By: KOCH A Source: QNP

The forced separation of Aboriginal children from their parents is one
of the saddest chapters in Australia's history. A Human Rights
Commission inquiry now under way will reveal more of the heartbreak
caused by the policy. TONY KOCH reports.

"They said my mother would come and get me. I remember waiting at the
window and looking down the road every Sunday. But she never came'

N AOMI Platt shakes her head. She has been crying, softly. ""They
stole my childhood,'' she says.
Born of a white father and Aboriginal mother at Coen on Cape York
in 1940, baby Naomi was taken from her mother by the wife of the local
Anglican priest.
The couple were childless and chose the light-skinned girl to be
their daughter, taking her the next year to Thursday and Moi islands.
Because a Japanese invasion was feared in the Torres Strait, plans
were made to evacuate.
The minister and his wife, Godfrey and Mary Gilbert, had two
adopted white children. They packed up the little Aboriginal girl and
brought her to Brisbane.
There they apparently tried to adopt her, but found they couldn't,
so instead placed her in a church home for girls _ Tufness Home at
Mrs Platt takes a long time to tell the rest of the story. At times
she shakes her head in bewilderment. Sometimes she cries softly _ very
""The children who were there used to get one parent visiting each
weekend,'' she says.
""I was never allowed out. While I was there I had my name and age
and everything about me changed. I lost my whole identity.
""The priest and his wife left me there and Mrs Gilbert promised
that when the war ended my mother would come and get me. But she never
came. I remember waiting at the window and looking down the road every
""Everybody else had visitors but nobody came for me. I never had a
birthday celebration, or presents at Christmas or anything like that.
""You see, I had no one. Nobody to care about me. I think they
wanted me to be a nun, but I didn't have the makings for that.
""The bishop used to pay my fees to live at the home and they hate
me getting in touch now about it. It was only through my baptismal
records that I found out my real name and where I came from.
""I was told by the nuns that I was born in New Guinea; that I had
been abandoned and that my mother was no good.''
At 12, the mixed-up, neglected young girl was sent to a church
school in western Queensland where she worked for five years as a
She didn't taste lemonade or any other soft drink until she was 15,
never attended a party. To this day, the celebration times of the year
she most dislikes are Mother's Day and Christmas _ because of the pain
they brought a little girl.
Mrs Platt says she was treated well enough as a domestic servant
and at 17 she was able to break away from the church and run her own
She had never been told she was ""under the Act'' until she made
inquiries at age 19 to get married.
""I was told I couldn't get married until 21 unless I had consent
of the Protector of Aborigines.
""I had no indication until then that I had Aboriginal or Islander
background. It meant I had to go to the local police station, which was
so embarrassing. I was told I was under their care.
""That is when things started to go wrong because I had given the
wrong place of birth on my applications. The nuns had told me I was
born in Papua New Guinea but I had never been there in my life.
""Even my name wasn't right. They had changed my surname. I know
all that now because of the information I have got from Link-Up _ the
organisation which investigates forced separations such as mine and
arranges contacts.''
Mrs Platt is now on the council of Link-Up in Brisbane and provides
help to other people in similar predicaments to her own.
Her desire now is to find a sister who was also taken as a child.
The woman was born Joan Jensen at Coen on December 12, 1929. She
married and has been known as Joan Butt or Joan Thompson.
For Naomi, that part of the search goes on.
But the search for her true identity will never be satisfied.
""It's like I've been in a cocoon for a long time,'' Mrs Platt
""I am breaking free. Like a lot of Aboriginal girls, I've been
trodden on for a long time.
""Why did these white people think they had a right to take me away
from my family? All I know is they destroyed my life.
""They stole my childhood.''
TODAY it is hard for Australians to comprehend the colonial attitudes
that led to the policy of ""assimilation'' and the taking of children
from their parents.
But it happened in tens of thousands of cases. The tragedy today is
that so many of these people are now elderly but still have not been
able to link with family. People like Townsville Aborigine Bessie
Limburner saw her mother taken in chains _ marched hundreds of
kilometres _ only to have her children stripped from her. The ""crime''
was that she had delivered a child fathered by a white man.
As late as the 1960s, Aboriginal people who were declared to be
wards of The Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act of 1939 in
Queensland had to get permission to get married, to travel, to get
housing, or to use bank passbooks.
That permission had to be obtained from the ""Protector of
Aborigines'' who in most cases was the local policeman, who acted as
the agent of the head of the Native Affairs Department, who was the
actual ""Protector''.
People now shake their heads in disbelief to think that just a
couple of decades ago one section of our community had to apply in
writing to their local policeman to get permission to get married! But
that was the situation, written into legislation and enforced.
It was the late 1960s before Aboriginal people were counted as
""human beings'' when a census was taken in Australia. Horses, cattle,
sheep _ even camels and donkeys _ were counted under separate
headings, but Aborigines did not ""officially'' exist.
Cairns nurse Marjorie Baldwin Jones _ who was born in the
Kimberleys 49 years ago _ had her birth noted in the cattle station's
horse book. That's how significant the birth of a part-Aboriginal child
was considered.
Thousands of Aboriginal people were affected by this policy. They
were forcibly separated as children and either fostered out to white
parents or put in a church-run hostel or orphanage.
The children received minimal education and inevitably they were
sent out to work on pastoral properties as domestics or stock workers
Very few were paid proper wages, although many say they were
treated well.
There were, of course, scores of instances where maltreatment
occurred, including unwanted pregnancies among the young women workers.
But no one really cared about their welfare. If one ""played up'' at
his or her employment, they were sent back to the mission and replaced
by a new trainee.
Today, the only real hope for dispossessed and displaced Aborigines
is Link-Up, which investigates cases and attempts to arrange for
related Aboriginal people to reunite.
It is run in Brisbane by Beverly Johnson and since it began a few
years ago it has handled 800 cases.
Some of these people need constant counselling and support, such as
Daphne Bell. She was born in Nowra, New South Wales, and she and her
sister Bertha were put into a home at Cootamundra. They were taken from
their parents following a court order which stated that the children
were dirty and neglected
No effort was ever made to keep the family unit in touch. The girls, along with hundreds just like them, were trained only for
domestic work.
Mrs Bell was severely burned in an accident on a property where she
worked and now wears a wig as a result.
Girls who misbehaved at the Cootamundra home were locked in ""the
morgue'' _ a darkened room used to store food but which once was used
to house bodies before burial.
Link-Up put her in touch with her mother. She saw her twice before
she died. Many others were not so lucky.
THE Queensland Director of Aboriginal and Islander Affairs from 1963
to 1986 was Pat Killoran.
The controversial former public servant, now 73, is sure to draw
fire for his assertions that forced separation did not occur in
Queensland in the time he was involved.
""The concept of protection as such went out in about 1967,'' he
""There were dormitories on some of the communities but they were
for orphaned kids, or parents sometimes would put their kids into
dormitories for schooling and things like that.
""But there were no compulsory removals of any child or any parents
within my knowledge. I am going back to the end of the 30s and 40s.
There was no status in law to say that could, in fact happen. There
were some kids went to (the Aboriginal community) Cherbourg. They say
they were put into dormitories but not compulsorily put there.
""The parents would ask if they could stay there. If there was a
court order where an Aboriginal mother was put into jail or somewhere,
this was a haven for them.
""But certainly from when I became full-time associated with the
department, which would be going back to 1947-48 _ definitely no
compulsory removal of a child _ or its parents being locked up.
""Police protectors were a much-maligned group. As far as I know
there was no prohibition of marriage. If they wanted approval, it was
He says the legislation which controlled their lives was the
Aboriginals Preservation and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act of
1897 and the Aborigines Act of 1939.
""It was a concept to preserve and protect the strain of the race
of Aborigines.
""As for half-caste kids being taken away _ it never happened in
Queensland, not to my knowledge. I am talking of times since the Second
World War. There were none whatsoever after I became Protector.''
NOT every story from this era ends in tragedy, although this one
begins with one.
Alma Henry, of Normanton, now 72, remembers sitting with her sister
on the bank of the Smithburne River in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
It was 1921. They were watching their mother fishing with a
The hook snagged in the thick reeds and their mother climbed out on
a limb and tried to dislodge the snag. She fell into the river,
panicked and became entangled in the reeds and drowned.
The two little girls, Alma, 2, and Lily, 5, were suddenly orphans.
But not for long. Local property owner Margaret Jones, of Lotus
Vale Station, Normanton, took the girls in and gave them a home.
""We were well looked after. We were treated just like family,''
Alma says.
The girls did odd-jobs around the station and in their younger life
were concerned with keeping herd on the goats.
Mrs Henry remembers being out too late at night with the goats and
being frightened of dingoes, so she and her sister would climb a tree
until a stockman came looking for them.
""My sister and I did work around the house and later we did stock
work on the station. We weren't paid money and we never had a day's
schooling, but we were looked after.
""We used to track down the dingo pups and get the scalps for the
bounty that was paid. Also for wild pigs and eagles. I left when, at
age 37, I married Les Henry, a stockman.''
Mrs Henry had three children _ two boys and a girl. Grandson Ross
Chatfield played rugby league and rugby union for Queensland last year
and is now a front-row forward with the Broncos Colts.

SUPPORT: Daphne Bell, at left of the group of girls at Cootamundra,
and today.

NEGLECTED: Naomi Platt still dislikes Christmas and Mother's Day.