An Aboriginal father has described feeling numb, sick inside and unable to breathe when told his “beautiful and healthy” five-month-old daughter had been given to foster parents in 1958, giving evidence in a landmark Stolen Generations case that his children were loved and never neglected.
Donald Collard has given evidence to the Supreme Court that he and wife Sylvia “gave up on life” after the “nightmare” of their other nine children being forcibly removed from their care and made wards of the State in 1961.
“For a long while after the children were removed Sylvia and I gave up on life and maybe a little on each other,” Mr Collard said in written evidence to the court.
Mr Collard’s evidence in the test case for damages against the State Government is contained in an affidavit which has been tendered in court and released to thewest.com.au today.
Mr Collard, his wife Sylvia and their seven surviving children allege the Government breached a fiduciary duty owed to the family after it removed the children, who they claim were robbed of their culture, denied a relationship with their natural parents and in some cases exposed to isolation and abuse.
In its defence, the State Government is arguing the children’s removal was lawful under the legislation at the time and they had been removed from conditions of “squalor” and “neglect”.
In the affidavit, Mr Collard said the couple were given no choice in the removal of their children and were told that the best chance of keeping them together was to arrange for their placement at Sister Kate’s.
Mr Collard’s statement includes a description of his life growing up in the “pretty racist town” of Brookton, where he says he was not even allowed to walk on the same side of the road as a white woman.
The 79-year-old said he worked all his life and believed that securing a house was the best chance of getting his children back.
But his affidavit reveals life was difficult because he was classified a “quadroon” at about the age of 18 – he was neither a “native” entitled to live on the local reserve, nor a white man. He said his family’s many applications for State housing were not granted.
He said the family lived at accommodation provided where he worked on farms, but spent some time each year in a “humpy” on his mother-in-law’s block in Brookton.
“No matter where we were living, we provided a good home life for our children,” he said in the affidavit.
Under cross-examination over the past two days, Mr Collard admitted there were various discrepancies between evidence on the stand and the details included in his affidavit.
Questioned by State lawyer Rob Mitchell about his criminal history and drinking habits, Mr Collard admitted he had committed some offences, but said he had also been thrown in jail for being drunk when there was not a “smell of drink” on him.
Mr Collard said there was never any choice but to plead guilty when charged with an offence.
He denied the family’s living conditions were “squalid”, telling the court he was offended by the term. He said he believed the family spent no more than a total of three months each year at the humpy, though his affidavit said it was up to six months.
There was no power or water at the humpy, but he said it was how Aboriginal people lived at the time.
Mrs Collard and the seven children will also tender affidavits in support of their case and be cross-examined as the trial continues for another four weeks.