Maggie Edwards battled all her life against an unfair system that would not allow her to see her children. She never gave up.
By
Ali MC

13 May 2018 - 11:09 AM  UPDATED 17 May 2018 - 9:48 AM

Talgium (Howard) Edwards fights back the tears as he recalls his mother's struggle against the authorities.

“Mum was doing it real hard. But she was a great fighter. I felt close but we couldn’t really talk about things. I used to love going out fishing with her. They used to call her the ‘cod woman’, the ‘fisherwoman’,” he says.

Back when Aboriginal people were not even considered citizens, the assimilation policies meant the forcible removal of Aboriginal children.

Thousands of families across the country were broken up, leaving mothers distraught over the loss of their children.

Talgium was one of those children who were taken away, along with his three siblings.

Yet his mother Maggie Edwards never gave up, and to retain contact with her children.

In 1956, the seven-year-old Talgium was removed from his mother and convicted of the 'offence' of being a child 'in need of care and protection'.

At the time, the family were living in Maroopna, just outside of Shepparton, a place where many Aboriginal families had moved to after the Cummeragunja Walk Off in 1939.

The 'Mooroopna Flats', as it is known, housed hundreds of Aboriginal families who, due to racism, social exclusion and subsequent hardship, were camped there in poor living conditions.

Those families became a target for welfare officers, who would remove children like Talgium from their mothers and families.

Too often, the racist nature of the welfare board ensured that the mothers were described as 'lazy', 'drunken', 'of ill repute' and other derogatory terminology.

Such terminology was used to justify the removal of Aboriginal children who would then be placed into foster homes, orphanages and group homes.

Yet the reality instead shows that Maggie was a strong, hard working and fiercely determined mother.

Maggie had been employed at a local cannery near Shepparton, but after it closed down, the welfare records state that she became 'in debt trying to provide for her children, mother and sister.'

Yet rather than providing the family assistance, the welfare board instead used the situation to justify removing the children, decrying the Edwards family as living 'in poverty'.

Yet not long after Talgium and his siblings were removed, the records show that Maggie was immediately down at the Maroopna police station asking where her children were, and if she could see them.

Later that year, though, Talgium was transferred to Ballarat orphanage, over 200 kilometres to the south-west of Mooroopna.

In order to remain close to her children, despite the welfare board's attempt to separate them, Maggie soon moved to Ballarat.

She found herself a job at the Queen Elizabeth Street Memorial Home, and moved into to a boarding house on Victoria Street - right next door to the Ballarat Orphanage where her children were housed.

One letter from the principle of the orphanage to the welfare board reveals an incident that demonstrates Maggie's determination and fighting spirit.

According to the records, Mrs. Edwards stormed into the orphanage, and in no uncertain terms, informed the principle how her children were being "ill-treated" and "neglected" at the orphanage.

“She took us home and then the cops were called and the police came and took us back.”

Mrs. Edwards then "grabbed" her four children and took them with her, refusing to hand them back over to the authorities, saying that she would rather the children be placed anywhere than at Ballarat Orphanage.

It was only after being threatened by the police with being charged with the abduction of her own children, that she handed them back over - but not before (as the records state) she had given the school principle a stern piece of her mind.

Talgium recalls one incident. “She took us home and then the cops were called and the police came and took us back.”

A letter from the welfare board states that as "the mother and the children are all aboriginals ... [the principle] wants them removed ... he says it is impossible to control the children properly whilst the mother lives so close and keeps constantly interfering."

Not long after, Talgium was transferred down to Melbourne to be interned at the Box Hill Boys Home.

It seemed as if the principle of the Ballarat Orphanage - and the welfare board - had had enough of Maggie's "interfering."

Yet still, Maggie would not give up.

She moved down to Fitzroy, where, according to the ongoing welfare reports, she had found herself a job earning '11 pounds a week' and was able to stay in contact with her children.

As they grew older, however, the welfare board continued to move the children around to different institutions.

“There was never a time when we were all in one place all together. I was a homeless kid in Fitzroy, I would see mum whenever I could.”

Talgium says that, while Maggie did her best to maintain contact and relationships with them all, over time the continual separation took its toll.

“There was never a time when we were all in one place all together. I was a homeless kid in Fitzroy, I would see mum whenever I could.”

"‘Why are my kids always getting into trouble?’ she would say."

Sadly, after a tragedy in which Talgium's brother was killed, Maggie had a breakdown.

"The pain of separation from his mother was always terrible"

Talgium says that prior to becoming a ward of the state, he had lived a "free and easy life", fishing for redfin and Murray cod, hunting in the forest for rabbits and making his own toys.

He says that "the pain of separation from his mother was always terrible" and that he always wondered why he simply couldn't go home with her.

Yet over the years, Maggie would continue to work hard both for her children, and for her community, until her death at aged 68.

“She was as strong woman who fought hard for rights and for her kids,"

Maggie worked in a children's hostel in Essendon, then at Lionel Rose Hostel in Gippsland, eventually moving up to Swan Hill where she would spend her days by the side of the river, fishing for the elusive cod.

“She was as strong woman who fought hard for rights and for her kids," Talgium reflects.

“You know, I really never seen a relaxed feeling, the only time I seen her looking relaxed when she was dead on the bed, she was always in pain.”

I finish the interview by asking Talgium what he would say to his mum this Mothers Day.

Wiping back yet another tear, Talgium says: “I was always afraid to love, because love was always taken away from me. I’m sorry mum for all the pain and suffering you went through. And that we weren’t there to support you.”