Bringing them Home - John story

John

John was removed from his family as an infant in the 1940s. He spent his first years in Bomaderry Children's Home at Nowra. At 10 he was transferred to Kinchela.

We didn't have a clue where we came from. We thought the Sisters were our parents. They didn't tell anybody - any of the kids - where they came from. Babies were coming in nearly every day. Some kids came in at two, three, four days old - not months - but days. They were just placed in the home and it was run by Christian women and all the kids thought it was one big family. We didn't know what it meant by 'parents' cause we didn't have parents and we thought those women were our mothers.

It was drummed into our heads that we were white.

I was definitely not told that I was Aboriginal. What the Sisters told us was that we had to be white. It was drummed into our heads that we were white. It didn't matter what shade you were. We thought we were white. They said you can't talk to any of them coloured people because you're white.

I can't remember anyone from the welfare coming there. If they did I can't remember ... We hardly saw any visitors whatsoever. None of the other kids had visits from their parents. No visits from family. The worst part is, we didn't know we had a family.

When you got to a certain age - like I got to 10 years old ... they just told us we were going on a train trip ... We all lined up with our little ports [school cases] with a bible inside. That's all that was in the ports, see. We really treasured that - we thought it was a good thing that we had something ... the old man from La Perouse took us from Sydney - well actually from Bomaderry to Kinchela Boys' Home. That's when our problems really started - you know!

This is where we learned that we weren't white.

This is where we learned that we weren't white. First of all they took you in through these iron gates and took our little ports [suitcases] off us. Stick it in the fire with your little bible inside. They took us around to a room and shaved our hair off ... They gave you your clothes and stamped a number on them ... They never called you by your name; they called you by your number. That number was stamped on everything.

If we answered an attendant back we were 'sent up the line'. Now I don't know if you can imagine, 79 boys punching the hell out of you - just knuckling you. Even your brother, your cousin.

They had to - if they didn't do it, they were sent up the line. When the boys who had broken ribs or broken noses - they'd have to pick you up and carry you right through to the last bloke. Now that didn't happen once - that happened every day.

Before I went to Kinchela, they used to use the cat-o'-nine-tails on the boys instead of being sent up the line. This was in the 30s and early 40s.

They thought you were animals.

Kinchela was a place where they thought you were animals. You know it was like a place where they go around and kick us like a dog ... It was just like a prison. Truthfully, there were boys having sex with boys ... But these other dirty mongrels didn't care. We had a manager who was sent to prison because he was doing it to a lot of the boys, sexual abuse. Nothing was done. There was a pommie bloke that was doing it. These attendants - if the boys told them, they wouldn't even listen. It just happened ... I don't like talking about it.

We never went into town ... the school was in the home ...all we did was work, work, work. Every six months you were dressed up. Oh mate! You were done up beautiful - white shirt. The welfare used to come up from Bridge St, the main bloke, the superintendent to check the home out - every six months.

We were prisoners from when we were born ... The girls who went to Cootamundra and the boys who went to Kinchela - we were all prisoners. Even today they have our file number so we're still prisoners you know. And we'll always be prisoners while our files are in archives.

Confidential evidence 436, New South Wales. John's story appears on page 166 of Bringing them home.

Last updated 2 December 2001.