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Old home may have graves of children

Jess Whaler -

Warning: this article contains distressing content.

Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation called this month for all identified anomalies at the former site of the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home to be immediately prioritised for excavation, and for further surveys to be conducted to search for additional disturbances, after initial investigations found mass graves could be on the site.

In December 2021, following a request by the survivor groups, the Murrumbidgee Archaeological Heritage Company were engaged by the NSW Office of Aboriginal Affairs to undertake ground penetrating radar searches of the site that was formerly Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home. Following the field work, the organisation produced a report with findings that would suggest a prompt excavation of the site is required to uncover what could be a number of unmarked graves of Aboriginal children.

Earlier this month Guardian Australia reported that the NSW government received the report six months ago, highlighting "high priority anomalies" in the ground at the home, which show "signal patterns that in other contexts have proven to be human burials" and cannot be explained by other information sources.

The report detailed anomalies in the ground consistent with clandestine burials.

From 1883 to 1969, the New South Wales government forcibly removed Aboriginal children from their families under the Aborigines Protection Board and Aborigines Welfare Board (AP/WB). Children who were stolen, were sent to live in 'homes' such as the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home, which has long held a reputation for being one of the most brutal residences of this period.

The Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home was built on the lands of the Dhungutti people on the mid north coast of NSW and housed Aboriginal boys from the age of five to fifteen. It is estimated that up to 600 Aboriginal children were subjected to violent inhumane treatment throughout their time at the home, a horror that continued for over fifty years.

The boys were given numbers and were not to refer to each other by names. Victims have reported that if names were used, this would result in beatings.

There are only 56 survivors alive today. Advocates are calling for prompt action so the remaining survivors can potentially see a measure of justice and resolution.

Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC) chief executive Tiffany McComsey told Guardian Australia: "The Uncles want to be able to move forwards with their hopes to turn the site into a healing centre and museum. Until the anomalies are investigated, they are stuck in limbo."

"Every generation of survivors that went through Kinchela boys' home has this story around missing children and boys being there one night and then the next morning, not there anymore. And it's that pain, it's that unfinished business that they just want finished," she said.

KBHAC has stated that Aboriginal children were exposed to routine acts of cultural genocide between 1924 to 1970. The home was operated by the New South Wales government under the AP/WB with former residents reporting that staff had military backgrounds and that boys would go missing.

Kinchela Boys' Home Aboriginal Corporation board member Uncle Roger Jarrett said in a statement that the report must "be published because the truth has got to come out".

"For the future, it's important to get the truth done, because a lot of stuff has been covered over by the government," he said.

"For our justice and for our healing for all our brothers. To be realistic [additional surveys] need to go down 3 or 4 metres to actually do a proper job…otherwise it's a typical government cover up. Hopefully this makes the news around the world… and makes some people think and do the right thing by us. As a child when you're taken you lose your identity, your culture, the lot. And you also lose your love and your heart, which is still buried in that place now. So all the boys feel the same: we gotta get it back, to say we're free and not locked in that hell anymore."

Kinchela Boys' Home Aboriginal Corporation board chairperson Uncle Michael 'Widdy' Welsh said: "This is truth-telling."

"It's all about family: the truth that we talk about is something we held inside of ourselves, because we had fear about talking about it," he said.

"Getting our voice out there, we're being heard. Each and every person who reads that paper will have a better understanding of us and themselves. Their policies took us away from our families. I want their policies to give us back our heritage and build back our families. We know what works for us: the government needs to give us resources so we can make our families and communities strong again."

Bardi Kija person, education specialist and Oxford scholar Sharon Davis, told National Indigenous Times: "stories like this are not unfamiliar to me, with my family members either being taken from Country and being placed in a Mission or being born and raised there".

"I think most Indigenous people have some connection to stories like the Kinchela Boys Home... In the US, hundreds of unmarked graves of Native Americans, mainly children, are being uncovered on the sites of former boarding schools. Survivors there talk about the need for closure and being able to give the children that lost their lives at the institutions a proper burial.

"Indigenous survivors of KBHAC and other missions or children's homes in Australia have waited long enough. Truth-telling is an important part of healing for Stolen Generations survivors; they deserve justice and reparations.

"Being from WA, I am familiar with the Stolen Generations' stories across the state. Having worked in Catholic Education, I am quite familiar with New Norcia, south of Perth. I was saddened to learn that over 1500 Aboriginal children died at New Norcia during the hundred or so years it was opened, and none of these children's deaths were logged nor were they buried properly. There are over 300 graves at New Norcia cemetery, however many are unmarked and believed to be those of Aboriginal children. Noongar people have been asking for support to identify the unmarked graves of at least 50 children for years. This fight is still ongoing."

Sharon Davis said if Stolen Children's graves are found in clandestine burial sites at the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home grounds, "surely there will be further investigation into the grounds surrounding other institutions across the country".

"I think it is incredibly important for the government to immediately pursue further exploratory works at KBHAC that is led by survivors. If governments are committed to reconciliation, then this kind of truth-telling should be at the top of their list."

NSW Minister for Aboriginal Affairs David Harris told National Indigenous Times he acknowledged the hurt that Survivors, their families and communities "may be feeling today after the public release of details relating to this highly sensitive report".

"At every stage of this project, Aboriginal Affairs NSW has worked alongside Survivor Organisations with 'respectful urgency' on the matter of the memories and stories of missing children of the Stolen Generations," he said.

"Kempsey Local Aboriginal Land Council, as the owners of the site, granted access to the site in good faith to undertake this very sensitive and important work. As a result of that work, a report was prepared for and given to Kinchela Boy's Home Survivor organisation for their consideration and to determine next steps in line with the Aboriginal Cultural and Intellectual Property protocols.

"While at all times respecting the cultural authority of the Survivors and carefully navigating the protection of their information, Aboriginal Affairs NSW sought advice from the relevant government authorities.

"We will continue working with Survivors to progress the commitments that raise awareness about the Stolen Generations and to listen carefully to Survivors' aspirations that enable people to reflect and learn more about history and healing for Aboriginal families and communities. Missing children forms an important and sensitive part of this commitment.

"We will continue to work with Kinchela Boy's Home Survivor organisation and Kempsey Local Aboriginal Land Council on these issues," the Minister said.

Federal Minister Linda Burney has since called for an investigation into the claims of the report and Minister Harris has now scheduled meetings with all parties to determine next steps.

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