Stolen Generations

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Personal Statement

I want to tell my story to tell people about the Stolen Generations. It’s a good idea for people to know about what happened. Some people still don’t believe it happened but it did happen. It is real.


Rita Wenberg

Duration: 10:53

My name is Rita Wenberg. I was put into Cootamundra Girls Home in 1943 at the age of three. 

I grew up there, been there for many years. I didn’t know I was there, it was a government home, but we had a lot of religion people. Had all different people, coming up preaching to us. The children from all parts as far as Grafton, Taree, you know, all over that – right up the top.  And that’s a long way to be taken away and put right down at Cootamundra.

[Life in Cootamundra Girls Home]
As I was growing up, being abused was a natural thing in the home. I got into trouble because I tore me dress and I had to wear a potato bag dress for a week. The most abused that, in the home was mostly being whipped by – whipped with the wire, you know, the leather strap wrapped around it. They usually hit you with that. And then you'd be thrown into the box room. And then the deputy maiden, she was cruel, she used to hit me over the head a lot. I used to cop that a lot. As I was growing up. But then you know, you don't think of those sort of things as abuse.  You think it’s just a natural that that’s life. 

Cause one occasion they got us out of bed about 2 o'clock in the morning. I was about 13 then, 13 I must have been 14. And it was winter. And they got us scrubbing concrete in our nighties, and no shoes because somebody was talking in the dormitory. And they made us run around the track. There's one lady there, one ah, she was lovely, and her husband. She left because she couldn't stand the abuse that was going on in the home with the girls. She left the home. She didn’t like the way the girls were being treated. And then Sergeant, the police station in Cootamundra – the bloke in Cootamundra, the police there, he used to come up and he used to always get one of the Wenberg girls, for running way. He used to say, which one is it this time? But he, even himself said, there's a reason why the girls are running away. You know, he said there's a reason for it.

[One amusing memory]
Well I think the only funny part, we used to go for walks. And the deputy matron, I won't mention her name, I was – we seen a dead cow. And we’re dancing on it, it smelt. And I said, this smells like deputy matron, she came over and she clocked me one. The other kids went running. I copped it again. 

They didn’t teach about mother or father because we didn’t know nothing about that. We didn’t know what a mother and father was really.  You know, what about? They used to let our Aunty Amy come up to the home because she was white.  Any dark, on the other side, black, they weren't allowed. Cause we’d been brought up as Europeans.  Dress yourself as a European, to talk as a European. You know, they trained you that, they train. Even in the home, they trained you to do all those things, like setting the table, you know, putting things out and, for the Europeans. And I really thought I was white.

We went to school, the other -- the white people. Cause they used to call us blackies so, I used to say, I'm not black, my shoes are black.  I said – but I really thought I was white. You know, and somebody asked me, but didn’t you see other children coming in the home and they were all dark.  You see the difference, but I didn’t because I was three years old when I was there, and I grew up pretending – you know, thought I was white.  And sometimes I still think I am white. And some were lighter than others, very light, very fair.  And some were very dark. But you never noticed that.  I've never noticed it, I just noticed I'm white and they're white and that's that.  So that’s how they really brainwashed you, at that very young age. 

[Knowing about her family]
I think deep down I didn’t want to know.  You know, I've been through enough, I didn’t really want to know.  And then when I saw Mum’s photo and Dad’s photo, I just looked. Cause I remember when I left the home I went to see Dad, he got knocked over by a car, died in Sydney hospital. I was about 17 or 18 I think.  I went with Aunty Amy. She said, oh this is your father. And I just looked at him, had no, no remorse or nothing.  She said, haven’t you got any feelings for him?  Just shook me shoulders and walked off.  Because you know, like I said, being young as you are, being brought as a European, not being told who you are and why your identity is.  You know, you got to expect that. 

[The biggest hurt about being taken from her family]
Not knowing who you are, really. Because there's a lot of girls from the home still don't know who they are and where they’ve come from. We are still trying to find out, you know.  And if you do go back home, which I did, I met a lot of, you know, it wasn’t like family.  You know, they were my – they tried to make me welcome. But I just couldn't fit in, I said, no, we've been apart too long, and I've been brought up different.  You know, and I try not to mix with Aboriginal people. I won’t associate if I can help it. You know, I keep my distance from them.

Because being brought up as a European and thinking that you're white and you never had any education about your own Indigenous people, and not one thing, you know, were told to me. So cause that home was, you know, you were white and that’s that. And you were brought up as a white person. And you talk like a white person. That’s where I get all the trouble from that Aborigine people, because they say, oh you talk like a whitefella. You know, and I, you know, you get that from your own kind, so where do you belong to?  You don't belong to that, and you don't to that. You belong just in the middle. So you know, it’s two different worlds. And then you’ve got the middle. So you don't belong to the white one, you don't belong to Aborigine people, you're just in the middle. And you're still getting pushed aside. So doesn't matter where you turn you are going to get pushed aside. And it’s, it’s the government’s fault, putting us all in these homes where they should have taught us, they should have taught us about our own identity. But we haven’t got no identity.  Because like I said, we are in – there's two different worlds and you're in the middle of it.

I just do me own thing. I don't want any help from nobody. Cause I think deep down I don't trust nobody. I think that’s the problem, it’s been going on too long. And you just can't trust people. And that trust, you know, that’s big.  You know, and that will be with you until the day you die I think. You just can't trust people. See they don't realise, I mean as young as I was, and brought up and, you think it’s all a natural thing to be abused in a home. You think it’s natural.  You know, it’s just every day thing. And it’s natural that, you haven’t got a mother, father, it’s natural. So you just – you know, you just – it’s a natural thing.  So that’s what the home has done to a lot of people – women. You know, and they can't – a lot of them get onto drink, they can't handle it. Don't worry, I got on the drink, I used to drink a lot. Cause they used to say it was my best friend. You know, I used to say the only friend I've got is my bottle. You know, so you can't help it. It just sort of clears everything away you know.

[What kept Rita going]
All I thought to myself, I had to try and be strong and I've tried bringing the kids up the best I can. You know, and tried to be a good mother, but I wasn’t a good mother because I couldn't even handle myself. Cause I was, I was sort of, my mind inside was not right, you know. I just couldn't handle it properly. Something was stopping me from trying to bring the kids up properly. And you know, and then after all these years you find out that was the reason. What happened to you in the home and what happened to you as a young child and you're upbringing.

A lot of people don't know what happened to me. My daughter doesn't even know. I won’t tell the kids, it’s not right for them to know. So it still effects me. So that’s why I just paint. To help me. 




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