Politics

Stolen Generation children raised in England and the US

Some children from the Stolen Generations travelled with their adoptive parents to Britain or the United States. Many lost their culture and identity, some their lives.

During the time of the Stolen Generations tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were forcefully taken from their families. They were sent to missions all across Australia.

Some, however, went with their adopted families as far as England or the United States of America, sometimes never to return.

Following are the stories of Neila, Russell and Dayne. They illustrate not only the joy of reunion and inspiration for artists, but also how the loss of culture and identity can ruin a child’s life and lead to fights between birth and adoptive families.

Neila Penny

One of those travelling to England is Nyoongar woman Neila Penny who, as a toddler, was removed from her family in 1968. More than 30 years after her adoptive parents emigrated to Britain she returned to Western Australia to meet her family [1]. Since her adoptive parents were open about her background she has always considered herself Aboriginal.

Neila is believed to be the first member of the Stolen Generations to be reunited with her family under the under the West Australian government’s Bringing Them Home Reunion programme, launched in 2002 “to assist the return of members of the stolen generation to this country” [2].

Russell Moore (James Savage)

Russell Moore was adopted by Graham and Nestor Savage as a five-week-old Aboriginal boy and renamed to James Savage. They scolded and abused him and never told him of his past or heritage.

When he was seven years old the couple moved to California in the US and he became “a black Australian going to America where everybody is different,” remembers Fay Giddins, his also adopted sister. “They’ve got this stranger who is dark but different to them. So, even as a child he had to have been ostracised. I suppose you could liken him to a lost soul whose heart was somewhere else but he doesn’t know where.” [3]

Aboriginal musician Archie Roach wrote a mournful ballad (“Munjana”, which is Moore’s birth mother’s Aboriginal name) about the taking of the infant he called Baby Russell and his apparent abandonment in the US when his adoptive parents returned to Australia without him:

[...]
Baby Russell was his name
They took him from her arms and made her feel ashamed
Took him away to America
Who will shed a tear for Munjana?

They changed his name and changed his home
While he was growing up he always felt alone
And through the years his history remained untold
He questioned why so they kicked him out at 12 years old

He was on the streets for many years
No-one ever knew his pain or saw his tears
He took to using drugs and booze just to escape
Then one night they arrested him for murder and rape

[Chorus]

His one true mother who’d searched in vain
For her son she never thought she’d see again
She received a phone call from Florida
They found her son and more bad news for Munjana

Hello Russell, this is your mother calling
Please forgive me I can’t stop the tears from falling
You come from this land and sun above
And always remember the strength of your mother’s love

They took you there when you were five
Now you’re in some jail trying to survive
And if the truth be told when all have testified
Another crime committed here was genocide.

These children suffered the same consequences of being removed from their families as their Australian peers, for example becoming homeless, addicted or criminal. Moore was no different. He descended into a life of drugs, and, under the influence, murdered a woman for which he was sent to life in prison in 1989 [3].

I don’t think my son would have finished up as he had or as any of my family have, had we been allowed to live free, to be Aboriginal people, to look after ourselves as others are allowed to look after their own.—Beverley 'Munjana' Moore Whyman, Waamba Waamba woman and birth mother of Russell Moore [4]

Dayne Childs (Illych Branfield)

Illych Branfield was born on 5 February 1972 to Aboriginal parents Cheryl Buchanan and Denis Walker. Denis is the son of Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).

His story is a stark reminder of how reconnecting with Australian Aboriginal culture can have adverse impacts, not only on the stolen children, but also their families.

A white British couple, Annette and Bob Childs, adopted him as a toddler in 1975, renamed him Dayne Childs, and raised and educated him in Norwich, Britain, to where they returned four years later. [5]

The circumstances of Dayne’s adoption are not clear. His birth mother says she was forced to give him up straight after she gave birth, while his biological grandmother, Kath Walker, maintained her grandson was voluntarily given up for adoption. [5]

In the UK Childs became a journalist and met his girlfriend Kirsten Milton with whom he had a daughter, Hollie.

In 1996 Childs visited Australia for a family reunion after Australian family members tracked him down. It was bitter-sweet. While on the one hand, he was thrilled to be reunited with his biological family, he also felt pressured to embrace an Aborginal culture with which he had no connection. He returned to Britain troubled and confused about his identity. After all, he was raised as a white man, he had a white girlfriend and a white family.

Childs returned a different man. He was no longer the “cool and collected young man” he had been previously [6]. Two years after his visit, on 20 July 1998, a witness saw Childs walking in front of a bus on a motorway in Norwich. He was 26 years old.

The burial of his body turned out to be symbolic of the deep cultural divides between Australian Aboriginal culture and European British tradition.

From July 1998 to May 1999 Childs’s body languished in a Norwich mortuary while an extraordinary battle was fought over where he should be buried. His biological parents claimed that his soul would not rest in peace until his body was returned to Australian soil for a traditional Aboriginal burial, while his adoptive mother and his partner insisted on a burial in England in his home town.

It took a High Court to rule that it was in the best interests of Dayne Childs’s daughter, Hollie, his girlfriend, Kirsten Milton, and adoptive mother that his funeral arrangements be made in their home city of Norwich [6].

Footnotes

View article sources (6)

[1] ''Stolen' Aborigine returns home', BBC News 3/3/2003
[2] 'Ms Neila Penny - Statement by Minister for Indigenous Affairs', Extract from Hansard, ASSEMBLY - Tuesday, 11 March 2003, p5080c-5081a, Mr Alan Carpenter
[3] 'Bring me home: killer's plea', SMH 29/11/2010
[4] 'Russell Moore – one of the uncountable tragedies of the Stolen Generations', The Stringer 20/2/2015
[5] 'Last rights', The Guardian (UK) 12/5/1999
[6] 'Family wins cremation battle over Aborigine', The Independent (UK), 28/5/1999

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Aboriginal culture - Politics - Stolen Generation children raised in England and the US, retrieved 24 November 2017