Vic generation stole elder ‘whitewashed’ | Liverpool City Champion

Stolen from his mother as a baby, prominent Aboriginal elder and actor Jack Charles felt “whitewashed” by an experience of assimilation.

Victoria’s Yoorrook Justice Commission opened public hearings on Tuesday, with Uncle Jack its first witness.

The 78-year-old described to the Truth Inquiry how he was taken from his mother Bunurong when he was four months old after he was discovered at Daish’s Paddock, an Aboriginal camp near Shepparton.

He was transferred to a mission in Brunswick City and then to Box Hill Boys’ Home, where he was abused – sometimes sexually – by staff and other boys during his 12-year stay.

As the only Aboriginal child registered at home, Uncle Jack was mocked for the color of his skin, criticized because ‘Captain Cook was killed by blackfellas’ and ‘whitewashed’ from his family and of his race.

‘I wasn’t even told I was native – I had to find out for myself,’ Uncle Jack told the inquest.

In his testimony, the former heroin addict and thief-turned-respected elder gave a rendition of a tune he used to sing at the home run by the Salvation Army, referring to all who live in the “joy” because of the arrival of the white man in Australia.

His troubles didn’t end when he was placed at age 14 with a woman who told him he was an orphan, which he learned was a lie.

At 17, he was told by family members at a local pub that his mother was alive and living in Swan Hill. He told his adoptive mother about it and was surprised that she didn’t share his joy.

“She said ‘Oh these people are going to tell you everything, you can’t believe them’. I put my arm up and said ‘Yeah well I believe them’ and I could see the fear in his eyes,” he said.

He put on his pajamas to go to bed but was called to the front door, where a divvy cart was waiting to take him to a home for juvenile offenders.

“I remember crying myself to sleep,” Uncle Jack said.

It was the first of his 22 incarcerations for crimes including burglary and drug offences. In prison, he wrote letters for other criminals and deflected questions about his sexuality as a gay man then locked up.

He was able to reconnect with his mother at 18, but it wasn’t until 2021 that he learned the identity of his father, Hilton Hamilton Walsh, in an episode of the SBS show Who Do You Think You Are?

Uncle Jack never had the chance to meet his father Wiradjuri before his death, but was proud to find he was following in his footsteps as an Aboriginal mentor.

Genealogists have linked Uncle Jack’s family tree to Tasmania, where his five-time great-grandfather Mannallargenna was a chief of the Pairrebeenne/Trawlwoolway clan.

His ancestor, he said, was conned into convincing his people who had not been killed or married into white society to move to a “death camp” on Flinders Island, run by the colonial official of British-born George Augustus Robinson.

“You put a church in this death camp, it becomes a mission,” Uncle Jack said.

Uncle Jack said he only left his mark on society because he now understood who he was.

“I was a lost boy but now I’m found,” he said.

The commission establishes an official public record of Aboriginal experiences since the beginning of colonization.

It will recommend reforms and reparations by June 2024, with the findings to guide Victoria Treaty negotiations.

The inquest will hear from Uncle Johnny Lovett, the Gunditjmara/Boandik eldest, when public hearings resume on Thursday.

Australian Associated Press

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