"Their children were taken but no reasons were given"
- Category: Uncategorised
- Created: Sunday, 19 August 2012 23:30
- Written by Claire Moodie - ABC
It's been half a century since Donald and Sylvia Collard's children were taken away from them but the couple from Kondinin in WA's Wheatbelt still don't understand why.
"That's what we're going to court for," Mr Collard said.
"We hope they can answer some of these things."
The Collards and seven of their children are behind WA's first stolen generation claim for damages against the State Government, currently before the WA Supreme Court.
The couple were living in a bush camp and Donald was working as a shearer on a Wheatbelt farm when they say a welfare worker and a policeman visited in 1961.
"They came and got them and took them and we had no say," Mrs Collard said.
"If we had started arguing, we'd have went to jail."
Mr Collard says the couple was given the impression that they'd get the children back.
"They just said we're going to take your kids away and put them in a home and they promised they would keep them all together...... until they found out some other things that would help but they never had any intention of helping us," he said.
"Looking back in hindsight, I should have taken off with them and went bush. I really should have because they should never have been taken."
Sister Kate's in Perth became the Collard children's new home.
Glenys Collard, who was three years old when she was taken from her parents, still bears the scars from the sexual abuse she says she suffered both within the home and outside it.
She recalls that on weekends, the Sister Kate's children were told to line up and visiting families would take their pick of who they wanted to look after.
"One bloke took us on a weekend about three times," she said.
"We were told that we had to be polite, that this was a privilege for us to have these people take us into their homes.
"I use the term 'sexual abuse' although I wouldn't have known what that was.
"Things were happening to me that had never happened to me before."
Taken from hospital
But Sylvia and Donald Collard's huge loss actually started two years before Glenys and her siblings were taken away.
Another daughter, Ellen, disappeared when she was only a few months old while being treated for gastroenteritis at a Wheatbelt hospital.
79-year-old Donald Collard can still clearly recall the day they went to pick Ellen up.
"When we got there, they said 'she's gone'," he said.
"We thought she'd died and me and Sylvie sort of went into shock."
Ellen, as they subsequently found out, had been taken to live with white parents in Perth.
Today, the family has been re-united but Ellen, now aged in her fifties, is clearly bitter about the lost years and her struggle to find her true identity.
Unbeknown to her while she was living with her new family, she had eight brothers and sisters just a few suburbs away at Sister Kate's.
"If I could have brought them to where I was living, I would have looked after them and they wouldn't have been hurt," she said.
"It's only now that I realise that I was kept away from the world and my brothers and sisters because we were Aboriginal."
Today, the Collards are still haunted by the memories of visiting Ellen and their children at Sister Kate's but then having to leave them behind.
"We'd start crying too you know...and we'd have to leave quickly because they'd ring the police," Sylvia Collard explains.
Several efforts to get the children back permanently to live with them in the Wheatbelt were also futile.
"I couldn't qualify for a house. The simple reason was that I was classified as flora and fauna...because I wasn't a black man...and I wasn't a white man," Mr Collard said.
Tragically, there are two Collard children who will never been reunited with their Nyungar parents.
Two of the Collard's sons - Don and Bill - died in car accidents.
Sylvia Collard says she's pursuing the court case against the State Government to try to get something for the children that are left.
"They should never have been taken," she said.
"Their hearts were broken, and so were ours."
The Collard's legal action in the Supreme Court has been described as a test case.
Dennis Eggington of the Aboriginal Legal Service says the case is significant because the Stolen Generations issue is 'unfinished business' in Western Australia.
"It has to be resolved," he said.
"It's really unfair and not very moralistic that this has been allowed to continue for a number of generations."
The case was partly prompted by the State Government's Redress scheme that offered ex-gratia payments to any West Australian abused or neglected in state care.
The payments being offered were a tiny fraction of that awarded in a landmark ruling in South Australia in 2007 when the late Bruce Trevorrow was awarded $775,000 for being taken from his family as a baby.
Perth law firm, Lavan Legal, agreed to take on a test case on a pro bono basis to try to clarify the issue.
The company's Managing partner, Greg Gaunt, says it's a challenging case.
One of the difficulties is the State's Statute of Limitations which limits the numbers of years that can elapse before a case is brought before the courts.
"There are no common or absolute principles that you can take from the Trevorrow case or any of those that went previously which were unsuccessful," Mr Gaunt said.
Whether the Collard's case is settled out of court, or goes to trial next year, the Aboriginal Legal Service insists more litigation isn't the answer.
It wants the State and Federal Government to fund a full reparation package once and for all, including compensation and care for extended families still suffering.
"We don't want to pursue them going through long legal battles...we'd rather this country have the moral fabric to stand up and right this wrong and that's what I think is really important," Dennis Eggington said.
The State's Indigenous Affairs Minister, Peter Collier, wouldn't be interviewed but released a statement, saying that the State Government would continue to work with the Commonwealth and stakeholders to address the needs of the Stolen Generations.
"However there is no plan for a specific WA reparation fund for the State's Stolen Generation," the statement said.
Meanwhile, the WA Attorney General Michael Mischin wouldn't comment on the Collard's case because it's in mediation.
However, the Uniting Church - which ran Sister Kate's - issued a statement, saying it has unreservedly apologised to children in its institutions who experienced neglect of their social, emotional and physical needs, or physical or sexual abuse perpetrated by staff who should have been trustworthy.
The church says it's also committed to providing on-going counselling and support for people who were abused in their institutions.
Meanwhile, the Collard clan hope that the court case will result in more than just compensation.
Glenys Collard's poor health costs money to treat.
She survives on medication and morphine patches to treat the physical and mental illness she attributes to years of abuse.
"Not once raped....raped over and over and over so the audience needs to understand ....Want me to put a figure on that? There are no figures you can put on that," she said.
"Someone out there needs to take this on and say why it did happen.
"It shouldn't have happened because we had Mum and Dad, we had nans and pops, we had aunties and uncles all around us.
"We weren't neglected until we went to Sister Kate's."
Sylvia and Donald Collard, now aged 80 and 79, want to to die knowing that their children and their children's children are looked after.
"We never neglected our kids...they were never neglected, " Mr Collard said.
"We loved our kids...we still love 'em...more than anything else." (Source : http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-08-17/stolen-generation-legal-trial-case/4206438)