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The many atrocities committed against First Nations people as part of the colonisation of Australia remain powerfully painful in the living memories and experiences of our communities today.
One of the most well-known examples of what can be described as “genocide” in accordance with the United Nations definition is the forced removal of children from their families, a devastating process that began in the early decades of the colony and became official policy for state governments in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The First Nations children forcibly removed during this time are known as the Stolen Generations - a name that reflects the lasting impacts of this racist and poorly justified policy on family and cultural connections to this day. Families never really recover from the grief of having their children taken away, and individuals never recover from having their right to access their families and cultures taken from them.
The motivation behind removing First Nations children from their families was to give them a “better” life in white society, and many stolen children remember being told to ‘act white, think white, be white’. The idea of a “better” life in non-Indigenous society was a poor justification based on exclusively Eurocentric views of the world with little to no understanding of the importance of kinship, Country, or cultural connections in the health and wellbeing of First Nations peoples. Many of the Stolen Generations suffered abuse and dysfunctional childhoods resulting in enormous trauma and cycles of intergenerational impacts. Even today, stolen children are still trying to make their way home to family and culture. Upsettingly, many never made it in this life.
Aunty Fay Mosely is a Wiradjuri woman who was stolen from her family and home in the Riverina region of NSW when she was just ten years old. In her painting One Way Ticket to Hell Aunty Fay remembers the day when she and five of her siblings were kidnapped, put on a train and then placed into institutional care by the Aborigines Welfare/Protection Board. As was often the case, the siblings were separated: Aunty Fay and her sisters were taken to Cootamundra Domestic Training home, while her brothers were sent to Kinchela Boys Home. Aunty Fay did not see her parents again until she was an adult, but the trauma of losing their children had taken such a toll on their health that once reunited, Aunty Fay had only a brief two years with her mother and less than a year with her father before they passed away.
One Way Ticket to Hell took Aunty Fay eight years to complete because the memory of being taken from her family is so traumatic. Because of its personal nature, she initially intended to keep this painting to herself, but upon hearing about the Unsettled exhibition, she wanted the Australian Museum to have this painting and show it in this important exhibition.
Aunty Fay’s memories of being a “Coota Girl” are harrowing. At the Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal girls ‘there was no happiness’. In her painting Memories of the Morgue, Aunty Fay remembers girls being cruelly locked up - often for long periods - in the morgue of the former hospital. The girls were told lies that their parents did not want them, only to learn later in their lives that their parents had tried to visit them but were turned away. While the girls supported one another as much as they could, no child should have to suffer through such terrible experiences.
For Aunty Fay, there is no justification for being taken from her family. She remembers living in a ‘happy, safe, loving and carefree home’ – a memory supported by the Aborigines Welfare Board Exemption Certificate issued to her father Cecil Robert Clayton. Uncle Cecil served as one of the “Rats of Tobruk” in World War II and received the certificate when he returned home. These certificates allowed you to live free of the restrictive provisions of the Aborigines Protection Act. They came with strict conditions; having one meant you could not visit family on the missions or reserves and you had to sacrifice any connections to your relatives and culture. The certificate states that the children were well cared for and indicated that Aunty Fay’s family were living according to the colonial laws. Despite this, they were still removed.
Before she was taken, Aunty Fay was an A Grade student, but at Cootamundra home this did not matter and she became a D Grade student – ‘D for domestic servant’. Aunty Fay was robbed of her family and a bright future for no reason other than being Aboriginal. Despite this, Aunty Fay has worked hard in her life to overcome her experiences as much as possible. She resisted domestic service and eventually became a nurse instead, dedicating her life to helping others.
Aunty Fay is a strong Wiradjuri woman, Elder, artist and advocate for the Stolen Generations, working hard to support other stolen children in re-connecting with their families and cultures, and having their stories heard.