Taken/Ruth Portrait - Interview with Aunty Ruth Hegarty

This interview with Aunty Ruth Hegarty is the basis of Taken by Robert Davidson

Aunty Ruth Hegarty was removed from her family in the 1930s - a member of The Stolen Generations.

Interview with Ruth Hegarty for Taken

I guess it goes back to 1930. The depression was on; my grandfather was a worker and he had eight kids, and felt that he had to leave Mitchell to go somewhere because there was no work.

The Protector out there was a police sergeant � he suggested he go to Cherbourg (it was Buramba in those days actually � it hadn�t gotten its new name).

Mum was waiting to be married to my father, and he was away, and they moved before he came back, because Grandfather said �we�ll just go for a little while until the depression is over.� She thought �six months will be okay � Ruth�s six and a half months old, Frank�s out droving � we can come back before he knows where I am, otherwise I�ll be stuck in Mitchell on my own.�

She was nineteen years of age. So we went down to Buramba by train. When we got out to the mission, she said that they had to confront the superintendent. She was holding me; the superintendent came out, and she said immediately she started to feel really, really strange, or munja as she calls it � she said �I could see that what was about to happen here wasn�t a good thing.� Because they were starting to arrange for her and I to go into the women�s dormitory, the boys (her brothers) went into the boys� dormitory, and the old people went into the camp with two of the children. She says that it was like a rag being torn in three parts.

Mum heard all these stories about children being taken away, and that�s something she didn�t want � for me to be taken away from her. There were about fifty other mothers there, all with small children, and she said that even children of three years old were still sucking that namun (on the tit) � the other mothers said to her that as long as they were still on the breast, they wouldn�t take them from you.

She always hoped that we would leave the place. She got very anxious when Grandfather said �we�ll go in a little while� � a �little while� became a lifetime � not only for her, but for me as well.

Matron said to mum one day �we�re sending Ruth to school.� When mum told me the story, she was an older lady, well in her eighties; I could see her mouth quivering, and it was very painful for her to talk about it, because she said �you were only four and a half�. Once you get removed from your mother, you get put into another section within the dormitory � the mums are on one side and you�re on the other. I remember the first day I came home from school, I raced up the high steps (it was a two-storey place), and I was told that I couldn�t go near my mother. I was sitting that night at the dividing lattice wall, waiting for her to come out. That was the first time I heard Nancy call out �is that you Ruthie? You get to bed or you�ll get the strap�.

We were completely isolated � my mum spent most of her time in the dormitory with her back to me. Even when we sat at tables we were divided. I had no power whatsoever. I performed [acted up] not to get the strap, but because I wanted her to turn around and look at me.

The next thing was for my mother to go to work � the government was sending her away. She had to go to work to support me in that place. By this time, crying was something you didn�t do any more. Nobody cried. You knew that inside of you, you were feeling all this pain � now she was going completely away from me.

Nobody seemed to care about kids � it was simply discipline, discipline, discipline. I�d tell stories at night (I loved telling stories) � we�d hide under the blanket � and she�d say �is that you Ruthie? Get out on the verandah!� � I�d have to kneel out there until everyone had gone to sleep.

I�d gone up to Boggo Road jail a few months ago; they had all their demonstration of things � you know old Boggo Road? I have a photo of me with a cat o�nine tails in my hand � this is what we got whipped with. We got whipped from babyhood � there was no age, you just got it. And this is what we got whipped with. It was used in the prison at the time, and they were using it on us as children.

It isn�t any different from a prison � it is exactly like it, except that we weren�t inmates; we were children, and we�d done nothing wrong, absolutely nothing wrong at all.

There was no pleasure � we�d make up our own games. I think one of the most pleasurable was stealing - the excitement of going down to steal food, because there was never enough. We used to steal these turnips and provide everyone with a turnip each � it�s a wonder no one smelt the darn things! We were hungry most of the time.

There were no toys, no books, no radios, no newspapers � nothing.

Saturday was the only day we could have some free time, when we went down to the duck pond. I see the duck pond as a real part of my life, my whole being. Because when I got to the duck pond, I wasn�t this dormitory person � I was somebody else. We all chose these names for ourselves. It was another life down there until five o�clock in the afternoon, when the bell went, and you just threw off that persona and you went back to being Ruthie up at the dormitory.

There was no good intention in it at all. Because if we were orphans, that would be another thing, but we all had mothers, and we were taken away from our mothers. There was no benign intent.

None of us knew anything about being an aboriginal. We were told we were dormitory girls (a separate species!). When I married Joe and went into the camp, it was like going to another planet!

I think the Australian community has to listen. We need to hear all these things. When I talk about it, people say �I never knew � you went through all that!�. Of course I did, and many other people went through it. All these families being separated from one another. People have got to listen to our stories and empathise with us. Yes, we could have all lived together. We�re as much entitled too, because of what the government has taken away from us, in terms of the wages and savings taken away � we could have been there on a level playing field with white Australia. But there is a chance. �Hope� for me is one of the greatest words � hope to come together.
� Robert Davidson 2002

One Response to “Taken/Ruth Portrait - Interview with Aunty Ruth Hegarty”

  1. Jasmine Murphy Says:

    I am Jasmine Murphy and currently live in Alice Springs. My mother is Elizabeth Duncan,her father was Leslie Duncan. My mother also lives here in Alice Springs. We would like very much to hear from you or any family,my mother would love that very much.

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