Our fight for the Stolen Generation

The daughters of Aunty Eunice Wright are campaigning in her memory
  • Donna’s mum, Aunty Eunice Wright, fought for the Stolen Generation until her last breath.
  • A Gunditjmara Elder and activist, since her death her children have vowed to fight on in her name.
  • Donna Wright, 59, from Epping, Vic, on Wurundjeri Willum Country, and her siblings, including sisters Jo and Tina, want the Victoria redress scheme for survivors of the Stolen Generation to be extended to include their mother, who died just days before it was announced.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this story contains images of deceased persons in photographs.

Here Donna tells her story in her own words

My mum, Aunty Eunice Wright, gritted her teeth.

‘We were taken away, and put in the cells,’ she said.

‘Where were you taken from?’ I asked.

‘From the mission,’ she sighed. I listened in shock as Mum told the heartbreaking story of her childhood.

She’d been part of the Stolen Generation – where Australian authorities removed at least 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families between 1910 and the 1970s.

It was a policy of forced removal and assimilation into mainstream society.

Now, Mum was sharing her truth with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Her testimony formed part of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report – written from a national inquiry into the Stolen Generations.

It was the first time me, my sisters, Tina, then 32, and Jo, 25, and our brother Sonny, then 34, had heard the whole harrowing story.

Quietly, but with immense presence, Mum described being ripped from her family, aged nine.

In 1954, her mum, Lyall, was in hospital with tuberculosis, and her dad Charles ‘Monty’ Foster, a gifted boxer, was away working in Yambuk.

Loving relatives were looking after Mum and her siblings, Gloria, 13, and Ronnie, six, at their home on former Lake Condah Mission, Gunditjmara Country, Vic.

Authorities arrived as they were having afternoon tea.

Aunty Eunice Wright's family fight on
Aunty Eunice Wright (Credit: Supplied)

Mum and her siblings wept as aunts and uncles pleaded with the judge.

Aunty Eunice Wright family
The family together at Lake Condah, with young Eunice in her dad’s arms (Credit: Supplied)
Aunty Eunice Wright family
Aunty Eunice with her husband Jimmy (Credit: Supplied)

Mum and Gloria were bundled into a waiting police car, while Aunty Olive hid Ronnie under a bed.

But she was threatened with her own kids being taken too if she didn’t coax him out.

‘We felt like little criminals,’ Mum explained.

The three of them spent a night in the cells, before a hearing to decide their fate the next morning at Heywood Magistrate’s Court.

Mum and her siblings wept as aunts and uncles pleaded with the judge.

Some relatives had served in the Australian armed forces, and wore their military uniforms.

It counted for nothing. The kids were sent to a receiving centre and then an orphanage in Ballarat.

We’re not orphans, Mum thought, heartbroken, as she was put to work caring for younger kids.

When Grandma Lyall was discharged, she found her beloved children gone.

Someone had got word to Grandpa Monty, and he’d rushed back but was too late.

Destroyed by losing his kids, he went on to have a breakdown and spent the rest of his life in a psychiatric hospital.

Dying in 1959, aged 53, his body was dismembered so it could be placed in a tiny box in a pauper’s grave.

Mum left the orphanage at 17, in 1961, and reunited with Nan.

‘It was terrible for the people who never found their families,’ Mum said.

Later she met my lovely dad, Jimmy.

How can you ever get over losing your whole identity overnight? I wondered.

Through the years, Mum’s fear and trauma remained.

She kept our house like a new pin and us close at all times – fearing we’d be snatched – while she worked for Yappera Children’s Service for years.

Grandma Lyall became ill in 1992, and Mum and Dad brought Grandpa’s remains back to the Mission a few days before Nan died.

After the Bringing Them Home report, we were hopeful people would understand the trauma inflicted on families.

Dad always wanted Mum to get justice, but he died in 1998.

How can you ever get over losing your whole identity overnight?

Ten years later, I flew with Mum to Canberra, ACT, for the National Apology by then prime minister, Kevin Rudd.

Mum was one of the Elders who accepted the Apology on the floor of the House of Representatives.

‘Dad would’ve been proud,’ I told her amid an outpouring of emotion and hope.

Afterwards, I spotted Mum having a cup of tea with Kevin Rudd, and former PMs Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating.

‘I can’t believe it,’ Mum said, so moved by the recognition – people cared.

But years passed, and the report’s recommendations for redress and personal apologies to the individuals who suffered ongoing trauma were ignored.

Mum got sick of having cups of tea with dignitaries.

‘I’ve had enough,’ she said. So she and other survivors made placards and protested.

Suffering from COPD, she needed her oxygen tank, but mustered every ounce of strength to protest for redress and a proper apology.

At hospital appointments, she always had a request.

‘Get my magazine, get my that’s life!’ she’d say. She loved the stories and puzzles.

In 2018 she took her wheelchair to the steps of the Victorian parliament.

Aunty Eunice Wright family
Aunty Eunice with Kevin Rudd (Credit: Supplied)
Aunty Eunice Wright family
The trauma created by the authorities’ actions is still felt (Credit: Brianna Young Yoorrook Justice Commission)
Aunty Eunice Wright family
The Wrights’ fight goes on (Credit: Supplied)

Despite being breathless, she said, ‘I want compensation – justice for the Stolen Gen.’ She was a force to be reckoned with to the end.

Knowing Mum was terminally ill, we pleaded for action. Mum passed in March 2020, aged 75.

Grief-stricken, we buried her with Dad. Three days after her death we got a call.

The Victorian redress scheme for survivors of the Stolen Generations, providing victims with a personalised government apology and $100,000, had been passed.

Delighted about the historic victory for living victims, we were devastated Mum wasn’t eligible for acknowledgement under the scheme, as she’d passed before she could fill out the paperwork.

Determined to keep fighting for her right to be recognised, this March we told Mum’s truth on Gunditjmara Country at the former Lake Condah Mission, to the Yoorrook Justice Commission.

It’s the first formal truth-telling process into systematic injustices experienced by First Peoples in Victoria.

Her truth forms part of the official public record.

Mum’s 16 grandkids and 25 great-grandkids, and all our mob know about our amazing Mum, Aunty Eunice.

But we want all of Australia to know, and won’t give up her fight.

Jo says

Mum was very protective of us and doted on her grandkids.

We’ve been disappointed in the government’s actions since the apology.

We’re sharing our stories so Mum gets the redress she deserves.

Tina says

To not be recognised is just a travesty, to our family and to Mum and her memory and everything she fought for.

We’ll carry on her fight, and we’d love to hear from anyone who can help us to do that.

Aunty Eunice Wright family
A memorial to Aunty Eunice Wright (Credit: Supplied)

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