A powerful, empathy-inducing book, ‘Sister Heart’ by Sally Morgan beautifully tackles the terrible truth of the Stolen Generations. It is aimed at kids aged 9-14. This book had me crying and questioning and hugging my own little girl close.
I invite all Australians to read it, indeed all people. This story surpasses country or race to resonate deep inside what makes us human.
The narrator is a young Aboriginal girl taken from her family and placed in an institution far south of her home. Her voice is unique, her struggle in the face of unassailable odds is vivid, the friendship and support she finds from others like her is heart-warming.
This whole book is a triumph of character and voice.
Your mum wants to come
Mums always miss kids
But she dunno where you are
and she dunno your new name
Will your mum ask for Annie?
My throat goes tight
Mum doesn’t know anyone
Policeman won’t tell her where you are
Policeman won’t tell her your new name
The book is split into three sections that align with how ‘Annie’ (we never learn her true name) tries to deal with what has happened to her – with silence, with acceptance, and finally with grief. Janey’s friendship of Annie is a fiercely caring and humbling thing, as she freely offers all she’s learnt about how to survive. Janey and her ‘brother’ Tim share their crying tree with Annie, and Tim gives her a laughing stone:
Janey grabs my arm
Tim and me have a trick
Sometimes we laugh
when we’re sad
There is a painful truth in how these kids try to adapt to their loss of family and love and country. I want to save them, take them back to their families, stop their parents from grieving. But I know I can’t. Because it’s already happened. Many, many times over.
The National Sorry Day Committee describes the Stolen Generations as “the many Aboriginal – and some Torres Strait Islander – people who were forcibly removed from their families as children by past Australian Federal, State and Territory government agencies, and church missions, from the late 1800s to the 1970s… Aboriginal children were being removed in order to be exposed to ‘Anglo values’ and ‘work habits’ with a view to them being employed by colonial settlers, and to stop their parents, families and communities from passing on their culture, language and identity to them… The objective behind the removal of these children then was often one of racial assimilation.”
Many, like Annie, were destined for menial low-paid jobs from the age of 14. Many had their own kids stolen from them in later life. This horrifying practice has caused generations of trauma and disconnection, and few Aboriginal families have been unaffected. Yet there are still people who don’t understand why we, as a nation, need to say sorry. Hence why this book is so important, because it doesn’t deal in hard facts, which are sometimes easy to ignore, it deals in empathy. And that is powerful.
It’s one of the best books that I have read on this subject. Highly recommended.
And I’ll clearly say here: I am sorry, from my heart, for the pain that was caused, and continues to be caused, by the Stolen Generations.