Confronting the past to find community and healing

09 Jan 20
Photo Credit: Patrice Moriarty/Caritas Australia

Like many of us, Uncles Willie Leslie and Harold Harrison value family and community. After all, they were no older than twelve years old when they were forcibly removed from their childhood homes. Uncle Harold remembers the last time he saw his mother: she was lying down on the bed with a blanket over her as they took him away. “A piece of her died that night,” he says.

Uncle Willie and Uncle Harold were taken to Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home (KBH) in Kempsey, New South Wales – a ‘home’ run by the NSW Government for over 50 years to house Aboriginal boys that were taken from their families. For years, Uncle Willie didn’t understand where he was, or what was happening to him. They didn’t call him by his name, only Number 46.

Following the dismantling of KBH, Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC) was born, a survivor-led organisation focused on truth-telling and healing from the various abuses experienced by KBH survivors and the intergenerational trauma experienced by their descendants. Supported by Caritas Australia, an integral part of KBHAC’s healing programs are regular gatherings in various locations so that as many Kinchela boys and their families are able to attend.

Through gatherings by KBHAC, both Uncles have been able to feel a sense of community, as well as develop a greater understanding of what has happened to them. Uncle Willie mentions he is only starting to piece together his experience at KBH and why he was taken. “It (KBH) was around for a long time, since 1929. I’m just starting to put this altogether.”

For Uncle Harold, the KBHAC gatherings were an integral part of his healing. “When I left the home, I was so hurt and so full of hate,” he says. “I developed a problem drinking alcohol.” It was only when he returned to the former KBH site with KBHAC years later that he was able to make peace with the past and overcome the hate that once ruled over his life. “Everyone is my brother and sister, you don’t have to be Aboriginal to be my family. We’re all part of a human family,” he says.

KBHAC also serves as a valuable educational centre to the wider Australian public about the injustices that went on at KBH. The Uncles see KBHAC as a way of connecting with the wider community as well as promoting unity.

Koreen is the International Programs Administration Officer at Caritas Australia

Photo Credit: Patrice Moriarty, Caritas Australia