Remembering the past, celebrating the present and walking towards to future, Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation (Coota Girls) has released a short film which shares the stories of Stolen Generation descendants.

Walking Our Songlines was launched on Gadigal Country last week and hopes to truth-tell about the forced removals and institutionalisation of former residents of the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls.

The film features stories of four Coota Girls’ descendants, Peter Townsend, Cherie Johnson, Joanne Cassady and Bobby-Ann Trindall, and their journeys of healing and connection to culture, community and Country.

Gamilaraay and Weilwun woman Meagan Gerrard is the Programs and Communications officer at Coota Girls and a third generation Stolen Generations person.

Gerrard is the granddaughter of Aunty Lorraine Peeters, who was removed from Country at just four-years-old.

Gerrard imagined Walking Our Songlines through her lived experience.

“It was conceptualised from my lived experience as a third generation Stolen Generations person. It was created for two main reasons, to inspire Stolen Generations families —  specifically Coota Girls families — survivors and their descendants and also to highlight the descendants’ voice,” she said.

“We often hear of the survivors’ stories but there isn’t a great deal out there … that highlights the voices of descendants and the healing journey that we are on.”

Cherie Johnson is a Gomeroi and Weilwun woman, her grandmother Rachel Darcy was born on Weilwun Country and removed at the age of 14.

“She was the eldest. I was privileged people to have spent a lot of my childhood with my nan. The stories she told us and also the very absence of stories that she didn’t want to talk about,” Johnson said.

“I remember my Aunty Francis … saying, ‘Why are you asking about things like that? Let it go’.” 

Johnson’s mother was also removed for a period of time, and Johnson is the first generation not to be removed in her family.

“I was always raised strong as an Aboriginal woman … it’s every part of my being and that is what attracted me to being part of the documentary. Its purpose was to inspire and encourage those who felt lonely and isolated, that there are ways that you can get connected.

“There are ways you can connect with Country, creator and culture — it is not second best. It can be life altering and can heal you.”

Gerrard and Johnson noted the healing process of making Walking Our Songlines.  

“The trauma for us as Aboriginal people is more complex than what others may experience because we are experiencing it on so many levels, spiritually, emotionally, physically, and we’ve wanted to highlight that our healing journey is really complex,” said Gerrard.

“The amazing thing was that through the interview process, the same thing was coming up. It wasn’t rehearsed, we hadn’t met each other before. We know as Aboriginal people, our spirit and those connections, that is who we are. And it shines through in this film.

“We really looked after one another during the interview process, we are so connected to one another as Aboriginal people. We knew we had each other’s back; we were always briefing and yarning.

“Even though there is sadness, grief and loss attached to all of it, it is a happy and empowering feeling to go through something like this knowing you can help someone on their journey.”

“When you see something like this, you see that other people have navigated it and have survived — there is so much power in hearing other people’s stories just as there is power in telling yours,” added Johnson.

“I get excited about the fruit of what this could do … we are never going to understand the full impact of this.”

Both Johnson and Gerrard are mothers to young children, who inspire them in all they do. The women hope that Walking Our Songlines will inspire healing along family lines and truth-telling in mainstream society.

By Rachael Knowles