By: Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission
Date: April 1997
Source: "Millicent." In Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, April 1997.
About the Author: The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission formed in 1985 by order of the Federal Parliament. It is an independent, five-person, statutory organization that reports to Parliament through the Attorney General. In 1995, the commission inquired into the past laws, practices and policies which resulted in the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families by compulsion, duress or undue influence, and the effects of those laws, practices and policies.
Aboriginal children were removed from their families from 1883 to 1969 in the largest human rights violation in Australian history. The Australian government argued that it attempted to protect the moral and physical welfare of the children. However, the only crime committed by the parents was that of being Aborigine. No court hearings were necessary. A government official simply ordered the children removed. Often, they never saw their parents again.
The removal had its roots in prejudices held by whites about Aborigines. The first inhabitants of Australia, the Aborigines established more than 250 separate and distinct indigenous groups. They varied greatly in lifestyle and habits, a result of the dramatic differences in the Australian climate. In general, Aborigines maintained a rich ceremonial and spiritual culture. They developed superb adaptive behaviors, learning to find food and water in the deserts. They also developed musical instruments and sophisticated forms of artistic expression.
White Australians did not value the culture of the Aborigines. The government typically viewed the indigenous people in harshly negative terms and saw little worth in saving their cultures and traditions. Many officials worried that children were not being looked after properly within Aboriginal communities and were quick to remove them to either orphanages or foster homes. Thousands of children were removed over generations. The government believed that they were automatically better off within non-Aborigine society.
Only in the 1980s and 1990s did the practice of Aborigine removal become the focus of national debate in Australia. The resulting national inquiry led to the release of a major report, Bringing Them Home, which documents the great pain and hardship suffered by the Aborigine children and their families.
At the age of four, I was taken away from my family and placed in Sister Kate's Home—Western Australia where I was kept as a ward of the state until I was eighteen years old. I was forbidden to see any of my family or know of their whereabouts. Five of us D. children were all taken and placed in different institutions in WA. The Protector of Aborigines and the Child Welfare Department in their "Almighty Wisdom" said we would have a better life and future brought up as whitefellas away from our parents in a good religious environment. All they contributed to our upbringing and future was an unrepairable scar of loneliness, mistrust, hatred and bitterness. Fears that have been with me all of my life. The empty dark and lonely existence was so full of many hurtful and unforgivable events, that I cannot escape from no matter how hard I try. Being deprived of the most cherished and valuable thing in life as an Aboriginal Child—love and family bonds. I would like to tell my story of my life in Sister Kate's home—WA.
My name is Millicent D. I was born at Wonthella WA in 1945. My parents were CD and MP, both "half-caste" Aborigines. I was one of seven children, our family lived in the sandhills at the back of the Geraldton Hospital. There was a lot of families living there happy and harmonious. It was like we were all part of one big happy family.
In 1949 the Protector of Aborigines with the Native Welfare Department visited the sandhill camps. All the families living there were to be moved to other campsites or to the Moore River Aboriginal Settlement. Because my parents were fair in complexion, the authorities decided us kids could pass as whitefellas. I was four years old and that was the last time I was to see my parents again. Because my sisters were older than me they were taken to the Government receiving home at Mount Lawley. My brother Kevin was taken to the boys home in Kenwick. Colin and I were taken to the Sister Kate's Home. We were put in separate accommodations and hardly ever saw each other. I was so afraid and unhappy and didn't understand what was happening.
We were told Sundays was visiting day when parents and relatives came and spent the day. For Colin and I that was a patch of lies because our family were not allowed to visit. We spent each Sunday crying and comforting each other as we waited for our family. Each time it was the same—no one came. That night we would cry ourselves to sleep and wonder why. We were too young to understand we were not allowed family visits.
A couple of years passed and I started primary school.
It had been such a long time since I had seen my brother Colin. I was so helpless and alone. My brother had been taken away to the boys' home in Kenwick and now I was by myself. I became more withdrawn and shy and lived in a little world of my own hoping one day Mum would come and take me out of that dreadful place. As the years passed I realised that I would never see my family again.
They told me that my family didn't care …
They told me that my family didn't care or want me and I had to forget them. They said it was very degrading to belong to an Aboriginal family and that I should be ashamed of myself, I was inferior to whitefellas. They tried to make us act like white kids but at the same time we had to give up our seat for a whitefella because an Aboriginal never sits down when a white person is present.
Then the religion began. We had church three times a day, before breakfast, lunchtime and after school. If we were naughty or got home from school late we had to kneel at the altar for hours and polish all the floors and brass in the church. We had religion rammed down our throats from hypocrites who didn't know the meaning of the word. We used to get whipped with a wet ironing cord and sometimes had to hold other children (naked) while they were whipped, and if we didn't hold them we got another whipping. To wake us up in the morning we were sprayed up the backside with an old fashioned pump fly spray. If we complained we got more. Hurt and humiliation was a part of our every day life and we had to learn to live with it. Several more years passed and I still had no contact with my family, I didn't know what they looked like or how I could ever find them. By this time I was old enough to go to High School. This meant I didn't have to look after several of the younger kids as I had previously done, bathing, feeding and putting them on the potty and then off to bed, chopping wood before school and housework which all of us kids done and the housemothers sat back and collected wages—for doing nothing. My life was miserable, and I felt I was a nobody and things couldn't get any worse. But I was wrong.
The worst was yet to come.
While I was in first year high school I was sent out to work on a farm as a domestic. I thought it would be great to get away from the home for a while. At first it was. I was made welcome and treated with kindness. The four shillings I was payed went to the home. I wasn't allowed to keep it, I didn't care. I was never payed for the work I did at Sister Kate's so you don't miss what you didn't get, pocket money etc.
The first time I was sent to the farm for only a few weeks and then back to school. In the next holidays I had to go back. This time it was a terrifying experience, the man of the house used to come into my room at night and force me to have sex. I tried to fight him off but he was too strong.
When I returned to the home I was feeling so used and unwanted. I went to the Matron and told her what happened. She washed my mouth out with soap and boxed my ears and told me that awful things would happen to me if I told any of the other kids. I was so scared and wanted to die. When the next school holidays came I begged not to be sent to that farm again. But they would not listen and said I had to.
I ran away from the home, I was going to try to find my family. It was impossible, I didn't even know where to go. The only thing was to go back. I got a good belting and had to kneel at the altar everyday after school for two weeks. Then I had to go back to that farm to work. The anguish and humiliation of being sent back was bad enough but the worse was yet to come.
This time I was raped, bashed and slashed with a razor blade on both of my arms and legs because I would not stop struggling and screaming. The farmer and one of his workers raped me several times. I wanted to die, I wanted my mother to take me home where I would be safe and wanted. Because I was bruised and in a state of shock I didn't have to do any work but wasn't allowed to leave the property.
When they returned me to the home I once again went to the Matron. I got a belting with a wet ironing cord, my mouth washed out with soap and put in a cottage by myself away from everyone so I couldn't talk to the other girls. They constantly told me that I was bad and a disgrace and if anyone knew it would bring shame to Sister Kate's Home. They showed me no comfort which I desperately needed. I became more and more distant from everyone and tried to block everything out of my mind but couldn't. I ate rat poison to try and kill myself but became very sick and vomited. This meant another belting.
After several weeks of being kept away from everyone I was examined by a doctor who told the Matron I was pregnant. Another belting, they blamed me for everything that had happened. I didn't care what happened to me anymore and kept to myself. All I wanted now was to have my baby and get away as far as I could and try and find my family.
My daughter was born [in 1962] at King Edward Memorial Hospital. I was so happy, I had a beautiful baby girl of my own who I could love and cherish and have with me always.
But my dreams were soon crushed: the bastards took her from me and said she would be fostered out until I was old enough to look after her. They said when I left Sister Kate's I could have my baby back. I couldn't believe what was happening. My baby was taken away from me just as I was from my mother.
My baby was taken away from me just as I was from my mother
Once again I approached the Matron asking for the Address of my family and address of the foster family who had my daughter. She said that it was Government Policy not to give information about family and she could not help me. I then asked again about my baby girl and was told she did not know her whereabouts. In desperation I rang the King Edward Memorial Hospital. They said there was no record of me ever giving birth or of my daughter Toni. Then I wrote to the Native Welfare Department only to be told the same thing and that there were no records of the D. family because all records were destroyed by fire.
I now had no other options but to find a job and somewhere to live. After working for a while I left Western Australia and moved to Adelaide to try and get my life together and put the past behind me. I was very alone, shy and not many friends and would break down over the simplest thing. Every time I saw a baby I used to wonder, could that by my little girl. I loved her and so desperately wanted her back. So in 1972 I returned to Western Australia and again searched for my family and child. I returned to see the Matron from Sister Kate's. This time she told me that my daughter was dead and it would be in my best interest to go back to South Australia and forget about my past and my family. I so wanted to find them, heartbroken I wandered the streets hoping for the impossible. I soon realized that I could come face to face with a family member and wouldn't even know.
Defeated I finally returned to Adelaide. In my heart I believed that one day everything would be alright and I would be reunited with my family. My baby was dead. (That's what I was told.) I didn't even get to hold her, kiss her and had no photographs, but her image would always be with me, and I would always love her. They couldn't take that away from me.
On October 24, 2001, the Northern Territory became the last Australian state or territory to apologize for the taking of Aboriginal children from their parents. Apologies are the only form of compensation that the members of the stolen generation will receive. In a case brought in 2000 by Lorna Cubillo, the Federal Court ruled that the commonwealth is not liable for the removal of Aboriginal children. Despite the court ruling, it is documented by such reports as Bringing Them Home that the victims of removal carry psychological scars which have significantly affected their abilities to achieve happy, prosperous, and stable lives.
The issue of stolen children remains very much a hot-button topic in Australia, partly because of continuing racial strife in the country. Some white Australians continue to argue at the turn of the millennium that the children were not stolen, but instead removed from their families purely for their own good. They make references to the higher rates of alcohol abuse, illiteracy, and joblessness among Aborigines. This claim of beneficial removal is hotly disputed by Aboriginal activists and more liberal Australians. As the various state and territorial governments have all acknowledged, the way in which Aboriginal children were treated is a matter of great national shame. With Aboriginal children taken from their parents through 1969, it will be many decades before the last of the stolen generations disappears from the Australian landscape. Removal is therefore likely to remain an issue in Australian life.
Briskman, Linda. The Black Grapevine: Aboriginal Activism and the Stolen Generations. Annandale, NSW, Australia: Federation Press, 2003.
Fraser, Rosalie. Shadow Child: A Memoir of the Stolen Generation. Alexandria, NSW, Australia: Hale & Iremonger, 1999.
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. 〈http://www.hreoc.gov.au/info_sheet.html〉 (accessed May 5, 2006).