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Newsletter from the National Sorry Day Committee (NSDC)

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    December 2004 – The National Sorry Day Committee asks that Sorry Day 2005, on 26 May, be a National Day of Healing. We invite everyone to celebrate the achievements of the past seven years, and to commit ourselves to all that still needs to be done.

    Australia now knows the story of the stolen generations.

    It has been told in a thousand newspaper articles, in TV documentaries, and the award-winning feature, Rabbit-Proof Fence. It is told on a memorial in Canberra, erected by the Federal Government in 2004. Tens of thousands of Australians have responded with their hearts. Many have got to know the stolen generations residents in their towns and suburbs. People who for decades have felt alienated and isolated by their experiences have become part of the communities in which they live. And they are now helping overcome tough social problems in their neighbourhoods.

    In other countries people have watched the Australian community become involved in the Journey of Healing. Last year in Canada, many ‘residential school survivors’ – as their stolen generations are known – launched a National Day of Healing and Reconciliation on 26 May, to encourage the Canadian community to become involved similarly. This year events took place all over the country.

    All over Australia, community groups are helping implement recommendations of the Bringing Them Home report. In Western Australia, groups have raised tens of thousands of dollars to enable stolen generations people to visit the places from which they were removed and meet relatives.

    In all States, volunteers are supporting the work of Link-Up, which is tracing and bringing together families separated by the removal policies. These reunions have given hundreds of stolen generations people new hope and strength. But several thousand people have asked for Link-Up’s help, and its few caseworkers are overwhelmed. They need more help from Governments, Federal and State.

    Governments have a vital role in the healing process. People who grew up in institutions usually need the help of parenting classes, for instance. Without help such as this, the effects of the removal policies continue into the third and fourth generation, as child development expert Professor Fiona Stanley has discovered.

    Many of the stolen generations have launched out on their journey of healing. Many have yet to launch out. The more we continue and expand the work of healing – at community and Government level – the more will the stolen generations be enabled to make their full, unique contribution to our national life.

    From Hell to Hostel

    Avis Gale was taken from her mother in 1945 at the age of one week, and was placed in Colebrook Home, 500 miles away in Adelaide. At two months she was rushed to hospital with six other babies from the home suffering from acute gastro-enteritis. The others died. She survived.

    In her early years Colebrook was managed by two devoted missionaries, Sister Hyde and Sister Rutter, who cared wholeheartedly for the children. But everything changed when they left, to be replaced by a series of people whose title of missionary could not hide their hypocrisy. ‘If we didn’t get up at 5.30am to read our Bibles, they would deprive us of food,’ Avis recalls. ‘And they did nothing to nurture us, or protect us from sexual abuse.’ When she was eight, she rebelled. ‘I was angry at what was happening to me, and I took it out on the Bibles.’

    She collected 30 Bibles and threw them on the Guy Fawkes bonfire. When she was discovered, two of the staff told her, ‘A native child like you won’t go to heaven, you are going to hell’ – and so she never forgot this, they put her on the staff room table and branded on her leg a letter ‘H’. It is still there.

    At the age of 13 she was removed from Colebrook as uncontrollable. The following years saw her in various institutions, unable to find anyone to whom she could speak about the deep hurts in her life. The sexual abuse went on – ‘I was raped quite a few times.’ At the age of 18 she was transferred to prison, where she learnt about drugs. Her life since then has included suicide attempts, morphine addiction, psychiatric hospital and a horrific drink-induced car smash.

    Some of those who had grown up with Avis at Colebrook stuck with her, particularly Amy O’Donoghue and her sister Lowitja. They encouraged her to study at a TAFE college, and she did, gaining a certificate in child care. Soon she was cooking for a hostel. She married a non-Indigenous man. But the marriage ended after a few years, leaving her with three children.

    She knew nothing about parenting – and even today feels anguished at her treatment of her children. But she was determined to see them through their education, and she succeeded. Today they are all married in different parts of South Australia, but see her often.

    After some years Avis was asked to manage a hostel for Aboriginal children who came to Adelaide for their education. It was exactly what she wanted. ‘I did all I could to go out to
    the children, listening, understanding,’ she says, ‘because in my day I had no-one to listen to me.’ This gave her friendships with many Aboriginal families and today she speaks Aboriginal languages, despite having been forbidden as a child to speak
    anything but English.

    In the 1990s a reconciliation group started to meet in the Adelaide suburb of Blackwood. Some of them knew of Colebrook, even though the buildings had been pulled down years before, and they wanted to commemorate the site. They got in touch with a former resident, who spread the word among the others. Three of them – Avis among them – decided to meet the group. ‘The tea and cakes were forgotten as they listened to our stories,’ she says.

    In the following weeks, one of them came to visit Avis. As they got to know each other, Avis realised that here was someone she could trust to tell her whole story to. ‘Everything came out then, and I cried and cried. ‘At last she was finding relief from the pain that she had carried all these years.

    The following year, 1998, the Synod of the Uniting Church in South Australia voted to apologise for their part in the removal policies. Avis and others were invited to receive the apology. She hated churches, and was still angry. When a reporter tried to speak to her
    at the church, she went at him. But she was deeply moved by the ceremony. ‘One day they will have to meet their maker,’ she thought, ‘but so will I. I began to think of the people
    I had hurt.’ In the following days she wrote many letters of apology to these people – including a policeman who she had bashed as he attempted to arrest her, and another person she had stabbed.

    Recently the Department of Correctional Services asked whether Avis’ hostel could become a women’s release and diversion hostel for Aboriginal girls coming out of prison, with Avis still as manager. Though it was a wrench to say goodbye to the schoolchildren, she accepted this commission, and today is giving her heart to these girls.

    On one prison visit, a non-Indigenous girl asked Avis if, on her release, she could stay at the hostel. Though this contravened the rules, Avis invited her. The girl settled in well and now, several months later, is in a steady job. The correctional services then asked her if she would accept other non-Indigenous girls, and she agreed.

    ‘I used to hate non-Indigenous people,’ she says. ‘But I have learnt to forgive, even if I cannot forget.’ This month the hostel was officially opened in its new role. ‘We may falter
    but there will always be someone to help us get back on track,’ Avis told the gathering. ‘We all need each other in some form or another and once this is achieved we will have reconciliation.’

    Avis was interviewed by John Bond.

    Introducing the new Co-Chairs for the National Sorry Day Committee

    At the national conference in September 2004, John Brown and Audrey Kinnear announced that, after five years as co-chairs, they considered that the time had come to hand this responsibility to others. Elections were held, and Ray Minniecon and Gillian Brannigan were elected.

    Ray comes from the Kabi Kabi people of South-East Queensland. He is the Director of Crossroads Aboriginal Ministries in Redfern, a ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney which focuses on the needs of the Indigenous community of inner Sydney, especially members of the stolen generations. Since coming to Redfern, he has helped to establish Kinchela Boys’ Home Aboriginal Corporation.

    He also focuses on leadership and management development among Indigenous peoples. In 2003 he developed an employment and business strategy for the Work ventures Group. He is cultural advisor to ARM-tour, which takes elite athletes into remote Aboriginal communities to act as role models. He was Editor-in-Chief of the National Indigenous Leadership Journal and now acts as advisor to the Journal. Until July 2002, he was the Executive Associate for World Vision Australia, responsible for the development of Indigenous Programs.

    Under his leadership, Indigenous Programs developed have focus areas:

    Preventative health program supervised by an Aboriginal doctor.
    Leadership and community development programs.
    Project support programs to community-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.
    Education and advocacy programs.
    Walkabout Productions, to fund community projects through marketing Indigenous art.

    Gillian is a community worker and activist. She is currently the Women’s Rights Organiser at the University of Queensland Union in Brisbane which actively supports National Sorry Day each year by organising a week of activities including the annual Sorry Day dinner. This event attracts hundreds of people each year and acknowledges the hardships experienced by members of the stolen generations as well as celebrating their courage, strength and humour.

    Gillian has also worked with Link-Up Queensland Aboriginal Corporation. Link-Up organisations in each State and Territory are finding and bringing together Aboriginal families separated by the removal policies.

    Gillian did much to keep the needs of the stolen generations in the public eye, particularly through helping arrange public events for Sorry Day each year including the first National Sorry Day Art Exhibition in 2002.

    She also helped to faciltate statewide consultations with members of the stolen generations, their families and the Bringing Them Home counsellors in Queensland. Her work with Link-Up (Qld) gave her a profound understanding of the situation which stolen generations people face.

    She continues to be involved with the Link-Up Qld Support Group as well as the Musgrave Park Cultural Centre and has helped to organise Musgrave Park Family Nights, which bring together all interested members of the local community to learn, share and enjoy Indigenous cultural activities, food, friendship and stories.

    The new co-chairs hope to build on the substantial work undertaken by Audrey and John and all members of the NSD Committee. The co-chairs also recognise the tireless efforts of our long standing Secretary, John Bond. His reliability, compassion and commitment will assist the new co-chairs to work toward some of the immediate concerns which include:

    1. 1. Ensuring on-going funding for stolen generation services after 2006
    2. 2. Establishing a national consultative body for the stolen generations such as a national secretariat

    Thanks to Our Great Team

    At the annual conference, warm appreciation was expressed for the leadership given by Audrey Kinnear and John Brown. That leadership has been outstanding. No-one who heard John Brown at the Sorry Day event in Parliament House in 1998 will forget his speech. It should be in the anthologies of great speeches in Australian history. Without them, there would be no national memorial to the stolen generations in Canberra today.

    The then Minister, Philip Ruddock, invited us to view the memorial which the Government had commissioned, and tried to persuade us to accept it. Suddenly Audrey had had enough. She knew that their memorial was utterly inadequate, and she made her views plain. I think it was then that the Minister realised that the original plan was dead, and the Government would have to think again. The negotiations for that memorial – with the stolen generations, with those who staffed the institutions, or fostered or adopted children, with the Government – would never have succeeded but for the skills which John and Audrey brought.

    They knew when to take the initiative, when to negotiate, when to stand firm.
    We owe them much more. They have been utterly dedicated. Not only has neither received any remuneration, they have refused reimbursement for many of the expenses they have incurred in their work as co-chairs. And they have brought a big-heartedness which has overcome many of the con?icts and squabbles which can so easily divide colleagues, and cause a movement to become ineffective.

    Both have made clear that they will remain at the heart of the struggle for justice and healing for the stolen generations. I have no doubt that they will be at work, in Parliament and of the Journey webpages. Liam is a student at Melbourne University who has devoted many hours to developing and updating the webpages. This has been no small job, and had we had to pay for this service, it would have cost many thousands of dollars. But Liam has done this entirely free of charge as a contribution to genuine reconciliation in Australia. He is now improving the webpages, and would welcome ideas on what they should feature.

    Another asset is John Lynch, our Treasurer. He lives in Canberra with his wife Anne and their two children. It takes a lot of work to keep our accounts above reproach, and John has done it steadily for the past six years, also refusing renumeration. Any organisation which battles on sensitive political issues has to keep its accounts on good shape, and John’s high standards of accounting ensure that we measure up.

    Introducing ENIAR (European Network for Indigenous Australian Rights)

    Would you believe it, one of the most widely read websites on Aboriginal issues comes from England? http://www.eniar.org is produced by ENIAR.

    Eniar is a small voluntary group dedicated to promoting awareness of Aboriginal rights issues. On 7th December, Ray Minniecon, Co Chair of the National Sorry Day Committee, met with representatives from ENIAR and discussed future cooperation. There will be more from ENIAR in the next issue but if you are going to the UK do let Ray or ENIAR know.

    And remember to check out their website!

    This newsletter has been produced by the National Sorry Day Committee, December 2004. For more information or about National Sorry Day and the Journey of Healing please go to our website http://www.journeyofhealing.com If you would like to contribute your news, an article, poem, story, photos or artwork please contact Gillian Brannigan on email: g.brannigan@uq.edu.au or phone: (07) 3377 2242 or post to: Gillian Brannigan c/o UQ Union, Level 4 Union Building, UQ, St Lucia Qld 4072

    Source: National Sorry Day Committee

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