Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

I share my story to help my family and others understand what I went through, with the hope that it will never happen again to our people. Also I hope that my family and others will be empowered by my testimony because there are opportunities for our people today that did not exist when I was young.

Transcript

Michael Hannah

Duration: 14:35

My name is Michael Hannah.  I'm from a little town called Mullewa-a. I'm a Yamatji from the Wadjari tribe. 

[Being taken]
I was taken away at a very young age.  And I then nothing of where I was going to.  I found myself in a place I knew nothing about.     

[Life at Roelands mission]
I just lived with the years while I was there.  Not knowing who I was and where I was from.  Being such a young age, two years old. No, they never told me nothing, nothing about where I – who my mother was or where I was from. I was totally, I was totally – I was a mission kid. 

I was looked after by the older girls who was at the mission, it was a far cry from being looked after by your own parents. Being lonely is not a very good thing for a young fella to be, to be in.  I mean no brothers no sisters, and most of all, no mother. 

[Psychological and physical abuse by a missionary]
Out of all the missionaries I reckon he would have been the bad apple. He sprayed me with cold water, middle of winter sprayed – just put the hose on me.  And so I got the, he gave me a hard time.

I knew growing up I had a weak bladder and had to, you know, pass water wherever I can.  Apparently the teacher didn’t like it, oh she used to flog me and – have you ever smelt your own pee.  I had my nose rubbed in it quite a few times.  I got the flogging first. And had to smell me own pee.  On a wooden floor, it’s a wonder I didn’t get splinters in my nose.  And that would have been the better part of my first year as a – in grade one.  

I think what I miss the most is ah, our family. My own family, then again, it was denied me because I didn’t know what family was about. Only the lucky people, lucky kids whose parents put them there, were taken out by their parents on holidays. But us poor little fellas, us poor blokes, the people that were stolen, we had no family to – we had no family whatsoever. We had no family, no, nothing, no ties, no nothing. So during my years there, that’s why I envied a lot of them little – well I didn’t even know what the word envy meant.  Or means.  Getting lollies and chocolates or whatever, getting visits practically every weekend or every fortnight.  Oh they let us know that you never had a visit. 

[The teenage years]
Well while I was here in Perth in my teenage years, I joined a football club, west Perth, the under 16s and through them I met quite a few people. Where I was stationed in Subiaco there was hardly any Aboriginal people – no Aboriginal people there.  All my years from Roelands mission to 20, was basically all, was mixing with white people. And I came in contact, the only contact I had with Noongars was on the football field. 

[Questions of identity]
Played football I guess, one with a Noongar fella, and he befriended me and when I got to know him, and he knew me – knew where I was from. He took me down to his hometown in Katanning. And that's where I met a lot of Noongars and he knew of my family. Asked me questions, did I know my mother? Or did I know I had brothers? I said, no and they kept talking about a little town called Mullewa-a, about a woman named Lottie Hannah, which is my mother, and about my brothers and sisters. You put the word into my mind, and that word Yamatji, in my mind and I realised that I wasn’t a Noongar but I was a Yamatji. 

[Going home]
When my, I did this, I had to go up to Mullewa-a to see a woman – my mother.  I landed in Mullewa-a a total stranger. But they recognised me as a, as my mother’s son, old Lottie. And they were too frightened to ask me who I was. And I was too frightened to ask them, to let them know that I was one of them. And when we finally got talking to each other, somebody said, hey this is Lottie’s boy. 

I would have been 18, 19. I had to spend about six, about six months around Mullewa-a before she actually came into Mullewa-a to see me. And when I did see her, when she saw me, well there was no, no recognition – on my part there was no recognition or no feeling as a mother, or no feeling as a son.  It was just more or less, hi. And I suppose the same thing was for her to, like there was no, my son, my son, you know, all that.  My baby, never nothing, nothing what a mother should say to her son she hadn’t seen since he was a two year old. And there was no feeling whatsoever. 

Well she had two other sons see. And in a sense, I was more or less a godsend by being taken. Because she, she didn’t talk about it that much. She more or less to say, I mean, I had the feeling that in a sense, she was glad I was taken. I had – I found out that I had a baby sister after me, one year old. So in a sense I suppose, she was glad I was taken because didn’t want, you know, two little babies. It’s not good, it’s not the best really hey, to look after two little fellas.

I could have been angry, like, you know why did you leave me, why did you take me, why did you let me go?  It could have been all the whys, when I was a little boy only two years old, why, why why. But being in my 20s or late teens and 20s, there was, there was nothing there. There was no wheres and whys and what and there was no feeling. I didn’t actually cry, I didn’t cry on her shoulder and she didn’t cry on my shoulder. 
I knew straight away then, I ah, that I will not be accepted as Yamatji. 

[Finding a place in the world]
I think a lot of the mission people were glad to get out of the Roelands mission and go their separate ways, you see. And out of my family, and my two mates that was in Roelands mission, oh I reckon I’d class Terry and Sid as brothers because we grew up together. They took the culture out of us kids. So Sam he wouldn't know what to do, he wanted to know how to live like a Noongar, I wanted to know how to live like a Yamatji.  If I do, I tried to live like it for – I tried to live a Yamatji’s lifestyle for about a month or so. But I tell you what, I still miss my knife and forks and plates.  Oh.  Or a nice cup of tea or a cup of coffee, you know.  Just go up and didn’t have – herbs, you know, make them herbs, whatever they drink out in the scrub. 

I wasn’t cut out to be, to be a real dinky di Yamatji. I mean still living off kangaroo and you know, well every meal is a kangaroo see. I don't think no one at Roelands spoke, well Sam can't speak Noongar. I can't speak Yamatji.  And this is…I mean they took our culture, they took everything. 

[Caught between worlds]
That's where being stolen – being stolen, it’s – they made me divide them between Noongar and Yamatji.  Cause like even now, I could live with these blokes here.  I could live with them fellas up there.  But there's a, that's why I'm in the middle see. 

I'm not a Noongar, I'm not a Yamatji. Although I was born a Yamatji, reared up as Noongar, what am I? Hey? I'm…that’s it see. They took away my culture.  Took away my identity. I got none. No Yamatji, no Noongar.  What am I? I'm certainly not a wadjela (whitefella), hey?

[Why?]
At the time when I was taken away, it was a white man’s – it was a white man’s prerogative to do what they like. To the young fellas, to anybody. To anybody at any age. I just wish the law now, the law now for kidnapping would have applied 62 years ago, 61 years ago when I was two years old. They came at night, grabbed us all. All the little fellas, chucked us on the back of a truck. Whisked us away in the darkened night.
And Native Welfare them days, they reckon that they wanted to improve our lifestyle. Whether they improved our lifestyle is, there's – it’s questionable because.. we were, we were just like – we weren’t like salves we were just, I don't know what we were. Pawns, no.  We wouldn't – we weren’t lost sheep, we were just there for the taking, put it that way.  You know, just cause we was, dare I say it, but I will…just because we were black, we were there for the taking. 

Counting the other little babies, Noongar, Yamatji, Wongais, they had no say in the matter.  Because they were small, and haven’t rights, we’ll bring this fella up as a little whitefella. We were brought up as a white person.  Taught white people’s ways. But our minds was black. Our minds was, hey, I'm not these fellas, I'm that fella. First and foremost I reckon, by stealing us, they stole our identity. 

END TRANSCRIPT

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