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Karen Collins’ Story

“I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands of many nations across this country. I would like to acknowledge and respect our elders past, present and emerging. I acknowledge my family who have been my support in the sharing of my story. I have cultural connections with the Wakawaka Nation,  Eidsvold Central Burnett region. Willy Willy Theodorn Dawson Region and Gurangarang Court Curtis Coral Coast Bundaberg Gladstone region.

“My name is Karen Collins and this is my story.

 

“Growing up in a small Queensland town of Eidsvold in the Central Burnett Region in Queensland, it was very challenging for me and my family for a number of reasons. I share my story not to incite guilt, but as a form of healing and truth-telling for myself, my family and my people.

“My great great grandparents and grandparents, the Stolen Generation. They were forcibly removed to various Community missions or reserves like Phantom Island, Palm Island and Cherberg. Where families within families were separated. Even today I’m still trying to connect with family who I haven’t yet had the chance to meet. 

“My family and I have had a huge loss in language, which is part of our identity. My grandparents were not allowed to speak language otherwise they would be jailed. This is where the fear of government authorities came from for me and my family.

“My parents had to get permission to marry. The approval was given provided they both lived with my grandparents, who were my dad’s parents. Beyond what happened to my family, there were many other things I witnessed growing up in my community to other families as well.

“In Eidsvold, we had a picture theatre. The theatre had seating restrictions for Aboriginal people only. There were three rows. On the left were the blacks, in the middle you could sit there if there were no whites and whites were on the right.

“Yana used to walk up and down the aisles with the torch. If he was spotted sitting with a white person or in their row you were kicked out. Eidsvold also had a hotel with special restrictions. Aboriginal people were not allowed inside to drink, they had to sit outside. At the back of the hotel was a narrow walkway. An Aboriginal women wouldn’t get served, so the men would go in, buy the grog and bring it out to them. And everyone would sit in that narrow walkway which was given the name Manhattan walk.

“All the Aboriginal people were lined up sitting in the cement, no tables or chairs on Manhattan walk. Looking back now how bad was that. But even sitting outside, because of the alcohol restrictions, the police would still come along and remove them from the hook bar or take them straight to the locker. Eventually a wall was built to separate blacks and whites within the hotel itself.

“During the 90s the door was built into the wall Inside the Hotel. This only came about after my husband had an argument with the public and so it’s not that long ago that this occurred. 

“The council had plans to build a swimming pool but didn’t do it because they didn’t want Black Fella’s women in it. I think we’d rather go to the river anyway. 

“As Aboriginal people we’re not allowed to live in the town area, we all lived on the outskirts like fringe dwellers, until a priest came to Eidsvold and formed a black Housing Society. After continuous meetings with the Eidsvold Shire Council, Minister Morris advocated to establish an Aboriginal Housing Society. Following many meetings with the Ides of Shire Council, our people were finally allowed to build and live in the town.

“As a young girl, I remember standing a long time in the shops waiting to be served, after all the white people were served first.

“My parents separated when I was seven years old and my mother left us with our father. Our grandmother took us and when this happened, at the time, even though I had two older brothers, as the eldest girl even though we lived with my grandmother I was forced to take on the role of a mother to my four sisters. The youngest being one.

“When I had my own children, they would ask me questions about my mother. There were things I couldn’t answer as I didn’t know after being left at such a young age. After many years of wandering, I found my mother by accident after making one phone call. It was a very strange and awkward conversation. After this, my mother disconnected her phone and relocated so I couldn’t contact her again. Six years later, I learned my mother had given birth to four other children, including two brothers and two sisters.

“I met my brothers and sisters, however my mother was living in denial of having seven other children and wouldn’t talk about us nor did she want to meet us. I know she’s holding on to the trauma of the life she left behind and was afraid to relive what once was through reconnecting with us.

“I eventually did get to meet my mother. She came with my brother and sister and stayed with me. It was almost surreal having her at home and getting to know my children, her grandchildren. I knew this was the start of her healing. When she left, I would get a phone call every Fortnight from her, until two years later when she passed away.

“With my mum gone, my dad was more time separated from us than at home, as he had to continuously work away doing bush work to support our schooling. 

“In year 10, a very supportive teacher enrolled me into an indigenous education Business Program. I was accepted to attend the Seven Hills College which was an Annex of Kangaroo Point, near where I would live in a hostel.

“Brisbane City was foreign to me. When I found out I was accepted I said to my dad I don’t want to go. I don’t want to live with my family. My dad and other family members gave me words of encouragement and I went. I completed my study and my first job was with one of the biggest insurance companies in Australia, SGIO. Now known as Suncorp. 

“After my first 12 months in work, my boss bought me a gift and said ‘job well done’. I know you have to work twice as hard to be accepted. All I could think about was something bad could happen to me while away from my family for 12 months. 

“Being the first country girl from Eidsvold, I didn’t know anyone who lived in the city. I was so scared and all I could think about was murderers and killers. 

“I met my husband and with five children we settled in Fernvale, near Wivenhoe Dam, in 1984. Our experience was no different to what I witnessed growing up as a child. We would go down to the local pub as a family and when we’d go to pay for our meal or drink the change would be slammed down on the counter, and the owner would walk away. Make us wonder was the money dirty or was it the colour of our skin. Well I know it was the colour of my skin as I experienced this in shops as well. 

“Life rolled on and I became employed in several Community organisations, supporting my children at school, being involved in community events and activities.

“My son went to Ipswich Boys Grammar in the 90s. He gets his licence, takes my car for a drive down Brisbane Street for the first time and guess who pulled him over. The Ipswich police. and the first thing they say to him is where’s your weapons, where’s your drugs. And goes through the car. So straight away, this act from Authority has a first-hand effect on my son. He already knows about past experiences with his family and Authority. 

“Any other child getting their licence for the first time would be celebrating their first slice of stride, but not my son. We know this today as transgenerational trauma. Today, my children are fighting discrimination skills in doing things, like applying for rental houses because of the colour of their skin.

“Only recently my daughter, who works in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, and my son-in-law, who works in the Barallen Correctional Centre, would not go and view a rental unless they’re dressed in their work uniforms. The thought was, if they dressed up looking decent and with no kids, they’d stand more of a chance of getting one.

“The same applies still when we’re in the shops. We’d be shopping like everyone else and all of a sudden you hear over the loudspeaker, security to section seven. Ironically that’s the aisle we’re in. When you go to a self-serve checkout, they’ll see you coming and all of a sudden the staff will move to a place closer, to where you’re scanning your groceries,  to check to see if you haven’t stolen anything.

“I work with Link Up Queensland, took me on the journey like no other working with stolen generation families. The impact of being forcibly removed for many, who I supported, could take up to 50 years before they were able to take the first step to tell their story. The saddest thing working with Link Up is seeing many of my clients being denied connection to their families they were taken away from. 

“For many, their connection ended up being a graveside reunion.

“After leaving Link Up I signed up to NORTEC voluntary, because I heard there was a job coming up with them to work supporting my mob and Community. I applied for the role, which was called Indigenous Work Advisor, in the Ipswich area, as I knew this is something I would love doing.

“A new type of role in NORTEC, the journey wasn’t easy. I had my struggles. But I wanted to keep helping my mob who had been impacted by injustices. I hassled to the then manager to push my case for the job and it worked, because four years later, and I’m still here supporting my mob to heal and gain employment.

“My grandmother’s my protector, she is with me always. I keep my children connected to their cultural traditions of yarning around the campfire and hunting and fishing for Bush Tucker.

“My name is Karen Collins and this is my story.”

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