A day to remember and say sorry

Aunty Faye LynehamAunty Faye Lynam’s story is a compelling reminder of the reason for Sorry Day. The Yorta Yorta elder has told her story before, but with each retelling it only grows in power and emotional response. Each time she speaks of the atrocious treatment she received as a child at the hands of authorities and her foster parents, listeners are stunned into silence — and sometimes tears.


Sadly, her story is not unique.

So it is on a cold Wednesday morning in Shepparton when more than 300 people gather in Monash Park to acknowledge the suffering of the Stolen Generations on National Sorry Day. Yorta Yorta elder Aunty Faye Lynam delivered an emotional speech at yesterday’s Sorry Day ceremonies.

Shepparton Reconciliation Group convenors Bobby Nicholls and Dierdre Robertson have already spoken and indigenous elder Lance James has offered a thoughtful welcome to country when Aunty Faye stands up to speak to the waiting crowd of schoolchildren, dignitaries and fellow elders. She begins by telling people she gets emotionally upset every time Sorry Day comes around.

And who can blame her? She was eight years old when she was taken from her family, but she remembers every detail. “I was with my father and brother on the banks of a creek at Lindenow, near Bairnsdale. We were going to school, we were dressed nice, we had food and a bed, then a policeman came down one day and said to my dad ‘you got to let her go’,” she says.

“The policeman took Dad round near the car and I didn’t know what he said then — but by gee I know now. “He said ‘if you don’t let her go, I’m gonna lock you up, burn your tent and take your two children anyhow. If you do it this way, she’ll be able to come down and see you’. So my dad did what the policeman said, and that was the biggest heartache of my life.

“Aboriginal people had no rights whatsoever. That was the last time I saw my brother or my father,” she says. More than 300 people gathered on a cold morning at Monash Park yesterday to mark National Sorry Day. She says her father never stopped looking for her — searching nearby houses and towns.

Eventually, she was sent to live with foster parents in Melbourne. Then her life got worse. “I hated weekends because there was a lot of drink. We’d live in hotels and his mates would come around and that’s when the sexual assaults started. “I didn’t know what was happening to me. I was gagged and held around the throat so I couldn’t make any noise. I was only nine years old.” The rising anger and fear in Aunty Faye’s voice is still palpable after more than 60 years.

 

Uncle Lance James
Uncle Lance James delivered a moving Welcome to Country.

She goes on to recount a litany of daily mistreatments: she never slept on a bed, just a couch; she was allowed just one shower a week, and would sneak extra ones when her foster parents were out but she had to clean the shower and dry her hair and towel before they came home; she was called lazy and useless; she was forced to listen to others having sex beside her couch at night; and when she told police of her abuse, she wasn’t believed.

Eventually she came back to her family at 15 or 16 years old, but fell pregnant to a white boy. She looked after her baby while living alone in a shed. “One night I wrapped my baby up because it was so cold, but I wrapped it too tight and the next morning my baby was dead. But I had nobody to go to, not my family, not anybody,” she says.

 

Murrung Dancers

Nhykira Mansfield and Lily Maher-Baksh from Greater Shepparton Secondary School’s Marrung Dance Academy help carry possum skins during the Sorry Day ceremonies.

At this point, Aunty Faye’s voice falters and a heavy silence falls across Monash Park, broken only by the audible groans of some in the audience. Only a mother can truly understand her anguish in this moment.

Aunty Faye ends her speech by reminding people of the positive changes she has seen since those dark times. She has worked in schools as a counsellor, and she has made contacts with people at all levels of society. She counts City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Kim O’Keeffe as a close friend and now regards the police as people who are there to listen and help.

She speaks directly to her young audience:

“So life goes forward, you keep at school and do the right thing, because there’s always people to listen to you, always, my darlings,” she says.

Behind her, Shepparton students wait in line, heads down and serious, to pay their Sorry Day tributes. Thankfully, their experience is a world away from the story they have just heard, but on days like this it becomes necessary to look back and remember what happened to Aunty Faye.

 

Sorry Day at Monash Park
Around 300 people gathered at Monash Park for the Sorry Day event

 


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