… her life can be measured by the ‘doors’ she’s been forced to pass through in her life. For the most part – I guess most of us simply go in one door and step out the other, as we progress relatively peacefully through our own lives. Some of us are lucky – we get to choose. If we don’t like where it appears to be taking us, we can come out and try another door later. Sometimes, this gives us more choices then we can point a stick at – thus creating more opportunities and more freedom to decide as the moment takes us on it’s merry way.
For my mother though, it just wasn’t that simple. My mum – like many mum’s out there – is a survivor! Her doors weren’t open to her by choice in her early life. These were forced upon her by past Australian government policies. A legacy of the 1905 Act. Very few people are aware of the trauma associated with my mother’s journey, nor what it took for her to get here today. That she didn’t have to leave the Country she was born in to have these experiences, is simply another one of those little known facts hidden away in the history pages of this Country’s colourful past.
The first ‘door’? Well – when my mother was five years old, she was picked up and put in the back of an old army truck by a Nun. That first door – was the tail-gate being closed on her as she was pushed into the tray with a number of other part aborigine’s – all being removed from their mother’s under the then accepted policies for removing mixed blood Aboriginal children from their parents. You need to understand something here: parent’s weren’t asked. Her mother wasn’t told. My mother was TAKEN from her mother – ‘stolen’ by a Nun – acting under the State Government Act at the time, sanctioned by the Commonwealth: remove the children from their mothers – remove them from the families.
There’s something else you need to know. My mum was playing with the other children of the community she lived in. The truck pulled up, the red dust settled, a door opened, a booted foot stepped out and on the other end of it was this red face dressed all in white. That face had white hands that matched. It was these hands that grabbed my mother, lifted her up and put her in the back of an old army truck whereby the tail-gate was closed on the children in there. The car then rocked with the motion of the Nun getting back in the cab – and the children were driven away.
Her second door was the gate to the orphanage yard – it matched the ten foot high cyclone wire fencing – topped with barbed wire – that surrounded the yard. It was a prison! They were led inside – scared now – some already wrecked with their crying, all murmuring in language – all trying to understand what had happened. This place was like no place my mother had seen before. It was to become her home for the next seven years. They would never leave it of their own choice again.
The third door was on the dormitory room they were thrust into and then it was locked behind them. The crying started with vigor then. The sobbing and chest-heaving would go on, all the way into the night. It would still be present in the morning – but a night of crying for your mum leaves you sobbing in way’s many wouldn’t be able to understand. Once in that room and that door was locked, a voice called out to the ‘new girls’ in Bardi – and my mother ran over to that voice, was engulfed in that person’s arms and cried herself and her comforter wet through with her tears. Over the years to come – as my mum grew older – she would do this very same thing for the new girls, as they too were brought to the orphanage. My mother, would never see her mother again.
So it began. Subsequent doors opened and closed. They were doors of punishment for talking in her language and for attempting to run away. They were doors of rejection as she wasn’t allowed to be treated in the whiteman’s hospital in town, nor was she allowed to be treated in the natives hospital outside of it. They were doors of exclusion as she was forced to do the drudgery for the well-to-do in town, but not allowed to take part in an education that gave her further opportunity. They were doors about control, dis-possession, de-humanisation and de-culturation. Somehow – my mother got through these doors – somehow she survived.
Life rolled on – my mother entered into an illegal relationship with a white man and he took her away from all of that. They married (that’s a whole other story) and they started a new life together post the 1967 referendum. That man is my father and he sits now beside the bed of my mother as she recovers from a knee operation, here in Perth. Those doors mark my mother, they drive my father, they fuel my desire to tell others the truth of what happened to people like my mother in this country. If you’re an Australian and fail to understand the resultant fall-out of having someone tip your whole cultural and family base on it’s head – robbing you of those you love – just look around you now. The results are all around you. There isn’t one Aboriginal or Islander family in this country that hasn’t been touched by this legacy.
Sometimes some of us make it through these doors. Sometimes we have help – but most times it’s because the person who comes out the other side is an extraordinary human being to begin with. I look at my mum with wonder each and every day because she is indeed – a most extraordinary person!
Belongum – Out!