On February 13, 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stood in Parliament and apologised to the victims of the Stolen Generations.
A powerful moment in history, the National Apology is remembered each year as an acknowledgement from Government to the wrongs of the past and a step towards Reconciliation.
Survivors of the Kinchela Boys Home (KBH), one of the most well-known Aboriginal Children’s Homes in New South Wales, are taking their stories on the road.
Survivors of the home will be travelling across the state in the nation’s first Stolen Generations Mobile Education Centre (MEC) to tell their experiences of their time at Kempsey’s children’s home.
More than 500 boys were sentenced to KBH, their stories still being told by the surviving 63 men fifty years after the closing of the gates.
Many of the men taken to the home were removed under government policy that stated the children would have a ‘better’ life. However, for many of the survivors, KBH was a life sentence and removing them from their families and homelands was an act of cultural genocide.
Boys were subject to regular cultural, physical, emotional and sexual abuse and were denied their names; instead given numbers.
The MEC was launched at Carriageworks in Sydney, taking place on the 12th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations.
KBH survivor and KBH Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC) Chairperson Lester Maher was present at the MEC launch.
Maher was stripped of his name and given the title #11.
“We never knew who we were. I never knew my mother. I didn’t know my father. Our language was taken from us. If we tried to speak our Aboriginal language at Kinchela we were bashed,” he said.
“A lot of the locals who were driving past KBH saw a swimming pool and happy little kids, but they didn’t realise what was going on behind closed doors and the way we were being treated.
“There was no love there, there was no family. It was a place of rules and regulations, a place of punishment. We didn’t do anything wrong but they still imprisoned us.”
A refurbished bus, designed and developed by survivors, the MEC will feature artwork by KBH survivor, Uncle Richard Campbell, who was given the number #28.
Only recently could Campbell speak about what he experienced at KBH. Campbell and four of his siblings were removed from their family and sent to court in Macksville and wrongfully charged with neglect.
“After they dropped me and my brother off at Kinchela they took off with my three younger sisters. I could hear them crying and screaming going down the road,” he said.
“First thing, the manager just started belting into us. He said ‘You’re not Richard Campbell’ – bang. ‘You’re #28’ – bang. ‘You’re not black, you’re white’ – bang. This was all in between hits around the head. Not with the hand, it was a fist. Imagine a grown man’s fist.
“Welcome to Kinchela Boys Home.”
At the launch, KBHAC debuted a touching animation that will be a feature of the MEC during its travels.
The launch also saw performances and speeches from Children of Bomaderry Aboriginal Children’s Home, Coota Girls Aboriginal Corporation, the Stolen Generations Council NSW/ACT and other dignitaries.
The MEC inspired hopes for the future. A safe space for truth-telling and education, the centre will seek to educate so that the policies, attitudes and experiences suffered by the survivors will never again appear in Australia.
MEC will also reconnect survivors with communities they were stolen from.
By Rachael Knowles