Ann’s Story

In 1905, the Australian Government passed the Aborigines Act which gave unprecedented power to Government authorities to take and detain Aboriginal children in institutions on the basis of race alone. This government-sanctioned practice was widespread across Australia and created numbers of up to one hundred thousand Aboriginal children of what are now known as the Stolen Generations as stated in the Bringing Them Home report released in 1997.

Ann was taken from her mother at the age of four and like many others of the Stolen Generations, Ann’s life has been a journey of putting the pieces of her identity back together.

Margaret Hawke, Ann’s mother, was taken from her parents as a child and placed in the Moore River Native Settlement known as Mogumber.  Both of Margaret’s parents, Ann’s grandparents, had also been taken and put into missions at an early age.  Ann’s grandmother, Polly Cox, was taken from Halls Creek and put into Moola Bulla Station.  Polly was considered to be “full-blood” and therefore “unable to assimilate by white society”. Ann’s grandfather, Joe Hawke, was a “half-caste” and was taken from Broome and put into Beagle Bay Mission.

After growing up at the mission, Margaret’s only options for work as an Aboriginal woman were as a nurse’s assistant or domestic cleaner for western families. Margaret worked as a domestic cleaner for a number of years and during that time birthed five children, of which Ann was the second. It is uncertain who fathered Margaret’s children however, it is believed they were men she worked for.

Except for Ann, all of Margaret’s children were taken for adoption as babies. Each time Margaret became pregnant, she would be dismissed from her job. Margaret endured a lifetime of being torn apart from all the family she knew. She was subjected to emotional, mental, physical, sexual and spiritual trauma. Margaret struggled with alcoholism and depression and ended her life at the age of 29.

It has taken Ann’s lifetime to discover this information about her mother. Ann grew up assuming her mother didn’t want her because she had never tried to make contact with her. It was only through a twist of fate that Ann discovered more about her mother while visiting her gravesite for the first time in 2020. A man was lingering around Margaret’s grave and introduced himself as someone who was in love with Margaret in her youth and missed her dearly.

Margaret Hawke

He spoke of how he would take Margaret to visit Sister Kate’s Children’s Home and watch Ann from a distance. He spoke of the extreme hurt Margaret had experienced living without her children.  On the other side of that fence, Ann was beginning her journey through the welfare system. Sister Kate’s was “a home for quarter-cast children”. The objective of the home was to house Aboriginal children and ready them for adoption by white families. As Ann explains, weekends were significant as this was the ‘show day’ where all the Aboriginal kids were made to stand in an enclosed area where visiting white people would walk around looking at them, deciding which one they wanted to take home. Ann recalls this might have been the only time they had a bath.

Ann was fostered by what she describes as “a good Christian family” and her surname was changed. While they clothed, fed and housed Ann, she knew she wasn’t fully accepted, and they were simply doing their duty to raise Ann as a Christian. Ann understands first-hand that fulfilling material needs is not enough to ensure the social-emotional wellbeing of children. She knows that without love and an understanding of their cultural identity or family connection, a child can feel completely lost and empty.

From a young age, Ann knew she was black and was proud of her Aboriginality. However, Ann was raised to believe that she had to be white to survive – that white people were better than black people.  As much as Ann’s cultural flame burned inside her, it was hard not to internalise the racism around her.

Ann was the only Aboriginal person in her family and the only Aboriginal child at her school, where other kids weren’t allowed to play with her. Ann lived with her foster family from the age of four until she ran away at twelve.

Ann’s life was rocky from here.  She stayed in many hostels and passed through thirteen different foster families within a year. She experienced homelessness and resorted to petty crime resulting in time spent in and out of jail. She also struggled with alcoholism, an illness that stayed with Ann for decades. But through another twist of fate, it was in prison that Ann finally reconnected with her family. By chance, another woman in jail had the same surname as Ann and they discovered that they were cousins.  Upon a visit from this woman’s uncle, Ann discovered the man was also her birth uncle. He was Margaret’s brother.

He was from Port Hedland and had served in the army on the promise of citizenship upon his return. He told Ann that while her mother had passed away at a young age, her grandparents and other relatives were still in Port Headland. Upon release from jail, Ann and her cousin hitchhiked to Port Hedland to Three Mile Reserve so Ann could finally meet her family.

Ann can still remember the day she met her family for the first time. She can still hear the wails of her grandmother and aunties as she arrived. Ann was the first grandchild of her generation to return home after being taken.

Polly Cox

Ann’s eldest brother took his life at the age of 16 while living with his adopted family and sadly, Ann never got the chance to meet him.  Ann’s younger brother was adopted to Salvationists and grew up in Kalgoorlie and never reconnected with family other than Ann.  Ann’s younger sister was adopted by a Dutch family and taken to live in Holland.  She returned to Australia with her adoptive parents and found it challenging to reconnect with her Aboriginal family as she only identified as being Dutch.  Ann’s youngest sister was adopted out to farmers in Katanning and never reconnected with family.

Ann always wondered why her siblings struggled to reconnect with family and discovered that the difference between herself and them, was that she got to spend the first four years of her life bonding and attaching with family.  Without this attachment, Ann’s siblings were never able to achieve the same sense of belonging.

Ann’s life started making sense as she met her mob and learned about her people and Country. It was like finally coming home and for the first time in her life, Ann finally had a sense of belonging.  Ann has made it her mission to change the story for children like herself, so they wouldn’t have to spend a lifetime figuring out who they are. If Ann could help it, every Aboriginal child would grow up kinship connected.