My Activist Journey

Below is an essay I recently submitted. I hope it will be of interest to Forgotten Australian families.

cheers

Sylvia

Following a Green Path and advocating for institutional child abuse survivors may converge more than I thought possible. Although I care deeply about the environment and am worried about global warming, these concerns have been shadowed by the plight of care leavers in Australia. Lewis Blayse (1949-2014) was my husband. He was a Stolen Child, from a Macedonian migrant father and chronically ill Australian working class mother. He and his siblings were taken into State Care in 1951 and became known as State Children. They could be lent out by the State and moved around, with no advice to their parents. The four children spent time in St George’s, Rockhampton when Lew was four. He hated the food so much he gave it to his brothers. As a result of this and other deprivations, by the time we got married he was a few inches shorter than his brothers.  Many Forgotten Australian children failed to reach their potential. Thankfully, the media has finally begun to notice .

My late husband’s theory was that taking a child from its parents causes irreversible damage and should not happen under any circumstances. In situations where the parents cannot care for the child, they should be cared for as well. Care leavers should be recognized as a sub-type. The damage wrought by child removal cannot be overstated. To understand, one need go no further than the current campaign being waged by the Alliance for Forgotten Australians. The face of the campaign, a despairing elderly woman, is so moving that it is difficult to see. The campaign’s title is Still Waiting for Justice

Background

Every type of actual and cultural violence identified by Galtung (2009) was experienced by care leavers. Stolen children were killed, maimed, starved, imprisoned, sexually exploited, and forced into slavery. Their long term outcomes, still not adequately measured in Australia but noted in various Inquiries I will cite, include early mortality, greater incidence of disease, and lifelong mental illness. They are more likely to become homeless or incarcerated, and thus pass on the risk of homelessness and incarceration to their children. That statistics are not collected about long term outcomes for care leavers is a national disgrace. While it may take generations of careful stewardship to restore First Australians’ legacy, nobody in government has yet recognized the fate of the non-indigenous care leavers and their families, or asked them how they identify on the Census form, or any other piece of bureaucracy.

During the time we convened Formerly in Children’s Homes (FICH) (1990-1993) many people who had been in care told me they wished they could help foster kids now, today. Tragically, care leavers are the last people the State will turn to when a child needs care. More than once I was phoned by a social worker at ‘The Department’, sharing that she would never admit to being a care leaver, for fear of losing her job. Throughout his life, Lew fought to be heard. He died following an interview with ABC’s 7:30. He was 64. He had always told me he wouldn’t last past his 60s.

Lew was so confident in his arguments that in 1990 I began to research the topic of out of home care for children, and this led to my own belief that Removal critically endangers children. We worked briefly at Wacol Prison in 1993, and a poll conducted by the inmates found that 70% of them had been in Homes. I read Kath MacFarlane’s (2017) work about prison populations. The Forgotten Australians Senate Inquiry (2004) estimated 500,000 children were in out-of-home care in the 20th century. Of these, 30,000 were indigenous. Lew and I were middle aged before we met any of our kind, which he characterized as a cohort of children taken or controlled by the State.

My Green Path

The Simpler Way proposed by Trainer (2017) resonates with anyone from our generation who blanched at the introduction of neoliberalism in the 80s. That our own, supposedly socialist, government would entertain the idea of top down growth seemed alien to us. The need for “frugal sufficiency” (Trainer, 2017, p.4) was forced on our family from the beginning. Our ecological footprints were constrained, not from choices we would like to have made, but from grim necessity. It was decided by those in power that certain types of people were not valued in this country; ironically Forgotten Australian families, along with displaced First Australians, make less impact on the landscape than the huge clubs and casinos built by elite interests. It was not our choice to embrace corporatism, nor did we pander to a subservient media that were reluctant to tell our stories. My efforts over thirty years of activism on this issue have convinced me there may be little I can do to change this in the time I have left.

Our young family spent the 1980s in the bush. For months we lived in tents, and we spent several years without electricity, running water, media, or much contact with anyone. Our children were recognized as gifted when they attended the local school, but nobody understood their “Wog” name (which we later changed), or why we were so poor, or why, for example, their father waged a public campaign to introduce seatbelts in school buses, which caused our children considerable embarrassment. One year, our daughter’s class members were asked, in turn, what crop their parents were growing. She felt shamed; by then we had failed miserably to produce an income from small crop farming, although Lew had slaved day and night.

Trainer (2017) notes that power should never be handed to a State to try and fix anything. Change can only come from transformed dispositions in people, who will then join together and organize on community levels, from the ground up. This kind of thinking emerged in our support group. People wanted to help foster kids now, because they had previously been foster kids. Foster kids themselves felt nobody could speak for them. The State wrought power to prevent such likelihood from occurring. Better to lock people in jail than to admit they might just need a roof over their heads and enough to eat; then they could give back in so many ways. It is strangely comforting to see Gaia fighting back. Soon it must be obvious that no State actor can pretend to have control, any longer, over forces they do not comprehend.

The new civil society we are seeking cannot tolerate the continuance of a fortress world mentality (Lowe, 2004, p. 39), because this is how such evil can flourish. Each child in a society deserves to grow as nature intended. British colonialism’s brutal transformation of this country is not only evident in our geography; it is written on the souls of everyone who didn’t measure up to their impossible criteria, who fell into homelessness and despair as many of our people have done, due to “the arrogance that sets us apart from all other components of the planet and establishes a mood of conquest rather than of admiration” (Berry 2009, p. 132).

How I am taking Action

We were raided by Social Security in 1989 and ordered to sell up the farm and return to Brisbane. I called a politician who had known my father and asked for a job for Lew. We placed an advertisement in the Courier Mail. It simply asked: “Were you in Children’s Homes? Meeting this week”. The ensuing Courier Mail interview (which led to more people joining the group) has stayed in my mind. At one point the journalist exclaimed: “A priest wouldn’t do that!” https://forgottenaustralianfamily.com/2018/02/10/the-brave-people-of-fich/

Much of the media reportage of FICH has been ignored or forgotten. I have republished it in my blog,  https://forgottenaustralianfamily.com/ . The logo on the blog (which also accompanies near daily comments I make using the pen-name ForgottenAustralianFamily) is a representation of Lew studying under a streetlamp as a boy, because their electricity had been cut off. https://forgottenaustralianfamily.com/2018/01/29/studying-under-the-streetlamp/

Lew gave up on FICH in 1993. Subsequently others saw to it that the Forde Inquiry took place in 1999. Both Lew and I testified. The Queensland State Government paid some compensation to Lew, half of which (about $10,000) he gave me to help house our traumatized children. The next big inquiry was the Senate Forgotten Australians Inquiry 2004, which made a trilogy with two other Reports, Bringing Them Home 1997, about indigenous stolen children; and Lost Innocents, 2001 about the British Child Migrants. Following that, a Commonwealth grant established the Alliance for Forgotten Australians, with which I am in regular contact (https://forgottenaustralians.org.au/).

I became a keyboard warrior, constrained by age and impairment but still able to string a sentence or two together. The decision to become an activist was forced on me by circumstance. I am unsure how many care leavers required full time care for their entire lives; I only know that our husband and father did, which led to loss of livelihood in other family members. Not only was he unable to survive independently, his childhood trauma rendered each member of his family partially impaired. If only we had been given the chance, what could we have achieved? We all care about climate change, but can only experience impotent rage owing to extreme hardship, as noted by Markowitz and Corner in The Conversation last week (September 27, 2019). https://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-really-about-prosperity-peace-public-health-and-posterity-not-saving-the-environment-120476

Several lawyers have joined our family’s fight for survival, including Paul Richards, an early activist fighting for Aboriginal Land Rights in Queensland, and John Ellis, of Ellis Defense note.  At the beginning, we were told to rely on the Queensland 2002 Personal Injuries Proceedings Act, by which, Premier Beattie assured us, we could access “usual legal channels” for Redress http://fordefoundation.org.au/u/lib/cms/forde-govt-response.pdf .  It is important to remember that many care leavers end up in abject poverty, even if they somehow managed to escape jail or a psychiatric institution. For most of them, being interviewed in an adversarial context is unthinkable. The 2002 Act asked questions like: What was the weather like on the day of the alleged incident? Unsurprisingly, few managed to get their day in court. Lew died in the attempt.

My efforts with Social Security, then Centrelink, prolonged our survival on countless occasions over 50 years. They thrust the meritocracy at us; with brains like yours, they said, you ought to succeed with effort. That is where endangerment enters the argument. It is impossible to argue against the meritocracy. Like fish flapping helplessly in a boat, we have endured their diagnoses of mental illness, when what we have been suffering from is State-conferred mental injury. “The global economy is playing a zero sum game with an ever-shrinking pot to be divided among the winners” (Heinberg 2011, p. 2). Child removal may not inevitably lead to mental illness. Nevertheless, when vulnerability towards mental illness already exists, child removal will considerably exacerbate the situation.

Building on Green Principles and Values

The colonialist mindset that saw Russian children beaten for speaking their own language, and referred to children of other ethnicities (than Anglo Saxon) as ‘poor stock’, fed the colonial elite’s insatiable desire for dominance. It spilled over into depravity because it could; to Home kids it took the form of expensively suited men who suddenly appeared at weekends to take them out for ‘visits’. These ‘charitable works’ often masked terrible abuse, as we now know. There was no appropriate human behavior (Crutzen 2002). Home kids were among the worst affected by “psychoterratic illness” (Albrecht et al. 2007, p. 595.) “Mum and Dad” were shadowy dreamlike apparitions, part of the permanent, unsatisfied longing for home felt by all foster kids.

Lewis Blayse had a theory that he and other stolen children were something of a litmus test for society, a manifestation of the biblical quote “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40). This essay asks that certain humans be viewed from an endangerment perspective. The further a child or its family has strayed from the colonialist mindset and example, the more likely they are to incur the wrath of Authority. I do not claim that humans are superior to other creatures, only that they are no less equal. What came into fashion in Europe’s Enlightenment encouraged the view that humans were placed on earth to dominate it. The inevitability of hierarchies and the exercise of power in this kind of world cause all manner of cruelties, to humans, animals and plants.  A world without hierarchies, based on shared awareness, would not remove children from their parents; it would help families holistically.

Conclusion

The time for truth telling has been and gone. Now after the government inquiries, one question remains. What scars has the slow genocide of 500,000 Forgotten Australians left on society? I argue that the Homes were among the worst manifestations of evil from purveyors of the colonial mindset; one that robbed First Australians of their homes and lives, that held up the heights of Western civilization as conferring a God-given right to rape and pillage, and whose minions laid waste to people’s heritage wherever it disagreed with their own. In the most brutal ways possible, Home kids were taught that British colonial heritage was the right and only way. This caused untold suffering which is still playing out. Everyone in our family’s small circle of acquaintances has been affected by the Homes; everyone feels we are losing the struggle to survive. We can only watch admiringly as others battle for the planet.

References

Albrecht, G, Sartore, GM, Connor, L, Higginbotham, N, Freeman, S, Kelly, B, Stain, H, Tonna, A & Pollard, G 2007, ‘Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change’, Australasian Psychiatry, vol. 15, supplement.

Alliance for Forgotten Australians, viewed 26 September 2019, https://forgottenaustralians.org.au/.

Berry, T 2009, ‘An ecologically sensitive spirituality’, in ME Tucker (ed), The sacred universe: earth, spirituality and religion in the twenty-first century, Columbia University Press, New York, pp. 129-138.

Bringing Them Home 1997, viewed 29 September 2019, https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/bringing-them-home-report-1997.

The Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions 1999, viewed 28 September 2019, https://www.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0023/54509/forde-comminquiry.pdf.

Crutzen, P 2002, ‘Geology of mankind’, Nature, vol. 415, no. 6867, p. 23.

Forde Implementation Report 1999, viewed 28 September 2019, http://fordefoundation.org.au/u/lib/cms/forde-govt-response.pdf.

Forgotten Australians Inquiry 2004, viewed 29 September 2019, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/2004-07/inst_care/report/index.

Galtung, J 1990, ‘Cultural violence’, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 27, no. 3, pp. 291-305.

Geiser, RL 1973, The illusion of caring: children in foster care, Beacon Press, Boston.

Heinberg, R 2011, The end of growth: adapting to our new economic reality, New Society Publishers, Gabriola, Canada.

The Holy Bible: new international version 1998, New American Library, New York.

Indigenous Tutorial Assistance Scheme, Australian Government Department of Education, viewed 26 September 2019, https://docs.education.gov.au/category/deewr-program/indigenous-tutorial-assistance-scheme-tertiary-tuition-itas-tt.

Lost innocents: righting the record – report on child migration 2001, Commonwealth of Australia, viewed 29 September 2019, https://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Community_Affairs/Completed_inquiries/1999-02/child_migrat/report/index.

Lowe, I 2004, ‘Globalization, environment and social justice’, Social Alternatives, vol. 23, no. 4, pp. 37-41.

Markowitz, E. & Corner, A. ‘Climate change is really about prosperity, peace, public health and posterity – not saving the environment’, September 27, viewed 27 September, https://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-really-about-prosperity-peace-public-health-and-posterity-not-saving-the-environment-120476

McFarlane, K 2017, ‘Care-criminalisation: the involvement of children in out-of-home care in the NSW criminal justice system’, The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 412-433.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse 2013, viewed 26 September 2019, https://www.childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au/.

Trainer, T 2017, ‘The solution to the global crisis of capitalism is simplicity itself’, Medium, 21 July, viewed 28 September 2019, https://medium.com/insurge-intelligence/the-transition-process-the-simpler-way-perspective-f2a64a0a1d6a.

Vowles, E 2019 ‘Nicola defied ‘a sad statistic’ to get to university. She wants it to be easier for others like her’, ABC News, 17 September, viewed 28 September 2019, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-09-17/nicola-berry-foster-care-leavers-barriers-to-higher-education/11482696.

 

 

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