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The Stolen Generation

Sharron Williams, presenting her life story as an Aboriginal Woman to the Workshop Group “Cultural Awareness (Indigenous) / Breakout Session 3 of the Emergeny Relief South Australian Conference “Making Connections – More than just a Handout”, Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs SA (FACSIA), 18 to 19 October 2007.

Assisting at this conference during my work experience with Lutheran Community Care SA, I was very fortuned to have the chance listening into this workshop, as much as time permitted.
As I missed the introduction into this session, I do not know much about Ms Williams apart from what she told about herself.  But for me her presentation was a most touching experience, which may have changed some of my perspectives in terms of future employment or voluntary commitment in South Australia.

Sharron told us her life story as one of the “Stolen Generation”.  Born in the 1950s, she grew up as daughter of her Aboriginal mother and some older siblings in a remote community in Western Australia.  Her Asian father abandoned his family when Sharron was still very young.  Once her mother applied for financial assistance, social workers and policemen appeared at her home, taking away all children.  In very vivid terms, but outwardly very calm, she described how she spent her first few months in a foster care home with many other children like her.  As a three-year-old toddler she was kept apart from her older sisters and brothers, whom she had adored and always wanted to see, and therefore became known as a troublemaker, with all consequences attached.  Eventually, she was given away into a foster family, loosing any contact with her family, and never being told about – and later being interested in – her family background.  All through her life as a girl and a young woman she hated her mother for “letting all this happen to me”, but never wanted to get in touch with her again.
However, being a strong-willed girl, who rejected to being cut off from her brothers and sisters, she became unbearable for many of her foster parents, thus was passed on into new families many more time.  During this “journey”, Sharron emphasised, she met with all forms of abuse, verbally, physically and even sexually.  She attempted to abscond many times, but always being picked up again, she gave in until she could leave legally, once she was grown up.  Proudly Sharron told us, that as young women she went to work on farms in Central Australia, as a horse trainer, and eventually as a long distance truck driver, being married to a fellow trucker.
Triggered by some outward circumstances, only many years later Sharron suddenly longed to get back in touch with her older brothers, who had meant so much to her after being taken away into the foster home.  With many difficulties she managed to trace the address of one of her brothers, as last known by social services.
Sharron then told us:  “In a remote town, during one of my trucking trips, I got hold of an old telephone book, and started writing down all relevant names.  Then I called number after number, always unsuccessfully, until a woman answered, who hesitated for a few lengthy seconds when I asked for my brother.  Then I knew it was my mother on the other end.”
Once they met a few days later, Sharron said, she talked with her mother, whom she hadn’t seen since being abducted, for hours and hours, asking her over and over again “Why!?”.  It turned out, that her mother herself wasn’t told the whereabouts of her children for about 18 months, until she found out by chance.  Eventually, she was allowed to take back her children, but only under the condition of proving in advance a secure work position and sufficient income, which of course was impossible.
It was not only the story itself told by Sharron, it was much more the way she presented herself as a calm, but very committed lady.  Her emotional wounds could still be seen, and a number of workshop participants secretly wiped some tears away.  More important, though, was her approach to offer forgiveness to those who inflicted this fate upon her, but in the same instance asking for, or rather insisting upon, documenting the plight of all those people like her.
This workshop was moderated by one of the FACSIA managers, who had been involved with Aboriginal affairs for many years previously, and whom I got to know well during the lead-up to this conference.  I plan to meet with her again to find out about job opportunities in this field.

(Written in October 2007 for a TAFE ESL course)
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