Catherine Liddle always knew her grandfather a child separated from his mother as one of the Stolen Generation. It wasn’t until he was dying that he described – in harrowing detail – the real horrors of that moment. For those who dare to challenge the truth of this period in history, she shares his story.
I’ll never forget the day my Grandfather told me he was dying. He was lying in a hospital bed, the back rest slightly elevated. The curtain that separated the bed from the next one was pulled back. The square room hosted four patients, two beds each side. Windows lined the exterior wall, light was flooding in.
“Hello my Grandpa,” I said, as I entered the room.
He’d been chatting to the man in the bed next to him and as he turned his head to acknowledge my presence he smiled.
“Hello my girl,” he replied. “Thank you for coming to visit me.” He patted the side of the bed. “Sit here.”
I sat. I was trying hard not to cry. Grandpa was sick, really sick. He could see my distress and, reaching out, he took my hand in both of his. I can still feel his touch. His hands were warm and rough, the legacy of a ringer. The top hand pressed down lightly for a second or two then lifted a little, pressed down and lifted again. He was taking my pain away, just like he always had.
Grandpa's beautiful almond-shaped eyes looked straight at me, their brown colour so deep they were almost black. Even after major surgery he was an impressive sight. The high cheek bones and strong jaw of the Arrente warriors. His eyelashes so long they needed to be clipped to wear glasses.
As I ponder this, Grandpa's face contorts. The expression is one of pain. I catch my breath, I don't know if I can bear this and I look for the call button. Before I can find it, Grandpa speaks again.
"That bastard had blue eyes," he says.
His voice is flat, almost without expression and yet full of emotion at the same time.
"That bloody bastard had blue eyes."
"Who Grandpa?" I ask.
"That bastard who took me away."
His expression changes to one of bewilderment but the pain remains.
"Why did he do that Catherine, why did that bastard have to do that?" His beautiful eyes plead for an answer I cannot give.
"I don't know Grandpa," I reply.
That my Grandfather had been removed was not new to me. He often talked about the bungalow, the other boys and climbing trees. He'd never spoken about actually being taken away.
Grandpa's eyes fill with water but the tears don't spill.
"We were at Hamilton Downs and Dad was away mustering. Mum had just made a cup of tea," he tells me. "There was someone at the door. Mum dropped her pannikan, I could hear her crying. I went and stood behind her and hung on to her leg. She couldn't stop crying, Catherine."
He hasn't finished, "Over and over she kept saying, please no. That bastard pulled me out from behind my mother. I was trying to hold on to her leg, and Mum just kept crying, please no."
Grandpa's expression changes again, this time it's just pain.
"Why did he do that Catherine, why did he do that?" he asks. "I was only a little one, I was so little I cried for my Mum every night."
My Grandpa never complained. At five foot seven, they say there never was a bigger man. But he needed to give me his story so that others might hear it too.
It is painful to share this memory, so painful that it hurts to breathe. But I share it because it happened. Not just to my Grandfather, but to many others as well.
I share it so that when people who don't hold this history of stolen children say it didn't happen, or claim it isn't true, you'll understand that this pain lasts more than just one lifetime and you'll remember "that bastard had blue eyes".
I'll never forget that colour. The question is, will you?
Catherine Liddle is a journalist and Executive Producer of NITV Current Affairs (AWAKEN and Living Black). Read another of Catherine Liddle's true stories: Ghosts in sad places - 'memories' of rifle times and frontier wars.
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