• Aunty Eunice Josephine Grant at the Girls Home, she's in the back row, fourth from right. Picture: The Camp Of Mercy by Beverley (Gulumbali) and Don Elphick (Supplied)Source: Supplied
COMMENT | Today I am back in the place where Aunty Eunice was given her number - 658, writes Stan Grant.
Stan Grant

The Point
4 Apr 2016 - 9:55 AM  UPDATED 4 Apr 2016 - 9:55 AM

Imagine what it is to lose your name, to be taken from your home, to be robbed of your place in the world.

Imagine what it is to cease to be a person - to become a number. For many hundreds of Aboriginal children this was not the stuff of fable or story, this was a terrible reality.

I have a photograph of a group of girls standing in line outside the notorious welfare home in Cootamundra. None of them are smiling, I am drawn to the eyes of one young girl blankly staring ahead. She is known by a number - number 658.

This girl - number 658 - was recommended for removal by the manager of the Aboriginal station at Cowra. Number 658 was separated from her family along with so many others - over 1500 in the twenty year period from 1912.

Many were forever lost never to see their families again. Number 658 was sent to work as a maid for wealthy squatter families. She found her way back, finally having to seek approval and permission to marry the man she loved and live on an Aboriginal mission at Condobolin with her husband and alongside her long lost brother.

'Mixed emotions' as Stolen Generations reparations scheme launches in SA
Stolen Generation members in South Australia are being invited to apply for compensation under the state's newly established reparations scheme launched Thursday.

Number 658 would die a young woman only 37-years-old from rheumatic fever she first contracted in the girls home. She left behind six young orphaned children ... a life beaten down by the weight of our history.

Number 658 had a name - a name taken from her: Eunice Josephine Grant, my Aunty, the sister of my grandfather. Today I am back in the place where Aunty Eunice was given her number.

Cootamundra is a picturesque town in Wiradjuri country New South Wales. It is s town that holds so many memories. No doubt these are memories of fear and loneliness the aching nights of yearning for family, for a mother's love. Still I am sure there were moments - perhaps fleeting - of simple joy of finding solace in others separated too from their homes.

I have seen these people together, these survivors of the Stolen Generations. They share a bond, they are a family unto themselves. 

I will think of this today, of my Aunty - her name and her number. I will walk where she walked. I will stand where she stood for that photo nearly s century ago. I am connected to this place and its pain. 

I have come to Cootamundra as our country seeks to take another step on its journey of healing. People will come to hear and talk of recognition, of finding a place in the constitution. for the First Peoples of this land.

There are arguments for - righting an historical wrong, erasing race clauses in our founding document or filling out the idea of Australia. There are arguments against - that our constitution is not a place for poetry or historical redress that it is a document of process of how we govern. There are those who argue that it sets one group of Australians apart or above another.

Some Indigenous people reject the idea as an empty gesture. To some it is about the completing white Australia not fulfilling the sovereign destiny of black Australia. Some want treaty and nothing short of it. To others we can have both, indeed recognition can be a critical precursor to treaty.

Will it have legal effect? Will it sit inside the body of the constitution or in the preamble? Will it lead to better political, social or economic outcomes for indigenous people? Recognition has many unanswered questions.

In towns across Australia, towns like  Cootamundra we seek to put flesh on this bone. We seek a definitive question that may defy history and become only the ninth successful referendum in our nation's history. 

For now this is remains a journey without roadmap into our country's shared future.

It is a journey that comes from this place - a place of stolen lives - that tell us of our divided past.