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STANDING COMMITTEE ON COMMUNITY AFFAIRS
07/04/2009
Implementation of the recommendations of the Lost Innocents and Forgotten Australians reports

CHAIR —Good morning and welcome. Ms Brownlee, do you mind just being called Brownlee or do you wish it to be Brownlee nee Corry?

Ms Corry —Just Mary Corry at the moment.

CHAIR —Are you happy with Mary Corry?

Ms Corry —Yes, Mary Corry now, thank you.

CHAIR —Sure. I understand. Information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence has been provided to you. We have a number of submissions from you. I invite either or both of you to make an opening statement and then we will go to questions.

Ms Corry —Both of us will make an opening statement. Good morning, senators, forgotten Australians and friends. I would like to introduce The Healing Way for Forgotten Australians and welcome John Hennessey OAM, who is in attendance. He is our patron and a former child migrant.

CHAIR —We have met Mr Hennessy before. Hello, Mr Hennessey.

Ms Corry —He is our wisdom area because he is going to give us a lot of advice. We are a healing group for forgotten Australians, as our title suggests. I will read my statement and then I will take some questions when you are ready. When we lost our childhood we lost the full magic of our world. This circumstance we find ourselves in as forgotten Australians cannot continue to silence us because, as Martin Luther King said:

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

I listened to John Murray today and I liked that he spoke so much truth about the implementations and our issues today. This is why we are all here today together—because we cannot be silent about past abuses and such things that matter to our society and our nation.

I would ask you here today to listen closely to us while we bring thousands of voices into the room. These are the voices of forgotten Australians who cannot express their own trauma and pain for many reasons. There has been a lot of trauma and pain since the Senate inquiry. We are hearing it and that is why we are giving their voices some resonance here. They are still undoing the mess of their childhoods so they can find and fulfil the purposes of their unique lives. Many forgotten Australians are finding themselves angry and frustrated about the fate they experienced as children—more so since their stories were witnessed in the Senate inquiry four years ago. Many need strong, active support. It is no good knowing these things; we must action the knowledge that we have. We have created The Healing Way for Forgotten Australians Inc. because we do not want some forgotten Australians to seal their fate with negative thoughts and reactions to causes of anxiety they may carry within themselves from a traumatic childhood.

It is possible to re-educate ourselves to learn how to move out of our own way. While we are doing this we can also have fun, always—and we do that in our workshops because we deserve some fun and because we are forgotten Australians. We can turn it around and do it with our people the very best. While we are supporting this positive step forward by moving ourselves out of our own way, The Healing Way will facilitate with the utmost dignity and respect every forgotten Australian placed in its path.

At this important time in their lives, we will endeavour to acknowledge the full extent of the traumatic experiences so many forgotten Australians share, being forever mindful of the storytellers’ moments while telling their stories. These are moments where healing and harmony can replace the past trauma and pain and heal the heart. Most of us forgotten Australians need an end to our stories with closure and resolution. Forgotten Australians need goals to take us into the future and finally into the magic of our world where we feel strongly connected to our society, our culture and our nation. These goals are many and varied because we are all just catching up to everyone else.

This can happen more quickly when we get social and cultural dignity through educating society about trauma and especially about post traumatic stress disorder. We have been treated for mental illnesses and put into boxes that have nothing to do with what is happening in our brains. I can see this happening in a lot of areas. There will be progress when we get up-to-date counselling for identity issues, when we are being supported whilst speaking our truths on our own or with chosen trusted groups, when we have a say in our future, when we can voice concerns as the stakeholders in our own reconstruction and when we are surveyed as a marginalised group to collectively voice our needs and desires. I am asking a lot here but it has been four years and we have seen a lot of trauma, pain, fear, frustration and anger after the Senate inquiry. There will be progress when we are supported in areas such as education to appreciate and work towards the already ignited potentials that many forgotten Australians have developed through their own merits.

We have done so much work ourselves and we should be starting to get some abundance happening and a celebration for what we have done because we have done a lot. That is what we do in the workshops. We get people there, find out what they are doing, what they have done and where they are now and then we celebrate what they have done. They are amazed at what they have done. It should be a celebration after the work that they have done on their own without any sort of support. When there is a deep and acknowledged recognition of the innate potential surfacing that needs to be celebrated and given true value in the correct educational areas. We have to be funnelled into the right educational areas, say we have a forgotten Australian who is a master at music, who has done all the practical, hands-on kinaesthetic experience and who needs to get into university to do the theory so that it all comes together. Then they are a full master in their purpose and their potential and they can become teachers. What wonderful resources they can be. That is just one example. Thank you.

Mr Higgins —I would also like to acknowledge John Hennessey. He is a child migrant. Mary is an Irish ₤10 Pom and I am a sixth generation Australian. Although we come from different backgrounds, we share the same plight. As children we were in demand. Everybody wanted us. We just need to be let go. That is why we formed the Healing Way for Forgotten Australians to incorporate people’s beliefs that they can move on. There has been an acknowledgement amongst the academics which has only recently changed that we are capable of moving on. It was thought we were not capable of overcoming the tragedies that we went through in childhood. Nothing is further from the truth. We are capable, we all have our own abilities, which we would love to share, and we would like to move on and to be part of society. We were taken out of our community as kids; we just need to be welcomed back.

I acknowledge the Aftercare Resource Centre for their help and assistance in allowing Mary and I to go through a series of workshops, so we could both move on as individuals and also be trained in areas where we may assist other forgotten Australians. This is important: this is forgotten Australians working with forgotten Australians. A lot of academics may have some theory, although it is very limited because there has not been much out there yet, and we acknowledge that. But we are capable of installing the wealth and the individuality of forgotten Australians so they are able to be lifted back into the community. I would like to thank ARC New South Wales for that opportunity. Unfortunately, funding was stopped last year. When 20 of us went through these workshops, to various degrees we were empowered for the first time.

Last year, after 38 years of finding my family, I had a group of 70 come to a reunion. It should never have taken 38 years to happen. I am a sixth generation Australian. My family was brought out here by Macarthur back in the 1830s. We had a wonderful life until the 1940s. I share that with John Hennessey, who were separated from his parents in the forties. My older brothers were separated right through to the fifties; those in Mary’s family, from the sixties and seventies. That is 40 years of family separation. My brothers and I share 63 years of institutionalisation. If you count the next generation and the third generation, it is more than a hundred years of institutionalisation. It should never have happened.

State members seem to have a lack of understanding of the damage that has been done. If our state member, Mr Rees, can think about spending $1 billion on the Opera House, where is his thinking? In the early days of New South Wales, even governors King and Bligh and Macarthur acknowledged that the vagabonds of the colony should be attended to, and made statements about that. But Samuel Marsden felt money should not be wasted on the vagabonds of the colony, and it seems the state of New South Wales and the rest of Australia took up his standard of not allowing the struggling people to share in the wealth of this country. It just has not happened.

That is why we are working with the Wollongong Neighbourhood Centre and preparing workshops down there. As we speak, they are sending out information to other neighbourhood centres right down to Shoalhaven—there are nine of them—so that forgotten Australians and child migrants will be able to share in workshops and be able to move on. This should be the issue for the state to take up. We are doing it as a small group, through our own efforts and finances. The state should be taking this up, and so should the ex-carers, to enable us to take on board being a family again, to share what we have missed in the past and take it back to our families. It is very difficult for many of us to talk to our partners, our children and our grandchildren—the generational hurt has gone on too far. If the situation we have today goes on for another five or 10 years we will have another generation damaged.

I would like to leave with the committee that you acknowledge that we can move on. We are very much able to move on. We are just as smart and as bright as any other Australian. I would like to acknowledge that to be an Australian should be the most wonderful thing on this planet. We are probably the most privileged country, yet half a million of us never shared that. Our state needs to bring us on board and to give us the opportunity to move on. I will leave that with the committee.

CHAIR —Thank you, Mr Higgins. We will go to questions.

Senator FIFIELD —You mentioned the ARC program—

Mr Higgins —Aftercare Resource Centre, yes.

Senator FIFIELD —that you participated in and that funding is being stopped for that. I assume that was state government funding.

Mr Higgins —Yes.

Senator FIFIELD —Do you know how long that funding for that particular program had been in place for?

Mr Higgins —Three and a half years.

Ms Corry —Yes, we did a healing workshop—pretty empowering for the forgotten Australians at the time—and we got funding for that about 3½ years ago. It was six months after the Senate inquiry.

Senator FIFIELD —You mentioned that clearly it is an area of state responsibility, that the state needs to address it.

Mr Higgins —Yes.

Senator FIFIELD —What is the range of things that the state should do. Clearly you are of the view that one of them should be reinstating funding for that workshop that you went through.

Ms Corry —Workshops and retreats. Some of the forgotten Australians that we will be attending to—I say we will be because we will be, and nothing is going to stop us because it is our purpose to do this—will be older people who do not really want to undo their belief systems. They just want to get together, have some bonding time and witness each other in a safe environment. We might be getting people in their 70s, especially when we access child migrants. Their retreats would be a week-long event: they will just sit back, they might go bushwalking, they might have a hairdresser come in and do their hair, or they might have beauticians come in and do their nails—things like that. That might be what they want, but we want to offer all sorts of things that they have missed out on. For the younger ones, we can go into the 30s here, 32-year-olds, or even some of the generational people from forgotten Australians because they have been affected also. I can even see myself working in drug education with young forgotten Australians, generational forgotten Australians who have been taking the fate of their family system. I can see that it is a big thing that we can be doing eventually.

Senator FIFIELD —So apart from the workshops and retreats, what are the other things that you think the state government should be funding to provide assistance?

Ms Corry —We have a social justice area, but we have been really working on the workshops and retreats, getting them up first. The social justice area would be compensation so that the forgotten Australians can get set up, so they can fulfil the educational—until you get set up in a shelter, your basic needs are met. I am seeing some people from Queensland at the moment who have the redress, and it is just getting them started to be set up to do their purpose. Like I said, a lot of people have done a lot of their own work, so they just need that bit of money to fly, to find shelter and get their books or do whatever they need—get into TAFE. We are very independent people; a lot of us do not ask for help.

Mr Higgins —Also, reconnection to your family is very important here. Probably the most emotional part of moving on is reconnecting with your family. I am helping a lady now who is 67 years of age who has not seen her dad since the day she was born. We are helping her, with some friends, to find her dad. Reconnecting with your family—whether they are alive or dead—really is a powerful tool to help you move on. And while the records are being held back, as John Murray explained—while they are not properly serviced and controlled and filed and they are not readily available—it stops a person from moving on if they cannot make a connection with those records in a proper and sensible way.

Senator FIFIELD —I guess as time moves on for all of us, reconnecting with living family members is something that really is time critical.

Mr Higgins —Yes. There is never a time when it is too late, whether it is a father or a grandfather or a great-grandfather. To make that connection through records is a great relief. You find who you are when you know who you are connected with.

Senator FIFIELD —I am interested in the age range of the people you work with.

Ms Corry —We had some input into the booklet through being a part of Origins at the time, and we found it was from 32 up.

Mr Higgins —We had one chap in the workshop in Brisbane who was 30.

Ms Corry —Yes, that was Jason. Speaking about that booklet, I am finding that a lot of the professionals I am accessing myself as a forgotten Australian do not know about the booklet, so I am giving them out.

Mr Higgins —In our workshops in the Wollongong-Shoalhaven area we will be approaching the local schools, educational centres and doctors and putting those booklets out wherever we can. We will be approaching our local newspapers to give them information on local homes and institutions and tell them what happened in their area and that some of these people are now living in their area. We are identifying them now and through that we hope to get the local community involved in the workshops.

Senator FIFIELD —Do you find there is any particular pattern in where they live: do people tend to stay near the institution they lived in or to go far away from it?

Mr Higgins —Both of those. There are those who have moved out of the state because they just cannot handle being a New South Welshman because of their childhood memories and there are those who will stay very near. There does not seem to be any pattern.

Ms Corry —Support in New South Wales is so bad that we had to go to Queensland, to Lotus Place, to do our workshops. People from New South Wales are going up there. We are finding New South Welshmen in Lotus Place because they are getting some sort of support there. The Lotus Place centre is wonderful. When we were up there doing the workshops we went in a few times to see what is offered there. We would love to see a Lotus Place or a Healing Way in New South Wales—somewhere where we have access to professionals who can watch the play, who can stand on the sidelines and make sure that everyone is looked after and their needs are met exactly when they are needed. We have no more time to waste because we have wasted a lot of it already.

We know that a lot of forgotten Australians commit suicide at Christmas time, and they just go into that big statistic. A lot of them are men who have not got the emotional resource to cope with what has happened to them. That troubles me because I have four brothers and not one of them is married. I grew up with 60 boys and about 15 girls. Women tend to be able to cope with the emotional abuse and all the other abuse a little bit more easily. What we now need is more support for our men, because they also have potential and a purpose in life.

Senator FARRELL —Thank you, Mr Higgins and Ms Corry, for your very detailed response to the recommendations. Some of the issues that you are talking about are obviously state based.

Ms Corry —Yes.

Senator FARRELL —One of the considerations we have to take into account is how to resolve some of those issues between the federal and state spheres, and that is not just in relation to New South Wales but all the states. Do you have any suggestions as to how that might best be achieved to get the sort of result you are looking for?

Ms Corry —It needs responsibility and accountability from the states that have not unpacked their bags. New South Wales and Victoria still have not had any redress. I am still trying to work out whether the redress is good or bad. As John Murray said, $60,000 is a lot of money for forgotten Australians but, realistically, where does $60,000 go in society? It is not very much when you have so much extra work to do to get your shelter. We want to buy houses. We want to have our own piece of real estate. That is a really important thing, and the states need to be looking at a compensation scheme that supports lots of areas, such as some money for education and healing. Up until now Lawrie and I have not seen much healing happening. We are innate healers. We are good at what we do and this is our purpose in life. We are a resource and we are going to keep offering ourselves until we get some funding, because that is the way we are.

Mr Higgins —The hierarchies of both the New South Wales churches and the state need to have a good look at themselves. We are not high on their agenda. We are probably not even on their agenda in some instances. They are very lacking in understanding, lacking in love and lacking in wanting to help us move on. Our statistics are growing and growing as another generation joins the forgotten Australians of the forties, fifties and sixties. The numbers are growing. They could be hauled back if mums and dads and granddads and grandmums were given the opportunity to move on. You do not move on yourself; your family moves on with you.

Ms Corry —The question was: how can we get the states? They have to start coming to the party and know that they have a responsibility. It is all about reciprocal healing. Everyone has to unpack their bags and do some looking at their own history and all the policies et cetera that have not really helped us. There is a history of all those reports that have not really helped the situation. That needs to be looked at.

Mr Higgins —Our doctors need to be trained in our background. Our social workers need to be trained in our background. Some of our children and grandchildren are going to school carrying the same load that we experienced. When a child is having problems at school the problem often stems from the parents’ or grandparents’ experiences at school. Teachers should be allowed to understand that that child might be a person who had a mother or a grandmother or a grandfather who had problems at school. Knowledge out there about what we are dealing with as individuals should be made available to all those who work in the public system.

Ms Corry —Also, I have to comment on John Murray’s evidence that we have been aligned with Holocaust victims in academic writing. I do not know the name of the writer but I can certainly find it out. I read it four years ago. We have been aligned with them in the taking away of our identity when we went into the institutions and in all of the abuses that happened. We also had all the abuses. I want to put that on record.

Mr Higgins —In any state, as you entered the homes or institutions you entered the same way as a Jewish Holocaust victim entered into the camps. The only difference is they never made it; they died. We died inside and remain that way as adults.

Ms Corry —What really upsets me too, very much so, is that a lot of forgotten Australians are dying, going to their graves before they even get witnessed or before they get any healing. That really worries me. The state governments need to start realising that these people were born with potential and purpose and it is a sin that people die without coming into even a little bit of that potential. It is never too late. We have more mature age students at university than we have ever had, and we have people becoming lawyers and all sorts of different things in their 70s. I think it is wonderful.

CHAIR —In your submission, you talk about the work you have done with the Catholics in their Towards Healing program. We have heard evidence in a number of states that there are some severe limitations in the Towards Healing process. Because you have particularly mentioned that a couple of times, I would not mind getting some comments from you on record about that process.

Ms Corry —We have had a meeting with Sister Angela Ryan. What happened was I went in with a forgotten Australian, Ian Bisset, who was going through the Towards Healing process. I was involved in it for 12 months with him. I went in. And then solicitors got involved. They hijacked him on the phone. I still went. What I watched was unethical behaviour from the solicitors, and I have sent that submission in as evidence. I am very concerned now that our forgotten Australians are being re-traumatised. We spoke to Sister Angela Ryan and she said—I said the word ‘retraumatisation’ and she said, ‘We don’t re-traumatise’. That is not true. I ended up in hospital with Ian that night—he had a seizure in the hotel room; he hit his head when he fell—and it was because of his retraumatisation on that very day. In front of me, his background was pulled up and used against him. The unethical behaviour of the solicitors speaking directly to me was mind-boggling.

CHAIR —That was in the Sydney diocese?

Ms Corry —Yes. Sister Angela Ryan was told about that. She was very interested and she was going to do something about that. As for the workshops and retreats, Sister Angela Ryan does not think that the Catholic Church would want anything to do with that. What I processed and analysed from that pretty quickly is that they do not really want us to group together because then we might become a bit more empowered. They do not want us to group together. She offered to contact the hierarchy, the ones that were compassionate.

CHAIR —Ms Corry, it might be useful, if you and Mr Higgins choose to do so, to give us some supplementary information about that because your submission is quite positive about it. I think it must have been written a long time ago.

Ms Corry —We have had the meeting and now we are disappointed.

CHAIR —It might be useful to put that on record because we are trying to get as much information as possible on the process.

Ms Corry —Okay, I will send something else in.

CHAIR —That would be useful.

Ms Corry —And Ian is going to send his evidence in about that also. I have all of that ready to go.

CHAIR —Thank you very much, we appreciate the time and the effort you have put into your submissions and also your ongoing contributions. If there is anything that you think we need to know that we have not covered effectively today because of the limitations of time, we have until the end of May if you want to provide extra information. The report has to be presented by the end of June, so for it to be effectively considered we would need any extra information by the end of May.

Ms Corry —It is all ready to go with Ian.

CHAIR —Thank you very much.

Ms Corry —I think now I have a private submission.

CHAIR —Is there anything you would like to add to your private submission?

Ms Corry —For the healing way?

CHAIR —Yes, or just in the capacity of your giving evidence now. Is there anything you want to add? We have this series of things, and we put them all together, so was there anything you particularly wanted to add from your own work?

Ms Corry —I am very interested in oral histories, and that is also about retraumatisation. You have that in my submission.

CHAIR —I have, yes.

Ms Corry —I am very aware that people who are taking oral histories need to be aware of what they are doing.

CHAIR —Okay, training for the people who are doing that.

Ms Corry —Yes.

CHAIR —Very important historical work, but understanding the psychological impact of that on the people with whom they are speaking.

Ms Corry —Yes, while they are telling their story they need to have awareness of how to adequately and efficiently, in the moment, deal with the trauma that is happening as the story is being told. That is a very important thing. I am an innate healer in that area, so I would be very interested in taking oral histories because I have the credentials and I also have the capacity to give that person what they need right then while it is happening. So it is a therapy while the oral history is the whole story of healing happening there. But I am very aware that people are telling their stories and they are racing down the hill and their minds and their bodies cannot keep up with what is happening. That is about being re-traumatised; the brain has a terrible time after that. I was re-traumatised myself, but I was in an intellectual space where intellectuals took me and made sure that I was all right. I understand it because I have experienced it.

That is really important, and also the attachment to our institutions. We need to have something there to show us that we were part of that institution, because it was like our home. It was our home, and we need to be welcomed back and we need to have something there to say that we were there and that we did have a presence there and we need attachment to it.

CHAIR —That was certainly one of the recommendations of the previous inquiry.

Ms Corry —Yes, it is important. I have submission No. 31 that I was going to speak about today, so do I continue with that or does that start all over again?

CHAIR —Yes, you continue straight away.

Ms Corry —Submission No. 31 is about the national repatriation scheme. I am going to read a poem. It is called Alms in autumn. Alms are something given to somebody who need it most as a gift.

Spindlewood, spindlewood, will you lend me pray, A little flaming lantern to guide me on my way? The fairies all have vanished from the meadow and the glen, And I would fain go seeking till I find them once again. Lend me now a lantern that I may bear a light, To find the hidden pathways in the darkness of the light.

Ashtree, ashtree, throw me, if you please, Throw me down a slender bunch of russet-gold keys, I fear the gates of Fairyland all be shut so fast That nothing but your magic keys will ever take me past. I’ll tie them to my girdle and as I go along, My heart will find a comfort in the tinkle of their song.

Hollybush, hollybush, help me in my task, A pocketful of berries is all the alms I ask, A pocketful of berries to thread on golden strands, (I would not go a-visiting with nothing in my hands). So fine will be the rosy chains, so gay, so glossy bright, They’ll set the realms of Fairyland all dancing with delight.

That is by Rose Fyleman from the Little world of elves and fairies. I am Irish. I was £10 immigrant. We came over here to Australia to have a better life. That is why that was started. The Irish had a lot of hard times over there, and my parents came here because they could not get a house and they could not get a job. They came here and they had a lot of opportunities, but it did not go very well. The government has the keys, the gold key, for us to connect with the culture of our origin. I was born in Ireland. I can relate to John Hennessey and his disconnection with his culture of origin. I am Australian, but I am also Irish. You cannot get the Irish out of me.

CHAIR —That was your issue about repatriation?

Ms Corry —Yes. Also, I just want to read about attachment theory. We have attachment theory in psychology:

People need to feel a sense of belonging, inclusion and safety in order to function well. Attachment theory usually refers to the relationship that infants have with their immediate carers and the impact this has on their future functioning. (Bowlby, 1982). However, we know that a sense of belonging can be developed by people outside that immediate group and provide a buffer of resilience for children who are otherwise very vulnerable.

That comes from my lecturer’s book Circle time for emotional literacy. My lecturer, Sue Roffey, is a lovely lady and she knows a lot of stuff.

Anyway, that is all about when I was a little girl and went into the home. When I was taken from my mum and dad I did not have the resource of my extended family in Ireland available because my parents did not get supported over here when we were put into the home. We were put into the home and our parents were just left to be. They did not have any money to go back to Ireland. That did not happen. I can see that with DoCS now. Parents are being left. The children are being focused on, and that is right, but the whole family needs to be looked at. All of the extended family needs to be brought into the picture. I know about this because children have been taken on my former husband’s side. I tried to attach myself in that situation and I was not even considered. I know this is happening.

It happened to me as a child and in contemporary times I have seen it still happening. I have not put that into the submission, but I am giving you evidence now that I have a whole picture of situations in DoCS now. This is still happening. I am going to use some of the Dalai Lama’s words.

CHAIR —We have limited time. How much do you have?

Ms Corry —It is only small.

CHAIR —That is fine.

Ms Corry —These are the words and inspiration of the Dalai Lama:

Compassion is of little value if it remains an idea. It must become our attitude towards others, reflected in all our thoughts and actions.

That is the whole thing here with this Senate inquiry. Four years down the line we need to feel that compassion is not an idea anymore; it is an action. We are a big group of Australians who have been severely abused and we need a lot of compassion and healing.

CHAIR —Thank you and thank you for coming.

Proceedings suspended from 11.07 am to 11.22 am