never got the rest of me money. 

[Marjorie met her mum in 1993]

[Her mum asked her one thing]
She said, can I put my finger down the front of your, me blouse. And I said, yes, I've got a mark down there, see.  And she said, the doctor put that mark on me, the clever man, and if anyone ever takes this white kid, he said, you look for the mark. That’s how clever they was. And that’s what the government don't know, see.  When I went home she cried as soon as she hit the – as soon as her finger went down there at that scar, she cried.  You're my daughter, you come home. So the girl said, we’ll leave you now to have a few hours on your own. They went away and left like, like you know. We talked there and she cried through, talking to me, and I had a good old cry myself. Like this is, you don't know what to do. The things you hear was heartbreaking, like there was nothing – nothing glamorous to hear when I went home. It was all things you didn’t want to hear, like things that happened to them. 

[Her mother’s experience]
She told me where they lived there how they’d come out and um, and they’d say, come around tomorrow morning to the mission, you can get your supply. And they had this old house there. And that’s where they used to issue all the food to them, like flour, sugar, and tea.  And she said, came to that stage that if they didn’t hand over their children they’d say to them, well you don't get no supplies.  This was straight out.  Have to give your children up or you don't get no food. Yeah. And she said, we had no other way because she said, they took our land off us.  You know. And we could only live in one spot, like where you was put on in reserves. 

Well she said it was – there was no neglect, she said. They lived the same way as they lived any other time.  You know, to – and you were clean, you was bathed every day and there was no reason for them to take you at all. But she was told we were taken away for a holiday, I was taken for a holiday. And she said, same thing happened to all the other children. Just told them that the children was going for a couple of weeks and they’d be back. They never seen them again. 

Oh yeah, she said it was a nightmare. She said that she screamed and chased the car. And she said, she's lucky they didn’t run over her. She said, they just missed her when they was taking off with me, yeah. There was no mercy for the mothers. She said, none whatsoever. They just took the children, didn’t care, how the mother felt.

Well she told me like every night, like she laid and thought about us and she always had this old piece of grey blanket over her lap, like you know. And she, it was a part of the blanket which she wrapped us children in. And that’s all she had over her lap to remind her of that, her children, was that blanket. Many women went to pieces and done that, she told me. And I said, why didn’t you speak out and make a noise. She said, they’d have shot us dead. And I said, they wouldn't, and she said, yes they did that, they did it, that’s why I was to frightened to do it. 

Well I think my mother lived through a terrible life. I think – I’d nearly say she must have went through hell.  She hit the bottle you see after she lost all her kids. Well then they locked them up then, you see. Well that was my mum, when they put her in the night she was drunk, you see. And they left her, her cell door open for the men to go in and do want they wanted to do while she was drunk. And she said, she was so sick the next morning, like you know. And so sore, she said, the next morning she told me, she said, I knew what they done to me, she said. And she said, she never drank another drop from that day on. 

[Marjorie’s mum]
She was from the Wangaaypuwan – she was Paakantji woman, my mum. And my aunties they were from the Wangaaypuwan tribe.  And the Wangaaypuwan tribe had the Ngiyampaa language, I don't know what my mum’s language name is.  But I knew she could speak it well, I've heard her many times speak it when I lived with her. I was quite proud of my mother. You know, because it was wonderful to know that I had that security of someone that I owned, I never had when I was young. 

[The lies in Marjorie’s file]
See how they took some of the stuff off it, you see. What, you wouldn't read what was on there about me, you see. So they got rid of it, so that’s how that come back to you then, just like that, you see. Where there was more on it. My mum was deceased and father was nowhere, wasn’t known. You see she was deceased in the other papers too. See they lied and they knew all the time she was alive, cause she had a pension when I went home. So when I went home she would have been on the pension all that time. They knew all the time that my mother was alive, the government knew that.  You know, they hid that all that time. Wouldn't let us have, you know, know what was going on. 

[Reasons for removal]
All that's in – was told to me in my files, we were neglected.  And every child has that on their files.  That we were neglected. What I can see the policy was all the fair children got taken first. Because they were either, you know, belonged to men that had already been married and had children, and I would say that some of them could have been pretty high in politics or whatever, in government jobs. 

You know, their reason for me to be taken away if they could get away with it, not ever be known, he could pay a big price for that. You know. And then when they run out of the colour, then they'd start taking the darker race. Because it meant employment, cheap employment, you know, work for nothing. They took the money and banked it. That was the hard part for us.

[Healing]
Well I cope, I cope alright now because I think I've found my mother. If I didn’t find my mother and I didn’t know what came out of her mouth, and I talk about her here today to you, well then it may have been a different thing. I mightn’t been able to do what I'm doing. Because I made her a promise that, when she died, before they put her in the hospital, that I would make sure her story was known in this world.

END TRANSCRIPT

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