Penny & Murray
In 1958, whilst our
family [Penny aged 10, her brother Trevor 11, Murray 7, sister Judy 6
and baby Olive was five or six weeks old, their mother and step-father]
were all resident at a house situated in Cairns, my mother's capacity
to look after her children in a fit and proper manner became the subject
of challenge within the Cairns District Children's Court. This action
was initiated by Sgt Syd Wellings, then attached to the nearby Edmonton
At the end of those
proceedings, it was determined by the court that we be made wards of the
State and as such we were to be placed under the care and protection of
the Queensland State Children's Department [shared with the Department
of Native Affairs]. We were transferred via train to the State Children's
Orphanage at Townsville.
It was as though
someone had turned the lights out - a regimented existence replacing our
childhood innocence and frolics - the sheer snugness, love, togetherness,
safety and comfort of four of us sleeping in one double bed - family!
Strange how the bureaucracy adopts the materialistic yardstick when measuring
[Baby] Olive was
taken elsewhere - Mr L (Children's Department official) telling me several
days later that she was admitted to the Townsville General Hospital where
she had died from meningitis. In 1984, assisted by Link-Up (Qld), my sister
Judy discovered that Olive had not died in 1956 but rather had been fostered.
Her name was changed. Judy and Trevor were able to have a reunion with
Olive in Brisbane during Christmas of 1984. I was reunited with Olive
sometime during 1985 and Murray had his first meeting with Olive two months
I do remember my
mother showing up for visits, supervised visits. We used to get excited.
I just wanted her to take us away from there. Then the visits suddenly
stopped. I'm told the authorities stopped them because she had a destabilising
effect on us.
That didn't deter
my mother. She used to come to the school ground to visit us over the
fence. The authorities found out about those visits. They had to send
us to a place where she couldn't get to us. To send us anywhere on mainland
Queensland she would have just followed - so they sent us to the one place
were she can't follow 'Palm Island Aboriginal Settlement'. By our mother
visiting us illegally at that school ground she unknowingly sealed our
fate. I wasn't to see my mother again for ten nightmare years.
I remember when I
learnt to write letters, I wrote to my mother furiously pleading with
her to come and take us off that island. I wrote to her for years, I got
no reply then I realised that she was never coming for us. That she didn't
want us. That's when I began to hate her. Now I doubt if any of my letters
ever got off that island or that any letters she wrote me ever stood a
chance of me receiving them.
Early in 1959, under
a 'split the litter approach', the State Children's Department bureaucracy
sanctioned Judy's being fostered to a European family resident in Townsville,
Trevor's being 'shipped off' or 'deported' to Palm Island Aboriginal Settlement.
Trevor's file reveals
he was transferred to Palm Island because he was 'a great trouble' to
the Orphanage. 'He has given us no serious trouble, although inclined
to be somewhat disobedient at times. We find that physical punishment
has little or no effect on him and that the best way to punish him is
by depriving him of privileges.'
Murray and myself
were to follow Trevor some time later. I recall our being driven to the
landing at Hayles Wharf at 4.30- 5.00 am - given two small ports and being
told to 'catch that boat to Palm Island over there' then leaving us there.
Bewilderment - scared - where was Palm Island? What was Palm Island? Why
were we going there?
Department, Townsville to Superintendent, Palm Island October 1958
will realize, it is almost impossible to find suitable Foster Homes for
such children and they do not fit in very well with white children in
institutions, such as are conducted by this Department. It would be greatly
appreciated if you could advise whether it would be possible to admit
all, or some of these children to Palm Island.'
Department, Townsville to Superintendent, Palm Island, June 1960
children have been in our home in Townsville for more than two years,
and in view of their very dark colouring, have not been assimilated in
the white race. Every effort has been made to place them in a foster home
without success because of their colour.'
I can't remember
much about when or why it was decided that Murray and I should leave the
Orphanage and be sent to Palm Island - Just know that I came home from
school one afternoon and walked in on two other girls. They were both
crying and then told me that Murray and I were going to be sent to Palm
Island - it was where Trevor had been sent.
Prior to that information
- didn't know what the hell had happened to Trevor - Matron told me that
he was going on a picnic - he never came back on that day and we never
saw him again until we were reunited with Trevor on Palm Island some time
After a while you
just give up asking and learn acceptance of situations even though you
don't fully understand the whys and wherefores.
Department, Townsville to Superintendent, Palm Island, July 1960
notify some responsible person on the boat as to the circumstances concerning
these children and no doubt you will arrange to have them met on arrival
at Palm Island.'
Upon arrival at Palm
Island - we were lost - we went to the Police Station - the sergeant advised
as we were white children that we must have caught the wrong boat and
maybe should have been on the one that went to Magnetic Island. He also
said that no one was allowed onto Palm Island without the Superintendent's
permission. I informed the sergeant that my brother Trevor was already
on Palm Island. After meeting with Trevor over at the school - we were
taken into the Superintendent's office (Mr B) and he said that we shouldn't
have been sent to the island - that there must have been some mistake.
He said that he would have to look into matters and in the meantime that
I would be taken to the young girls' dormitory and that Murray would be
with Trevor in the boys' home. Mr B lost the battle to have us returned
to the Orphanage at Townsville.
At that time Palm
Island was regarded by many both black and white as nothing more than
an Aboriginal Penal Colony. Our only crime was coming from a broken home.
Palm Island was ruled with an iron fist by a White administration headed
by a Superintendent whose every word was law which was brutally enforced
by Aboriginal Policemen who were nothing more than a group of thugs and
criminals in uniform.
If I were to write
a book of my childhood experiences, I would write of my arrival as an
eight year old boy. I would write of how I was spat on by Aboriginal adults,
all complete strangers. Of being called a little White bastard and names
much too vile to mention. It didn't matter to those people that I was
just a kid. The colour of my skin and eyes were enough to warrant their
I would write of
regular beatings and of being locked in a cell on many occasions on the
whim of a Black Woman who was a female guardian of that home.
I would tell of a
White headmaster belting the living daylights out of me because he overheard
me tell a Black classmate not to crawl to White teachers; of how I felt
his hot stinking breath on my face as he screamed 'how dare I say such
a thing being White myself'.
That island was seething
with hatred for the White Man and his System so why in Gods name were
three fair skinned children condemned to such a place?
Eventually, my siblings
and I got off that terrible place. Towards the end of our unpleasant stay
on that island the populace finally accepted us. The harsh treatment subsided
and eventually ceased as did the swearing and suspicious looks. Today
many people from that island are our closest and dearest friends. But
I'll never go back to visit, it holds too many painful memories for me.
Judy had the resources
to seek psychiatric care. Murray's got psychiatric care. Trevor's still
under psychiatric care and been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. His
psychiatrist says he attributes all the things that happened to him in
his childhood to bring him to that state he is in today. Sometimes he
gets suicidal. He rings up and wants to kill himself. And I say, 'Don't
let your life pass into nothingness'.
People probably see
on the surface that we've lead successful lives. But that's on the surface.
Nobody knows that Trevor, who until six year ago has never been out of
a job in his life, owns his own home, got his own car. They look at that
and say, 'He's achieved the great Australian dream'. And they don't look
behind that. Is that what it's all about. They look at us and say, 'Well,
assimilation worked with those buggers'. They see our lives as a success.
191 and 776, Queensland. Penny & Murray's story appears on page 86
of Bringing them home.
Last updated 2 December 2001.