There is a photo of my grandmother – Amy Williams – standing in our old kitchen at the family home in Matraville in 1974. The photo is black and white, but I remember the cupboards being mint green. My grandmother doesn’t look happy. And she looks weathered. But when I think of her it is always this photo that comes to mind. I was about six when it was taken, only a few years before she died in 1976. It’s the last time I remember seeing her in the flesh. It also means, unlike the other kids at school I didn’t really have a grandmother in my life. I never had school holidays filled with stories and trips to visit her in Tumut. I don’t remember getting lots of cuddles from her. I never got to know her enough to remember her love. And worse still, I never got to meet my grandfather James, at all. As a child I felt ripped-off not having grandparents like the other kids at my school. But none of the kids in my class had the same family history as I did.
You see, my grandmother was taken from her family in Nyngan when she was only five. At the time she was Amy Talence. After spending time in Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls, she was moved to a Catholic institution for girls, the Home Of The Good Shepherd (Ashfield) in Sydney. At the age of sixteen she was still under the control of welfare and went into service for a wealthy English lady my Mum says lived at Parsley Bay in Sydney’s east although I have letters addressed to her via a woman in Kambala Road, Bellevue Hill until she was eighteen years old. She also spent some time as a domestic servant at Maryula on the Lachlan River from 20-22 years of age. Amy was finally released from her life of servitude around in 1927 when she married my grandfather.
It is this knowledge of my grandmother and the one photo that always comes to mind that I draw my strength from, and where my sense of commitment and obligation to do what I do in life stems. I recall the life she had, the little of it that I know, but a life similarly experienced by thousands of others who suffered under policies of child removal and became known as the Stolen Generation. I understand that my role in life is to do more than just enjoy the rights that she and the rest of my family went without for so long without.
I must write-the-wrongs, make Australians think about their personal and collective histories, challenge them to embrace their own roles in the ongoing injustice of Australia’s First Peoples, and encourage them to make change for the better also.
I do this with the memory of my grandmother guiding me always.
Dr Anita Heiss has published non-fiction, historical fiction, chicklit, poetry, social commentary and travel articles. She is a regular guest at writers' festivals and travels internationally performing her work and lecturing on Indigenous Studies. She is an Indigenous Literacy Day Ambassador and a proud member of the Wiradjuri nation of central New South Wales. Anita divides her time between writing, public speaking, MCing, and as a workshop facilitator. She lives in Sydney.
Anita’s historical novel Who Am I? the diary of Mary Talence, Sydney 1937 is a tribute to all those removed under policies of protection, like her grandmother, Amy.