Link-Up (QLD): Reconnecting our People with their Mob

Link-Up (QLD), Brisbane, QLD.

Reconnecting our People

In the 1980s, a group of Elders in Brisbane came together to address the issue of large numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being forcibly removed from families. These people spent most of their lives trying to reconnect with families, communities and country. There was need for a specialist organisation to work with people to find out who they were and where they came from. Link-Up (QLD) has been operating since 1984 and was incorporated as a separate body in 1998. Chairperson, Sam Watson said Link-Up (QLD) is “primarily committed to reconnecting our people with their own mob”. He said past government policies were a “deliberate attempt” to wipe out Indigenous people by destroying cultural bonds and destroying any connection to land and country. However Indigenous people have been able to endure and remain together as families and communities.

Link-Up provides services to the Stolen Generations throughout Queensland, people who were separated and removed from their families, community and culture because of past Australian Government policies of protection and assimilation. The term “stolen generations” refers to the separation of thousands of Aboriginal children of mixed descent from their mothers and communities. They were forcibly removed by agents of the state or relinquished by Aboriginal mothers who were pressured into doing so by those who thought they knew best.[1] Sam Watson says Link-Up (QLD) can reach out and help victims of those government policies bringing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people together through the reunion process. These people would not have had the opportunity to track down their families. Link-Up provides various services including family history research and family tracing; assistance for family reunions, return to country community or gravesite reunion; social and emotional support; healing activities; community events and education sessions; and referrals to other agencies.[2]

Link Up also supports members of the Stolen Generation in the criminal justice system. They currently have one case worker who provides support in the adult system. There is a real need for more case workers to support people who are currently in both the adult and the juvenile criminal system.  These support services contribute towards reducing incarceration rates.

Trauma and Adversity

Protection and assimilation policies have inflicted pain and trauma on Indigenous people. Protection policies were based on assumptions that Aboriginal people were racially inferior therefore Aboriginal spiritual and cultural beliefs were to be undermined and destroyed. The belief was that so called ‘full bloods’ would die out and Aboriginality could be bred out of the mixed-race children so that Aboriginal people would eventually fade away. The assimilation policy was officially agreed to by State and Territory government in 1937 however its implementation by the State and Territories and involvement by the Commonwealth government happened much later. Assimilation was the method by which Aboriginal people would be accepted by white Australians. In that regard Aboriginal people would be inculcated with white Australia’s values and aspirations and conform to the white Australian way of life to become members of the Australian nation. It meant that Aboriginal people had to stop being culturally different and be like white people, having the same customs, beliefs, hopes and loyalties as white people. Further Aboriginal people would be granted the benefits of full citizenship if they assimilated. Under the assimilation policy greater numbers of mixed-race Aboriginal children, were removed from families.  

In Queensland colonial protection policies enabled the removal of Indigenous people to missions and government reserves and the removal of Indigenous children from families to be placed in mission dormitories or government orphanages. Although not formally implemented in Queensland until 1957 assimilation practices had preceded its introduction. Under the assimilation policy Indigenous people could be expelled from missions and children could be removed from their families. Children were taken away at any age to be fostered and adopted by white families or institutionalised in missions, government institutions and children’s homes. The 1997 Bringing Them Home Report of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission stated that during the period 1910 and 1970 between one in three and one in ten Aboriginal children had been separated by either, force, duress or undue pressure from their mother, family and community. The report outlines in detail the traumatic experiences of the children who were separated and the resulting damage they suffered and continue to suffer because of separation and institutionalisation.[3]

The 1991 report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Death in Custody delivered some years before the Bringing Them Home report investigated the death of 99 Aboriginal people in custody. Not only did it highlight the disproportionate number of Aboriginal people in custody and detention, but it also surveyed the impact of colonialism on Indigenous people. The Royal Commission said that Aboriginal people have a unique history of being “ordered, controlled and monitored by the State” and this is what the Commission found in its investigation of the deaths. The Royal Commission said that from birth to death the State files and documents of those ninety-nine individuals show a “familiar pattern of State intervention into and control of Aboriginal lives”.

Those who died in custody were young Indigenous people who were at the margins of society. They were unemployed, under educated, and whose health status varied from poor to very bad. All had encountered police and charged with an offence in their teenage years. All had been taken into custody for alcohol related reasons. Nearly half of the ninety-nine had experienced childhood separation from their families through intervention by state authorities. The Royal Commission stated that child removal had a profound impact on certain individuals who died in custody. It recommended that funding be made available to organisations such as Link-Up to support Aboriginal people to re-establish links with family and community which had been severed or weakened by past government policies.[4]

The Spirit of Aboriginality

The pain and trauma of removal remain with people today. Removal and separation from families and community has caused psychological and emotional damage. The effects persist into adulthood and it is also intergenerational because the trauma is inherited by the children of the stolen generation in complex ways. Stolen generation children were denied their identity and their culture, language and their connection to families, community and country was taken from them.

Removal also affected the parents and relatives left behind. This is best exemplified by Dr Valerie Cooms in a speech to mark the 20th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home Report in 2017. She shared the story of her grandmother and her great aunt, Mabel who had been separated and spent time at Cranbrook Place (an Aboriginal Girls Home).

“Sadly we never found Mabel, but my nephew, Eddie, found her daughter in 2003, and we found that Mabel had lived to be 100. It was as if she was waiting for us to find her, but we were three years too late. Typically, as Aboriginal people, we build resilience. This is how we have survived. This is not to say we have not suffered and continue to do so, however, many of us want to see the good from things that have happened. …that is, despite what has happened, how the spirit of Aboriginality keeps us going”.[5]

Link-Up provides a social and cultural environment where the people feels safe, secure and supported. This protective environment helps people to adapt and move forward in their healing journey. Reconnecting them to family, community and country is an emotional journey of healing as Patricia Conlon recently stated:

“Link-Up (QLD) staff feel our client’s pain, we take them on their journey of reuniting with families, country or community. We take them through their research, filling in the missing gaps in their life”.[6]

Stolen generation people have an underlying resilience because they have endured adversity and survived. In her 2017 speech Valerie Cooms talks about the Aboriginal girls who were sent to the girl’s home eventually becoming domestic servants for non-Aboriginal people. This is what happened to her grandmother and great aunt, Mabel. But despite the horrible experiences they encountered as colonised and subjugated women, Mabel and the other young women were able to learn new skills while living with non-Aboriginal people, learn from each other building effective methods of resistance and survival, and created long lasting connections with each. The connections that were forged in the girl’s home continue today through their families. These women built resilience and imparted a level of confidence to their families.  Patricia Conlon, CEO of Link-Up (QLD) acknowledged this resilience:

“We honour the resilience and strength of our people who have suffered terrible injustices because of past government policies and practices and that we have survived those injustices”.[7]  

Sam Watson says family reunions are an “enormously warming experience”; to have family members embrace each other across the gap of many decades. This he says, is something that makes Link-Up (QLD) more determined to continue their work.  By keeping the spirit of Aboriginality alive and strong, Link-Up (QLD) are strengthening resilience.

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[1] Manne, R 2001. In Denial: The Stolen Generations and the Right, Quarterly Essay, No. 1, 2.

[2] Link-Up (QLD) Website, Our Services <http://www.link-upqld.org.au/our-services/> [Accessed 17/4/2018]

[3] Commonwealth of Australia 1997. Bringing Them Home, National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission.

[4] Johnston, E (1991). Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, National Report, Volume 1, Chapter 1<http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/rciadic/> [Accessed 17/4/2018].

[5] Link-Up (QLD) Dr Valerie Cooms (2017), History of Orleigh Park <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=La8M28v3UuU> [Accessed 18/4/2018].

[6] Link-Up (QLD) (2018). Still Bringing Them Home, Link-Up Magazine, Volume 30 January – February 2018, 3.

[7] Link-Up (QLD) (2018). Still Bringing Them Home, Link-Up Magazine, Volume 30 January – February 2018, 3.