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Stolen Generations survivor taken from mother at age eight

Indigenous man Uncle James ‘Michael’ Widdy Welsh was kidnapped from his home by the government and told he was no longer Black.

Video transcript

- Let's start with your name first.

JAMES MICHAEL WIDDY WELSH: That's a very interesting section. Michael, James Michael Widdy Welsh, or number 36 now. I have to either that identify myself through those names, who I am, and where I'm from, and my people. And I was Michael Welsh when the government policies come and took seven of us away from my mother and put us into different institutions.

Me and the older brother went to a place called Kinchela. And when we were put into that place, we was no longer allowed to use our names. So we were given numbers. My brother's number was number 17. And my number was number 36. There are times through this interview I'll get a little bit upset. Because once I start talking about this, I'm reliving, and seeing, and feeling certain things that are already-- you know. I figure what I'm doing here now, talking about it, is abling me to be able to understand myself, and my pain, and the intergenerational trauma that I've now passed on to my children.

But my birth names were given to me by my mother was James Michael. When we got out of that place where we weren't allowed to talk our language or know anything about our people's culture, I now know that my people, the [INAUDIBLE] people of the nation that they call [INAUDIBLE] And we are the protectors of the black duck. Each and every one of the nation peoples of this land had a role of a protection, via the plant, via duck, whatever it is. But ours was the black duck. Purpose was to make sure it didn't become extinct and to look after the duck.

So that's me. I'm in the early ages of my life. I'll be 72 if I make it to the 12 of December this year, which I'm pretty sure I will. I won't get cocky. But I want to get there.

- Where were you taken from?

JAMES MICHAEL WIDDY WELSH: I was taken from the town Coonamble, they call it. And I will say this too. I need to identify that I was 8 years of age when they took me away from there. And my brother was 10 years of age, older than me. Had a sister, 5, a brother, 4, a brother, 2, and twin sisters and brothers, they were only 9-months-old. So that was a journey.

But before they took that, one of the things that I need to identify is that me and my brothers, being the older one of them children there, we used to dance around the campfire over night time. And my pop played the violin. My mom played the piano chords, and uncles would play the gum leaves, and the aunties would play the bones. We didn't have spoons in those days because we just didn't afford them. We didn't use them.

And overnight time was a beautiful time. While we danced around the campfire overnight, the uncles and aunties always would talk, and have ashes, and stick and drawing into the little-- under the ground about what was happening. At this time in my life, I'm so saddened that I was ripped away from it because it was a learning time that-- what they talked about and what they drawed about was-- and they'd look at the skies. And out there where there's no lights, there is billions of stars up there that you see twinkling through those beautiful sky nights. And they would talk about that.

And each one at a time would take a turn and throw something, a sort of-- most of them were a stick in the fire. And they'd talk about the sparks that flew from out of there and the flames that was colored. The flames were changing. And I'm watching that. I'll never forget that.

I mean, then it'd be time for me to go to bed. And that's how-- "Go to bed, Michael." Now, I'd go to bed. But my brother Barry would be allowed to stay up. And I'd lay there, and I'd be looking out of the tent. And I'd be thinking, why can't I stay up, if he's allowed to stay up? And I would sneak back out and stand next to him. And somebody would come along and they had--

It was a technique. It was so beautiful. They'd just touch you on the arm and say, "Michael, you should be in bed." So I'd go and get the bed. And I'd cry. And he'd say, "Oh, don't worry about it. I'll ask them tomorrow."

So next day, when I'd get excited, we'd get up, and I said, "Barry, brother, brother, brother." Bud, we called him. His nickname, bud. "Bud, what did they tell you?" He'd say, "No, I can't tell you what." I'd say, "Look, Bud, what did they tell you?" "No, but I can't tell you." I said, "Oh, bloody hell, you don't know what they tell you, did you? You don't bloody know nothing."

[SINGING IN BACKGROUND]

But now I know that as time went by, that that was what it was. He was on the journey from being [INAUDIBLE] by the mums, aunties, and nans to the manhood journey. And that was-- and he couldn't talk about it. But then that was broken. That was when (VOICE CRACKING) we were taken.

Things that stick out in your mind, mostly, about that was the coldness of the time. And when they-- I'd been on the train before. I talked to make me brother and sisters happy, talking about the kangaroos and the emus and then we're walking across the paddocks loaded on the train. It was about a 13-hour trip to Central Station. But at Central Station, that was the place where the end of the family love that we knew, that we had, because they separated us there. And me and my brother, we went up to Kinchela. They told us that our brothers and sisters were coming on the next train. We knew that wasn't true, that that wasn't going to happen. But we couldn't do anything to get out of it. We were only children.

When we got to that place, the coldness of that place when we went through the gate was just such a-- it was just-- yeah. They stripped us of everything that we had, shaved all our hair off us. They lay us and powder all over us. And that was when they told us that you were no longer to use your name; that if you was to use your names, you'd get punished.

And the clothes they gave me-- they made us watch as burned their clothes and shoes in an incinerator thing, first. But then they gave us these clothes. All the clothes had the numbers on them. All mine had number 36 on them. My brother, Barry, had number 70.

So we were in the same dormitory for probably, maybe nearly 12 months before they moved him out into the bigger boys' dormitory. But I'll never forget the coldness of that bed, when I got on it, and not only-- the loneliness of it because that was the first time that, at my age, I had to sleep alone. And that was frightening, and it got more scary. So, anyhow--

- Thank you so much.

- --that's just a little-- a short version of what happened to Michael, to myself, and the journey to where they put us into this place where we were told that we were no longer Black. They was gonna make us white. And it was for our own good, whatever that meant. But--