Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

I was taken as a child with my sister to Wandering Mission for Children. We were taken there by the Aboriginal Native welfare of the day and were told that our family didn’t want us by the people who looked after us whilst we were in their care. I tell my story for my family, in particular for Freddie, Carmel and my parents and grandparents.

Transcript

Melbourne Hart

Duration: 19:50

My name is Melbourne Hart. I'm a Noongar man from the southwest. I have lived in the southwest for a number of years. My family all originated from around Waddington, Narrogin, Collie, and Bunbury. 

[On the run]
My mum had, had me when she was fourteen years old. So she, she couldn't look after me, so she handed me over to my grandparents at the time. I was happy being with them and that there. And when I was about four, I was living with my grandparents and we lived in Forestdale. And we lived in a horse stable at the time.  There was myself, my grandparents, my uncle and my two first cousins. So we end up moving from there, we went to, we went to Williams and few other places, reserves. And the family stayed on farms and stuff. And then there was talk about welfare people taking kids away. And we then left from there and we went to Darkan.

Basically trying to keep out of the way of the welfare, or from the police as well. Cause they used to say, when we were kids, 'quick you kids, run and hide, the police are here, monarch, you know, monarch. The welfare mob are here trying to take you'. So we used to all run and hide in the bush. So what they did then, and what they did with a lot of Aboriginal families was shoot all the dogs.  Because that was our source of food, hunting, go and get fresh meat and that there. So they shot all the dogs. The police came down and shot all the dogs. Yeah, they was our pets. We come back after we been in the bush and we seen our dogs laying there, you know, all dead. And every time we got another – if we got another dog or whatever they'd come along and shoot that dog as well, so that we couldn't have any source of food. So we’d have to go and seek help from, you know, from the government or from the people themselves in townships.

[Hiding]
In regards to the native welfare back then, I think they, they wanted me and my sister because we were fair.  And they knew that, that I was in my grandparents care. So they were like um, they were after me. They asked my grandfather, ‘where’s your grandson?’ And I, my grandfather had a wooden box but he, I was underneath the wooden box. And he was sitting on top of it and he said 'oh he's gone with his aunty and uncle.' 

[Being taken]
I went to school and things like that there. And they was all, all trying to catch me. And they couldn't catch me cause I was too smart for them. So one day I was at school, and I was wondering why my cousins never come. And I wondered why they all disappeared. My sister was only about three at the time. And there was a welfare woman and a welfare man, came with my sister. And they stood her at the front gate with a bag – with a packet of lollies.  White packet of lollies, little white packet of lollies. And it had, you know, different little lollies in it, like you had the little milk bottle and you had little chocolate with freckles on it and all them, well we didn’t have them sort of things.

And that was a luxury thing, you know because we were so poor. And that – those things were like, all your Christmases come at once really. And so, they stood her at the front, and she was eating these lollies.  And I was um, I looked at her, and I was thinking, that’s strange, she – I you know, I looked this way, and I'm thinking strange she's down at the thing. I ran over and as I ran over to, and I started talking to her, a welfare man, the native welfare man, he came and grabbed me by the arm.  He said, ‘we got you now’ and that was it, I knew. 

[Cruel promises]
And he said, oh we are going to take you to see your grandparents and tell them that we are taking you. And I'm sitting in the back, and I'm trusting this man to go up and talk to my grandfather and my grandmother about, about me. They never said anything about taking me to the mission.  When I went, they got me in the car, I realised that we wasn’t turning. And my sister was crying. So I started crying, I was saying to them, take me to my grandfather, and my mum and dad, I called them mum and dad.  And they wouldn't take me. So I started kicking the back of the seat.  And then the welfare woman, she turned around, she leant over, she undone – she undone the seatbelt and she leant over the back. And I was sitting there and she slapped me right across the face and made my mouth bleed.

And so all the way from there I cried, myself and my sister, we cried all the way to the mission.  I thought I wasn’t going to see them again.  I thought, my grandparents would, you know, was getting pretty old.  That they mightn’t have been around. 

[A familiar voice]
Went to the mission and we pulled up out the front of the school. And we got out, and my sister, I had my arm around her, and she was crying and we just um, cuddling each other.  And I was, you know, then I heard this voice. And I looked up, and I said, I know that voice. When I looked, it was my first cousin, Roslyn.  She shouted out, ‘hey brother, you alright? I'm here’. I looked up and I was happy then.  Then I looked down the hill and there was my cousin Cornell, he w9:as coming – he was coming up the hill.  And he said, ‘hey brother, you alright? Look I'm here’. And then my other first cousin come running up other side.  And he shouted, ‘hey brother, hey. I was wondering where you was’.  They said, ‘no we got taken here too’.

Well they took my sister.  And they put her in a dormitory with all the girls. Then they told me, you know, to go to the boys dormitory, other side.  And I – we went across there and they said, you know, you got to have a shower. And then they um, put lice treatment in my hair. And told me to have a wash.  And they, when they told me to have a wash they told me to wash with cold water.  Then we had to put mission clothes on, like just grey, or just shorts and a t-shirt. And like everybody was sort of like dressed in that, shorts and t-shirt.  No shoes. 

[Mission life]
We had to go to church every day.  Wasn’t allowed to speak our language. We wasn’t allowed to interact with our family, you know, too much.  We were treated like, we were treated like soldiers. And like when we go to line up – we had to line up for our food. The food that we get was atrocious. Used to have all little weevils and bugs in it. We were that hungry we would eat it. We used to get um, slapped and hit by the lay missionaries at the time.

Some of the nuns were, were nice, and some of them were just horrible. Sometimes if we didn’t do as we were told.  What they used to do to us was, they used to grab us by the ears and twist them. And we used to stand on our tippy toes. And they used to twist them that hard our ears used to go purpley blue.  And some of the kids used to – some of the kids used to shit their pants and piss their pants with the pain, yeah.

And I said, 'where’s mum, where’s my mother?'  Oh your mother, she don't love you, that’s why she put you in here.  You know.  They don't love you, they don't want you. And I said, I thought, I started thinking that way too, you know. 

[Leaving the mission]
As I left I went, cause I was grade seven so I had to go to first year high.  And I was given, I was given three options. One was Boddington Senior High School. Or Palatine here in Perth, or Palatine in Albany. So I ended up going to Albany because my cousin was down there. There was a hostel, boys hostel. It wasn’t that long.  And then I had a disagreement with the house mum. And she pulled a knife out on me.  So I ran away from there. Myself and my cousin. 

The police came and they came and got us and um, they took us to the police station. And they talked to us a lot, like for a few hours. And the welfare came there and they said to us, like um, what do you want to do, do you want to go back to the high school, or do you want to go back to – do you want to go back home.  So I wanted to go home.  When we got home to our family it was like, it was a big culture shock.

[Readjusting]
Well when I got there they was all drunk. And I thought, oh gee what have I got myself into, you know. A lot of them were shocked and a lot of them were just like happy to see me. So it was just, just ah, trying to grow accustomed to the way they lived their life. Cause here I was, you know, a little Christian boy coming back and not used to people swearing and carrying on like, you know, the way they were. Well yeah, basically got, this is it now. I got no choice, I wanted to come home and this is where I am.

[How the family felt about the children being removed]
They didn’t want to speak about it.  Yeah. I know my grandfather, he had been wandering around all over the place looking for me.  It was for about two weeks after. And then the welfare and the police came and told him that they had taken me.  Two weeks later, yeah. It was emotional for them as well. 

They were just happy to be – have me back, yeah.  And mum was, she was living across the other side. So I, I had younger brothers and sisters now from the relationship that she was in. And my sister came back eventually.  I had left – one thing I had done was, I had left my sister in the mission.  And I always said to my – I always said that I was going to be there to protect her and be there for her. And I felt that I let her down.  Because I’d, I’d gone on my own, on my own journey and there was something that I’d left, that I was – that I should I have stayed there for, and I should have stayed there for her.  And instead of, you know, I got excited to be there down in Albany and that there. And I think she has a bit of remorse for me.  Taking off and leaving her in the mission. 

[History repeats itself]
Would have been about twenty years ago that I found out that mum was also placed in, she was also placed at Wandering Mission as well. Also at one stage my grandparents was in a mission as well. I feel, I feel angry in some ways, but then I tell myself, no I'm not going to let them get to me. I felt more sorrow, more sorrow, or more pain for the older generation. I mean my pain was hard, but I think having your children taken away from you is more hurtful. 

[The impact of being taken]
It’s filtered right down through the system, like gone from first generation to the second, to the third and to the fourth and to the fifth. We’re looking at now, I think six generations. And it’s affecting the children today. That’s why a lot of the kids are getting in trouble too. Because the life that their parents have had, and their grandparents, the not knowing whether they would see their children again.  I think that plays a big part on the way that, their usage of the alcohol, not so much drugs back then, but the use of alcohol mostly.  But today society it’s more alcohol and drugs. 

Just the, the system itself, they feel that um, no one won't listen to me so this is, this is the way I'm going to be for the rest of my life.

[Communication as a way forward]
People need to have a more understanding about not only Aboriginal people and their culture, but their ways, you know, their life and they’re caring for the land, you got to allow yourself to be open to it and make your own judgements. Think about other Aborigines, like you know, some of the, the people were severely traumatised.

For an example, I had a lady in Northam; she was, ‘what's the Stolen Generation about?’ She didn’t have any understanding or knowledge of what it was about.  I explained it to her in a way that she could understand it. I sat down with her, and I said to her, look say if you were sitting on your veranda and, you know, you were just relaxing and your kids were playing in the front yard, and then a car pulled up, and without any word to you, and you’d walked inside, and you came back out and all of a sudden your kids were gone, what would you do?  She thought hard and long about it, and she goes, I’d ring the police cause my kids have been kidnapped. Well I said, like – the police were the very people that were part of the system. So we hadn’t – we couldn't ring the police because the police were the ones who were involved in taking the children away.

But you couldn’t do nothing, that you couldn't speak to anybody about it. And you’d be – I said, I've seen women and family running down the road chasing the car.  And sobbing their hearts out all night.  For their children, you know, you’ll never see your children again. And you were told not to go anywhere near them.  Later down the track you’ll probably receive a phone call saying, oh your kids are with us and you're not to come near them. How would you feel?  She said, I’d be heartbroken and devastated. And I said, well that’s what happened. And she sat there and I was, I was talking and more in depth about Aboriginal women and the suffering that they endured, she was sitting there crying. 

END TRANSCRIPT

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