Back in the early 90s, I was living in Toowoomba, Queensland, and I went over to the Kimberley, to Halls Creek, to visit. My Mum wasn’t feeling well and was lying on the bed, and she called out to me and said, “Come here. I want to tell you something.”
And she said:
“Back in the late 1930s (when she was a young girl), the police — it was their job to go and get the mixed-race kids off cattle properties and wherever they were, and send them to different institutions. In the Kimberley, it was to Beagle Bay, to Forrest River Mission and Moolaboola settlement.”
“The authorities knew that there were mixed-race kids living at Lansdowne Station in the Kimberley, so the police went up there on horseback and there was a disagreement there” — with my grandfather. He had a little property there. He was white, from England, and he was living with my grandmother.
In those days, black and white weren’t allowed to marry. It was against the Australian policy, but they still co-habited. They weren’t legally married, but they still co-habited, and my grandad and my grandmother produced my mum.
When my mum was about seven or eight, the authorities went to Lansdowne and my grandfather had a fight with the two policemen. My granddad was a big fellow and he flogged the two police.
Then he rode up the paddock, just to cool off, and while he was away, the police took my grandmother and her sister and marched them to Fitzroy. My grandmother and her sister had a cuff around their necks and a chain tied to the saddle of the police.
At night they gave them some food, allowed them to go to the toilet, then put chains around their ankles so they wouldn’t escape. They were in handcuffs and in chains. But my mother was running alongside through the hills following them.
But when my mum got tired, the police put her on the saddle and carried her on the horse to Fitzroy. It took about three days from Lansdowne to Fitzroy, with my grandmother and her sister in chains.
What was done to my grandmother and my mother by the authorities, she said to me not to have any grudge against them — to forgive them. And I said to her: “Well why didn’t you tell me that when I was growing up?” And my mum said: “I didn’t want to tell you that because I didn’t want it poisoning your mind.”
I said: “Well, why are you telling me that?” and she said: “Your full-blood grandmother found Jesus and asked Him to come into her life.” She realised that “the Lord said that if you don’t forgive, He won’t forgive you and you’ll be in bondage for the rest of your life — you’ll be tormented by demons.” So, my grandmother gave her life to the Lord Jesus Christ, and she told my mum not to have any grudge against what the police did to her.
When my mum and grandmother finally got to Fitzroy, my grandmother worked in the little old post office for a little while. My Mother knew what had happened to my Grandmother, so when the police were coming back through to Fitzroy to pick up mixed-race kids in the paddy wagon, she ran away down the creek. The police chased her on horseback and grabbed her by the hair and she was screaming. They put her in the paddy wagon because she was of mixed race and they sent her to Moolaboola station.
Another mixed-race girl was in that paddy wagon. She was Maudie Bedford. She became a Christian later and they became life-long friends. My Mother was at Moolaboola for over twenty years, and that’s where we were born and grew up.
When Moolaboola closed in 1955, I was about eight years old. We were heading down to Fitzroy in an old truck. It took about a day and a half to get to Fitzroy. As we were getting closer towards Fitzroy, my mum was getting really happy, and I said to my mum: “Why are you so happy?” and my mum said: “Oh, my mother lives here. I’ve never seen her since I was a child.”
See, her mother was a black woman, but the government separated us from the blacks. And we were known as coloureds or half-castes. And my mum said: “My mum is here at Fitzroy, and she is a full-blood woman.”
We went to Fitzroy in ’55 and my mum met my grandmother — her mother — in 1957 when she walked in from Gogo Station to Fitzroy and they met in the river at Fitzroy. But then my grandmother died later in the hospital at Fitzroy in ’58, she passed away. I only saw her for about two years. But she was a Christian, and she told my mum, “Don’t hold any grudge against them. Let them go.”
So, my mum told me not to hold anything against the police for what they did — to let them go. You can’t blame the people today for what happened in the past, but you can forgive.
This story about my mother and my grandmother haunted me for years. When I was living in a city in the eastern states, a white man from one of the churches approached me in the street. He said to me: “You Aboriginal people are going to hell because of the colour of your skin.” So, I said to him: “I’ve got more chance of getting into Heaven than you!” He asked, “Why is that?”
I said: “Take a look at yourself. You’re a white man. I’ve got more chance than you because my skin is the same colour as Jesus’ skin. He was a brown man like me!” He was shocked: “I never realised that!” and he went on his way.
I’m not Aborigine — I’m Australian! I’m from both sides: I’m part-black and I’m part-white as well. My father comes from the Gidja tribe in the east Kimberley and he had an Irish father. My mother is from the Gooniyandi tribe in the west Kimberley, and she had an English father. I am Australian.
After my time in the eastern states, I came back to the Kimberley and worked for Argyle Diamonds. This story about my Mother and Grandmother and what that man said to me about my skin colour continued to plague and haunt me.
So one night in my distressed state of mind, I prayed to the Lord of Heaven. This is what I prayed:
“Lord, when I get to heaven I want to search the whole of heaven for my black grandmother. If I don’t find her in Heaven, then I’m going to ask You to cast me into hell to be with her, because You are a racist god.”
But the Lord responded straight away: “Your grandmother is here in heaven with Me.” And a tremendous burden lifted and left me.
[Photo by Gus Moretta