Reconciliation Week got underway on the Macleay last Friday at the former Kinchela Boys’ Home site on South West Rocks Rd.
It was a chance for former residents of the ‘home’, which from 1924-1970 housed Aboriginal boys forcibly removed from their families, to gather to reflect and continue to heal ahead of the Sorry Day commemoration held on Saturday.
Importantly, the next generation of Australians were on hand hearing the survivors’ stories and learning about this tragic part of our nation’s brief history.
The young people from St Paul’s College, Melville Girls’ Academy, Macleay Vocational College and the Clontarf Foundation were also among the first to view the moving animated film We were just little boys.
The short documentary was created through collaboration between survivors of Kinchela Boys’ Home, filmmaker Roy Weiland and Kinchela Boys Home Corporation.
“We’re trying to educate the local high school students around the history that existed here that’s been invisible for a long time,” CEO of Kinchela Boys Home Corporation Dr Tiffany McComsey said.
For many of the former occupants returning to the location of their suffering is understandably daunting.
“It’s quite a challenging experience,” Dr McComsey said.
“For some Uncles it is too hard to come back here.
“Others have found the strength to do it to ensure that this is not repeated.
“So Identifying what happened here and having the heritage and its significance understood is a source of stopping the pain.”
Richard Campbell, who was known as number 28 when he lived at the ‘home’ in the 60s, felt uneasy as horrific memories of his traumatic institutionalisation flooded back upon his return to Kinchela.
“I didn’t like it when I first came back,” he said.
“But the story of this place needs to be told to try to heal us as men.
“People need to hear about the atrocity of what happened here – the physical, mental and sexual abuse.”
He believes community perceptions of the home back then were misinformed and need to be corrected.
“A lot of people in the valley thought it was a happy camp for little Aboriginal Boys,” he said.
“They’d see us there playing on the monkey bars and in the pool, but they didn’t see after dark.
“No-one talked about it until recently.”
Thankfully, the feelings of dread and loss Mr Campbell felt when he first stepped foot back on the grounds were alleviated when he was reunited with his Kinchela brothers, with whom he shares an unbreakable bond.
“It helped me seeing the boys again and all of the mates I grew up with,” he said.
“We support each other as a Kinchela brotherhood.
“That’s our family.”
Reconciliation Week activities continue today at the TAFE, Sea St, West Kempsey from 10.30am – 2pm.
There will be Aboriginal food tastings, jewellery making, weaving, tool making and meditation.
Bookings essential for workshops – contact Nancy on 6561 4000.