YUMARRALA NGULU: GIVE VOICEWITH ONDRU AND THE WHITTLESEA COUNCIL
A warning that this story uses the name of an Aboriginal person who has passed.
Yumarrala Ngulu: give voice is an art project that aims to honour the Stolen Generations, embodying their courage and strength through their own voice and creating a space for healing. The project primarily focuses on providing a voice for women’s experiences of the Stolen Generations while sharing their stories of family, love and hope, and their dreams for the future. The stories have been told directly by the women or in some cases shared by family members.
Reconciliation is about acknowledging and respecting the history and dignity of Aboriginal peoples to build better relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal peoples.
This work was presented as apart of National Sorry Day. 26th of May, since 1998. I pay my respect to the First Peoples of the Nation. I remember and recognise the courage and strength of woman from the Stolen Generation through their own stories and portrait, or through the inter-generational experience of a close family member.
Forced removal from families still continues in Australia. I am sorry. Always was, and will always be Aboriginal Land. Land Back.
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EVA JO EDWARDS
”My mob, I’m a proud Bunurong Murri Murri Yorta Yorta woman. I’m a mum of six children and I have four grandchildren.”
”I guess with me being part of the Stolen Generations and having been institutionalised for 13 years, my journey has been a long one and I guess it’s continuing. When you’re institutionalised you yearn for that love and that contact and when you’re not hugged and kissed and told that you’re loved and wanted and you can aspire to anything, they’re the things that you make sure you try and give to your children.”
”At the first apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008, I think it was all a bit overwhelming. I guess a lot of us, you know, we cried, but I guess the biggest thing was, when I walked out of Parliament House there was a sea of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people standing together and I just thought wow, what a beginning. I was excited but also at the same time saddened because that apology should have been to my parents. You know and to my brother who had suicided and my niece who had suicided because of her being the next generation affected by trans-generational trauma. It affected her horrifically.”
”First and foremost [I share my story] for my own healing. When I do tell my story, it is very emotional and I actually break down. The wider community needs to know, and Aboriginal people need to know! That it wasn’t just a myth, or that it happened hundreds of years ago.”
”When we look at reconciliation, this year is ‘Don’t Keep History A Mystery’, and that’s exactly right. We need to share, we need to open our doors and our minds and our hearts because if we don’t share then how are people going to know? I sometimes look at Australia and think, what is your history and what is your culture as a non-Aboriginal person? And I say to people when I go and talk to them, we are your history, we are your culture, embrace us. Don’t make it a negative thing.”
”I was taken from my Mum when I was two, with my sister and we were placed in a white family. We grew up in rural New South Wales out on a farm, the lifestyle was good, the only bad thing about it was the father. He wanted to take one child, the other one and not me.”
”It was physical abuse, it was sexual abuse, there was everything going on. I ran away when I was 13. I rode my horse all the way, 80 miles, took a little knapsack on my back. I hid out there for four weeks until the police found me. They asked me why I had run away and I told them, but they didn’t want to do anything about it, they didn’t want to know about it. In small country towns the police drink in the pubs with all the men and they know everybody…because they knew we were wards of the state, they just didn’t bother. They just took me back ‘home’.”
”I had an inkling… not that I was Aboriginal, but that I wasn’t a part of that family just from the insults that I would get from him. Things like ‘you’re just like your mother’, and I would think, ‘well my mother’s fine?’, the one I had there. So then I started to think it’s not her. I think I was about 21 when I figured out I was a ward of the state and then I was in my 30s when I found my real parents and found out I was Aboriginal.”
”Everything that you access in Aboriginal services you have to have that proof of Aboriginality. When I moved in here I didn’t have my certificate of Aboriginality, and this is Aboriginal housing. They said to me you’ve got three months to prove that you’re Aboriginal and I turned around and said you’ve got your whole life to prove that I’m not, and they never asked me again.”
”You still see it now, Aboriginal kids in school, even my grandkids had trouble. And my daughter said to them, ‘but you could go into school and say you’re white.’ And my oldest granddaughter turned around and said ‘No Mum, I’m black and I’m proud of it and I’m not going to lie about it to anyone.’ She’s 21 now but she was 15 then. That’s what I like to see, them getting in there and fighting for their Aboriginality, showing its diversity and fighting for who they are.”
”I think that drive to find out more about your family is part of the healing.”
(speaking of her mother Pattie Deanne Sansbury and the impact on her family)
”Mum never had much to do with the Indigenous community because she was never brought up in it. So Mum’s still pretty scared of going home to her mission. And it’s only because of not knowing, not having that family and knowing where you came from.”
”The not knowing for my mother has made me push to find out more. I want [my kids] to know about everything between language to family history, who they are and what they’ve gone through and how they’ve gotten here, what it means to be them. I want them to have everything we didn’t. I took the kids up [to country] last New Years, to see some of their family because the mobs are that big. And now, the kids are very proud of their culture and they know more than Mum does or I do. With Mum it’s been hard because she hasn’t had that, the family or the culture.”
”I think Mum’s upbringing was forced upon her and that has made her insecurities within her own culture and her own people grow, she doesn’t feel like that’s her full identity. It’s very conflicting, because I know the family that she’s been around and grown up with that aren’t her blood family, are still very racist towards Aboriginal people and towards us. I can’t comprehend that part of it. With them sitting there saying they love ya, yet they don’t love your race and they can actually downgrade you and put you down and all that. I think that’s where Mum gets confused again, like where does she fit in? I think that has a massive toll for her and I don’t know if that’s the unsettling part of going home for her.”
”My kids are very proud of their culture and that’s from having spent time in the community. For example one of my girls is having problems with one of her teachers, where she turned around and said, “well if white man hadn’t come here there would just be a bunch of boomerangs flying around.” This was only a few weeks back. My daughter took great offence to that and she should have because it’s inappropriate to be saying that and teaching that, giving that impression to people.”
”It’s heartbreaking and it’s wrong. Because they’re taking it from not just that one person but everything they produce later in life. It’s not just the effect for that one person, it just keeps going and going and rolling into next generation and the next generation.”
(speaking of his mother Carol Wright and the impact on his family)
”Our family has been impacted by six generations of removals, going back to my great-great-grandmother around 1913, she was taken from Framlingham and taken to Lake Tyers in Gippsland, she was placed with people that she didn’t know and she didn’t have any family with her. Although there were other black fellas, she still felt really isolated for a number of years, and for many years she didn’t see her family. I think she only went back to country twice."
”I think the biggest misconception is that it happened a long time ago. Mum has only just turned 50 this year, so she was removed in the 70s, so it wasn’t that long ago. And we are deeply impacted by that, I have first cousins that have mental health issues and drug issues from the anger and stuff from their Mum and so on, and that’s been passed down. It’s kinda been learned behaviour, but they feel those traumas as well from their parents.”
”Art has helped [Mum] with her healing. One of her biggest pieces was an artwork about birds, and the birds had no eyes, they just had ears. Once I asked her, why they don’t have eyes, and she said, ‘they don’t pass judgment, they’re not looking, they’re here to pass knowledge down so they take that knowledge in and they give it back and that’s them telling their story and telling their song.’ And that’s like our ancestors, it’s their cultural duty to share their story and pass those stories down.”
”I come from a family that has CEOs and people that run organisations and own their homes but on the flip side I also have family that have drug addictions and all that stuff, but I’ve spoken to a lot of non- Indigenous families and they’re dealing with the same things, so I guess our issues aren’t black issues they’re human issues. That was one thing that my grandma always used to tell me, you can’t always blame the white man for the way they think, it’s not necessarily a white problem it’s a power problem, so it’s a power struggle that we deal with and you look at other cultures around the world who also oppress their own people.”
”I draw on the strengths of my grandmothers and the women in my family, you know my stepmum as well was part of the Stolen Generations, so her and my Mum had similar stories growing up. They are just very, very strong women, some of the strongest people I know.”
EUNICE WRIGHT, Passed in 2020
”Our life was happy there, we lived off the land. Dad used to catch eel, tarpon and trout, anything, black fin. They used to make nets the old men and put them down where the water ran. Sometimes you’d get some fish and sometimes you wouldn’t. But another thing is too, we shared a lot, a lot of people we shared a lot. If one family were running short, they’d send over feed. They’d send a feed over for the family that didn’t have much and share that way. If they didn’t have flour to make a damper, they’d send over a damper or they’d send over the flour.”
”When the police came, I don’t know what happened, but I ended up in a Heywood cell for the night. The next morning, I was walked across to the court house and sat there for 40 minutes then next thing, I was on a train going to Hamilton, then from Hamilton straight through to Royal Park and that’s where we got separated from our brother.”
”Grandfather was out working when it all happened. I went to school one morning and that was the last time I seen ‘em, until I was in court. When Gran came home from hospital, she had no kids there and her house was burnt down. That broke grandfather’s heart. They gave all the land to returned soldiers and not one black fella got a piece of land.”
”We got that land back; that’s now Aboriginal land. That’s why we always go back there, and let the kids run around and they know all the stories.”
”[Donna Wright, Eunice’s daughter] “With the things we have been doing with the Whittlesea Reconciliation Group, doing the Sorry Day programs, working with the community like Mum and kids that have been removed from their families. Being able to share their stories and their truth has had a really good impact. For Mum and other people, they feel valued and respected, it’s all about making sure people are educated on the history of the country and the impact of what’s happened in this country.”