A Family Torn Apart

A Family Torn Apart


I was very, very angry that Ian McLachlan could have done this thing. When I had recovered enough, Sandra and I got on the phone again to Sue Kee in Robert Tickner’s office in Canberra to find out more about what had happened. We were asking lots of questions, but Sue Kee couldn’t answer everything in detail. So we decided to find out from the horse’s mouth and ring McLachlan’s office and then Chris Gallus’ office direct [Shadow Minister for the Environment and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs]. But first Sandra went and got the Aboriginal Legal Rights lawyers — Tim Woolley and Chris Charles — to come and sit in on the calls.

We had the phone on speaker, and we asked Ian McLachlan if they had taken photocopies of the contents of the secret envelopes, and he said yes. I asked him how many copies (thinking he’d made one for himself and one for Chris Gallus), but he said ‘many’. Many! Of course later he denied that, but we had the lawyers present and they heard what he said, even though McLachlan didn’t know he was on speaker phone and he didn’t know the lawyers were there. Next day Sandra did an affidavit to say exactly what he’d said.

That’s when I just lost it, after he admitted that. I demanded he give the paperwork back. McLachlan said he’d already handed all the papers to Chris Gallus, so we called her. I told Chris Gallus to give it all back to Robert Tickner through Sue Kee, but she said she wanted to return it to me personally. I said, ‘Pig’s arse you will’, at which she threatened to ring Sarah (Milera) and the other Ngarrindjeri women and return it to them. Well, that’s when I really went off. I screamed no to her and hung up. Then we rang Tickner’s office again and asked Sue Kee to go round to Chris Gallus’s office and demand the papers back. That worked and the papers were finally handed back to Sue Kee. The next day Deane Fergie1 flew to Canberra to bring them back. But the damage had been done. McLachlan’s office had photocopied the secret envelopes and sent them to the media. I couldn’t have imagined how they could go so low — to me that seemed lower than a snake’s arse.

But that affidavit of Sandra’s came in handy. It was read out in Parliament and McLachlan lost his position on the shadow front bench. And he had been predicted to be the next Prime Minister of Australia.

But instead of being thrown out in disgrace for such a despicable act of violence against Ngarrindjeri people, it was only for lying to the Parliament!


Mum’s death was the most devastating thing. Us kids were still grieving for our sister Nancy. Every Sunday afternoon we used to pick flowers out of the garden, where Mum had dahlias and daisies and a few other little things growing, and go up to the cemetery and sit down by Nancy’s gravesite. Now we had lost our mother.

Grandfather Gordon took Oscar and me up to Tailem Bend to meet our father. It was Eight Hours Day [Labour Day], a public holiday on a Monday, and the Raukkan football team was playing against the Tailem Bend side. Grandfather Gordon took us to the football to keep us occupied until the train came in from Murray Bridge with Dad on it. When it was time he walked us up to the railway station to meet our father. I don’t know how Grandfather Gordon managed all this because he loved my Mummy like she was his own daughter. He was a very kind-hearted, loving man and he would put himself out for almost anybody, like he did for me and Oscar that day.

The train pulled in and we saw Dad come to the gate. He was crying. We knew Mum had died, but being kids we didn’t fully understand what was going on. Dad knelt down and took Oscar and me in his arms and we all cried and cried.

After a while Dad let go and got up. He knew we had to get back to the football game so we could all get a lift back to Raukkan with the footballers. So he hooked his little sausage bag over his shoulder and we went back to the football.

The next morning he went down to the office and made arrangements for my mother’s funeral for that Friday. While we waited those four days for the funeral we were having lots of visitors, and my Nanna and Dad and all of us were crying and crying.

I remember my sister Nancy’s funeral vividly but I can only just vaguely remember my Mum’s. Her death happened so sudden. She had survived the birth of six other children, so I didn’t see any reason why she would die like that. I don’t think I could accept it, and I was in a daze. I remember going into the church and sitting down at the front, and then having to walk up to the cemetery behind the ute that carried my mother’s coffin. No hearse or nothing. We took her up to the cemetery on that Friday in an old ute and we buried her.

Next morning being Saturday, Uncle Frank Lovegrove came up to the house early to take Aunty Martha and Dad into Murray Bridge to pick up the baby. Dad rolled up some of the baby clothes that Mum had ready for Doris and took them with him. When they got in to Murray Bridge Hospital, Doris wasn’t there. The baby was gone.

I believe Aunty Martha went to see the matron in the Maternity Ward where Mum had been and was told Doris was no longer there. She pushed past the nurses and insisted on having a look for herself. They used to keep the Aboriginal babies in a separate room from the white babies, and Aunty Martha went into both rooms to be sure, but found no black babies there. The sister told Dad that someone from the Protector’s office, a sister, came out and took her. We knew what that meant. Plenty of Raukkan kids had been taken away by the government authorities. Thelma, Lila and Elsie were in Fullarton Girls’ Home. We also had other relatives taken to Mount Barker and Kent Town and Colebrook Home. Dad thought that’s where Doris must have gone.

There were an unusual number of deaths related to childbirth at Raukkan around that time, and all the women who died already had children. Adeline Wilson passed away leaving five or six children, Minnie Wilson left eight, Louisa Wassa had five or six kids, and my mum had already had six. Later on Aunty Rosie told me she put it down to white interference in the traditional birthing ways. She said if the putharis were left to birth the kids, this wouldn’t have happened. I’d still like to get to the bottom of it.

My father’s grief, my pain

Dad was beside himself. He had just lost his beloved wife and now his new baby was gone. He didn’t know what to do. Dad was so disturbed he wasn’t able to answer any of our questions, and Aunty Martha had to tell us everything that happened. I remember running down to my Aunty Phyllis’s place [Phyllis Kartinyeri, née Rigney] screaming that Daddy was home but no baby; I was in a state of shock. I went back to the house, and Bill Robinson [the farm overseer at the mission] came down to deliver the message that Sister McKenzie had taken Doris into Adelaide to organise someone to look after her, because Nanna was too old to look after any more children. This was the excuse that the government gave, and it was a weak excuse because there were so many of our aunties and uncles and older cousins who would have been able to help Dad look after his children. I remember many, many relatives coming in to find out what had happened, and Aunty Martha had to tell them all that Sister McKenzie had taken Doris away.

Sister McKenzie was now the ‘Welfare Officer’ for the Protector and it was her job to take the children away. Like the Protector, she too came to be feared and loathed because she would often do it by deception. I remember one of my aunties and her husband were fighting. Sister McKenzie told her she would take the children until they sorted their problems out. Those kids were never returned to the mother and father. The way I saw it was that there were rules and regulations and if you break them, you’d get punished. And the way they punished you was by taking your kids away.

At that time Raukkan was a very closed community. We had a few white people coming in from time to time from round the districts, but we didn’t have regular contact with the outside world. We knew the superintendent and the mission staff and we knew the Protector of Aborigines, Mr. Penhall [Chief Protector of Aborigines 1938–9; Secretary of Aborigines Protection Board 1940–53] by name and by sight because he made a lot of visits to the mission. But we knew nothing about the running of things or what the Protector’s office did. We knew the government had all sorts of rules and regulations for us which we didn’t like but couldn’t do anything about, but we didn’t know what their policies were or how they operated. We weren’t even told, let alone asked our opinion. We might be told that the Protector was coming to talk to us, but not about anything like policy. If the government wanted to do something, the government did it. They took our new-born baby sister without even telling Dad.

It seems to me they had a funny way of ‘protecting’ Aboriginal people. I think that ‘Protector of Aborigines’ was the worst name they ever gave anyone. As far as I was concerned a protector was someone who’d look after you. Well they didn’t look after my family and they didn’t look after a lot of others. I told the Protector that many times later. I said, ‘You call yourself fucking Protector of Aborigines. You weren’t that to me’.

Mr Robinson made arrangements for Dad to go down to Adelaide to see Mr Penhall, and Mr Penhall told him that Doris was taken just until they sorted things out, and that we’d be able to get Doris back. But he would not tell Dad where Doris was.

Dad was in a terrible state. He stayed in Adelaide wondering what to do and where Doris might be. He sat outside on the square where the War Memorial is and he’d watch everybody coming and going from the Protector’s Office. Any baby girls, he’d run up and have a look at them and see if they were Doris. Then he’d go down to the railway station and walk backwards and forwards looking at any blackfellas and he’d run up to every little black baby to see if it was Doris. He must have been half out of his wits, poor Dad.

Then he would go up to Whitmore Square for a feed from the Salvation Army and back to Light Square and sleep there on the grass. He didn’t have any money for accommodation or any relatives to stay with in Adelaide, or if he did he didn’t know where to find them.

He would have been in danger of being picked up by the police, because in those days the police would harass Aboriginal people for ‘loitering’ and having ‘insufficient means of support’. If you had no money on you they could arrest you. I remember Oscar telling me how he was once part of a group approached by the police and asked to show their ‘means of support’. Kaurno Walker pulled out two shillings and showed the police. They had good sign language between them and talked to one another with nods and looks that the police didn’t see. So he quickly passed the two bob on to the next one and so on and the policeman didn’t catch on that it was the same two bob going round. I think it was a matter of survival. Blackfellas had this instinct and often got a laugh out of it too!