• The Grieving Mother Statue, Colebrook Reconciliation Park (Facebook )
OPINION: Vandals who stole plaques from the Stolen Generations memorial have the community coming together in the name of truth-telling, writes Karen Wyld.
By
Karen Wyld

14 Sep 2018 - 3:26 PM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2018 - 3:26 PM

Behind the news of a recent attack on a memorial park in South Australia is a story of community.

The Colebrook Reconciliation Park in Blackwood stands where the last incarnation of the Colebrook Children’s Home once stood. The first Colebrook Home was established in Oodnadatta (1924 – 1927), a remote South Australian town that was once a stopping point in the Ghan’s pre-1980 route. In 1927, the Home was relocated to Quorn, in the Flinders Ranges. And finally, it was moved to the Adelaide suburb of Blackwood in 1944.

Until it closed in 1972, many Aboriginal children were placed in this institution after being removed under government policies. Known as the Stolen Generations, the intergenerational impact these ethnocentric policies had on those removed and their families was highlighted in the 1997 National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children.

Colebrook Park is a collaboration between the Blackwood Reconciliation Group, Colebrook Tjitji Tjuta (representatives of those who grew up in Colebrook), Aboriginal Lands Trust and Mitchem City Council. The park was opened in 1997, with the Fountain of Tears was added in 1998 and the Grieving Mother statue in 1999. Smaller sculptures, artwork and commemorative plaques are scattered throughout the park.

Unlike statues that glorify early settler-colonials and instigators of colonial violence, monuments such as those at Colebrook Reconciliation Park are symbolic of the truth-telling and healing process that many Australians are participating in. The thieves that targeted the statues in Blackwood are most probably not part of that growing movement.

On 28 August at 4 am two vandals stole plaques from Colebrook Reconciliation Park. The security camera shows that they came equipped and appeared to have planned which plaques to remove. They are yet to be caught, so their motives are unknown.

The monetary value of the plaques is insignificant. So, was this just the foolishness of wanton destruction or a message they were intending to send?

The monetary value of the plaques is insignificant. So, was this just the foolishness of wanton destruction or a message they were intending to send?

Etched into the three plaques removed (one at the entrance and two near the Fountain of Tears) were words written by past residents of Colebrook Home. From the many plaques in the park, the thieves appear to have targeted the voices of the Stolen Generations. Truth-telling voices.

Members of the Blackwood Reconciliation Group, established 25 years ago, were initially in shock over this theft. In the past, there have been a few occasions of vandalism but never damage to the artwork. With support pouring in from the local community and across Australia, despair has turned to a renewed determination to honour the stolen generations.

Unlike the many volunteer groups that are in decline, the Blackwood Reconciliation Group has been growing and evolving. Alongside the original members now stands young people, families, job seekers, professionals and retirees. At their last annual general meeting, they had the largest attendance in 25 years. They also voted in their first Aboriginal chairperson - Allen Edwards.

Allen’s mother, Avis Edwards, was a resident of Colebrook House. Removed at 7 days old from Koonibba community on the Eyre Peninsula, Avis lived at Colebrook for 12 years.

Avis’ words are on one of the plaques at Colebrook park:

My baby, my baby, please give back my baby.

A mother`s words fall upon the deaf ears of authority.

Hearts break, tears fall, fear cries out

from wrenched hands and arms of a mother and child, separated.

Feel the pain, touch the ache, caress the tears.

Through ignorance and indifference came the disruption and destruction of family life.

Allen has no animosity towards the people who took the plaques. Instead, he continues in his dedication to raise awareness. Allen sees the park as a reflective place to honour the stolen generations, to ensure the voices of Colebrook Tjitji Tjuta (children) continue to be heard.

The Aboriginal Lands Trust, who own and manage the site, are looking at increased security and lighting. The plaques were insured, and they will be replaced soon.

Whatever the message the thieves thought they were sending is of no consequence. They’ve been drowned out by messages of solidarity from across Australia and an increased awareness of the powerful imagery and words to be found within the park.

Whatever the message the thieves thought they were sending is of no consequence. They’ve been drowned out by messages of solidarity from across Australia and an increased awareness of the powerful imagery and words to be found within the park.

Memorial sites such as this one can also be a reminder that we must endeavour to learn from the past. And, frankly, Australia needs to do better. Despite the apology to the stolen generations in 2007, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are still being removed.

As evidenced in previous child removal eras, tearing apart Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families has a generational impact. Increased understanding of the social determinants of parenting and culturally appropriate wraparound support services would provide much better outcomes than draconian government policies.

Australians need to stand together, to support truth-telling of both the past and present. This incident of theft has renewed the Blackwood Reconciliations Group’s commitment to do just that. With community events and activities being planned, the park will continue to offer a place of reflection, so people can continue to honour the stolen generations

 

Karen Wyld is a freelance writer, author and consultant of Martu ancestry. Follow Karen @1KarenWyld