• Brian Morley filming his song in an alleyway in Preston. (Ali MC)Source: Ali MC
Uncle Brian Morley was removed from his mother at two years old, he sings an ode to growing up separated from his family and tells an emotional story of his journey.
Ali MC

22 Mar 2018 - 2:31 PM  UPDATED 22 Mar 2018 - 2:32 PM

It's not about the money
It's not about the toys
But all about the hugs and kisses
I missed when I was a boy

It's not about the trips away
Or the shoes upon my feet
But all about my brother gone
And my sister not to meet

So sings musician Brian Morley in his song 'It's Not About the Money'; a mournful ode to growing up separated from his family as part of the Stolen Generations.

While Brian says that he was "one of the luckier ones", his music still resonates a deep hurt from his experiences.

Born in Horsham in 1958, Brian’s family soon moved to Dimboola where he was removed at age two and a half. His older brother, Shane, and younger sister Jennifer, were also taken at the same time.

On his records, it states that the reason for removal was that the family house was not a proper environment to be living in, but given both his parents were Aboriginal, Brian says, “that was the bogus excuse they used to remove a lot of people.

"The house we were living in was my mum, her brother and my grandmother plus the three kids, so not exactly overcrowded.”

He also says that his mother worked a job, and that living with extended family was the Aboriginal way of life, and could see no reason for his removal.

“Mary – my mother – worked as a maid at the pub over the road in Dimboola for quite a number of years, so it wasn’t as if she was sitting on the river drinking – she was gainfully employed.”

“She told me when I met up with her that there was a white couple in town who spent all day at the pub with the kids waiting on the pub steps – why didn’t they take those kids away?”

"They took us down to the train station on the day to take us down to Melbourne and they wouldn’t allow her on the platform to say goodbye."

The sudden separation of her children affected Mary very deeply, with Brian saying that “they took us down to the train station on the day to take us down to Melbourne and they wouldn’t allow her on the platform to say goodbye.”

After Brian was removed, he was taken to Turana Reception Centre for 6 months (now Parkville Youth Detention Centre). It was there that he and his siblings were split up, and it wouldn't be until he was 32-years-old that he would see them again.

Brian was adopted to a white family when he was two and a half years old, and his sister Jennifer, who was 9 months old at the time, was also adopted out, but to a different family.

“My adoptive mum told me that the first 6 months after they took me home from Turana I’d be hiding under the bed calling out for my brother.”

While Brian and his sister were permanently placed with families, their older brother Shane who was 5 years old at the time was shifted around from foster home to foster home.

“Shane was darker than me," Brian says, "and so it was harder to find adoptive parents for him, so was shunted from place to place to place.”

Despite the impact of his removal, Brian considers himself somewhat fortunate, in that he was adopted into a stable household. He grew up in the Melbourne suburb of Sunshine, and had an older brother with a mental disability, who his parents had also adopted.

“My parents were good people. I always feel I was one of the luckier ones. I was in a stable environment, they were good people. I have fond memories of growing up.”

Yet despite this stable environment, the separation from family and confusion over his identity took its toll.

“I always knew something wasn’t quite right. When I was told I was adopted at 16 it was no surprise.”

“I always knew something wasn’t quite right. When I was told I was adopted at 16 it was no surprise.”

Brian was never told that he was Aboriginal, and he believes that his parents were also “kept in the dark” about his true identity.

"My parents grew up in the depression, they had a stiff upper lip attitude, you didn't talk about your emotions. No one said anything about it, you were just told to get on with it."

Brian always knew something was different, and would cop racial abuse while playing football. He wondered whether he was Maltese, Lebanese or Southern European because of his darker skin.

"It was only when I was 16 that I was told I was adopted. My mum told me one morning on the way to work, after I'd gotten in trouble with the police. I always knew something wasn't quite right, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. When she told me it was like 'aha, that's it!'"

However, he still did not know that he was Aboriginal, only finding this out at age 28 after accessing his adoption records through an Aboriginal community service.

"I was referred to an Aboriginal service by a mainstream adoption agency. I can only assume they twigged that I was Aboriginal, because even at that point I still really had no idea about my heritage. It was only when I got my state ward file that it became apparent, as it says on my records that my mother is Aboriginal."

He says that, upon finding out who he really was, he felt “great.”

“I‘d spent 12 years after finding out who I was and for me to find out that I had a connection with the longest surviving culture on the planet – that’s something I’ll never deny.”

The records also showed a sinister side to the removal process, and the effects it had on his mother.

"My mother was described by the child welfare department as 'an Aboriginal woman of low intellect.' This was obviously what they wrote to justify what they did. Also in my file was some correspondence between my mother and the officers at the child welfare department. Mary, my mother, had requested a photograph of us children, but that request was denied, with the welfare department saying that it 'would not be in Mary's best interests to perpetuate the memory of her children.'"

The impacts of his experiences have left long standing scars.

“I’ve always felt out of step with the rest of society, out of tune with the rest of the world. I’ve always felt alone, but not known why.”

Brian has suffered in the past from alcoholism, anxiety and depression, and has struggled with relationships with family, friends and partners.

“I think that’s a defence mechanism I put up when I was two and half years old.”

He was 32-years-old when he was finally reunited with his mum, but says that by then they were complete strangers, the experiences of having her children removed leaving his mother in trauma.

“Mary had led a hard life also,” Brian simply states.

The experience of separation was so deep that it had caused a great distance between mother and son. After visiting her twice, Brian did not see her again and sadly, does not know what became of her.

“I never felt any sort of motherly connection with her.”

In that same year he met his brother, Shane, and sister Jennifer, but says "we drifted apart over the years, and I am not in contact with them any more."

Brian says he had a lot of anger in him that he had to work on for a long time.

“I’d get angry at my children and I think that is a result from my experiences. I was angry at the world.”

The impact of his separation has also affected his children, with Brian saying how his daughter says she has had difficulty finding acceptance as an Aboriginal person.

But the thing that keeps him going is his music.

“I’ve always regarded music as therapy. Music is a good bridge builder – but bridges can only be built when there is a bit of empathy and compassion on either side. My job as a songwriter is not to have the answers, but to raise the questions in people’s minds.”

And his response to people who say he was better off?

“Materially – maybe I was better off. I could go on holidays and Sunday drives. On the negative side – this feeling of aloneness and difference I’ve always felt – like I don’t belong. I’m 60 now and I don’t think it will ever go away.”

Brian sums up his reflections in the final verse of his song 'It's Not About':

You tell me I was better off
I should be glad
I say to you, you would not know
No wonder I've been sad
No wonder I've been mad
No wonder I've been bad


Ali MC (Alister McKeich) is a writer, photographer and legal professional who holds a Masters in Human Rights Law. His work documents global human rights issues, and he has had the privilege of working with a number of Aboriginal communities here and internationally. He currently works at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Follow @alimcphotos


The Point returns for 2018 with a special investigation on the Stolen Generations; past and present. 

Watch The Point on Thursday evenings at 8.30pm from 22 March on NITV (Ch. 34). Join the conversation #ThePoint