By Bernie Brian
WOLLONGONG — In 1991 Joy Williams (her Aboriginal name is Janaka Wiradjuri) published a collection of poems in the book Blackberry's Child. In one of her poems, Joy writes of the inspiration she gained from the poems of the late Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker).
In that poem Joy cries out, "I've been stolen for too long". For Joy is one of at least 5000 of her generation alone that were denied the opportunity to have a happy childhood because the misnamed Aboriginal Welfare Board abducted them from their mothers' arms soon after birth.
Joy's 18-year-old mother, a stolen child from the previous generation, was also given a hysterectomy by the doctors at Crown Street Women's Hospital, without her consent, soon after Joy's birth in 1942.
While Joy's mother was allowed to visit her daughter at Bomaderry Children's Home, these visits ceased when Joy was moved, at the age of five, to Lutanda Children's Home at Wentworth Falls. It was felt by the AWB that, because of Joy's fair skin, she should be "protected" from further Aboriginal influences. Joy was not to discover her Aboriginality till she was 13 and was not reunited with her mother till she was 31.
Joy had lost not only her mother and her mother's culture, she was even denied her name at Lutanda, being addressed as "Number 4". She could not understand why she was treated differently. She began to superficially cut her arms to see if she really did have "mud in her veins", as the staff were suggesting. She remembers being ashamed when she discovered her Aboriginality. She also suffered numerous beatings at the hands of Lutanda staff, on one occasion fracturing her wrist and collar bone.
Such a childhood would have left a mark on anyone, and Joy is no exception. For much of her adult life she has battled loneliness, violence, drug dependency and psychiatric illness. On leaving Lutanda, she also ran foul of the law because she often committed the heinous crime of homelessness. Joy has had three children of her own and history repeated itself when her elder child, Julie Ann, was stolen from her. Joy experienced first hand the devastation that her mother felt at losing her first child.
Joy has refuses to become one more victim of the racist practices of white Australian governments and is fighting back. In the late '80s she began the process of suing the NSW government for damages as a result of the actions of the AWB.
Joy told Green Left Weekly, "The idea began to form in my mind that, for god's sake, the white Australian government had done something very wrong, that not only included me but thousands of others.
"I was then involved with the organisation Link-Up that tries to reunite Aboriginal families, and I was seeing all these broken people around me. I felt then that it had to stop and everybody, both black and white, had to know what had happened. While this practice ended in 1967, it still takes place today through children's courts. Go to the majority of juvenile detention centres, and you will find a very high number of Koori kids, mostly convicted of crimes of poverty."
Joy is charging the state with neglect, lack of due care, kidnapping, assault, cultural deprivation and maternal deprivation.
Unfortunately, several weeks ago Joy lost round one of her case when Justice Studdert of the Supreme Court recognised that Joy had suffered ill-treatment but felt that the government would be at a disadvantage in fighting the case because of the time that had lapsed since the events. The state claims it has not got the appropriate records of Joy and potential witnesses are either too old or dead. Joy is confident the appropriate records and witnesses will be available and has filed an appeal.
In a rather curious excusing of the AWB, Studdert also said that while we may find the policies of the AWB objectionable today, the "policies of the Board ... were expressed as being directed to the betterment and welfare of Aboriginal people and it is reasonable inference that the Board believed in those policies and considered that they were soundly based". He goes on to state that there is no evidence to suggest that the AWB was aware of Joy's ill-treatment.
Joy told Green Left Weekly that she was "sick of hearing that. They do it with racist books that are still being used. People say, at the time they thought they were doing the right thing. I don't think time is any excuse for racism."
The case is very important because, if successful, it may open the way for thousands of other stolen children to sue for damages and finally get some justice. This scenario has also occurred to the state government, and there is some talk of special legislation to block further legal action over the AWB's actions.
Joy was angered by Studdert's findings. She often feels that she is very much alone as she battles the power of the state government. She would like to see more activity in support of the case. Joy is currently a doing a master of education degree at Wollongong University and often doesn't even have the money to take the train to Sydney for appointments related to the case.
It's hard not to be inspired by Joy's strength and determination to force the NSW government to accept responsibility for crimes committed on its behalf. In another of her poems she writes: "I could have sat on The fence for years and Forgotten about being black But, no, I wouldn't compromise — I couldn't pay the price — My Life, my soul — My heritage!"