Two young girls, taken from their families as part of the Stolen Generation have had the chance to stay lifelong friends. Now Aboriginal Aunties (Elders) in their 70s, they look back at the good times.
We’re sitting around the Elders’ table at Aboriginal Catholic Services in Emerton. The Sisterhood Gathering, held every Wednesday at the drop-in centre for the Aboriginal community, has just finished and the Aunties have a few moments to sit and chat.
Listening to Gumbainggir women Aunty Janice Brown and Aunty Janice Kennedy, and their friend Aunty Rhonda Randall, a Bundjalung woman, talk about their stories, it’s obvious how their resilience helped them survive the trauma of being forced to leave their home and families. Aunty Janice Brown was taken from her Catholic mission home in northern NSW to become a domestic in Sydney. Aunty Janice Kennedy ran away three times from the placements she was sent to, finally ending up with an aunt who took her in.
She met Aunty Rhonda at TAFE when they went back as adults to learn to read and write. At the time, the TAFE gave them graduating certificates despite the fact that many in the class still couldn’t read. The women, determined not to be fobbed off, got the media involved and the TAFE was forced to teach them for the next four years until they could read. Aunty Rhonda then went on to get her driver’s licence at age 65.
Together they have joined groups run by CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains over the years, particularly loving their craft days. The highlight came when, in 2006, they got a chance to travel to Uluru to commemorate 20 years since Pope St John Paul II visited Indigenous communities in Australia. They all claim the trip has been a highlight of their lives. Not only did they get to visit Uluru and see Australia, but they celebrated the impact the Pope’s visit had on Aboriginal people at the time.
Aunty Janice Kennedy says, quietly but firmly: “He addressed the Catholic Church to respect Aboriginal people.” As the three Aunties explain that they felt the Pope’s words of recognition and respect led to significant changes, she continues: “He’s the guy behind this building.”
The Aunties chuckle over good times, reciting poems about friendship, and revealing that despite never going to school, Aunty Janice Brown has written children’s books and been a nurse in Catholic hospitals. Aunty Janice Kennedy also reveals how special the Apology to the Stolen Generations was to her.
The Aunties’ tips on friendship and community:
- We don’t recognise colour.
- We all look after children, even if they aren’t ours – because they are all ours.
- You only need one or two really good friends.
In 2021, NAIDOC Week will be held from 4 to 11 July and the Australian Catholic Church’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday is on 4 July.
This article was originally featured in the Ordinary Time/Winter 2021 Edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine.