• Gomeroi man, Michael West when he was welcomed back to country. (Living Black)Source: Living Black
A special journey by one member of the Stolen Generations to traditional country, to meet and connect with family, culture and country, to find pieces to his identity
By
NITV Staff Writer

Source:
Living Black
28 Jun 2021 - 12:47 PM  UPDATED 28 Jun 2021 - 12:47 PM

Complex is how Michael West describes his relationship with both his birth and adoptive families.

"Our lives and identities are made up of many pieces, as a member of the Stolen Generations, I've realised, I'm like a jigsaw puzzle that will never have all the pieces. But we need to reclaim as many pieces as we can." reflects Michael.

Michael was a newborn baby when he was removed by the welfare department and adopted by a non-Indigenous family. "I was lucky not to be sent to an institution like Kinchela Boys home, and I had a good mother and father who brought me up and loved me. My father was a whitefella who lived and worked with Aboriginal people as a stockman and shearer and he always said, be proud of who you are."

But essential elements of his identity were missing.

Michael spent decades trying to find his family; to learn about his country, people and nation.

The link to his past was discovered almost by accident.

At morning tea in a Redfern Aboriginal organisation, Michael was asked his full name and birthdate by a work colleague, who then said, “you’re my cousin and we’ve been looking for you."

Life would never be the same again. Michael had suddenly met his family, "yeah, it was a pretty jaw dropping experience, we all stood there shocked".

The journey back to Country was far from easy for Michael. After the ten-hour drive from Sydney to Moree, Michael revealed in a video diary, his anxiety was mixed with excitement. 

When he was finally introduced to his mob, the greeting was everything Michael hoped for.  

"Hey brother. Welcome home bud." 

Back on country in Moree, Michael learned a great deal including what he missed out on, like loving relationships with his whole family.

"I was angry when I was younger, but being angry actually releases bad chemicals into oneself and it's better not to be angry. Turn the anger into motivation, be positive about life."

Art, storytelling, learning his language and practising culture are a healing force for Michael.

The journey back home included a trip to Boomi, north west of Moree, to dance on country. The country holds great significance as the site of the last known Gomeroi corroboree in the area. 

Painted with a symbol on his chest to represent his soul, Michael was guided by a local songman. In a moment filled with trepidation, Michael was asked to acknowledge, speak and pay respects to the ancestors, to sing to them.

Michael asked "What will I yell out?"

The answer came in a deep cry from the heart, “OHHHHHHHHHH”.

"It was a very touching journey for me."

Michael finally had the opportunity to make a deeper connection with his community and the country.

"As Aboriginal people, we are country and country is us. It's important to respect that, understand that, and to look after mother earth."

It was a journey that Michael told Living Black, he would never forget. "It's part of the journey I needed to take. And it happened when it needed to happen."

And for others who might be contemplating returning to country, Michael had words of advice, "I encourage all those members of the Stolen Generations to take the opportunity, reach out with both hands, and make that journey back to home, [to] country and community. And, connect with who you are.

"I hope you’re greeted with open arms and many hugs, as there will be tears."

 

 

To watch Michael's journey, in the Living Black episode "Missing Pieces" tune into NITV at 8:30pm on Monday 28th June 2021. The program will also be streamed on SBS On Demand