The Catholic Church’s annual Lenten Appeal, Project Compassion, is now in its third week. During the six weeks of Lent, Caritas Australia is featuring feature human stories from the Philippines, Timor-Leste, Australia, Vietnam and Fiji. Through this year’s theme, ‘Love your neighbour’, Caritas Australia demonstrates how this approach can transform lives.
In support of the world’s poor, including millions in our immediate region, thousands of school children, teachers, churches and community leaders across Australia are putting their compassion into action, during Project Compassion.
Through the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC), which is supported by Caritas Australia, men like Uncle Richard are engaging in a journey of healing from the trauma of being a member of the Stolen Generations.
Uncle Richard was kidnapped from his country, his community, and his family at a very young age. His name was taken away and in its place he was given a number.
“First thing they say to you: forget your name. You are now a number. You are now 28.”
“They grabbed us … and took us away from our people,” Uncle Richard said. “They just kept saying, you’re not black, you’re white.”
Hundreds of Indigenous boys were held at the state-run Kinchela Boys Home (KBH) in Kempsey, NSW, between 1924 and 1970.
Now the KBH survivors are restoring their identity, family structures and connections to community through KBHAC, which they established in 2001.
KBHAC was formed by the KBH survivors to support them, their families and communities through a peer model of support and empowerment founded on brotherhood and neighbourly love.
Uncle Michael, a KBHAC Board member and KBH survivor, spoke of the vital role which the organisation plays in reconciliation.
“What we’re doing now, besides helping (each other, we’re helping communities, going out to actually talk about what happened to us in schools, institutions, businesses,” he said.
“We tell our stories, and we can hopefully show the way for other people to learn from our pain. And we’re trying to be the leader, a role model for our kids.”
For Uncle Richard, art and creativity have also been crucial to the healing process.
“I had a lot of anger before I came to KBHAC, but I used to take it out on my canvases, talking about being in the boys’ home through my artwork,” Uncle Richard said.
He gained a degree in Fine Arts and now teaches art, mentoring young Aboriginal artists.
“A lot of my artwork is based on spirituality,” he says – both Dreaming and Christian.
His Good Samaritan painting shows a First Australian helping a white man, and Uncle Richard spoke about how love and compassion has shaped his life too.
While at Kinchela Boys Home, the older boys acted as Good Samaritans for the younger boys. “They took the pain for the little fellas,” Uncle Richard said.
About three years ago, Uncle Richard joined KBHAC, reuniting with other KBH survivors.
“Joining KBHAC changed my life,” he said. “It lifted me a lot more compared with my artwork. It helps me … especially listening to the other men’s stories. We’ve still got a lot of anger but we’re controlling it now, coming together,” he said.
“What we’re doing now, besides helping (each other), we’re helping communities, going out to actually talk about what happened to us in schools, institutions, businesses. We tell our stories, and we can hopefully show the way for other people to learn from our pain. And we’re trying to be the leader, a role model for our kids.”
Uncle Richard hopes that KBHAC will be able to develop a shared understanding with the wider community.
“Our door is open. We’re the neighbours, knock on the door, say, can you teach me? Can we talk about Indigenous issues? Can we talk in a proper way?”
Your support for Project Compassion 2017 will help Australia’s Stolen Generations and their families to heal from the pain of the past. To make a donation, tel 1800 024 413 or click here. Donations of $2 or more are tax deductible.