Today, on National Sorry Day, we are using our social media platform to share someone else’s story. We want them to be heard and acknowledged for the heartache, pain and achievement throughout their life.
Mitchell Bate is one of our valued employees at St Hilliers (pictured above). His mum, Elly Chatfield was kind enough to share her family story which our General Manager, Brant Wood had the privilege of sharing with the team this morning. This is Elly’s story….
“My name is Elly Chatfield, I am a Gamillaroi Woman from North West New South Wales.
If you Google National Sorry Day, this is what you will find: “National Sorry Day is an Australia-wide observance, held on May 26 each year. This day gives people the chance to come together and share the steps towards healing for the Stolen Generations, their families and communities.
The significance of this day is to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of Australia’s Indigenous population”.
Just to clarify, “The Stolen Generations are the Indigenous children who were removed from their families by the Australian Federal and State Government agencies and Church missions, under acts of their respective parliaments”. These words are efficient in description, but do they invoke or convey the level of trauma and devastation that the Stolen Generations children and their families have lived with for their entire lives?
I was born in October 1959, and the Government stepped in thirteen months after my birth and physically removed three of my siblings and I at the same time, from my Uncle’s home in Moree.
At thirteen months old, my memory was not vivid, my needs were many and the reality of my family life was thrown into a void. A void I continue trying to make sense of. I was faced with having to carve out a space where I could feel comfortable, a space where I belonged in a world that was not familiar and in reality, was not even mine. Have you any idea how difficult that is when you are a child? That difficulty doesn’t get any easier as you grow older, in fact, for many, it just becomes worse. The enormity of my unknowing overshadowed my life for many years. And to be truthful, it still does.
When I was a child in school, I was told so many lies about my Birth Family and the circumstances in which we lived. What I was not told, was the truth about everything!
I did not know what Aboriginal Tribal Nation I was from. I did not know my Mother or Father’s names or where they were from. I did not know how many brothers or sisters I had. I did ask the questions but was never given the answers.
But what the authorities did tell me, was that my Mother and Father did not want me and that they threw me away. This was not real, but I must tell you that single sentence haunted me for years. Questions like, if my parents didn’t love me enough to want to keep me, who would love me? What did I do to make this happen? Was I that naughty? This is a nightmare for a child.
I was very fortunate to be placed with a family, they were non-Indigenous, but they provided for me, fed me, clothed me, sent me to Catholic School – so I had a good education and was loved, just not understood. There were expectations to be someone I was not, but at that stage, I didn’t really know who I was.
My Aboriginal learning, my rights of passage and my responsibilities as an Aboriginal person, all this information was non-existent. My very essence was shrouded, my journey back to self was lonely and left my heart and soul in a desolate, barren place for a very long time.
I knew there was more to my story than I had been told. When I was 38 years old, my Aboriginal pathway opened through my want and need to paint. This led me on the journey back to Family and Country, a journey I am still following and to be truthful, there are things I will never know, there is Country I will never walk and there are people I will never meet, all of whom were part of my essence, my core, the very fibre of my being. There will be a part of me missing forever. What disturbs me greatly is, I often don’t know the right questions to ask, or even who to ask. So how can the right answers be provided? And the other important factor here is, how do I prepare myself for the multitude of emotions that cascade over me as I delve into the swirling, tumultuous narrative with its hidden information, its untruths and barriers that disorientate my mind and my heart?
While life has thrown difficult, weird and wonderful things my way, I have had to draw on a resilience that I did not know I possessed. I am and will continue to be thankful and mindful of my Aboriginality because it is who I am, inside and out. What the authorities of the day failed to see was that the Stolen Generation’s children and families were not, are not, and will never be a stain on this landscape. We are and will always be an intricate part of this Country. What is unclear is how and where we fit.
I often describe myself as a puzzle piece. There is a puzzle of my family’s faces, my face and that of my sister and two brothers that were stolen, taken from the puzzle, placed outside, enduring the weather for years. When our faces are returned to the puzzle, there is a place for us to nestle back into, however, the weather and the world have distorted our shape, thinking and created a new way for us to exist. Therefore, we don’t fit back into the puzzle easily. So, our pathway runs parallel with that of our family’s. Bearing in mind, we don’t easily fit in the world that we were forced into either. So, when I hear people say things like, “Why do I have to commemorate Sorry Day?” or “Why don’t you just get over it?” my answer is;
“It is impossible to get over not knowing my Mum and missing most of my Dad’s life, not growing up with my sisters and brothers, and not knowing my Country.
It is simply impossible.
I would like to acknowledge that I am eternally grateful for those who support Aboriginal People as we walk and relearn our information from those who still hold great knowledge. Walking with those who support us as we are re-united with Family and our Connections are strengthened, builds a solid path to reconciliation.
The saving grace for me is my two children and my grandchild. They are the lights of my life, they hold me up, they keep me centred and they surround me with a deep unconditional love. Without them, I would be utterly lost. Because of them, I enjoy teaching, listening, learning and even more than that, because of them I now belong somewhere”.