Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

I wish to tell my story to hopefully make sure that what happened to the families back then does not ever happen again. So many times children were taken for the wrong reasons. They felt at the time that because of our fair skins we could be assimilated out. That’s the wrong reason for taking us. If they had taken us away because we were being neglected then I could understand that, but you see we were very well cared for, very happy children. I could outfight anyone my age and even some boys older then myself, that’s how fit I was. So I believe they took us for the wrong reason.

Transcript

Murray Harrison

Duration: 13:51

My name is Murray Harrison. I am of the Wotjobaluk peoples from up around Dimboola and of course I am now 71 years old. Dad was, as I say, Wotjobaluk and mum was actually Wamba Wamba. And the Wamba Wamba peoples are a part of Yorta Yorta. I being one of seven children --- it’s difficult enough to look after a couple of children but to have to look after seven as a single parent, which my dad was --- the sad part is I can’t remember my mum. I cannot even imagine what she looks like and that’s the reason why we were put out in what you call tribal families.

So we were sent, two sisters and myself --- there was Daphne who was two years older than I and Eileen who was two years younger than I. We were sent to live with dad’s sister, Dora Hood. Uncle Stewart, being an itinerant worker, a seasonal worker --- they needed to move on to a place called Bruthen where he was in the axe handle factory and the rest of the people were out picking peas and maize. An idyllic time really because it was summertime and you could go down and swim in the Tambo River and do all sorts of things that kids do at that stage. And then for whatever reason, and as I say this is at Bruthen, the welfare people decided to come and have a look and see what was happening at the camp of Dora and Stewart Hood.

[Being taken]
And when he got there he said ‘Right you, you and you’ which was myself and two sisters, ‘you’re coming.’ Because possibly we were lighter skinned than the others. He said ‘Righto you, you and you.’ And away we went. Went to the Bruthen courthouse and the fellow that was there said ‘Who are you?’ We said ‘We’re the Harrisons.’ He looked at his piece of paper and he said ‘No, I don’t think that’s a name here. But anyway it doesn’t matter.’ Put his pen through the other name and just wrote Harrisons over it and said ‘Righto, you lot are gone.’

Daphne would’ve been 11. I was nine going on ten. And of course Eileen was about six. And by the time Uncle Stewart and Auntie Dora found out we’d gone it’s getting late in the evening. We were probably in Warrugal, which is a fair distance from Bruthen, and by the time we get to Melbourne and go to the Royal Park Turana Youth Centre it’s nearly the middle of the night.

[Locked in]
They take my sisters to what was said the good side and they take me over to where the juvenile delinquents were. Now I don’t know if they thought I was a juvenile delinquent or what but they just took me in and they got me in a little room, not much bigger than the doorway there, with a very small high window and it’s dark. Ten year old boy. Where you going to run to in the middle of the night and you don’t know the city anyway? Yet they still slammed the door and tripped the lock.

I think it then took them a month to decide who and what I was. So here I was with all these juvenile delinquent type people that had done terrible things and here am I, no friendly face. Nobody else I could even relate to. Eventually we get over to my sisters and this was getting towards the end of the year. This was 1948. At Christmas we actually came to the Ballarat Orphanage, which was a tremendous thing because we not only see a lot of black faces, some of them are family as well, which really was the beginning of something that was really good.

[Ballarat Orphanage]
I don’t know if you know Pastor Doug Nicholls? Pastor Doug went around with lots of people and harassed a lot of people and talked about reconciliation and then it came to fruition but the actual person that started reconciliation was Pastor Doug Nicholls.

He knew lots of people in and around Melbourne and he, of course, told people about the Aboriginal kids here at the orphanage. And they got together and they then used to come up and visit us possibly four times a year. Every quarter. And they’d bring us things to eat and they’d tell us stories and give us books to read. And often the white kids would get their visitors but of course the black kids did not get their visitors every two weeks or every week or whatever it was. And we looked forward to getting a visit from these people. And no, it was really great. In fact I can remember these people coming to Jacksons Track with Pastor Doug. We used to have a singsong.

The most amazing thing about the people who came - they came and really showed --- they didn’t care if we were black, white or otherwise, they came and showed us that we are people. And they showed us, you know, real love. And it made a big difference. I feel very fortunate. Now it may sound an odd phrase but to be taken in the Stolen Generation I feel I’m very lucky. And the reason for that being that it allowed me three things that could not, or may not, have been able to be done in the tribal family group. One was three meals a day. Second one - warm place to sleep. Third an education. A proper education.

Those three things happened because I came here to the Ballarat Orphanage and to really understand that what great people they were --- now, there’s been lots of stories and things in the local paper and one thing and another about how bad it was there at the Ballarat Orphanage. But again I myself say it was a tremendous place to be. Without actually coming here I don’t think I would’ve made it. At nine or ten there was always a flagon of wine around somewhere and of course sometimes it was empty, sometimes there was some left in it. You just went from there. All the rest of the family unfortunately have passed away through what? Through alcohol.

[Losses associated with being taken]
Possibly better connection with land and with the language. One of the things was that my older brother had a large family. I hadn’t realised he had a large family.  I missed that. I think he had 11 daughters and a son.
The sister who was here with me she also had a larger family and again --- see, all those things you miss as a family group. And the older sister who was here she went back home to Dimboola and of course, again, never ever caught up with them and never ever saw my two older brothers again in 60 years.

I didn’t really feel I needed to reconnect with the family because after having been without them for so long --- see there was people here who    --- because Aboriginal people were here already that I’d connected with anyway. So it didn’t really matter whether they were direct family or whether they were, you know, part of tribal people. And that seemed to be sufficient for me to understand that I’m still who I am.

Sitting back and thinking I can remember up home at Dimboola, at grandma and grandpa’s, grandpa would often talk in the language. I can sit and there’s odd snatches of words that come back but I read it in the book or from listening to the CD - yeah, I remember them talking like this and using those words and again, it’s as I say, more now I understand what language really means and where it fits in with your kinship to the country.

[Conversations with Grandpa]
And he’d sort of sit down and he’d talk to us about the times that he remembered of his early times when tribes were really prevalent. There was no sort of outside interference of white people. They were very sparse up there at the time.

They used to have what they called gatherings. Now I think they had that every four years too. And I can remember this like it was yesterday. We were in a tent and this, I forget what they call them, you know, the dancers with the feathers and the headdress and everything and the paintings --- and he came and sort of bumped the front of the tent. Opened up and there he is with his painting and his --- he had this shield and on the shield --- it’s his fighting shield of course because they were re-enacting war games sort of as part of the gathering, play acting sort of thing. And of course on his shield was this face and it was a horrible face and of course blood streaming down off the teeth and big sort of eyes.

When, the times when they were actually fighting, you have your shield down so that your opponent doesn’t see it. So that when you come up to fight him you put it up and he sees this horrible face and for one split second he’s sort of frozen, then you kill him. And that’s the reason for this horrible face.

[The National Apology]
For me personally as soon as he said ‘I’m sorry’ everything started to go away. Now it’s just --- that healing started immediately. Until the apology I could never ever sleep in a dark room. There’d be times I’d wake up in the middle of the night and hear that door slamming and the key turning in the lock. All that had gone. Because of a man saying ‘I’m sorry.’

[Murray sings]
On the 13th day of February
A great historic day
And for the Stolen ones
All fears were moved away.
To hear the government say they’re sorry
It was such a thrill
To be here with our people
Up there on Parliament hill.
The words the PM spoke
Made the darkness part
For this old Koori man
Like music to his heart.
No more clicking locks
Of that darkened cell
To hear the words I’m sorry
Broke that awful spell.
May healing come to all
On hearing of this tale
And keep forever dreaming
Because brave hearts never fail.

END TRANSCRIPT

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