"My mother’s greatest fear was to have her children taken from her. Both she and her mother had been removed and she was determined that her children would not suffer the same fate."
My mother was born at Moore River Native Settlement in 1924 and remained there until she was 12 years old when she was sent to Perth to attend a state school.
My grandmother, my mother’s mother, was taken from her mother’s campsite on the outskirts of Ceduna in South Australia at the age of two. Grandmother was placed in a Salvation Army mission in Kalgoorlie. When she was old enough, she was sent to Moore River Native Settlement.
Older females were trained as domestics at Moore River. When trained as a domestic, the girls were then sent to work either on farms, stations or homes in the more affluent suburbs of Perth. It was the suburbs of Perth that my grandmother was sent to work as a domestic.
My grandmother became pregnant to an Englishman who was visiting one of these homes she cleaned. The Englishman wanted to marry and support my grandmother, but because of the times and government policy, was not permitted to do so as it was against the law. My uncle was born in 1922 at Moore River Settlement and remained there for most of his life.
My grandmother was again sent out to clean homes in Perth. She returned to Moore River for a holiday and of course was able to see her young child.
My grandmother became pregnant again, giving birth to my mother in 1924. In order to save my biological grandfather (who was the Aboriginal storeman at Moore River) from going to jail, she named a white man as my mother’s father. Such circumstances were quite a joke in the family as this white man just happened to be passing through at the time. Nevertheless, his name is on my mother’s birth certificate and also in her Native Welfare files.
I remember hearing my grandmother saying the following about the government officials or the protector, “… they thought they were so high and mighty and were always lauding it over us. Well, the mongrels could only write down what we wanted them to write down. I wasn’t the only one they had no idea who the fathers were of many babies.”
My grandmother ended up marrying Frank Narrier and had seven more children. My brothers and sisters and I always referred to Frank Narrier as Grandfather Narrier. He was the only father my mother ever knew and she called him “dad.” Grandfather treated Mum as his own and always referred to her as his daughter. They had a close relationship. Grandfather Narrier worked as a tracker at Moore River Settlement, a positive for Mum as she was able to see more of my grandmother.
Regardless of the position Grandfather held, he and Grandmother had no rights with regard to Grandmother’s two older children. Both had to remain at Moore River Settlement and both came under the protection of A.O Neville, Protector of Aboriginals in Western Australia.
As mentioned earlier, my mother was sent to Perth at the age of twelve to attend a state school. My grandparents were away working at the time and on return to the settlement my mother was gone. The following from my mother’s Native Welfare records is one of the many reports made to Mr. Neville of my mother’s progress.
My mother was educated until she was 16 years old. It was then that she started to rebel. Things were fine until the authorities wanted her to change her name. She was also missing her mother and father. In the hope of going back to Moore River Settlement, my mother refused to attend school and continue with her nursing training.
Rather than being returned to Moore River Settlement, my mother was escorted by a police woman to Carrallup Mission, 295 km south of Perth. Even further from Moore River and her parents. The following letter to her mother shows her devastation and pain.
My mother remained at Carrallup and assisted teaching the younger children until she married her first husband. Once married and out of the mission she made her way back to Moore River, where she gave birth to my oldest brother.
Eventually, my mother returned to the south-west with her husband. After some years, her husband died suddenly leaving my mother with three young children, the youngest being five months. Grief stricken, she returned to her parents for support.
Life in general was difficult for Aboriginal people. It was the late 1940s and many, many Aboriginal children were being removed from families all over the state, both far and wide. My mother’s greatest fear was to have her children taken from her. Both she and her mother had been removed and she was determined that her children would not suffer the same fate.
She sent her eldest daughter to live with her sister and brother-in-law for a short period of time. Aboriginal people received no benefits and, in order to keep her children, my mother went to work whilst her parents helped take care of her children.
My mother worked hard. However, she would not just work for anyone. Knowing and believing money meant power, she chose to only work for the very wealthy. When government officials came, my mother made sure they met her employer, who would inform the government officials that they provided work for my mother and that her children were well cared for.
After forming another relationship, my mother had another child (a girl). However, the relationship did not work out and my mother moved back down south to her in-laws, now with four children. Again she worked, continually stressing and worrying about her children, knowing she was a target for government officials as she had no husband to support her.
My mother worked for a number of years supporting her children as best she could until she met my father. Collectively, they worked hard to keep the family together. However, there was the constant threat of their children being removed. Mum ensured that we were clean, fed, dressed and educated. Such requirements had to be adhered to if you were to keep your children.
Together, my parents worked tirelessly in meeting all such requirements. The living conditions that they endured on the reserve were harsh and, during their earlier years together, they lived in a camp made of tin and hessian bags with a dirt floor. The camp, like so many others on the reserve, was erected by my father.
When I was seven years old, Mum became a Jehovah’s Witness. She liked what she heard from the Jehovah’s Witnesses and for the first time in her life, in 1969 and after the 1967 referendum, she chose a religion she wanted to be, rather than it being forced onto her via a mission.
The family was picked up from the reserve to attend their meetings. They provided us with appropriate clothes and shoes to wear. We followed the teachings very strictly, I used to think sometimes more strictly than some white people. We read the Bible every day and had to apply what we learned.
Looking back, I felt deprived of many things such as Christmas and birthdays. These two events impacted on me as we used to celebrate them and I remembered doing so. Sometimes I just wanted to stay home and watch TV with Dad, but Mum never allowed us to miss the Jehovah Witness meetings.
I remember the last major belting my mother gave me. It was because of the religion. I followed country footy and the grand final was right smack in the middle of one of our Sunday meetings. Most of the meetings I found far too long and boring. I planned the whole thing, making sure to wear the right dress, pretending to have earaches all week, which enabled me to wear a woolen scarf.
I managed to listen to the entire grand final with my new pocket radio and earphones hidden safely away. I was giving my older brother the scores as well and he was passing them on to his friends. I felt important until an elder (minister) ripped the radio and earphones from me and threw them at my mother who just about died of ‘SHAME’.
It wasn’t all bad though. On reflection, I learnt a lot growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness and not just about religion either. However, I will not give the religion credit for the values and principles instilled in me from a young age. Both Mum and Dad had strong values and principles and of course Dad never went to church unless it was a close relative’s funeral.
What I did learn was to socialise with white people. This was something we never ever did prior to Mum becoming a Jehovah’s Witness. We visited many different families and were always welcomed into their homes. This was something Mum always had trouble doing. She never felt good enough and this stayed with her for years. Not many white people were invited into our house.
I remember being invited time and time again to stay overnight at a girl’s house. We were the same age. I kept refusing so her mother approached Mum at one of the meetings and asked if it was possible for me to spend the weekend with them. Mum of course smiled sweetly and said, “Of course Marion can stay for the weekend.”
During that very week, I was given a crash course on how to eat with a knife and fork ‘correctly’. We always ate with just a fork or spoon and if there weren’t any left we ate with our fingers. Mum also made me my first set of Shorty Pyjamas.
This was the beginning of learning the ‘white’ way of doing things. I was just so shocked and surprised that Mum knew all the ways of white people. But of course, at that age, I never appreciated the high standard of education my mother had obtained or her experiences living with wealthy white families.
One of the most important things the religion taught me was ‘Public Speaking’. We were encouraged to give talks from a young age. The talks were only for five or six minutes but we presented them quite regularly and over the years I became a very confident public speaker.
I have also never had any problems mixing with white society unlike so many of my cousins. Like many community groups there were clicks within the religion, we didn’t quite fit into one group as we were not wealthy, but there were also poor white people who never fitted in either.
From the age of 11 to about 14, I visited one family quite often, spending school holidays and weekends with them. I never felt left out or discriminated against when I was with them. Although I felt it by some of their relatives, but no comments were ever made in earshot of this couple.
They were truly a wonderful family who were not just doing their Christian duty. I felt accepted and loved by them and if there is one thing they showed me, it was that there are genuine white people out there who are not and could not be racist against anyone. Because of this family, I have never been racist towards white people. Even though, many have been quite racist towards me.
I feel very strongly about what I have said above about not being racist to white people. The reason is that I have observed and lived amongst people with a fierce hatred of ‘white people’. I have also seen and felt a deep anger towards them. I have been physically attacked, criticised and ostracised for associating with ‘white people’ for most of my life, by my own Aboriginal family and community.
I refused to be intimidated, and stayed loyal to those I had become close to whether they were from my religion, school or local citizens of the town in which I was raised. I believe I did so because of my parents. They forgave, moved forward with their lives, never becoming victims of the past, making the best of all situations, not just the bad. They taught me to do the same and led by example.
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