Skip to main content

Bringing them Home - Sarah story


When I accessed my
file, I found out that the police and the station people at B... Station
felt that my mother was looking after me. And they were unsure of why
I was being taken away. They actually asked if I could stay there. But
because I was light-skinned with a white father, their policy was that
I had to be taken away. I was then the third child in a family of, as
it turned out to be, 13. I was the only one taken away from the area [at
the age of 4 in 1947].

The year that I was
taken away, my [maternal] uncle wrote a letter to the then Native Welfare
and asked if I could be returned to him, because he had an Aboriginal
wife and he was bringing up his child. And he gave an undertaking to send
me to school when I was of school age and to ensure that I was looked
after. The letter that went back from the Commissioner of Native Affairs
said that I was light-skinned and shouldn't be allowed to mix with natives.

My mother didn't
know what happened to me. My eldest brother and my auntie tried to look
for me. But they were unable to find out where I'd been sent.

When I was sent to
Sister Kate's in '47, the policies of Sister Kate, even though she'd died
the year previous, were still very much in hand. There was possibly something
like one hundred kids there and we were brought up in various stages by
various house mothers - who were usually English ladies who were not really
interested in us. So it was a situation where the younger kids were looked
after by the older kids and they were really the only parents that we

We were constantly
told that we didn't have families and that we were white children. It
wasn't until we went across the road to school that we were called the
names of 'darkies' and 'niggers' and those sorts of names. So when we
were at school we were niggers and when we were home we were white kids.
The policy of the home was to take only the light-skinned children because
Sister Kate's policy was to have us assimilated and save us from natives.

We were sent to school.
We were given religious instruction seven days a week. We were all baptised,
then confirmed in the Anglican faith. Usually the boys were sent out at
an early age to work on farms; and the girls too, as domestics. So all
of our training was consistent with the aim that we would become subservient
to white people as domestics or farmhands. We started doing our own washing
and things like that from the time we went to school. And we were also
involved in the main washing at the big laundry - that's the sheets and

But generally your
own washing was done on a weekly basis at the house that you lived in,
which was a cottage arrangement.

You all had chores
before and after school. There was a main kitchen which did all the meals
for the home, and once you started school you were old enough to go over
early in the morning and peel vegetables for one hundred kids. So that
was all part of the training to be domestics.

We had cows at Sister
Kate's. So the boys had to milk the cows and make sure the milk was ready
every morning. The boys did the gardening and the general labouring work.
The boys were basically being trained as farmhands or labourers and the
girls as domestics. There was no thought of any other alternative.

"Don't talk to
the natives."

We were discouraged
from any contact with Aboriginal people. We had to come into Perth to
go to the dentist and the hospital and we would usually be sent in with
a house parent or one of the older girls. And you'd come in on the train
to East Perth. Our instructions were quite explicit: run across the park,
don't talk to the natives. Go to Native Welfare, get your slip, go across
the road to the dentist, get your dental treatment done, back to the Native
Welfare to report in, run across the park and catch the 3.15 home. You
were never allowed to catch the next train. If you missed that train you'd
be in trouble when you got home because you might have talked to natives.

But the problem was
that a lot of the people who were in the park, while they were drinking
or just in groups, actually knew some of the kids, and used to yell out
to you. And you had then little hints that somebody knew you. Not so much
me, because I was from the country. But other kids had a feeling that
those people must know somebody.

As we got older,
some people's family used to turn up and they were discouraged, they were
sent away, or the kids were removed from that particular area.

We were sent out
to families for holidays. That didn't occur until my upper primary school
years. And I used to go to a place in G. And they had one little girl
there. I wasn't overly sure why I was being sent there because I didn't
like it. It came to a head one Christmas when I found out. I got up in
the morning - Christmas morning - and the little girl had been given this
magnificent bride doll, and I'd been given a Raggedy Ann doll. So I asked
could I go home and I was taken home. I got a good hiding and was sent
to bed and told how ungrateful I was because those people wanted to adopt
me. I didn't know what 'adopt' meant. But I said I couldn't go somewhere
where I didn't get the same as the other kid.

There was no love
or anything in the home. That only came from the other kids. But you never
really had a chance to confide in anybody about your problems. You found
out the hard way about the facts of life. Girls with menstrual problems,
things like that, nobody ever told you about it, they just happened.

Children would disappear
from Sister Kate's in the early '50s but we didn't know where they went
to. We later found out. The scars on the kids are still there. If you
were naughty - and naughty could mean anything - if you were extra cheeky
or if you ran away overnight or played up with the boys - if you were
just caught mixing with the boys too much - the girls were sent to the
Home of the Good Shepherd. One girl that I grew up with was sent there
for three years from the age of eleven. She never knew why. She just disappeared
one morning. That was a lock-up situation at the Home of the Good Shepherd.
They were never allowed out of the compound itself. At that time, they
did all the washing and ironing for the private schools. That's the sort
of hard life those kids had and there was constant physical abuse of the
kids ...

The power was

Some of the boys
that disappeared, we discovered they'd gone up to Stoneville, which was
the boys' institution at that time. One boy at one time ended up in Heathcote
[psychiatric institution]. I don't think we know to this day why he ended
up in Heathcote. But it just seemed to be that the power was enormous.
We were able to be dealt with just like that.

In 1957, with two
other children, I was told that I had to go to court. I couldn't remember
doing anything wrong. But I was taken down to the Children's Court. I
was made a State ward because I was declared to be a destitute child.
And I still to this day can't work out how I was declared to be a destitute
child when the Government took me away from a mother who was looking after
me. Being made a State ward gave Sister Kate's another income, a regular
income until I was the age of 18. They then didn't have to depend on Native
Welfare for the six pounds a year or whatever they used to get for us.
They got extra money and when I turned 18 I'd be eligible for a clothing
allowance, even though I was going to be sent out to work earlier.

I was told I was
going to be sent out as a domestic. I was told if I didn't do well I'd
go out as a domestic. I put my head down with about six other kids. And
we got through second year [high school] and then third year, so we were
saved from being domestics.

When the Presbyterians
took over the home in the mid '50s, they then added an extra lot of religion
to us. We used to have religion from the Presbyterian faith as well as
the Anglican faith.

So we weren't sure
what we were. And the policies of Sister Kate's were still adhered to
in as much as we were discouraged from having any contact with families.

He sent me a letter.

In my second year
[high school] I received a letter from my second eldest brother and a
photograph telling me he'd had information from a girl my same age who
was in Sister Kate's but had gone home [about] where I was and all that
sort of information. So he sent me a letter asking me to write back. I
don't know how I managed to get the letter. But I went to see Mr D. [the
superintendent] and was told that people do that all the time; I should
ignore that because some of these people just want us and they would take
us away and we'd be with natives. We had a fear of natives because that
had been something that had been part of our upbringing. So we were frightened.

[Sarah was finally
traced by a nephew when she was in her thirties.]

And suddenly I met
a mother I never knew existed and a whole family that I didn't know. My
mother blamed herself all those years for what happened. Because I was
the only one who was taken away, she thought it was her fault somehow.

Confidential evidence
678, Western Australia.
Sarah's story appears on page 173 of Bringing
them home

Last updated 2 December 2001.