On this year’s National Sorry Day, which also marks the 25th anniversary of the tabling of the Bringing Them Home Report in the Australian Parliament, the Kinchela Boys Home (KBH) survivors, their descendants and families are calling on all Australians to work with them to close the gap within the gap.
Uncle Richard Campbell, #28, KBH survivor and Secretary of the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC) said that compared to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the same age group, Stolen Generations Survivors are suffering more financially, socially and in areas of health and wellbeing.
“This disadvantage extends to our descendants who also consistently experience poorer health and social outcomes,” Uncle Richard said.
“We are making changes with our truth telling but change isn’t happening fast enough.
‘We are the invisible gap that will be left behind.”
Stolen Generations Survivor led organisations like KBHAC are concerned this disadvantage will persist as closing this gap wasn’t a focus of any of the 17 targets of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.
To ensure this gap doesn’t widen, KBH survivors and KBHAC are calling on all Australians to invest in Stolen Generations survivor led solutions that will result in intergenerational healing and breaking the cycle of multigenerational disadvantage that they and their families live with.
Uncle Michael ‘Widdy’ Welsh, #36, KBH Survivor and Chairperson of KBHAC said for the KBH Survivor community, the first step Australians can take to support its multigenerational healing vision is to invest in KBHAC’s ownership of the KBH site and the site’s transformation into a site of national truth telling and healing through the creation of a centre for truth-telling, survivor stories, and healing.
“We and our children and families deserve better” Uncle Widdy said.
“We have the right to heal and the right to resources to rebuild our family structures.
“With proper investment, our solutions to healing intergenerational trauma will succeed.”
KBH was one of most notorious Stolen Generations institutions. Between 1924 and 1970, 400-600 Aboriginal boys were forcibly removed from their communities and culture and placed in the ‘care’ of KBH.
There they were exposed to routine acts of emotional, physical and sexual abuse, with the explicit aim of cultural genocide. They were stripped of their names and given numbers; if they used their names, they were punished.
On top of regular, indiscriminate beatings, the boys received no love, kindness or compassion, and were used as slave labour on vegetable and dairy farms.
“We never knew who we were. I never knew my mother. I didn’t know my father. Our language was taken from us. If we tried to use any other Aboriginal language at Kinchela we were bashed. A lot of the locals who were driving past the home saw monkey bars and happy little kids, but they didn’t realise what was going on behind closed doors and the way we were being treated. There was no love there, there was no family. It was a place of rules and regulations, a place of punishment. We didn’t do anything wrong yet they called us inmates. We were in prison.” – Uncle Lester Maher, (#11)
KBH survivors have long fought for recognition of what happened at the KBH site: in 2012, the site was finally listed on the NSW State Heritage Register, and in 2013 it was listed as an Aboriginal Place under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.
More than simply trauma, the resilience and strength of KBH survivors is embodied in the remaining buildings and landscape of the KBH site.
“My love in my heart, as a kid, is still in that bloody home. It’s a fact, and returning the ownership to KBH survivors is going to allow me to return the love that I lost in that place. Just the thought of going there (KBH) makes you feel a little bit better than you were before – giving you a feeling that you achieved something – I achieved my last little bit of pain easing, you know?” – Uncle Roger Jarrett, (#12)
This survivor-led vision to make a space for recognition and healing, will be the first of its kind to address the legacy of violence against Stolen Generations survivors and communities, not only as an exhibition of this painful history but also as a living force that must be confronted by people today so it never happens again.
The KBH site is of great cultural significance, not only to the KBH survivors and their descendants, but to all Stolen Generations, and to the non-Indigenous community.
This fact has been formally recognised by the placement of the KBH site onto the World Monument Fund’s 2022 Watch as one of 25 heritage sites of global, extraordinary significance that are facing pressing challenges, with the potential to make a meaningful difference to local communities.
The 2022 Watch calls for greater and urgent action to protect heritage places, such as KBH, experiencing pressures relating to climate change, imbalanced tourism, underrepresentation, and recovery from crisis.
On the 25th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home Report, the inclusion of KBH on the 2022 World Monument Watch underscores the pertinence of KBHAC’s vision for the site, and the fact there has never been a better time to act than now.
“Our silence allowed a lot of evil pain to be given to us to pass onto our children. That’s as simple as you’ll get, and as truthful as you’ll get. I still hurt from it, and the only way that it will go away is for a museum and healing centre to be built on this site. I really think this will bring this community together.” – Uncle James Michael ‘Widdy’ Welsh, (#36)
The Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation is a survivor-led Stolen Generations organisation dedicated to improving the wellbeing of those impacted by removal. KBHAC has championed truth-telling to disclose what happened at the Kinchela Boys Home and raise awareness about its significance to survivors, their families, and communities.