real life

'My mum was stolen from her mum. Please stop telling me to "get over it."'

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1966 was the year my mother was illegally taken from her mother. Or at least we think it was.

Government documents aren’t able to confirm my mother’s year of birth (or her father’s) but we do know that she was placed into a foster home at the age of three here in Sydney. My mother was my grandmother’s third stolen child, but not the last. All 12 of her children were forcibly removed from her care and love during the 1960s and 1970s.

You see, my mother was born in Bourke, NSW. What should have a been a simple life living on Gamilaroi Country where her ancestors and family had always called home instead turned into a life of trauma, hopelessness and mental health issues.

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My mother, who should have grown up knowing her mother, siblings, culture, language, who should have had a happy life, was given anything but.

This severely impacted her ability to parent and love my sister and I.

A week before my mother was to be reunited with her mother at the age of 19, her foster father sat her down and told her that her mother was tragically murdered by her ex-partner over an opal. Yes, an opal. Something that would have been worth next to nothing today.

My grandmother was murdered in the most horrific way and I hate that I found out by reading a report from Link Up when I was 10 years old.

Although I knew better than to read the report, I was desperate to know more about my family. You can’t prepare yourself to learn of a traumatic family history at any age.

My grandmother, Joan West. Image: Supplied.
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As my mother’s ability to parent was negatively impacted, my sister and I grew up in a house that lacked the basic necessities needed to thrive. I don’t hold any resentment towards my mother because how can I expect her to give us the love we needed when she never got the love she needed?

Sadly, stories like this aren’t isolated for those of us related Stolen Generations survivors. Personally, it has taken me 27 years to heal to the point where I’m in the position to chase the life I have always desired without the weight of my past on my shoulders. I consider myself one of the lucky ones because I know some never make it out of the trauma.

I do often feel like I started 10 steps behind everyone else because of my upbringing. I look to my non-Indigenous counterparts I went to school with and I see them buying houses, getting engaged and having children but then there’s me sitting on the sideline of life processing the intergenerational trauma that was handed down to me.

That’s the thing about trauma. It’s given to you by no choice of your own. You don’t choose it and sadly in this country, that’s pretty much the narrative of every First Nations person.

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Whilst we’re trying to process our trauma, we hear too many voices telling us to “get over it” and “move on, it’s in the past".

Yes, I didn’t think of doing that before so thank you for changing my life with that suggestion.

It was tough to grow up not knowing or being surrounded by family. I struggle to relate with others around me when they reminisce on happy childhood memories involving their loved ones.

Thankfully though, one of my beautiful aunties tracked many of us down when she worked for Link Up NSW 20 years ago but only in recent years have many members of our family built up the emotional strength to meet one another.

I am still yet to meet some of my aunties and uncles but I recognise they have gone through experiences that I could never understand. I hope that wherever they are, they know they have a niece who is here with open arms ready to meet them, love them and support them in their healing journey.

We are all on a healing journey. Our country is starting hers. I have faith that one day, every person who calls this beautiful land “home” will be able to recognise and understand the inherit disadvantage of those who have been affected by our government’s poor past decisions.

These decisions still affect us. It is not over. If we want to heal this country for good, we need to set aside our differences in opinions and beliefs and accept the facts. First Nations people want to celebrate this country. It is home to our ancestors, our culture, our stories…it’s what makes us who we are.

Why not do it on a day that we can join in on too? We love this country just as much as you do.

Amanda Fotheringham is a Gamilaroi woman currently studying a Bachelor of Community Services whilst working in the Diversity and Inclusion space. Amanda is passionate about sharing her family’s story so others can learn about the ongoing disadvantages faced by First Nations people.

Feature Image: Supplied.

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