“I was one of seven brothers and sisters," Uncle Michael Welsh, a member of the Stolen Generation, tells SBS. "Me and my brother Barry – he was a couple of years older than me – we got taken from my mother and brought down to Central Railway Station.
"From there, they took us to Kempsey and told us our brothers and sisters were coming on the next train. We knew that was a lie.”
Uncle Michael fights back tears as he recalls arriving at the Kinchela Aboriginal Boys Training Home in 1960, aged eight.
“When we got to the gate, we could see it wasn’t a very good place. I was saying to my brother, ‘I want to go home’. When we got upstairs, we looked out the window and could see a bloke digging a huge six by six-foot hole. My brother Barry asked them what he was doing – it looked like a grave. The manager at the time said ‘he’s gonna fill it in and then he’s gonna dig it out again.’”
As Uncle Michael explains, the boys were yet to learn that residents of the home would be tasked with futile physical jobs as regular punishments.
“That was the start of a very bad experience for us.”
In 1918, the Aboriginal Protection Board established the Singleton Boy’s Home as a place to house boys forcibly removed from their families under the Aborigines Protection (Amendment) Act (No. 2 15) until they were old enough to work. But, they would remain wards of the state with their income held in trust by the Board until they turned 18.
In 1923, the Singleton Home was closed and in 1924, the boys were transferred to Kinchela. An incredibly harsh environment, cases of beatings and sexual abuse are well documented at Kinchela, where the young boys were subjected to cultural deprivation, discrimination and institutionalisation.
“They took us to a little shed, a barber shop, and they shaved all our hair off us and whatever hair we had on our arms and legs and they stripped us and took our clothes. Then they chucked delousing powder all over us, which I later learned was to treat animals for lice.
“They told me then, ‘you are now no longer to be called Mike, you are Number 36'.”
“I’m healing. While I’m talking to you, I’m healing. I’m able to talk about things I couldn’t talk about. I can feel it in my belly."
For Uncle Michael, nights at Kinchela were the toughest.
“I cried myself to sleep a lot. I clearly remember the one thing I missed the most; the smell and cuddle of my family when we all jumped into bed at night time. That was something that was really hard to lose sight of.
"They called it the Stolen Generation."
Even after leaving Kinchela in 1965 and for many decades later, the trauma followed Uncle Michael.
“Because I didn’t know how to be a father, I took that horrible place home to my children. It’s a trauma that just goes on, lives on."
In 2001, the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation was established by survivors of the Kinchela Boys Home and their families. A not-for-profit Aboriginal community controlled organisation, KBHAC fosters healing programs for KBH survivors and their families, addressing the legacy of abuse experienced by survivors as well as the intergenerational trauma.
Uncle Michael has since returned to Kinchela, but it wasn’t an easy decision to make.
“This is what we want to do now: create another pathway so they [future generations] don’t go down a life journey without having all the pain.”
“I was frightful, tearful as we got closer [to Kinchela]” he says. “As we got together with the others there, I realised this was a different feeling. I was here with some men I felt as though I could trust. Men who knew what pain I was feeling and I knew what they were feeling."
A large component of the KBHAC’s group healing program is to encourage survivors to retell their stories to one another, and to their families.
“This is what we want to do now: create another pathway so they [future generations] can go down a life journey without having all the pain,” Uncle Michael tells SBS.
“I’m healing. While I’m talking to you, I’m healing. I’m able to talk about things I couldn’t talk about. I can feel it in my belly. Before, it would get stuck in my throat and that was it, it wouldn’t go anywhere.”
As CEO of KBHAC, Tiffany McComsey has also seen the transformative impact of the organisation, firsthand.
“This is testament to the efficacy of collective healing and the ways in which the KBH survivors provide peer support to one another, and how descendants recognise the similarities in their experiences and the legacies KBH have left on their own families," McComsey says.
"[They] share the same vision of wanting to heal their family structures and strengthen their connection to identity, culture and community."
Uncle Richard Campbell was nine years old when he and his four siblings were taken from their family.
“I was an angry teenager,” he tells SBS.
Today, Uncle Richard is the Secretary of the Board at the Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC). He’s one of many KBH survivors who have taken up leadership roles within the Aboriginal community.
“In the last few years, being back with the boys has mellowed me out a lot - you know, actually talking about the stuff that happened to me,” Uncle Richard says.
Because I didn’t know how to be a father, I took that horrible place home to my children. It’s a trauma that just goes on, lives on."
McComsey says that the more KBH survivors and their families who become involved in the KBHAC's healing gatherings, “the more they are able to address the trauma they have lived with and the factors that reduce their quality of life and engagement in community.”
“Kinchela do a lot of these programs – men’s healing,” Uncle Richard says.
“We’ve been getting psychiatric help; they talk one-on-one with us and then all of us talk together, you know. It’s a lot better to talk and to heal. Because we all grew up together as brothers. We all look at each other as brothers.”
If this article has raised any issues for you or you want to talk someone and receive support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
First Contact and related online content, such as this article, contains themes that may distress or upset viewers. Please click on the links provided for support on issues such as; mental health and suicide, stolen generations, domestic violence and children and education.
For more information on the the KBH Bringing Them Home Counselling service, click here.