Uncle Shane on Australia’s shame: ‘We’re the vulnerable ones, the ones without a voice’

Uncle Shane with the author, Dr Camille Nakhid ... "We had no choice. It was all forced on us, including the abuse, ... the slavery." Image: Camille Nakhid

SPECIAL REPORT: It was early November 2016. As I waited for Laura Lyons from Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR), a tall, thin, old-looking man with a young, energetic walk and an even younger grin approached me. He said he was here with Laura who would be arriving soon. Laura arrived looking distressed. Her 10-year-old daughter had just the day before run away again from the residential facility where she was being held.

Following my interview with Laura, Uncle Shane, as he introduced himself to me, said he wanted to tell his story. He said he wanted people to know what it was like being taken away from home and placed in state foster care or in residential care facilities. Uncle Shane said he was here to support GMAR and the work that they do as he never wanted to hear of another Indigenous Australian child being taken away from their family and culture.

As Uncle Shane told his story, he became angry at what had happened to him and others he knew, and at what was still taking place. Despite his anger, I was in awe at his apparent lack of bitterness and the enthusiastic and positive approach he had. But his past must have had some impact because I had thought Uncle Shane was in his mid-70s. In fact, Uncle Shane had just turned 59.

This is the story that Uncle Shane wanted to share as told to Dr Camille Nakhid:  

Uncle Shane: I’ve written to them, to the government, and to the opposition — suggesting to them that they should start concentrating on those who’ve perpetrated the crimes against us, you know, ex-state wards – against the children such as us. We are the vulnerable ones, the ones without the voice.

Uncle Shane had been removed from an abusive family home only to be placed in an even more abusive state system from 1959-1982.

Which we had none. We had no choice. It was all forced on us, including the abuse, the abuse of drugs to testing for pharmacies, and the abuse of the slavery of the hours, long hours. Five in the morning until 11 at night, seven days a week. That’s long hours. No play, no birthday cards, no presents, nothing.

In the morning, I’d have to get up at five o-clock, we’d do the dairy. That finishes at nine. We’d do that, we go up to the house, polish all the floors.

And then we do the laundry, all day, and then we do the dairy in the afternoon, then we go back up the house and scrub all the pots. Or, you know, other chores that need to be done in the house. Polish all the floors by hand. With long hours, no play. You know, that’s all gone. The time you spent playing in parks with kids, that’s all gone. I see that today and I’m really angry. Because we didn’t get it. You know, it’s gone.

We’ve lost that. We’ll never get that back. And no human being has the right to take that away from us. You know, we couldn’t even go to our – you can’t even have friends. Outside, outside they go to their friend’s place and they play, and they go to beaches, they go to – forget about that, that’s all gone. That wasn’t allowed. All we did was work. And all we did was whatever they wanted us to do. We were physically and sexually abused. We were at the mercy of them. That’s terrible. That’s not a way to treat a human being.

But I’m angry with the government because it hasn’t done anything. You know, it holds a royal commission, it’s only to shut up people, you know, because of the talk. When the abuse come out to the public, what’s the best way to shut the public up? What do you do as a government?

‘You get a media spin together’
You panic, you quickly get a media spin together, and you quickly turn it into a spin, a song and dance. And you say: “We’re going to hold a royal commission”. That should shut everything down. That should shut down the public talking and getting angry with the government of the day.

So you’re no better off.

How are you better off? You’re not safe at home, so you’re taken away and even then if you’d read the reports, the very DoCS department was at the home when these things were happening. And still nothing happened to protect you. They didn’t step up to the plate. Not a way to treat a human being – is it?

No clothes on a kid, walking around, smelly, wet urine all over the place – and you’re not going to go and write a report about that and take the kid away somewhere safe? You’re not going to step up to the plate and help that kid?

Now, I’m hoping to wake the people up, you know. To shake them up and to wake them up to the injustice out there of children like us, you know, people like us.

I forget my tribe. I don’t know the name of it but I’ve been accepted down here in Sydney by my step-brother, which is the Wiradjuri.

We’ve got a lot of injustice, as you know, in Australia. It’s not like any other – some countries have some, which I’ve watched injustice there – But we have a lot here.

I fail to see the benefit of taking children away from their parents. I don’t see the benefit. If DoCS is trying to punish the children, then they’re doing a good job. If they’re trying to punish the parents, they’re doing a good job. So I don’t understand what they’re trying to do.

‘They should set up a home visiting programme’
I believe that they should set up a home visiting programme where the department should come into the home and work with the parents.

It’s not what the parents can do for the department, but what the department should be doing for the children and the parents.

There’s so much injustice – the culture is stolen right beneath us. Their culture is being pushed, you know, into the children of today. What they should be doing, is doing what people are doing in New Zealand and letting the elders take over and letting them decide how their children should be brought up.

Not like these government departments. They’re, to me, government departments only amp up the situation and make the situation worse, as you’ve seen.

I just think that, you know, the United Nations should’ve been doing more. All they’ve done is close their eyes on all this. They must’ve seen what was going on. They must see, they must know what’s going on. But they don’t raise their eyebrows to the abuse.

In the Northern Territory — the children that were abused there, they’re only now being mentioned by the UN Human Rights giving the Australian government a stern warning. But what they should’ve done is do that years ago. This has been going on for many, many years. This is not just a one-year off, you know, or a two-year trick.

It should be the community that should decide what should happen to the children. It should be the parents and the whole community to be involved in what they want for their own community and what they want for their own parents, you know, from what they want for their own children. And their housing, their legal services, all that has been cut as you are aware.

‘You never know what fight’s next’
Uncle Shane is a volunteer with GMAR.

GMAR teaches us further stuff as well, which is good. You never know what’s going to come around that corner. You never know what fight’s there for you.

It was only two months ago we held a rally in Campbelltown and we set that up, put it together with everybody and the first time they didn’t bite.

The second time outside the courthouse they bit. At the end I did ring them up and I told them: “We’re gonna keep doing this, we’re gonna keep coming back until the woman’s kids were given back. The next job we’re gonna do after the court case, we’re coming into your office –  And we’re not moving”.

We’ve got a hell of a struggle ahead.

Look at my case. The royal commission said to me, wanted to ask one question: “How the hell…did you survive?” Hope.

And hope’s a dangerous word for people like us. Hope is a very dangerous word. You’re hoping, you’re just praying that you get out of there one day. You know, they could have kept me further – You know, much more than 22 years. And in there, you probably notice, that they did pretend I was 80 percent retarded.

So these are the names you’re left with. The stigma that they put on you. When, if anything, the only thing you don’t have is the education — because of them.

Associate Professor Camille Nakhid has written a series of articles about the Stolen Generations. Other articles can be viewed here. Pacific Media Watch contributing editor Kendall Hutt assisted with today’s publication by transcribing the interview.

Other Stolen Generation stories on Asia Pacific Report:

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Professor Camille Nakhid is from Trinidad and Tobago and is in the School of Social Sciences at Auckland University of Technology. She has a BSc in Chemistry from New York, and completed a Diploma in Secondary Teaching in Chemistry and Mathematics, a Masters in Education Administration (Hons), and a Doctor of Education (EdD) in New Zealand. Camille's research interests include: the sociology of education; the social construction of identity; appropriate research methodologies for marginalised and minority groups; race and ethnicity; and Māori and Pasifika academic achievement. She is chairperson of the Pacific Media Centre Advisory Board and a contributor to Asia Pacific Report.