Bringing them Home - Paul story
For 18 years the State of Victoria referred to me as State Ward No 54321.
I was born in May 1964. My Mother and I lived together within an inner suburb of Melbourne. At the age of five and a half months, both my Mother and I became ill. My Mother took me to the Royal Children's Hospital, where I was admitted.
Upon my recovery, the Social Welfare Department of the Royal Children's Hospital persuaded my Mother to board me into St Gabriel's Babies' Home in Balwyn ... just until Mum regained her health. If only Mum could've known the secret, deceitful agenda of the State welfare system that was about to be put into motion - 18 years of forced separation between a loving mother and her son.
Early in 1965, I was made a ward of the State. The reason given by the State was that, 'Mother is unable to provide adequate care for her son'.
In February 1967, the County Court of Victoria dispensed with my Mother's consent to adoption. This decision, made under section 67(d) of the Child Welfare Act 1958, was purportedly based on an 'inability to locate mother'. Only paltry attempts had been made to locate her. For example, no attempt was made to find her address through the Aboriginal Welfare Board.
I was immediately transferred to Blackburn South Cottages to be assessed for 'suitable adoptive placement'. When my Mother came for one of her visits, she found an empty cot. With the stroke of a pen, my Mother's Heart and Spirit had been shattered. Later, she was to describe this to me as one of the 'darkest days of her life'.
Repeated requests about my whereabouts were rejected. All her cries for help fell on deaf ears by a Government who had stolen her son, and who had decided 'they' knew what was best for this so-called part-Aboriginal boy.
In October 1967 I was placed with a family for adoption. This placement was a dismal failure, lasting only 7 months. This family rejected me, and requested my removal, claiming in their words that I was unresponsive, dull, and that my so-called deficiencies were unacceptable. In the Medical Officer's report on my file there is a comment that Mrs A 'compared him unfavourably with her friends' children and finds his deficiencies an embarrassment, eg at coffee parties'.
Upon removal, I was placed at the Gables Orphanage in Kew, where I was institutionalised for a further two years. Within this two years, I can clearly remember being withdrawn and frightened, and remember not talking to anyone for days on end.
I clearly remember being put in line-ups every fortnight, where prospective foster parents would view all the children. I was always left behind. I remember people coming to the Gables, and taking me to their homes on weekends, but I would always be brought back. Apparently I wasn't quite the child they were looking for.
My dark complexion was a problem.
The Gables knew my dark complexion was a problem, constantly trying to reassure prospective foster parents that I could be taken as Southern European in origin.
In January 1970, I was again placed with a foster family, where I remained until I was 17. This family had four natural sons of their own. I was the only fostered child.
During this placement, I was acutely aware of my colour, and I knew I was different from the other members of their family. At no stage was I ever told of my Aboriginality, or my natural mother or father. When I'd say to my foster family, 'why am I a different colour?', they would laugh at me, and would tell me to drink plenty of milk, 'and then you will look more like us'. The other sons would call me names such as 'their little Abo', and tease me. At the time, I didn't know what this meant, but it did really hurt, and I'd run into the bedroom crying. They would threaten to hurt me it I told anyone they said these things.
My foster family made me attend the same primary and secondary school that their other children had all previously attended. Because of this, I was ridiculed and made fun of, by students and teachers. Everyone knew that I was different from the other family members, and that I couldn't be their real brother, even though I'd been given the same surname as them. Often I would run out of class crying, and would hide in the school grounds.
The foster family would punish me severely for the slightest thing they regarded as unacceptable or unchristian-like behaviour, even if I didn't eat my dinner or tea. Sometimes I would be locked in my room for hours. Countless times the foster father would rain blows upon me with his favourite leather strap. He would continue until I wept uncontrollably, pleading for him to stop.
My Mother never gave up trying to locate me.
Throughout all these years - from 5 and a half months old to 18 years of age, my Mother never gave up trying to locate me.
She wrote many letters to the State Welfare Authorities, pleading with them to give her son back. Birthday and Christmas cards were sent care of the Welfare Department. All these letters were shelved. The State Welfare Department treated my Mother like dirt, and with utter contempt, as if she never existed. The Department rejected and scoffed at all my Mother's cries and pleas for help. They inflicted a terrible pain of Separation, Anguish and Grief upon a mother who only ever wanted her son back.
In May 1982, I was requested to attend at the Sunshine Welfare Offices, where they formerly discharged me from State wardship. It took the Senior Welfare Officer a mere twenty minutes to come clean, and tell me everything that my heart had always wanted to know. He conveyed to me in a matter-of-fact way that I was of 'Aboriginal descent', that I had a Natural mother, father, three brothers and a sister, who were alive.
He explained that his Department's position was only to protect me and, 'that is why you were not told these things before'. He placed in front of me 368 pages of my file, together with letters, photos and birthday cards. He informed me that my surname would change back to my Mother's maiden name of Angus.
The welfare officer scribbled on a piece of paper my Mother's current address in case, in his words, I'd 'ever want to meet her'. I cried tears of Relief, Guilt and Anger. The official conclusion, on the very last page of my file, reads:
'Paul is a very intelligent, likeable boy, who has made remarkable progress, given the unfortunate treatment of his Mother by the department during his childhood.'
Confidential submission 133, Victoria. When Paul located his mother at the age of 18 she was working in a hostel for Aboriginal children with 20 children under her care. She died six years later at the age of 45. Paul's story appears on page 68 of Bringing them home. Last updated 2 December 2001.