As part of National Reconciliation Week, Collie, Bunbury and Busselton TAFE students got to hear a first-hand account of what it is like to be part of the Stolen Generation.
South West resident Levon Ennis is one of many Indigenous Australian children who were forcibly removed from their families as a result of various government policies between 1910 and 1970.
However removals could have also occurred before or after this time period.
“I was basically taken from my mother at birth. My mother was told I was a stillborn and apparently I’m buried in Manly Sydney. I was a ward of the state and then I was sent to London to an English family,” Mr Ennis said.
Growing up as an only child in London, Mr Ennis always felt like there was a part of him that was missing.
“I went to a very privileged private school, I suffered a lot of bullying but part of me knew I was part of something bigger.
“I sort of knew from an early age I was adopted, in this time I was trying to find a family unit that a lot of people have growing up with their families. I took a wrong path in life and it was my own fault, but I felt this connection and I ended up joining a gang in London,” he said.
The 49-year-old said he found acceptance in a gang but went to prison for drug, weapon and violent offences.
“I had acceptance from these people and this involved a lot of drugs and firearms. I did 12 years for what I did and the pain that I caused to people,” Mr Ennis said.
When he was incarcerated he said his adopted mother June did a lot of research into the Stolen Generation.
“When I went inside I realised this wasn’t me, whilst I was incarcerated my adopted mother in England started doing a lot of research into organisations that were looking into the Stolen Generation and that was around 1997.
“When I was released and finished my parole period and got myself together and shook off a bit of the depression and downtrodden that I was feeling, I came back here to Australia with the support of a few Aboriginal agencies,” Mr Ennis said.
One of the agencies that helped him find his family was Link-Up, an organisation that assists Aboriginal people who have been directly affected by past government policies, been separated from their families and culture through forced removal, being fostered, adopted or raised in institutions.
Mr Ennis said Link-Up eventually found and made contact with his family.
“We eventually found what we possibly think is my family, there are still a lot of question marks with birth certificates and names, dates wrong, incorrect and lost documentation, so the whole cover-up situation was pretty immense.
“It was quite common practice in that time and earlier to not have two children in the same hospital to try and keep them, my mother used to travel around to different states all across Australia to have her children.
“The mother we found had children taken and they were also told that they were stillborn. So when I’m contacting them in 2007 it’s a bit hard for them to take that in. So they didn’t want to see me at first and being from London I couldn’t understand why they didn’t want to see me,” he said.
Mr Ennis found that he was one of eight children and since 2007 he has met his older and younger brothers.
“I am one of eight, I have met the oldest brother and the brother below me and I have spoken to my two younger sisters on the phone,” he said.
Reconciliation Week runs from May 27 to June 3 and celebrates two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey, the 1967 referendum, and the 1992 Mabo decision.
“It’s about reconciling with what has happened, not only with the stolen generation but with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a race and it’s basically giving them the rights they deserve and recognising the lands that were taken, the families that were taken and recognising it was wrong and attempting to correct it,” he said.
Mr Ennis said he told his story about becoming a ward of the state at Parliament House in Canberra, the day before former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd aplogised to the Stolen Generation.
“There were quite a few people there that were quite astonished by my story of being taken and registered as a stillborn,” he said.
The policies of child removal left behind trauma and loss that continues to affect Indigenous communities, families and individuals, according to not-for-profit organisation Australians Together.