Sunday, November 14, 2010

Forgotten Australians

Looking through my State Ward file yesterday (yes, I am one of the Forgotten Australians, the 500,000 individuals who were placed in institutional care in Australia) and I discovered that I have another half brother whose name is Henrikus. He was born in 1959 and was also a State Ward. This information was never divulged to me by authorities or by my mother and so was both shock and revelation. Of course, I promptly telephoned my half-sister Lauren to pass on this news. The conversation was brief and I've yet to find out how this information has impacted upon her. I had a little cry for my lost half-brother. He's out there somewhere, perhaps he's trying to find us?
The words that resonate mostly with me from K. Rudd's apology are: We reflect too today on the families who were ripped apart simply because they had fallen on hard times. Hard times brought about by illness, by death and by poverty. Some simply left destitute when fathers damaged by war could no longer cope.
I should say that I was luckier than many. I was brought up by my maternal grandmother, but experienced humiliation, degradation and separation anxiety when I was periodically placed in institutional care between the ages of five and a half and sixteen years old, in various Melbourne organizations ~ some State run, some run by Catholic nuns. I mostly remember the cold, overcrowded, dehumanising regimented environment where children were numbers more than people. I remember too, the injections ~ many children in institutions were experimented upon without their consent. I remember the lack of love or affection. Most children were placed in institutional care because their parents were considered 'unfit' and yet, this 'unfitness', at least for our family was not to do with that old eugenic idea of being born from 'bad stock' ~ lack of intellect or unwanted genetic mutations, it was primarily that six years of being a soldier in WW2 had taken its toll on my father and he coped with poverty and unemployment as many did, with alcohol. There are many who might question why a woman (my mother) living in poverty with a man who was an alcoholic would have so many children. There was familial and societal expectations in the 1950s that women would bear at least four children whether they were poor or well off and women either didn't have access to birth control or didn't want to avail themselves of birth control techniques because they were Catholics. What I have been struggling with most of my life is the notion of 'not being good enough' and whilst the adult me is quite adamant that I am indeed good enough, the child within me still finds it difficult to accept. I know that I am not the only person who has had this struggle. We all struggle in our own way to either accept or overcome our limitations and deal with our childhood history, which remains an abiding legacy. This blog today is an acknowledgment of the pain of my own childhood and a note to my half-brother, who was not forgotten - just not known about until now.


  1. Julie, the honest sharing of your life and feelings is a way for others to understand their dark times, thank you.

    I will be watching SBS tonight at 8.30' The Forgotten Australians', thinking about the people who share my biology and the impact of circumstances and inequality metered out so unjustly.

    A drink in Richmond to bring together the new generation will be a good way to discuss the past and enjoy the present. I will be in touch soon.


  2. I was not aware of the SBS program - so missed it - you must tell me about it when we meet up.