Almost 85 years after it was established, the Indigenous people who lived on a mission in Western Australia as children have returned for an emotional reunion.
- Dozens of former mission children and missionaries have a attended a reunion at Norseman, WA
- While some children were voluntarily placed in the mission, others had been torn away from their parents
- The event has caused memories, both happy and painful, to resurface, and sparked renewed calls for reconciliation
The Churches of Christ mission at Norseman, on the western edge of the Nullarbor, was established in 1935 as refuge for the Ngadju people, who lived in poverty.
Some of the children who ended up there were forcibly removed from their families, while others, like Valma Saunders, were dropped off by parents hoping for better lives for their children.
“In those days it was so hard to feed families,” said Ms Saunders, who was nine when she arrived at the mission in 1952.
“There weren’t many jobs, not much money, not much food.
“Everyone was struggling in those days to feed their kids, and a lot of kids were put in the mission because there they got fed and clothed and looked after.”
The children of the mission, according to one of the reunion attendees, “grew up brothers and sisters.” This photograph dates back to the 1960s. (Supplied)
No place in town
The mission was built about 15 kilometres outside Norseman due to laws prohibiting Aboriginal people from being in town after sundown.
For decades Aboriginal children were not allowed to attend the school in town, making the mission the only option.
Ms Saunders, who was among the 50 mission children and missionaries who attended the reunion, said her father wanted her to get an education.
“His own mother couldn’t read or write and when his father died people ripped her off because she couldn’t read what she was signing,” she said.
Ms Saunders has happy memories of the seven years she spent at the mission, with chores and school during the week, and picnics and bush walks on the weekend.
But she regrets the loss of the Ngadju language, which missionaries forbade the children from speaking.
“Some missionaries didn’t know what we were talking about and thought we were talking about them,” she said.
“Often we were.”
While some who attended the reunion were keen to share happy stories of education, friendship, loving parents and well-intentioned missionaries.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
But in the background stories were being quietly told of children hiding under homes from police who had come to take them away.
Some spoke of beltings received for speaking their native language, and nights spent sobbing while they clung to hope their parents would return to take them home.
John Graham, 78, was put in the mission by his parents when he was five.
Mr Graham said that during his time there he was abused by a male missionary who has since passed away.
“Things like that I don’t even like talking about, it still hurts me now even today,” he said.
“I’m nearly 80 years old and it still affects me.”
Mr Graham said he turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the pain of being abused.
“I should have been dead before 1990 the way I drank,” he said.
“In 1987 I gave it up and I’m still alive today.”
A chance to move forward
Ngadju Conservation Aboriginal Corporation founding director and organiser of the Norseman reunion, Leslie Schultz, acknowledged the day would bring back traumatic memories for some people.
“We’re talking about taking people away from their loved ones,” Mr Schultz said.
“From their mum and dad and from their sisters and brothers, and that has to be painful.”
He said children who attended the mission had their culture disrupted, but not erased.
“Because we’re a traditional culture we’re always sharing and talking and reinforcing it around the campfire,” he said.
Mr Schultz said he hoped people could reconcile the past.
“It’s a good opportunity for all to move forward whether black, white, missionary or child within the mission, or stolen generation,” he said.
“We need to come with solutions and positive outcomes — even if it hurts.”
Leslie Schultz says it’s important for people to try and lay the pain of the past to rest. (ABC Goldfields-Esperance: Madison Snow )
‘Live as best you can’
Mr Graham said he had wanted to attend the reunion in the hopes he would see people he knew during his time there.
“I just wanted to say hello to them, even a few of the missionaries,” he said.
“There were good missionaries and there were bad missionaries.
“The abusive people that were in our time, they’re dead and gone.”
Former missionaries, mission children and members of the Norseman community attended the reunion. (Supplied: Lynn Webb )
Mr Graham said he cried for three days when he was dropped at the mission by his parents, but became used to his new home over time.
“We enjoyed our stay in there,” he said.
“All the mission kids were our brothers and sisters — that’s how we grew up.”
Mr Graham said he copes by pushing painful memories to the back of his mind, and is able to look at his time at the mission with some fondness.
“You can’t change life now as it is, it’s too far gone,” he said.
“You might as well just live out life as best as you can.
“Enjoy it while you’re alive.”
Credit: Source link