It’s a well-known fact that the Bunnies have a huge Indigenous fan-base, given some of the Indigenous Rabbitohs club legends, including Eric Simms and Kevin Longbottom, from the club’s glory days in the 1960’s and early 70’s, as well as modern day stars, like Greg Inglis and Alex Johnston, helped bring home the club’s 21st premiership in 2014.
Souths have always generously shared their Redfern headquarters and now, they’ve gone the extra mile, by inviting the Kinchela Boys Home survivors to their club and meet their star players.
The meeting, organised by Caritas Australia, a charitable organization that has supported the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation, served as another step on the road to healing, empowerment and keeping strong ties between some of the Kinchela Boys Home survivors.
Surviving the Kinchela Home
Between June 1924 and May 1970, authorities of the state of New South Wales incarcerated 400 – 600 Aboriginal boys (as well as a small number of girls in its first years) in Kinchela Boys Home (KBH) located near Kempsey, on the mid-north coast of NSW.
The Kinchela Home was known as an extremely harsh and cruel environment. The boys were referred to by number rather than name, and cases of beatings and sexual abuse are well documented.
In 2001, the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation was established. KBH survivors wanted to reunite and develop an organisation that would be open to all survivors, their descendants and immediate families.
Today, the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC) is committed to empowering positive, healthy peer support models that enable KBHAC and other Aboriginal community members experience greater social inclusion in community life. These models address the reconstruction of identity and restoration of family structures.
Uncle Lester Maher, Vice-Chair of the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation, made the trip from Brisbane, not just to meet his idols, but to see his Kinchela brothers.
“It’s about coming together. And it’s just an awesome time because we never had family, you know. And all of the boys who were in the home, we became family.”
He says that the Rabbitohs brought some entertainment and delight during those dark days at the Kinchela Boys Home.
“Back in the late 60’s, and even when I was in the boys home, we used to watch Eric Simms and Bob McCarthy and John Sattler and all them fellas play,” Uncle Lester says.
“I’ve been following Souths all my life, you know. When they gave me the invitation to come down, I just grabbed it with two hands. It was just an awesome opportunity you can’t miss.”
Uncle Richard Campbell was stripped of his identity at Kinchela and was referred to his given number, 28.
He describes the boys home very simply as “hell”.
A Gumbaynggirr and Dhunghutti man, Uncle Richard, said the boys were told that “they didn’t have a family”.
“They actually said, ‘you’re not black you’re white. You haven’t got a mother or father, your mother and father is dead. Your brothers and sisters are dead. Don’t go looking for your sisters because they’re going somewhere where you won’t see them forever’.”
Uncle Richard believes the place is a sad and shameful part of history.
Today, Richard is putting his Degree in Fine Arts to good use, by mentoring young Aboriginal artists. He also sits on the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation board. To him, the opportunity to share his story with the players and coaching staff at South Sydney was something special.
“It’s a great feeling to have an NRL team, a famous club, recognise and want to hear our stories and where we actually came from. Down in the shed when they sat there listening, it was just quiet you know, they just actually listened to us.”
Caritas Australia’s Sister Ivy Khoury, who is also a die-hard Souths supporter helped organise the meeting, as she’s developed a close friendship with coach Michael Maguire. That partnership was instrumental in getting the men from the Kinchela Boys Home to visit Redfern Oval and get right into the inner sanctum of the great club.
The Bunnies coach said the experience was a moving one. He believes his players were positively impacted by listening to the uncles.
“[They benefitted from] getting an understanding and seeing the smiles on the men's faces and even when they told their story… you know, there was still emotion there, which you can understand with what they've been through.
“They shared a few of the things they had to face. When you're hearing those sorts of stories of what they've faced, compared to what we do, at times it puts a fair understanding of where we are at.”