Colebrook Home

Colebrook Home.

Grieving Mother
'Where's my baby gone?'

In April 1924 the United Aborigines' Mission (UAM), influenced by Annie Lock, opened its first of several missionary facilities at Oodnadatta. Later, in 1933, Sister Lock would set up a small Lutheran Mission at Ooldea where she got to know Daisy Bates. The two of them did not always agree on the best method of helping the Aborigines.

At first the Mission at Oodnadatta operated from a small iron shed but soon had a school, church and a cottage for children. Other women (Sisters) to work at Oodnadatta were, Ruby May Hyde, Iris Mina Harris, before she married missionary William Wade and Miss Smith. With very few resources, and even less help, these Sisters cared for as many as twelve children for the next three years.

Some of the children taken in at Oodnadatta, and later Quorn and Eden Hills, were of Aranda, Arabana, Antakarinja or Pitjantjatjara background. Many of them eventually lost most, if not all, of their language, culture and identity. To compensate for this loss, children invented their own to be able to speak with each other. Molly Lennon, later known as Ruth McKenzie, was one of the Aboriginal girls taken to Oodnadatta in 1926. She later wrote 'Molly Lennon's Story, That's How it was'. When some of these children finally met their parents it was almost impossible to bridge the language and culture gap.

In an effort to isolate the children from their 'perceived harmful surroundings' the Sisters would like to move the home as far away from Oodnadatta as possible. However the Government of the day objected to the children coming any further south than Quorn. In May 1927 the Sisters moved to Quorn where the house they lived in became known as the Colebrook Children's Home, after the President of the UAM.

The mix of cultural backgrounds and languages increased substantially by this move south of nearly seven hundred kilometres. Another reason to move so far south was the fact that the children were living and interacting with many of their nearby relatives. This made it particularly difficult to enforce the policy of assimilation which was expected of them at that time. As late as 1936 the Advertiser wrote 'As much as we sympathise with the mother-love of the lubras, we say that half-cast children should be segregated from the natives before the age of five'.

In Quorn, Ruby May Hyde took over from Annie Lock. As it turned out relations between the home and the Quorn residents were very good. Many a working bee was organised to improve the facilities at Colebrook. While at Quorn, Colebrook children attended the local state school, 'where they reached as high a degree of efficiency as the white children'. One of the girls at Colebrook was Lois O'Donoghue. Discipline at Quorn and later Eden Hills was strict, many of the children referred to Matron Hyde as Pikati, Savage Woman!

The UAM went on to establish missions at Swan Reach, later moved to Gerard and taken over by the Government, Nepabunna, Ooldea and Finniss Springs. There have been many other Aboriginal or mission settlements since the start of South Australia in 1836. Most were run by religious organisations or by the government. As early as 1839 German Lutherans operated a school in the Adelaide parklands. Other missionary settlements were at Poonindie, established in 1850 by the Anglicans, Point McLeay, Killalpaninna, Point Pearce, Koonibba, established in June 1898 by the Lutherans, Umeewarra, Ernabella and Yalata.

The children placed at Colebrook included those who had been forcibly removed from their parents by government officials, some who were placed there by their traditional mothers or non-Indigenous fathers because one or both parents were unable to care for them and those who had been taken from their families by non-Indigenous people to work for them and then rejected when their services were no longer wanted. Once children had been admitted to the Home, it was almost impossible to have them taken out by their parents. It often meant that the parents had to pay a substantial amount of money and were subjected to some harsh conditions before the Board would even consider their requests.

In 1944 the Colebrook Home moved once again. This time it moved another three hundred kilometres further south to Eden Hills in Adelaide to a place originally called Carinya and used as a home for returned soldiers. Here the children attended school on site until 1953, because the Blackwood Primary and Secondary Schools refused to accept the Colebrook children. Later a number of older girls attended Mitcham Girls Technical High School and the boys went to Goodwood Technical High School.

Barbara Mighall still has some fond memories of these children. She was an almost stranger in the city too and understood their assimilation problems. 'My parents only came back to Adelaide because of the war and Dad wanted to join up. We were on Bulloo Downs Station (Then a Kidman station) in the Channel country where I had correspondence schooling. There were no aboriginal families on Bulloo Downs. Although there was a lovely black man, 'Bulloo Downs Bob' who use to come to the station periodically. He used to ask Dad (who was a sort of caretaker when all the men were out), if there were any jobs he wanted done in exchange for stores. I used to go out all day with Bob and he used to show me which way the snake tracks were travelling and to recognise a dingo track. He also showed me how to make boomerangs from the twisted roots of the trees along the river. He used to eat with Mum and me because women and aborigines didn't eat with the men. I was a long time ago'.

Site of the Colebrook Home in Eden Hills.

One of the youngest children to be brought to Eden Hills was one week old Avis Gale from Ceduna. She was taken away from her mother by the Aboriginal Protection Board. From its opening until 1952 the Colebrook Home was managed by Matron Ruby Hyde, a particularly good dressmaker, who made many of the clothes worn by the boys and girls, and Sister Rutter. During these years there were often as many as fifty children in the home. After the Sisters retired from the home in 1952 there were many changes. One of the most disruptive changes was the harsh discipline imposed by the superintendents who followed them. Sisters Rutter and Hyde were later awarded an MBE each for their unselfish devotion and care.

By the mid 1950s Colebrook Home was in urgent need of repairs. The whole site had become run down and the Aborigines Department even wanted to close it down. When the Finck family took on the management in 1957, the 'place was half hidden by a wilderness of trees and shrubs, the roof was rusty, paint peeling everywhere, broken chairs, toilets a disaster and unhygienic and most of the buildings drab and uninviting'. After some time it was cleaned up, repaired and improved with the help of the government, local residents and those living at Colebrook.

In 1956 there were still thirty-two children at Colebrook. Many more children were placed in private homes and other institutions such as the Mount Barker Boys' Home, where several of them had some terrible experiences. After the departure of the two original Sisters there were many changes of staff, which was most unsettling for the children. On top of all this the children were supposed to be prepared for life outside Colebrook in society. But society was not always prepared for them, or willing to accept them.

In 1972 Colebrook Home at Eden Hills was closed and later razed. The few remaining children moved to a cottage at Blackwood. In 1973 the Department of Community Welfare took on the responsibility of caring for these children until 1981. Colebrook Reserve is now a memorial to these children and their parents.

A large number of the children who were placed in the Colebrook Home have done very well and several of them have become well known, not just in South Australia but also in Australia at large. Among them was Nancy Barnes, nee Brumbie. Born in 1927 on Granite Downs, in the far north of South Australia, she went to the Colebrook Home in Quorn in 1930. Nancy does not consider herself one of a stolen generation, but saved. She was placed in Colebrook just as many white children were placed in Morialta Home or many of the other centres. Nancy, like others thrived and became successful.

In 1956 she became the first Aboriginal Kindergarten Union Graduate. In 1957 she became the first Kindergarten Director. In 1959 she was Director of the first Alice Springs Kindergarten and to admit Aboriginal children. In 1965 she was appointed to the SA Aboriginal Advisory Board and in 1983 Secretary of the Country Women’s Association at Quorn. She was also the first contributor to the book Survival In Our Own Land. Nancy became an author and recounted the early history and later achievements of herself and other Colebrook children in the book Munyi’s Daughter, A Spirited Brumby'.

Margaret Lawrie became the first matron of the Aboriginal Women's Home in Sussex Street. In 1934 Linda Lester, born in 1921 at Granite Downs, became the first Colebrook student to achieve a Progress Certificate, giving her the right to attend High School. Linda was also the first and only woman of Aboriginal descent from SA appointed to the WAAAF service. In 1938 Nellie Lester was the first Aborigine to attend High School at Quorn. Later she became the first fully trained Aboriginal nurse and the first Matron of Aboriginal descent, when appointed to Gumeracha Hospital.

Amy Levai, nee O’Donoghue, became the first primary school teacher of Aboriginal descent in South Australia in 1963. Lois O’Donoghue became the first woman of Aboriginal descent to be accepted as a trainee at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in 1954. After graduating she spent a year nursing in India. She later became a prominent public servant and chairperson of ATSIC in Canberra. She was awarded the AM in 1976, a CBE in 1983 and Australian of the Year in 1985. She has been the only Aborigine to address the United Nations General Assembly.

George Tongerie won SA Aboriginal of the Year award in 1985. Maude Tongerie, nee Peterson, won a Gold Medal and Life Membership of the Aboriginal Community Centre in 1981. Violet Turner, also became an author and wrote several books including The Good Fella Missus, Miss Annie Lock, missionary to Aborigines and Pearls from the deep.

Jeff Barnes was the first man of Aboriginal descent to join the RAAF in South Australia and the first to be appointed to the SA Aboriginal Advisory Board in 1964. Jeff Barnes, George Tongerie, Ray Lester and Steve O’Donoghue won service honours, RAAF. Geoff O’Donoghue and Stephen Dodd won AIF honours and later served in Korea.

Memorial Fountain

The photograph at the top of the page is part of the Colebrook Home Memorial. Between 1943 and 1972 some 350 Aboriginal children lived on this site, isolated from their families. It is now a permanent memorial in remembrance of the Aboriginal children of the 'Stolen Generation' and their families. It was sculptured, by well-known South Australian artist Silvio Apponyi.

Colebrook site at Quorn.

Recently some of the people who once lived at the Colebrook Home have started a movement back to the original site at Quorn. Several houses have already been built on site. There are also facilities for short time visiters. As shown on the photograph a start has been made with landscaping the surroundings.

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