Grateful” was a word that annoyed me all the way through my childhood and I vowed, “I don’t need to hear it again.” But I have to use it to justify how I feel today. I don’t ever want to forget that it was my two children who became my1)anchors in times of sadness, suicidal tendencies, rejection, and identity crisis. That is why it is fundamental that I don’t get myself absolutely lost in the emotions of my losses.
I have lived my life with shame, anger, low self-esteem, and no confidence. But worst of all has been living my life without knowing who I really am. This is something that most people know. You may ask why I don’t; I am a fair-skinned, 2)aboriginal person who happened to be born at a time when the governments determined it was best for me to be removed from my parents, and my culture. And I was 3)brainwashed into believing I was an orphan.
I haven’t had a lot of 4)socialising at all with aboriginal people—I feel they are not the same as me in their way of thinking. I believe some think I am a “coconut,” which means you are dark on the outside and white on the inside. Another reason has been my denial and identity crisis: I cannot openly say, “Yes, I am an aboriginal person.” Throughout my childhood, my upbringing in a white society taught me to have this type of attitude as a fairer child, regardless of my 5)aboriginality. This was the English 6)teaching that was introduced to enable fair-skinned aboriginal people to forget their identity and forget about their own families. It doesn’t mean that we classify ourselves as being any different; it’s what we were taught to believe as children. Now when anyone asks me where I come from, I just say “Australia”, and leave it at that.
In 1905 an act was passed to 7)make provision for the better protection and care of the aboriginal inhabitants of Western Australia. Later, in 1936, another act was passed in which Mr. A.O. Neville, the Chief Protector of Aborigines, was made the legal guardian of all aboriginal children. This act has affected my life, because I was born in 1942.
Under this act I was 8)institutionalized for eighteen years. The memories of my childhood are empty, with 9)stubborn scars10)embossed on my heart that cannot be erased. Institutionalisation experiences can be11)traumatic for most children, 12)irrespective of what colour they are. However, for fair-skinned aboriginal people, their identity, culture, and family unity are stripped from them as they are prevented from associating with darker-skinned people.
13)Whilst living in the14)home we were informed that we had no parents: “That is the reason why you are here in the orphanage.” We were also told we must be “grateful” that we had “someone to care for us” there. I’m not too sure what they meant about “caring”, but I certainly don’t recall being cared for. To be 15)forthright, I believe we were 16)subjected to abuse, mental trauma, and rejection in all ways—so this is the form of caring we were given. They said this was being done “in the best interest of the child,” that it was important that the children were raised according to white Australian standards. Did anyone bother to ask us in later life whether this was the best policy? Absolutely not. Children who were taken forcibly by the government were herded like 17)cattle. However, how does one deal with these sorts of memories and the emotions they bring up? You can’t reason with this kind of behaviour and it definitely leaves you wondering how you cope without living in denial. Sometimes, the hate inside is unbearable, as you think, “Why couldn’t I be like any other person?”
Although we cannot change things that have happened, a journey of healing has to take place. This did not begin for me until I was 47 years old. It is an ongoing struggle of unearthing information, which through the years has 18)taken its toll in many different ways.
My first step was in 1988 when I decided to search for my government papers, which I received from Community Services in Western Australia. This was the most unexplainable feeling, to see such documents written about me and my life as a two-year-old, and to know that I was the subject of that policy of separating pale-skinned children from their parents. Until then I had been unaware of all the things that went on in those years. Through my government papers, I was able to find out where I was born and where I’d lived for the first two years of my life. The papers also gave me an insight into the type of person I was.
People—whether non-aboriginal or aboriginal—who have been raised with family and lived in their own culture are able to have a 19)sound knowledge of their past and present situations. For most Australian Aborigines, having been denied the experience, gaining this knowledge generally means taking a trip to the library in search of what are known as “government papers”. This is where I discovered things about myself.