by Adele Chynoweth on 14 May, 2019
The blog is now closed. Thank you for trusting the National Museum to tell your history. Continue reading “Fare thee well …”
by Adele Chynoweth on 14 May, 2019
The blog is now closed. Thank you for trusting the National Museum to tell your history. Continue reading “Fare thee well …”
by Adele Chynoweth on 16 November, 2011
Inside: Life in Children’s Homes and Institutions opened 15 November, 2011 at the National Museum of Australia, Canberra. Here are some photographs from the event, taken by George Serras. Continue reading “Photos from “Inside” opening”
by Janice Konstantinidis (guest author) on 16 November, 2011
Janice Konstantinidis was an inmate in Mount Saint Canice, Sandy Bay, Tasmania, where she worked as an unpaid child labourer in the Good Shepherd Sisters’ commercial laundry. Janice now lives in California in USA. Here she shares her writing about her paternal grandmother. Continue reading “For Violet”
by Rupert Hewison (guest author) on 16 November, 2011
Former Child Migrant Rupert Hewison shares his personal history, from his time at St. Faith’s Home in Surry, UK to his being sent to Fairbridge House ‘Tresca’ in Tasmania. Continue reading “My Life Inside a Children’s Home”
by Helen Harms (guest author) on 8 November, 2011
Helen Harms writes about her experiences and shares photographs from her childhood in Nazareth House, Wynumm, Queensland. Continue reading “Silence, Suffering, Strength”
by Rachael Romero (guest author) on 2 November, 2011
View the latest film by Rachael Romero depicting, through drawings and poetry, her experiences at The Pines in South Australia. Continue reading “Magdalene Diaries”
by Diane Mancuso (guest author) on 28 October, 2011
Forgotten Australian Diane Mancuso, who recently re-connected with her UK-based sister, shares a poem about her family’s history, written by her nephew, Simon Houlders. Continue reading “Three Generations of Suffering”
by Adele Chynoweth on 27 October, 2011
Listen to author Al ‘Crow’ Fletcher talk about his experiences at Westbrook Farm Home for Boys.
Al joined Adele Chynoweth at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra on 1 September 2011. He is the author of Brutal: Surviving Westbrook Boys Home by Al Fletcher as told to Cheryl Jorgensen.
Hear Al Fletcher’s perspective as a survivor or read the transcript on the National Museum website.
by Wings for Survivors (guest author) on 26 October, 2011
Wings for Survivors provided the National Museum with information concerning the petition to the Heritage Victoria Council to save the Ballarat Orphanage site.
The buildings that were once Children’s Homes are now being used for other purposes, or have been left derelict or demolished. Often there is nothing to mark a place where hundreds of children spent their childhood. For so many people it’s a history that remains unacknowledged.
If you would like to support the campaign to have the Ballart Orphanage listed as a heritage site, then you can sign the online petition here.
by Rupert Hewison (guest author) on 25 October, 2011
Former Child Migrant Rupert Hewison writes about a birthday phonecall from his mother, received while he was at St Faith’s Home, Surrey, England, in the 1960s.
Rupert was at St Faith’s from 1961 to 1964, before being sent to Tresca in Tasmania.
Childhood Memories of St Faiths, Fredley Park.
It was with mixed feelings I learned recently that St Faiths is no longer a children’s home. On the one hand I am glad to realise our way of caring for single parents and their children is no longer one of forced separation. On the other, a part of me is sad that the wonderful house and grounds of St Faiths no longer echo to the sounds of children playing in the old ballroom, building castles in the sandpit in the conservatory or exploring in the woods around the southern boundary of the estate.
I arrived at St Faiths in the Summer of 1961, aged 4 ½ – Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister, John F Kennedy was the new, charismatic, President across the Atlantic, pop music was beginning to shock mums and dads, and the mimosa tree in the conservatory of St Faiths smelt of something marvellous, strange and mysterious.
I slept in the boy’s room with Jamie, John, Ian and Raymond – upstairs at the front of the house over the kitchen. It was very exciting to have a television downstairs in the room between the ballroom and the conservatory. This was where (in 1963) we watched the very first episode of Dr Who, frequently hiding behind the settee at the scary bits.
A favourite pastime was playing in the woods. In the 1960’s there was still a perfectly conical bomb crater left over from the Second World War. We were forbidden to play in it but that didn’t stop us. I have lots of very fond memories of St Faiths but I would like to recall one in particular – the phone call on 20 November 1961.
It will be hard for today’s permanently connected ‘Gen Y’ with their mobile internet to realise just how primitive the telephone system was back then – in 1961 a blackberry was a scrumptious little wild fruit and a mobile was something that hanged from a ceiling.
Parental visiting was one day a fortnight and in between visits letters were permitted but not phone calls. So it was a great surprise one evening when the matron, Miss Cracknel, a large and very jolly ex-missionary back from India, came and got me out of bed. She took me to the ‘telephone room’ – the telephone was so important that it even had its own room – just inside the front door between the hallway and the loggia. The handset was big and, for a little boy’s hand, very heavy. I picked up the phone and said ‘Hello’. To my great delight I heard my mother’s voice say ‘Happy Birthday!’
I can’t remember what we talked about but it was so lovely to be speaking with my mother on my birthday. I was five and missed her so much and so wanted to be with her and have a big warm hug. In 1961 a telephone call like this at St Faiths was a very special treat. As we came to the end of the call my mother asked me ‘Can you see the moon?’ I looked out the little window. I had to stretch a long way and then I just got a glimpse of the moon so I said ‘Yes, I can see it.’ My mother’s reply lives with me to this day, she said, ‘I can see it too.’
After 45 very happy years in Australia my mother died peacefully just before Christmas in 2009 aged 82. At her graveside funeral service on a hot Australian summer’s morning, as if specially arranged, there was a very beautiful moon setting in the western sky. This Christmas Season I hope you are able to make many connections with your loved ones, if not in person then perhaps you can ring and ask them, ‘Can you see the moon?’
by Adele Chynoweth on 24 October, 2011
‘Living is easy with eyes closed’, so wrote John Lennon in the song ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’, of his childhood experiences playing in the grounds of the Strawberry Field Salvation Army Children’s Home, Liverpool.
As a result of his parents’ break-up, Lennon was cared for by his Aunt Mimi and Uncle George. The Strawberry Field Salvation Army Children’s Home backed onto Mimi and George’s home.
Lennon, as a child, frequently jumped the fence and played in the grounds of Strawberry Field. Apparently, Lennon knew, due to Aunt Mimi’s kindness, that he narrowly missed being sent to the Home, hence Lennon’s affinity with the children from the Home.
It is believed that Mimi didn’t approve of Lennon playing in Strawberry Field and threatened that she would ‘hang him’ if she caught him playing there. In the song, Strawberry Fields Forever Lennon answers back with the line that the Home and the children are ‘nothing to get hung about’.
by Leanne Hawkins (guest author) on 24 October, 2011
Singer/songwriter Leanne Hawkins who spent time in St Michael’s, Bathurst. Here you can view her latest video clip for her song Momma.
by Donna (guest author) on 4 October, 2011
‘I never spoke of the abuse because it seemed normal. I had been abused in the orphanage’. In 1957, Donna, aged three, was sent into institutional care with her sister and four brothers. Donna shared her personal history with the National Museum: Continue reading “Donna’s story”
by Diane Mancuso (guest author) on 4 October, 2011
‘These are my observations, thoughts & feelings’, writes Diane Mancuso. Many Forgotten Australians bear the burden of memories associated with institutional ‘care’. In this series of poems entitled DOCS (Department of Children’s Services), Diane courageously demonstrates the intergenerational risk of children being lost to out-of-home care. The cycle sadly continues.
DOCS-department – ‘we keep families together’
Deluded I thought that things had changed since I was a child
Hebrew – firm, strong long lived
First of November, a son is born
Five years of regret, five years of searching my heart,
Not a moment ticks without feeling torn
Questioning my thoughts, my regrets, and my body wracked with pain
1825 days, seconds, minutes spent apart
When I think I cannot go another day
I close my eyes hoping it will be the last time!
I am never granted this prayer
I did not hurt my child for this – evil is a crime!
Ridiculed —society thinking we didn’t care
I am forced to confront another tomorrow
For five years, we walked with our heads low feeling the shame
My body aches pulsating with so much sorrow
Our fault yes! Naeviety was not even considered I was to blame
DOCS-Department of Community Service Mission Statement
‘We keep families together’
Opening the door with my little son nestled upon my shoulder
Accusations, fingers pointed, voices raised, I only heard two words ‘son hurt’
No chance, to explain certain of our guilt their minds already made up
Six weeks old words of abuse, I did not understand! My tiny son ripped from my embrace forever
Not given even an opportunity to kiss his downy hair, or touch his hand
Moments so painful, never to forget, imprinted images to remember every day –
Means to want to die
Snapshots of pure joy, celebration of his birth, joyous moments in time. That I would come to bring out tracing his face, his first smile, trying to smell his baby scent.
I repeated over & over
But they had already decided I was guilty
I did not see anything nothing I would cry
Over five years the pain was always behind my mask, long days when I sobbed & sobbed till I was spent
My baby gone, my man gone, I felt so alone, desolate only the walls to echo my screams of surrender, pleading to be free from this wretched pain that imprisoned me-to be gone
I was devoid of any feelings numb, a phone call to whisper what I needed
I lay down as he injected us both, I welcomed darkness
I died that night!
He screamed for me, shook me, but I was gone, no more pain no suffering
Ambulance came ‘flatlined’ they said but they did their job I cursed why?? Did they not let me be!?! Leave me be!
Where there was no light!!!
Five years of torment, anguish enveloped in so much pain, a part of me was gone -for ever
My decision not to see him, was not about me, to let him have a better life without disruptions was the only gift I could give him
In exclusion we lived, in fear of my memories, rejection being the norm, we held on together
Five years, have gone past, I yearned to be a mum, another chance to prove them wrong
I do not understand why I stayed with this man of destruction, manipulation, deciet, I cannot answer!
Nor do I know why I did not see!!!
I can only guess that through the years he slowly destroyed any self worth, doubting my every word or thought that I would speak.
He was a master of insencerity a genuine phycopath, I was blind everyone but me could see what he was doing behind the mask he wore.
Too trusting, nieve, or if I was to believe in what everyone said then what did that make me???
Again, I believed him
I thought I saw changes or maybe I just wanted to believe that he had been wrongly accused
After, so long I yearned to be a mother I craved approval I wanted to be the mother I knew in my heart I could be
I was not aware I had to have permission from DOCS-department to be a mum again but I was very wrong!!!!
If only I could turn the clock back I would have put him first not last, but no one can know what a tragedy my decision would be
If only, If only,
The greatest gift from god
That’s the meaning of Aleayah
My daughter waited 5 years then another 9 months to be able to meet the most precious, wanted little baby girl
From the most joyous moment of pure elation to welcome this wide eyed, scrap of such innocence & pure of heart little angel into our embrace
Fresh from the wonderment of her entrance to the delivery into gentle meek, hands of her mother
To be nestled against mother’s breast.
Her baby pink, rosy, skin moist, flushed,
Warm from the cocoon of her mother’s womb
The first hesitant gentle tender touch, that flutters & settles within my heart images of satin, rose petals, a tear drop caught before it stains her cheek.
The dizzyingly euthoria to be able to greet this cherished treasure to know the complete dependency upon our care the complete trust to keep her safe, secure, loved & all the little moments that we will treasure, & guard in our own box of memories to keep & laugh with her when she is old enough to share.
To protect her, cuddle her, sing her lullubys,
Watch her 1st step her 1st words, her giggle,
Her skinned knees that a kiss will make it better
All the years to tell her stories, to wipe away any tears,
To allow her to be just her
To let her run with the wind at her back
To embrace her when she hurts
To allow her to make her mistakes
To be there to pick up the pieces
To listen & not judge, praise her, cherish her
We adorned her room with pink, frills, a room for a princess, a theme of angels, & little girl trinkets
We wove a tapestry of love,
A testimony of our devotion of simplicity, warmth, to protect our most precious treasure.
Visions, dreams, hopes, promise, faith, shattered damaged, destroyed, ruined, hearts completely broken
Not 2 hours old they came with their ID’s, security, their legal paper work vocalizing their prepared speeches!!
DOCS-department minister, care, emergency, foster, say goodbye
The house phone rings sobbing’ ‘Mummy, Mummy come back to the hospital their taking my daughter’
No I scream, oh god no!!!
I entered the entrance just as they were taking my grandaughter away
Stop, I say leave her with me??? I repeat let me take her?? ‘No I’m told you can not have her’ why why why????
Given contact details then they left with my precious grandchild!!!!!
I stood there numb, devestated, bewildered, no, no, – not again please god don’t do this!!!
I could only watch as they wheeled my tiny grandaughter away from me to an unknown stranger
I ran, ran, up stairs to my daughter who was so distressed she could not speak, sobbing ‘Mum Mum just let me die now’
Feeling so helpless I sobbed with her rocking her in my arms
Her arms though were now empty!!!
My daughter the most gentle, kind, vulnerable, childlike lay inconsolable curled in a feotel position trembling with raw pain
When you are a mother & your child is suffering so badly & you can’t do anything
I wanted to take her pain but I knew I could not!
No matter how much I wanted to protect her
Visions of extreme murderous intent fluddered my mind
To inflict the same ravage pain I saw in my daughters eyes
To the people who did this to my child!!!
And so it came to be
To go home to a nursery decorated for a little angel
Close the door, close the door,
Oh if we could close the door to our pain!
Every day is a struggle the insane suffering never leaves, we battle on and on, for our little gift from god will come home
Not today, not tommorrow, but maybe, maybe next week
As the weeks turned into months my daughter, struggled with severe suicide thoughts, I was very afraid that I would lose her & my granddaughter.
She did everything she could to have her daughter returned to her, she seperated from the man who had made her life so unbearable, she took out an AVO, we went together to all the contacts to see her daughter, even though It became extremly distressing to see Aleayah bonding with her carers.
We went to every court date only to be rebuffed each time by docs. She sought therapy & goes each week, she supplied DOCS with a drug test it was clear.
Now the nursery sits empty a cot with no Aleayah, toys untouched, musical ornaments to keep her entertained get dusty on the shelves.
If I have to go into her room, I rush in & out so quickly disturbing the dust moates & to avoid the sadness & the shadows in her empty room I run out slamming the door behind me as if this could keep the pain locked away.
Sometimes, I think I can hear her crying but it is only the night wind, for Aleayah is lost to us now my tears I hide my heart breaks for my beautiful blue eyed little tiny grandaughter.——–who I will never know
This is how DOCS keep families together …
Last entry ——-I was given an assessment to be able to raise Aleayah but it is so ironic I failed due to being bought up in care … poetic … justice … will it ever go away do I have this stigma for all of my life. It cost me my grandaughter & my childhood
Family we fought in the courts my ex-husband again paid out thousands to a barrister & lawyer but no amount of money could restore Aleayah to us.
DOCS refused to even give my family the opportunity to raise Aleayah with her biological family.
It also came to my attention that they knew my daughter was pregnant from 3 months. My question to them was ‘why did they not contact us to be able to give my daughter some options other than to react with such mallisious, insideous, so callerously remove, rip her away from my daughters breast?’
I would not wish this inhumane treatment dished out by DOCS -department
To any family god bless please keep her safe let the angels watch over her tonight & every night
by Rosie Klohs (guest author) on 30 September, 2011
The ABC interviewed Forgotten Australian Rosie Klohs and her brother Bill, reunited after 53 years.
[2019 note] This interview was previously available on the 666 ABC Canberra website.
by Lily Fontaine (guest author) on 27 September, 2011
Forgotten Australian and author Lily Fontaine has published her autobiography The Other Side.
At the tender age of four, a young child is left with no mother, father, or siblings. Suddenly there is no one for her to turn to. There is no one to trust. Yet through all the fear and deep sorrow she must learn to survive.
Over seventeen years in the writing, this is the untold true story of Lily Fontaine (artist, author, and poet). Though it is a story unlike any other, if nothing else, The Other Side will keep you thinking long after the last page has been read.
But no matter what one may believe about near-death experiences or angelic visitation, this powerful account of tragedy and ultimate survival, will leave you wondering how any child could have survived as she did.
This compelling self-published autobiography of a Forgotten Australian, is dedicated to the memory of all those ‘forever young’ who can never come to tell their own stories; and for every survivor who would choose never to.
For enquiries about The Other Side please contact the author at: firstname.lastname@example.org
by Graham Evans (guest author) on 23 September, 2011
Graham Evans shares a photograph of the St Vincent’s choir in 1962. Graham is standing at the far left of the front row. Graham’s role in the choir was lead singer (ensuring that all the boys stayed in tune) and drummer.
by Dianne Gallagher (guest author) on 19 September, 2011
As a young girl growing up in the Church of England Girls Home, Carlingford, NSW, Dianne Gallagher knew that the staff didn’t forward her letters to her mother. So, Dianne used to give her letters to her school friend to post.
Below is a letter that Dianne wrote to her mother, in 1964.
Click on the images to enlarge.
Interdisciplinary artist Rachel Romero is currently creating the Magdalene Laundry Diary drawings for her forthcoming film.
Here is one of these works, Stigmata: The Indelible Stain.
Copyright Rachael Romero 2011
Carole May Smith shares a poem written by her deceased brother Christopher Peter Carroll. Chris grew up in homes in three states. He died just before Carole was to meet him after a 15 year separation.
Chris grew up in Largs Bay Cottage Home, SA; St Michael’s Home, Baulkham Hills, NSW; Bridgewater Care and Assessment Centre, WA; and, Hollywood Children’s Village, Hollywood WA.
My brother wrote this poem in 2001 not long after the Salvation Army found him for me after some 15 yrs at least apart.
He wrote these words while in rehab in a bout of depression trying to deal with the horrors and terrors inflicted on him, me and our other brother and sister in our childhoods.
Bro passed away in Feb 2004 of a massive heart attack before we had the chance to meet again in person.
These are his story through his own words …
What are they that we bear them in mind?
Welcome us no!
They pay us no mind.
Here is a question to ponder aloof _
Is Man kind?
Harken to me quickly truth,
for it has nought to do with mankind.
Tales of woe and rusty knights,
To fearful dreams and sleepless nights.
Of things etheral and in silhouette,
silly and wet.
What will befall me this awful morn?
When will they gather?
and who for me will mourn?
Surely keep my mind and heart
rock steady and able,
So to keep me from murder intent,
of the likes of Cain and Abel.
For fiery arrows at me they have threw,
Forgiven me not,
they pierce me through.
Truly this morning is both dire and grave,
They have conspired together,
and have already dug my grave.
What have I done for this to earn?
If they only knew –
When will it end?
For they now have bound me
in this dark dank hold.
This time I was broken,
They never once showed pity,
or tended to my earnest need.
Kicking and bashing me
they thought it light,
Keeping me imprisoned,
they are blinded
and cannot see the Light.
The assaults and insults,
my body torn,
it bears the score,
They slashed and hacked,
laughing and mocking
as they added their score.
Hear the screech of the baleful crow,
How they mocked me,
and stupendously did crow.
It was terrible indeed to pay this fare,
Ignoble and ignorant
what was honest and fair.
Dear sweet mankind,
who cut and vexed me to the vein,
Dead ears to listen,
all given freely and truly not in vain.
Splintered and shattered
they pummel me to an un-Godly site,
Satanic untold horrors are my plight,
as I now fight what defies sane sight.
Please forgive them Father
and be not cross,
Pagan rituals they rather,
as they hammer me to a cross.
Father keep me true
and in fair stead,
For they dishonour me,
and defy logic instead.
Likened as a dog,
they hung me from a tree
at a place called the skull,
their crime is clear,
and drinking wine did scull.
So now here I am,
I beseech Thee
with my voice
and arms out-stretch,
So be it,
I can do no more,
for I have done my stretch.
I go now to a glory
where everything is majestic
I truly forgive them,
for they are slow witted,
and not quite bright.
Dreadful men what have you done?
I will surely mark your crowns.
and wake up to be ready
in time to receive
the promised golden crowns.
Come be with ME
and I will let you ascent,
Can you understand ME
or the energy I’ve spent,
all I ask is an oath of accent.
All things must be
and will be
to MY true accord,
Any who defy ME,
I will accordingly sever the cord.
I AM who I AM,
and there is nothing
that I do not know,
If you ask ME properly
I would never say no.
I was and AM
even before time began to flow,
I will let you drink from the waters
that will never cease to flow.
by Christopher 2001
Diane Mancuso shares two stories about growing up in a large Irish family in the suburbs, time spent in Bidura children’s home and beyond. Diane has also written a poem, ‘Billy Billy’, about her brother who was also in ‘care’ and later died on his birthday.
Diane, also known as Eileen Kennedy, penned ‘Billy Billy’ about her brother, who spent time in Royleston Boys Home, Glebe, NSW. You can also read her creative writing below in ‘Just a Number’ and Born to the State’.
Do not slip away
Stay with me another day
Where have you gone my brother?
You had not begun to live
It was before your time
He took you to live with our mother
9th April you were born
35 years later I would mourn
No! They did not see your pain
In your anguish and your sorrow
Drugs became your way of life
For you there will be no tomorrow
I love you so
Please please do not go
One hit too many
They found you dead in a back street alley
The road was too long
It was too much to carry the load
Daddy Daddy loved us all
He was on the wrong side of the law
Did her best
I pray you are now at rest
Do not slip away
Stay with me another day
The children’s court decided our fate
They took us all
You cried and cried when you were told
We were all sent to Juvenile Hall
As children and later as adults we are told not to hate
Torn apart and sent along different paths
Mamma’s heart broken like shattered glass.
Suffer the little children who did no wrong
Ignorant are they!
Who say forgive them they know
Not what they do
Where were they when I held my brother’s hand and
Wanted him to stay
In and out of foster care
We grew up with more than our share
Do not slip away
Stay with me another day
Yes! Suffer the little children
But if I can change it in some small way
I remember and I am here
Your life was not in vain
For I will be here for that day
My sweet brother we are separate
But never apart
For you are always
In my heart
copyright 2011 Diane Mancuso/Eileen Kennedy
Just a number
1962 was the year the NSW State Government destroyed my family, separating my brothers & sisters for ever. In 1962 what they did can never be repaired or forgotten. My Mother had six children the youngest was five yrs old. My father was languishing away in prison. My mum could not support her children financially. The State decided it would be best for our family if they took her children & threw them into Orphanages for kids whom they had deemed to be neglected.
Bidura was where my elder sister Yvonne & I were kept captured whilst my younger sister Kathleen I never found out which Goal she went to. My two brothers Marty who was eleven Billy who was 18 months older than me at nine went to Royalston down the road from Bidura.
It would be ten years before I saw any of my family again, we never recovered as a family. My sisters became strangers to me also my brother Marty who was always in & out of prison. For some unknown reason I managed to keep a loose relationship with my brother Billy whom I had always been close to.
In 2009 I stood with all of you homies at Canberra & listened to Kevin Rudd apologize & Barry O’Farrell. I heard people speak about how they felt if or what had been the words that had helped their road to recovery their pain of the past. I have asked myself ‘Did I feel any different after the apology?’ And for me? Yes I am glad we were finally recognized for what we all went through. Finally Australian people would be aware that it was not just Indigenous families that had so shockingly been removed & forgotten about. That we were believed & vindicated in what we all tried so hard to tell our friends, etc Who mostly did not believe us. So yes it was a good feeling though even today people are still in denial of our treatment at the hands of the State.
Though I wish I had a forgiving heart but I do not. For just maybe, maybe my brothers would be alive today instead of both in their graves much too early from drugs. –Physically drugs– but I believe it came from their horrific childhoods. My brother Billy told me about the rapes he had endured in goal. Though the way he spoke about these hideous crimes, against him, was to have me believe he was commenting on the weather. He wore his Armour like we all do to prevent anymore pain ..
Forgive?, I don’t think so. Too much despair, inanity, nightmares, desperation to want to fit in to be loved, wanted, cared for … it’s like the song ‘How can you mend this broken heart?’ It is impossible to repair, to forget my Mothers tears, my brothers fears. ‘Sorry’ just does not do it for me! Forty, fifty years Too late. Too late, You can’t fix something that they shattered into pieces. It was all a little too late so that day as I stood listening to Kevin Rudd that day I realize that it was not Kevin’s fault but it was not mine either or my Family.
My Brother did not set the world on fire, he was not well known (maybe to the police), he did not have any social skills, it was difficult for him to talk to people. There will be a lot of us who will not be acknowledged now or in our life time. The majority of us will just put one foot in front of the other or crawl & hope for the best. We are not celebrities but what we are — we are survivors, who lived through & came out the other side. We conquered tremendous adversity, inhumane treatment, brutality, solitary confinement. What sane person takes a twelve yr old & puts them in a black hole? These Orphanages were worse than prisons. We were children! Was this their way of rehabilitation to a lost child?
Our identities stolen, is it any wonder that we have to struggle with who we are? I had so many different names growing up I could travel the world under an alias with no problems! But with my luck I would be caught & it would be solitary for me again, but they were the ones who had given us all these different identities, no wonder we suffer from identity crisis. What was left to take? They whipped us, belted us, abused us, but they could not break us nor take our memories away from us. So I say for your family whom may not be here to speak for themselves, we have to take up the reins & never let them forget what they done to innocent little children. Makes me wonder how many & whose palm was being greased to justify their behavior? Is it any wonder that many of us became uncontrollable with no role model, no love, no human warmth? And is it so surprising that many turned to drugs & alcohol to block out the sheer pain of remembering how barbaric & cruel these so called authorities who it was their job to care & nurture us?
It is remarkable that we even survived & forbid that we could even have a promise of life that bought no pain! As disturbed as our childhoods were I am sure that you stumbled through like I did trying to shield & keep your balance, with no life skills. With no direction, no guidance I became an expert at when discussing childhoods with anyone.
Many, many times on my journey I wrestled with my horrific upbringing, though no one would ever guess my despair dueling with my demons day to day. My mask rarely slipped, what other people thought was a tough upbringing I thought was Idyllic, that is not to say they were not deserving of sympathy or my thoughts it was just how it is.
But as I trowel over my past I believe if I had not experienced each & every interminable situation I would not be the determined, strong, willed woman that I am today. Nature verses nurture, is not for me to question, though it remains an interesting topic, one I believe that I will never have the answer too. I embrace my flaws, as this is what makes me realize that there is no one person who is without their own faults.
Corruption, incitement of power the provocation of abuse towards children can ever be stamped out but we as part of our legacy is to shed our masks & retell our stories so that history can never be repeated.
Each & every one of us took our different paths.
Although, my brother Billy did not leave a fortune behind, nor a child of his own to inherit his special qualities —He did not leave foot prints in the sand! He left his imprint on my heart & my mind I remember my brother & I am here to tell what the brutal system did to Him You & Me.
It was a privilege to call you my brother Billy.
copyright 2011 Diane Mancuso/Eileen Kennedy
Born to the state
October was the second month of spring the cool moist air had turned into the promise of a warm summer to come.
The tiny buds of flowers were opening to the warm sun, fresh green shoots of grass glistened in the early morning sunshine. If one took the time to stop and savor the scent, to see with virgin eyes, to hear the birds chirping in their safety haven nestled in an old oak tree. One would decide that this day was full of wondrous new beginnings of hope, faith of another tomorrow.
On this day in the outer suburbs of Sydney, the day had lost its heat, dusk had settled over the suburbs. The first lights could be seen from the roads, there were familiar sounds of children laughing and arguing simultaneously. Pots and pans clattering as mothers tried frantically to cook dinner, bathe children and supervise homework, which they did with remarkable ease as these were times of large families when mothers stayed home and fathers went to work, there was no confusion as to which role one played.
The families in this neighborhood had no luxuries. They came from good Irish catholic stock or depending how you looked at it they were quick to temper and quick to smile. Many of these families battled to put food on the table for their brood. Martin Kennedy was such a man who found work when he could. He had a wife with four children and one due any day to provide for.
He was a tall man six feet to be exact but not an ounce of fat on his solid frame. He was a striking man. He looked younger than his thirty four years with jet black hair, and hazel eyes. A smile to melt any woman’s heart but with an Irish temper to match his steel black hair. He had just finished a twelve-hour shift as a bus driver, his muscles ached and he felt tired and stiff from sitting all day.
He walked with an air of confidence and pride in one’s appearance as he put the key in the door he could hear the racket of children squealing and of muffled laughter. What’s for dinner? He inquired of no one in particular. He didn’t expect an answer, he picked up his youngest son ‘Billy’ whom was eighteen months old. Billy was a ‘Daddies’ boy and loved nothing better than being with his Dad.
Next in age was Yvonne, named after her mother at three she had an impish grin and pale hair with blue eyes the color of topaz inherited from her Mother. She ran to her Father and planted a sticky kiss on his stubble cheek.
Martin ‘junior’ was the eldest boy at seven he was already gangly all elbows & knees his mop of fair hair fell over his pale freckled face.
Colleen was his eldest daughter. At nine she had more the Irish coloring of dark hair with brown eyes. As in large families Colleen helped take care of her younger siblings.
After a few minutes he disentangled himself from eight pairs of arm’s and legs and went in search of his wife he headed for the kitchen the children trailing behind. His wife was not in the kitchen, his stomach protesting loudly that it was past dinner. Colleen’s voice rising above the din of the others to inform her Father that her Mother was in the bedroom ‘She’s sick Daddy’ she said trying not to show any fear but her voice had a tremulous tone to it.
He made his way down the narrow hall to their bedroom, as night was descending quickly he could just make out the outline of the bed. As he stealthy approached towards the narrow cot, a small moan escaped from his wife. He bent over her miniature doll like body, as he was tall and strong she was small and delicate.
He put the lamp on. Yvonne lay in a fetal position her ice blue eyes glazed over with pain he touched her honey colored hair to find it damp with sweat. After four children there was no need to ask, ‘How far apart are the contractions’ he whispered? ‘Don’t know bout ten minutes’ she gasped.
‘Colleen’ he shouted. His daughter who had been standing in the doorway came forward ‘Yes Daddy’. ‘I have to go and pick up Nurse Fisk. Look after your Mother till I get back’.
He grabbed his keys and rushed out to his old 1940’s Dodge he put the key in the ignition it coughed and spluttered in protest Martin cajoling and swearing finally the motor kicked over, reversing quickly as the first drops of rain fell.
Nurse Fisk lived about ten miles out on the Highway. By the time Martin pulled into her driveway the rain was pelting down. He ambled from the car ran up the sidewalk by the time he was banging on the door he was soaked to the skin but he either did not notice or did not care.
The door was answered by an elderly stoutly women with Grey hair and an air of no nonsense about her. She took one glance at his disheveled appearance and said ‘just a moment I will get my bag’. Martin had left the car running not wanting to chance the old rust bucket would not start for him. He overtook cars, breaking the speed limit, careening around bends the wind screen wipers working furiously to keep the rain at bay he peered into the dark night anxiously trying to hurry them along.
Thirty minutes later but for him felt like an eternity pulled into his street. He could hear the muffled screams as they approached the door he inserted the key with trembling fingers. Rushing to his wife’s side he could see her fragile body wracked with pain.
Nurse Fisk was already prodding and pushing the huge bulge with expert hands sure in her knowledge in having delivered hundreds of babies. ‘There’s no time this baby is in a hurry to enter the world’. Martin stood against the wall with its cracked, peeling paint and looked on anxiously. ‘Push! Push!’ she yelled. Yvonne each time exhausted herself and was sure she was not to live through this agony. She had already birthed four babies but could not remember them being in this much pain.
After an almost inhuman effort Nurse Fisk held up an unnaturally still infant in her hands. ‘It’s a girl’ she said. The nurse held the baby by the ankles which was practice in those days and swung her around. She wasn’t breathing; by the fourth go they heard the lustiest cry. It was as if her cries were to protest at being wrenched from her protective envolope. Rebelling at having being swung around in such an undignified way.
Throughout the ordeal feeling quite helpless my Father stood upright against the ancient, chipped doorway, he was not aware he had been holding his breath until relief flooded through him, & fighting tears that glistened in his eyes he blinked them away before.
He gingerly walked over gazing down at his daughter he put his finger in the her tiny fist. She gripped his finger with amazing strength, & with her turbulent stormy blue eyes that stared at him he thought with an accusatory wisdom.
They named her Eileen she was a bonny baby at eight pound eight ounces with dark down and her eyes as bright as fire & the color of the ocean on a stormy day.
My Mother had one other baby two years after my birth she was named Kathleen. She was a mirror image of my eldest sister Colleen as I was a smaller clone of my sister Yvonne.
I do not recall my earlier years images flash in and out some remain at the fringes of my mind. There is a tall, rugged handsome man lifting me into the air and landing me onto the kitchen table to teach me how to tie my shoe laces and then sweeping me into his strong arms. The backyard was enormous with chooks and a goat feeding off the sparse grass patches that kept them from starving. My siblings and I took great delight in trying to ride on the back of the goat but the animal had other ideas and got his own back when he would buck till we all fell off landing on all fours. Trying but failing to keep our dignity in tact we would mount him again and again much to our disappointment we never did tame him.
My eldest sister seemed to take on the role of mothering us little one’s. Later on I was to learn my mother was often passed out during the day from her addiction to diazepam. This was of great concern to my Father and he used his bus route to pass our house and run in to change my nappy and quickly return to his waiting bus.
My memory becomes a little clearer when we all moved to the outer suburb of Granville. The house was in a shambles, dilapidated and in dire need of painting and repairs. The windows were all broken the lounge room, which doubled as my sister’s and my bedroom sleeping in one bed. Whilst my brothers slept in a closed in veranda off the kitchen to the rear of the house.
I rarely saw my Father the only recollections is of being woken out of a sound sleep by my Father’s voice singing ‘I have the whole wide world in my hands’. Strange how something so insignificant can have intricate details lodged in my memory. My favorite toy was a gollywog with a zip in the side and my father used this to store his gun. I guess he thought it would be a safe place.
It was a rough neighborhood the neighbors’ son bashed my little sister over the head with a dirty wooden stick. It took six nurses to hold her down whilst they shaved her hair off so infection would not set in. I believe this event was instrumental and a contributing factor in my sister’s life further on through the years my sister developed extreme emotional disturbances and instability.
There was a creek down the end of our street there was a rope that dangled down from a footbridge. My brothers would grab the rope and swing from one side of the bank to the other side. I smile at this memory as my brothers were assured of great entertainment when with out fail I would always get stuck in the middle of the creek they would break out in peals of laughter at my distress much to my annoyance.
Innocent as only children could be my brother Billy and I would vow to marry when we were all grown up Billy with his rich, dark curly hair, impish grin and mischievous eyes. was a strange little girl.I had compulsions which were really rituals that were to be repeated on a daily basis.
copyright 2011 Diane Mancuso/Eileen Kennedy
Sally Pryor, from The Canberra Times, reported on last week’s talk by Alfred Fletcher, author of Brutal: Surviving Westbrook Boys Home by Al Fletcher as told to Cheryl Jorgensen, at the National Museum of Australia.
[2020 note] You could previously access this article on The Canberra Times website.