• Qaris Webster-Morley, daughter of Stolen Generations elder and singer-songwriter, Brian Morley (Ali MC)Source: Ali MC
Qaris Webster-Morley, daughter of a member of the Stolen Generations, speaks openly about feeling like a legacy of Australia's vicious assimilation policies.
Ali MC

18 Apr 2018 - 12:22 PM  UPDATED 19 Apr 2018 - 3:04 PM

Disclaimer: This article contains content that may be upsetting for some readers

As we sit in the hub and hum of Melbourne's State Library, 20-year-old Qaris Webster-Morley speaks frankly about her experiences as the first generation child of the Stolen Generations.

"I don't feel like my skin's dark enough. I feel like the end product of the Stolen Generations. They wanted to breed out the colour, I feel like I'm the person that they wanted."

We've chosen this place to chat, as Qaris is admittedly an avid reader.

She is also the daughter of elder and singer songwriter Brian Morley, who NITV recently spoke to about the grief and pain of being removed from his Aboriginal family and adopted by a white family.

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Like her father, Qaris has a passion for poetry and reads a wide variety of books. She says that her Mum and Dad inspired her to read from an early age.

"Reading is the key to everything. If there was more education about the true history, there might be more understanding non-Indigenous people in the world," she says.

Qaris is speaking from direct experience, explaining that while her Mum and Dad always brought her up to identify as Aboriginal, when she tells people she is Indigenous, most people respond disbelievingly, saying 'no you're not.'

Due to her father's removal, the links with her Aboriginal family, history and culture have been severed, resulting in "feeling like an outsider", a response she readily admits her father feels too.

"I've just never had a lot of opportunities to get involved with the community. On my dad's side, his mum and brothers and sisters and aunties and uncles — I haven't met any of them. I don't even know if they're alive."

Growing up as a teenager in suburban Melbourne without strong links to her Aboriginal family and culture, meant that Qaris struggled with her identity, admitting to being bullied in Year 7 "for being Aboriginal."

She tells of how each student had to get up in front of the class and talk about their background, "so naturally I talked about being Aboriginal. That didn't go so well and after class one student called me a derogatory term for being Aboriginal."

"I told my teacher about it, but he basically just pulled me aside and told me to 'get over it'. And because that kid didn't suffer any consequences, every time he'd pass me he'd whisper the same thing under his breath to me."

She says how she felt like she should be embarrassed about her identity. "In the books Aboriginal people are always portrayed as being weak, inferior, not human, not smart, not intelligent. I was always offered assistance at school as if it was assumed I wasn't smart enough."

Qaris recalls being shown the film Rabbit Proof Fence as part of Year 10 history class. Given her father's direct experience being removed, she identified with the film, yet was too afraid to say anything to her classmates, knowing that she would get teased.

When the class was being taught how Aboriginal children - like her dad - had been removed to 'breed out the colour', Qaris recalls how everyone turned to look at her. Being a light skinned Aboriginal person, she says, "I was the evidence needed to back up what was written in the textbook."

"I was the evidence needed to back up what was written in the textbook."

Sadly, the troubles did not end at school.

The impacts of the Stolen Generations have proven to be long lasting and inter-generational, having massive impacts on the children and grandchildren on those who were removed in the original assimilation policies.

The lifetime ramifications for members of the Stolen Generations can include severe mental health challenges, anxiety, depression and even drug and alcohol abuse.

These effects were felt at home, as her father Brian struggled to come to terms with his removal and loss of identity as an Aboriginal man.

Qaris explains that while her parents were together for the first eight years of her life, it was a time marred by fights, arguments and conflict, sadly ending in separation.

"After they split up my dad went off the rails, which made me and my brother and sister afraid of him. He wasn't the best dad for a lot of years, and he's had to go to men's groups, AA and other groups to become a better dad to us."

The trauma of removal and separation from family also created an ongoing distance between father and daughter.

"Dad was never really affectionate growing up... at the end of a phone call it would be a simple 'love ya' but that's about it. He likes having people around him but at the same time, he doesn't. I think he's afraid everyone is going to leave him. He's had some pretty shitty things happen to him that he struggles to deal with."

Qaris says that her dad has worked hard to become a better father, saying that "he made a promise to us about 10 years ago that he would be a better dad. And he's been true to his word ever since."

Despite the difficulties, both Qaris and Brian have embarked on a journey to reclaim their identity, and learn more about their Aboriginal culture.

Brian at one stage worked as an Aboriginal tour guide for the Melbourne Botanical Gardens, where Qaris says "that's the most I've learnt about Aboriginal culture."

Yet she also laments not knowing more about her culture, saying "I would have loved to have grown up learning about men's and women's business."

"I know that I'm part of something spectacular - but I just can't access it."

Qaris recently finished university, where she studied live sound and production. She is currently working for a couple of audio-visual companies in Melbourne, and looking forward, tells me that she would one day like to own her own music venue in Melbourne.

I ask her what advice she would give to other children in her situation, who have parents who were removed as part of the Stolen Generations, and whose parents might be separated.

She says that despite her parents splitting up, it is not the end of the world, and reflects that it is possible to have a relationship with both parents.

"I love both of them, and they are both contributing factors to who I am."

And for other people who might be a child of Stolen Generations, Qaris has these final words to say, "try your best to find people who understand and are accepting, and can help you move through these things."

"I will always identify as Aboriginal. I might have had some struggles coming to terms with it growing up, but it's who I am and I'm not going to let go of it."

For anyone needing support on any of the topics raised in this article, reach out to NACCHO member services, Headspace: Yarn Safe and the Healing Foundation.


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