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The Sydney Morning Herald

Blood and Guts

Author: Tony Stephens
Date: 28/01/1998
Words: 1098
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News And Features
Page: 9
Judy Stubbs grew up in the Cootamundra Girls' Home where, life many of the 'stolen' generation, she was kept from her family and suffered abuse. TONY STEPHENS talks to the woman whose case will be the first to come before the Victims Compensation Tribunal.

FOR many years, Judy Darcy knew nothing of her Aboriginal blood. She had been taken from her people before her second birthday and told to avoid black folk.

When her grandfather travelled from Warren, the family's country, to see her in Cootamundra, he spotted Judy and her sister, Lorraine, in a school playground. He called their names from beyond the schoolyard fence. The young girls did not recognise the old man and ran from him. Thomas Wright walked away in despair. He never saw his granddaughters again.

Judy Darcy, now Judy Stubbs, knows her background today. She is about to bring the first case by a member of the "stolen generations" before the Victims Compensation Tribunal. And she was happy that her Aboriginal people marched in Sydney on Australia Day, the 60th anniversary of the Aboriginal Day of Mourning that led to the Aboriginal 10-point plan and manifesto for civil rights.

Stubbs told the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal children from their families that she had been sexually abused repeatedly by a female employee at the Cootamundra Girls Home. Her case to the tribunal includes a claim that she was also sexually abused by another employee. Stubbs said she experienced recurrent nightmares, insomnia, suicidal thoughts, extreme depression and low energy and appetite.

Dr Geoffrey Leong, a psychiatrist, will give evidence that Stubbs suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, with accompanying depression.

Melissa Abrahams, a solicitor for the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said almost every child sent to the Cootamundra Girls Home was abused in some way. "That's why they end up on the streets, trying to repress the memory."

Abrahams has interviewed nearly 70 stolen children and said that Stubbs was the worst case of repressed memory she had encountered.

Judy Stubbs was born in Warren, western NSW, in 1941, the youngest of eight children. Her mother, Dolly, died with cancer and her father, Richard, with tuberculosis before she was two years old.

Relatives wanted to look after the children but the six girls were taken to Cootamundra, where, Stubbs said, she was allowed to mix with only one, Lorraine. The two boys went to the Kinchela home at Kempsey.

The children lost touch with one another. Alcoholism subsequently killed Les and Richard. Three of the females have died.

"Merle died of a broken heart," said Stubbs. "She had wanted to get the family back together but couldn't. I haven't been able to go to the other funerals. I'd lost them once before and now I was losing them again."

Stubbs wants to apologise to other old girls of Cootamundra who might be distressed by her story.

Bringing Them Home, the report of the stolen children inquiry, includes evidence from Stubbs that she was sexually assaulted by a female member of staff who claimed she had been with Dolly Darcy when she died and that Mrs Darcy had said how much she loved Judy.

"She [the female employee] had a large bag of puffed wheat near the bed, because she knew how much I loved it," Stubbs said in evidence. "All this time she was inserting this cane into my vagina. I guess I was about 9 or 10. I know she did this to me many times over the years until she left the home when I was about 14."

Stubbs said the girls were isolated from the outside world and knew nothing about sex. "One night I hid under the bed . . . she pulled me out and flogged me with the strap. She is my biggest memory of that home."

Stubbs said this week: "The girls made a pact never to cry in front of her. We never did, until we got out."

Another memory was of being locked in the morgue - the girls' home had been a hospital and the old morgue was still called the morgue. The girl was eight or nine and the morgue was very dark. "I screamed all night but no-one came to get me," she told Sir Ronald Wilson, who conducted the inquiry.

The examples of Stubbs's repressed memory emerged after a reunion in 1994 for Cootamundra girls and Kinchela boys. Doubts remain about the value of memory recovered through hypnosis or psychiatric therapy but Stubbs said she recalled the sexual abuse without any counselling and Abrahams supported Stubbs's account.

Stubbs said she now believed the second employee abused her in the morgue and behind a cow shed, threatening to report her as a naughty girl if she complained.

The home operated from 1912 to 1969 as the central institution in NSW for housing Aboriginal girls placed under state control.

Some old girls remember it as their only home. However, many never found out who or where their families were and blame the home for most of their subsequent troubles.

Judy Darcy's time at Cootamundra included working on a sheep property from the time she was 12, cooking for the boss, cleaning his house and his boots, minding his children and cooking for 15 shearers. She also completed a stenographer's course and secured a job in Sydney after leaving the home when she was 18.

"I worked there for about three years until someone said, `I didn't know they employed Abos here'. I walked out and became one of those drunken Aborigines on the street."

She was "on the drink" for about five years and had three daughters and a son by four different men, until meeting and marrying Neville Stubbs.

"My husband pulled me out of all that," she said. "He saved my life." The Stubbs have a daughter but their marriage has been troubled. She blames much of the difficulty on her memories of Cootamundra.

"Lots of us girls from Cootamundra married white men and now the families are being ripped apart."

Her son died from a drug overdose but she wants to take her four daughters to the tree under which she was born at Warren, to "let them feel what they want to feel". It took her years to realise her Aboriginality. "We were puzzled by the references to our colour on Aborigines Welfare Board documents. We were either light or dark or somewhere in between. Lorraine said she felt like a piece of steak, dark on the outside and light inside.

"The whites didn't want us - even though my uncle, Maurice Wright, fought in the war, was on the Burma railway and is buried in Thailand - and the blacks around Redfern used to call us `uptown niggers'. I was terribly angry. I used to fight. I've knocked out blokes.

"Now I would like to help young Aboriginal kids get off drugs. I would also like to help other Aboriginal women who have blocked things out of their minds."

FIGHTING ON

THE Federal Government has committed $63 million over four years as a response to Bringing Them Home , the stolen children report, but it is not clear how individuals will benefit from this.

Aboriginal groups will continue their fight for compensation for the stolen generation, despite the Kruger judgment in the High Court last August dismissing claims by nine Aboriginal people that policies of removal of Aboriginal children had breached their constitutional rights.

The High Court ruled that 1918 Northern Territory legislation under which Aboriginal children were taken from their families was valid, although the Chief Justice, Sir Gerard Brennan, said: "The practice of enforced separations is now seen to be unacceptable as a general policy."

George Williams, a lecturer in constitutional law at ANU, says the Kruger claim was the first salvo in an attempt to get compensation for the stolen children. Since the High Court has said that the Constitution won't help, the stolen children will have to pursue claims through common law at State level.

Matthew Storey, a lawyer for the stolen generations in the Northern Territory, says claims based on common law grounds such as negligence and breach of fiduciary duty will come before the Federal Court next month and hearings are expected near the middle of the year.

Tony Buti, a human rights solicitor with the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia, says Kruger dealt only with a particular ordinance and common law actions are proceeding.

Joy Williams, who was taken from her mother when she was 10 hours old, began an action five years ago seeking monetary compensation from the NSW Government for alleged breach of fiduciary duty, negligence and false imprisonment. Justice Kirby, then President of the Court of Appeal, ruled that the claim was not out of time, as argued by the Crown, but the substantive case is still to be heard.

The Sydney Aboriginal Legal Service is handling a matter involving another Cootamundra old girl, Valerie Wenberg, who makes similar claims to those of Judy Stubbs.

 
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