Stage 3 students at St Columba’s had the incredible honour of listening to a talk delivered by Wadi Wadi Elder, Aunty Chris, the beautiful grandmother of students Braith Finney and Nash Gundry. Also joining us was Louise Campbell from the Catholic Schools Office. Louise and Aunty Chris have worked together in the past, and it was very special that they could share in this experience at our school.
Aunty Chris shared her story of being an Aboriginal girl growing up amid the stolen generations. We learnt how she and her sister repeatedly eluded the men in the “big black car” who came to take the children away. How she was told she was not worth educating as she would only ever become a servant. She shared the harrowing recount of her teenage years living in a convent and how her anger, discriminatory treatment and trauma could easily have shaped the rest of her life.
It was astounding to hear about her later teenage years and how she was finally showed love when working with elderly returned soldiers. From here, Aunty Chris decided to live her best life, and what a life she has lived.
Finally, Aunty Chris shared her experience of sitting in Parliament House while prime minister Kevin Rudd delivered his “Sorry” speech – a monumental event in Australia’s history and a huge step in our Reconciliation journey.
Aunty Chris demonstrated to all students and staff who had the pleasure of listening to her speech that anything can be accomplished with a willingness to listen, resilience, forgiveness, and determination.
Today, Aunty Chris is a proud mother, grandmother and elder. Her amazing life and career centres around her Aboriginal culture and mentoring others.
We at St Columba’s are truly blessed to have met Aunty Chris and hear her unforgettable story. We certainly look forward to having her back with us again soon.
Following are some of the student responses when asked to recall Aunty Chris's story.
60 years ago, a three-year-old girl named Christine was struggling to help her sister while her mum was sick. Chrissy's mother was a very ill lady and was often in hospital. Being only 3 at the time, Chrissy had no idea what was going to happen to her once the big black car came but her aunt’s reaction of "Get in the car! Drive as far away as you can!" made Christine realise this was serious. "What's happening?" Christine tries to ask. It was too late for any questions. Soon the big black car would come again. This is the beginning of Aunty Chris's story.
Fact or fiction? As tragic as this sounds, it is in fact the true story of Chris Finney, a strong Aboriginal woman who shared her story of growing up Aboriginal, with Years 5 and 6.
During this time, Aboriginal children were at risk of getting abducted by big black cars that were sent by the government. Children who were taken in this car often never saw their parents again and were raised in dormitories with basically no privacy, so Chris and her sister did not want to be taken away from their families.
One memory she has is when she saw the big black car arrive in the middle of winter, her and her sister ran outside in just their nightclothes and climbed an apple tree in the freezing cold. They had to stay there for hours until the dust from the cars driving away appeared, letting them know that the cars had left. However, they had to stay up there for another hour to see whether or not they came back. It is something I cannot imagine having to go through as a child.
This true story is inspiring to others, showing how hatred is not the only form of emotion to show towards those who have done wrong against you. This story also shows the importance of determination and how it can get you a long way in life.
By Ben Lawlor – Year 5
Aunty Chris was three years old when she first remembers effects of the stolen generation. She is now 63 years old. Her family was afraid and so was she. Many times the big black car belonging to the government came to and from Aunty Chris's old shack. This car was purely to torture them and take them from their parents. It drove around looking for Aboriginal kids to take. One time, just when the big black car had left, Aunty Chris and her sister thought they were safe inside the house, but the government car came back. Aunty Chris and her sister couldn't go outside – they would be seen. They hid under an old bed in the only bedroom in the small house and their aunty came and sat on the creaky bed. It was only when the people from the big black car came into the room, only then, the two sisters turned to see a king brown snake curled up the corner. Her sister was crying but Aunty Chris's hand was firmly clamped over her mouth. If they were caught, they would be taken. The people left and everybody cried. No one was safe and she spent many years of her childhood moving from one place to the next. Years later, Chris's neighbours came over to look after her when her mum was in hospital and they were talking behind her back. "I don't think she's going to make it.” Chris wasn't happy. She ran off to the laundry and got a broom and started whacking them as they were speaking so badly about her mum. The neighbour slapped Chris on the face and said: "You will amount to nothing!" They were going to be sorry.
As Chris got older, she realised that retaliating would be useless. After all she had gone through, Chris wouldn't stoop as low as the many years of government had. When Kevin Rudd apologised she figured that the best words to hear are not "I love you" or "thank you". The best words you can hear after years of pain, hardship and fright are "I'm sorry" and the best way to show you're sorry is by your actions. Chris was fortunate to be in Parliament House during Kevin Rudd's speech and she has mixed memories of this day. She is so grateful for the apology, but she realises it is just the first step in moving forward together.
By Emily Anderson – Year 5
Aunty Chris not only spoke with Stage 3 students at St Columba’s. She was also kind enough to visit and share her story with Stage 3 students at St Joseph’s at Merewether, St Joseph’s at Charlestown, and St Francis Xavier’s at Belmont.
St Joseph’s at Merewether was privileged that Aunty Chris played a part in its endeavour to increase its awareness of Reconciliation Week and Indigenous culture. National Reconciliation Week is the time for all Australians to learn about our history, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. Reconciliation must live in the hearts, minds, and actions of all Australians as we move forward creating a nation strengthened by respectful relationships between the wider Australian community and our Indigenous people.
Our Year 5 and 6 students, our younger students with an Indigenous background, and some of our parents, came together to hear how Aunty Chris was not a stolen generations child but one whose life has been deeply affected by this practice. She shared many stories. Due to illness, her mother was declared “unfit”, and Aunty Chris and her siblings were unable to live with her. They lived with their father and an aunty and had to stay inside to play as it was too risky to be outside, lest they be “stolen”. She told of having to climb into a dark water tank and stay in there until it was safe to come out. They were unable to play with nearby cousins on a mission as Aunty Chris had an Aboriginal mother and a white father and only full Aboriginals were allowed on the mission site.
When she was about seven, the family lived together again for a while, however her parents were unable to get married as it was not legal for a white person to marry an Indigenous person. Her mother became ill again as did her father, who had fought in two wars, and when the neighbours came in to assist they said disparaging racist comments about her parents and told her that she would never amount to anything as she was a “hopeless black”. She took great offence at this and resolved to show them they were wrong.
She began high school, though left after being accused of cheating in a test. The teachers felt her scores could only be a result of cheating and forced her to strip down to her underwear to locate her notes.
Work in the returned servicemen’s home led her to believe she had something to offer others and that she was cared for, valued, and loved. Chris then went on to work in a hospital as well as a youth detention centre. She had found her calling – working with children who, like her, had been affected by trauma in their lives. She was able to ease her pain by helping others get through their hurt.
Aunty Chris followed the words of Pope John Paul II, who, when he was in Australia for the bicentenary urged Aboriginals to make their contribution to the country as well as feel the right to be welcomed by all those in our country.
Aunty Chris’s life experiences taught her the importance of speaking up and not being afraid to ask questions. The messages that she passed included the importance of doing things for others because everyone is important, and no one is in a position to judge anyone else. She has the deepest respect for all, and she is thankful for her life. She urged our children to walk with respect, to respect one another but also to respect themselves. If you don’t do these things you are not taking responsibility, and you will not form quality relationships in your life. She also reminded them that it costs nothing to be kind. These were strong messages, and the children were receptive towards hearing and learning from Aunty Chris.
A particularly poignant moment in the afternoon was when one of our students asked her to describe her school years and her response was, “friendless, lonely, unworthy and unloved”. This greatly affected both the children and adults in the room and this simple response really impressed upon us the trauma our Indigenous people have experienced.
We are so grateful to Aunty Chris for spending time with us, for reminding ask to give ourselves the opportunity to grow and learn to be the best people we can be. We hope all our students will be as thankful for their lives as she is for hers and to be aware that regardless of the background we come from we all have choices and we need to take responsibility and make them, and to be open to all people and full of hope.
St Mary's Primary School at Warners Bay turned a word into an action for National Sorry Day.
About 350 students from Kindergarten to Year 6, as well as teachers, dressed up in red, yellow, and black shirts and spelled out the word "SORRY" in the school playground. A drone then took a picture of the formation.
It was St Mary’s way of apologising for the pain and injustices afflicted upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly the Stolen Generations.
The initiative was the idea of the school's Aboriginal education teacher Megan Bloxom, who learned to fly a drone especially for the day and turned up at the school at 7am to mark the spots for the students to stand.
Ms Bloxom explained to the students that “sorry” should be more than just a word, which was the theme for Reconciliation Week.
"The first step in mending any relationship is apologising for causing hurt," Ms Bloxom said. "Saying sorry – and demonstrating that you mean it – is vital for friendships to continue to grow and become strong."