50 years since Kinchela Boys' Home shutdown

Uncle Roger Patrick Jarrett, Jo Kelly and Uncle Richard Patrick Campbell. Photo: Lachlan Harper
Uncle Roger Patrick Jarrett, Jo Kelly and Uncle Richard Patrick Campbell. Photo: Lachlan Harper

ON MAY 15, 1970, the gates were closed to the infamous Kinchela Boys' Home, where under the authority of the NSW Aborigines Protection Board and the Aborigines Welfare Board, between 400 to 600 young boys were incarcerated during the period from 1924 to 1970.

Friday represented the 50th anniversary of that closure, a day that stays long in the memory of Uncle Roger Jarrett, 73, and Uncle Richard Campbell, 62, who were both taken from their homes in Bowraville at young ages.

I'd like for us boys to be given back Kinchela, that'd be a really good thing because there's only 61 of us left out of 600

Uncle Roger Jarrett

Both Uncles still remember the 'number' they were given to identify them at the boys' home - Roger was assigned No.12 and Richard No.28.

"1966 I was taken - myself, my older brother and three sisters from the Bowraville mission," Uncle Richard said.

"They came in, grabbed us and threw us all in the car together, took us to Macksville and then onto the courthouse where we were charged with neglect - my sister was 18 months (old) so I don't know how you could charge a baby.

"We were then taken to Kinchela where my older brother and I tried to hold onto our sisters but they drove us away and belted my older brother before locking the door."

Uncle Roger was also taken away from his family and described a similar situation.

"I was kidnapped the same as Richard and charged for neglect," he said.

The home near South West Rocks is a place of historical truth telling where the remaining boys who were housed there continue to reflect upon their time to allow for healing, and to educate younger people today and generations to come of what happened.

Uncles Richard and Roger often recall their troubling times at the facility.

"First thing they did to us was belt us in the back of the head with a clenched fist and tell us you're not Richard anymore, you are number 28, you're not Aboriginal anymore you're white, you can't speak your language or practice your culture and whilst they were saying that there was always a punch in between to make sure you heard them and a lot of the time you couldn't because there was a ringing in your head," Uncle Richard recalled.

"I don't know if anyone came out of Kinchela truly okay, couple of boys came out good but the majority of us came out disturbed."

Uncle Roger: "It definitely shouldn't be forgotten, we've been through the trauma of Kinchela and are alive today.

"When I went through the gate to Kinchela I lost my identity, my culture and they stole my name away.

"It was like hell."

In 2012, Aboriginal Elders with part of the gate from the Kinchela Boys Home that was sent to the National Museum. Photo: File

In 2012, Aboriginal Elders with part of the gate from the Kinchela Boys Home that was sent to the National Museum. Photo: File

For Uncle Richard, May 15, 1970, didn't represent the end to his trauma, as he, among many other young boys, were sent to other institutions across the State or fostered out to families.

"We were all happy when we got out of there after all that abuse and thought we were going home. First thing they said was 'get that idea out of your head you little black bastard, you're going to an institution'," he said.

The closure of Kinchela saw the boys go through the trauma of separation once again by losing that brotherhood connection that had kept them alive during their time.

Uncle Roger said said that brotherhood still lives with him - and motivated him to continue on with his life.

However, the scars of Kinchela stuck with him even when he started his own family, constantly fearing that his children would be taken away from him as part of the Stolen Generations.

"My family were the most important to me, I was stolen and taken away from my original family," he said.

"Once I got to Kinchela the boys became my brothers, till the day I die they're the closest thing I've got to family even though I came back to Bowraville and met my biological family ... it's just like talking to regular people, there's no love there, that was stripped away from me.

"It was very difficult for me when I started my family because I married a white girl and had two kids, and in 1971 after I had my daughter, I had a vasectomy.

"I did this so I could grab both of my kids under my arms and run out of the house because I was scared that someone would come and take my kids because if I had anymore it'd be impossible to keep them all."

Currently, the site of the home is heritage listed and an Aboriginal Place under the Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NSW).

In 2017, survivors of the Kinchela Boys' Home prepared a conservation management plan for the site that won a National Heritage Trust award for research and investigation.

Those survivors want the site transformed into a site of national truth telling and healing to ensure that history is never repeated.

Uncles Roger and Richard would like to see the abandoned site given to the Kinchela survivors.

"I'd like for us boys to be given back Kinchela, that'd be a really good thing because there's only 61 of us left out of 600," Uncle Roger said.

"If we could march back there as a free person we would conquer our pain and hate that was in there.

"We've conquered it as it becomes ours, leave it as a museum for the rest of the world to see and understand what we've been put through."

For both, despite being separated from their culture at a young age, their passion for the country is strong and their wish is simply for all humankind to respect it and live peacefully together.

"I'd like to see us all live off this land, it is our god, our provider, our mother - everybody eats off it, we're eating off the one land," Uncle Roger explained.

"We give you a token of our life, take a branch off our family tree, join us please, and when we get to that joining part, people can understand it'll be a better place.

"Everything is dying, the Earth is dying and they have to do something about it.

"Previously, the oceans would fill up the clouds and the natural current flew in across the plains, dropping rain on the mountains, and out west where it was lush and green.

"Now they've built cities and sure whilst the clouds still fill up, they flood the cities, absolutely saturating them ... and now only drop a little bit on the plains, with nothing over the mountains.

"Nature will correct all this but it's going to take time.

"I'd like to see before I die we all become one family, if we become one we look after each other.

"That's my dream and hope for the younger generation of Australians to come together irrespective of their origins, colour or whoever they are."

Also making the news