Bringing them Home - Rose story
We always lived by ourselves. Not that we thought we were better than any other Koori family. It's just that the white welfare, if they seen a group of Koori families together, they would step in and take their children away never to be seen again.
... never to be seen again
We moved from South Gippsland to East Gippsland. By this time I was about 9 years old. My parents pulled me out of school because the Welfare was taking the Koori kids from school never to be seen again. My parents didn't want this to happen to us. That's why we always lived by ourselves.
My parents made a little mia-mia with bushes and sticks around our heads and our feet at the fire which would burn all night. We all shared the 2 big grey government of Victoria blankets and was a very close family. Our little jobs were to gather whatever we could while our parents were picking [bean and pea picking for a local grower].
We were never allowed to walk down to our camp the same way because our parents didn't want the welfare to find us. That's why we couldn't make a beaten track. Then my parents got paid from picking. They went into Lakes Entrance to get a few groceries and left me, being the oldest, to care for my other brothers and sisters, which I always done. I was like their second mother but big sister. [4 younger siblings aged between 6 months and 7 years.]
The baby started crying so I went and got my uncle to come and watch the kids until I walked in town to look for my parents. The town was about 15 ks so I left the camp and walked through the bush. I wouldn't walk along the main Highway because I was scared someone might murder me or take me away. I got into town just before dark and this Koori woman who I didn't know asked me was I looking for my parents. I said yes. She said they got a ride out to the camp with some people. That's how I missed them because I wasn't walking on the highway.
She said to me what are you going to do now. I said I'm going to walk back to the camp. She said it's getting dark, you can't walk out there now. You better come and stay with us and go back out tomorrow. I said OK. I trusted this Koori woman whom I didn't know. She gave me a meal and a bed.
The next day I thought and knew that my parents would be upset with me for leaving the kids but I knew they would be alright because they were with Mum's brother.
While I was walking through the bush the police and Welfare were going out to the camp which they had found in the bush. I was so upset that I didn't walk along the Highway. That way the Welfare would have seen me.
The next day I knew ...
The next day I knew that the Welfare had taken my brothers and sisters. This lady who I stayed with overnight: her brother came that morning and told her the Welfare had taken the kids to the homes. She called me aside and said, babe it's no good of you going out to the camp today because the Welfare has taken your brothers and sisters away to the homes. I started crying and said to her no I have to go back to the camp to see for myself. She got her brother and sister to take me out there and I just couldn't stop crying. All I could see was our little camp. My baby brother's bottle was laying on the ground. And I could see where my brother and sisters were making mud pies in a Sunshine milk tin that we used for our tea or soup. I didn't know where my parents were.
I was sad crying lost ...
I was sad crying lost didn't know what I was going to do. I wished I had of walked along the Highway so my brothers and sisters would have seen me and told the Welfare just so I would have been with them.
Eventually I found my parents in Lakes Entrance. They were shattered upset crying so they went and got a flagon of wine, which they never ever worried about drink.
They took the kids to Melbourne Allambie Children's Home and bought them back when it was court day.
The Welfare and the Police told my parents that they would have to get a house, furniture, plenty of food in the cupboard and my Dad had to get a job. It was very hard in those days what Welfare put on my parents. Just couldn't happen. People wouldn't let black people have a good home. Or give them anything - not like now.
My parents knew that what the Welfare wanted them to do they couldn't. We just weren't allowed to be up to white man's standards. That's why they knew that they had my brothers and sisters for good. At court my parents knew that was the last time they would see their kids. So they told the court that they didn't want them split up.
The kids was glad to see Mum and Dad at court. They were jumping all over them. Glad to see them. When the Welfare took the kids off Mum and Dad they were holding out their arms trying to stay with Mum and Dad. Everyone was crying sad. Sad. Sad. After the kids had gone to the home Mum and Dad hit the grog hard as they had done everything in their power and in their hearts to keep us away from the (predators) the Welfare. But they sniffed us out of the bush like dogs.
... they sniffed us out of the bush like dogs.
My parents couldn't handle the trauma of not having the closest warmth loving caring family we were. They separated. My Mum went one way; my Dad went his way.
And I was 9 years of age left to go my way. I didn't know anyone. So I lived with Koori families who took me in. And in return I would look after their kids while they went picking just so I had some sort of family caring. I done this for years. Still not knowing where my brothers and sisters were. I tried hard to find them but couldn't.
The families that took me in I have a lot of respect for them because they tried to mend a 9 year old's broken heart. I love them dearly.
Eventually I got married when I was 21 years old. I thought maybe I could get my brothers and sisters and give them the home that the Welfare said my parents had to do. My husband worked in a sawmill and we had a sawmill house. After about 14 years my [eldest] brother came to live with us. One sister found us through the Salvation Army about 16 years later. Then my brother [the baby] who died last year who was caught up in the System was like a lost street kid and was bashed by the police in Melbourne a couple of years ago ended up with a tumour on the brain and was never the same again. My second sister who I or my family didn't see for 27 years. What could anyone do now to make up for those 27 years of not having their sister a part of their life. A terrible big hole in my heart that will never be filled.
We all are in contact with each other now and we try to make up for all those lost years. But something's missing. Could you put yourself in the situation that we were put through?
Confidential submission 316, New South Wales. These events occurred in 1958. Rose's story appears on page 208 of Bringing them home.Last updated 2 December 2001.