My name is Cecil Bowden and I was born in Cowra in 1939. I was taken away as a baby and put in homes all my youth.
My father was a — he was a drover. But my mother died in, I think it was about 1941. And the Aboriginal Welfare Board stormed in and took all ten of us.
[Cecil’s father was fighting in WWII when the children were removed]
I was the second youngest. I had a younger brother and I had a sister who was a little bit older than me. Us three were put in a home down in Bomaderry, at Nowra.
[Growing up in Bomaderry]
I can remember going into hospital, into Berry hospital, while I was in that home and the treatment in Berry hospital was, you know, they spoilt me. Being used to what they done to us in the homes. I didn’t want to go back. And I can remember crying when they took me back to the home and the boys — the other kids thought I was crying because I was happy to be home again. How wrong they were.
My father fought in two world wars. It was during the Second World War while he was overseas, they took us. I can remember him coming down to Bomaderry home. Still in his soldier’s uniform. And he wanted to take us home. They wouldn’t let him. By the time I got out of the home I’d forgotten all about him.
[Moving on to Kinchela Boy’s Home]
When the boys turned ten they were sent to Kinchela Boy’s Home in Kempsey and the girls at 12 were sent to Cootamundra. And Kinchela Boy’s Home was, compared to Bomaderry, was a hellhole. The manager was a Pommie. I don’t know whether he was racist or he was a sadist, you know, because he treated us terrible.
When you — in the morning, when you got up, 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, you had to go over the back of the dairy and the grass would be about that long, frost all over it. They refused to give you shoes or long pair of strides, you know? You were in shorts and no shoes. And you’d be cracking the top of your feet from the frostbite and everything. You get cracks about, you know, a quarter of an inch wide. Seeping with pus. Because they wouldn’t give you shoes.
They had this thing about when a boy got into strife, they’d line all 70 of us up and the boy had to walk the line. And every kid had to punch that kid hard enough to satisfy those people. Because if they didn’t they were threatened they would go down the line after him. And by the end of the line — by the time you got to the end of the line you were bruised and bleeding all over.
When I was in Kinchela someone — like they built a new laundry and the laundry, the floor, was laid concrete. It was all smoothed out, you know, and someone put their footprint in the concrete. And when the manager saw it he went crazy. So he lined all the boys up and wanted to know who put their footprint in the concrete.
It would’ve fitted half a dozen blokes. It fitted mine. Because he didn’t like me I got the blame and I was stripped and flogged with a cane. A cane about five foot long. All over. And all I could do was put one hand on my groin, the other hand on my face, to protect myself. And I refused to cry, you know, because I didn’t want to let that man know he was getting over us, getting the better of me. And, you know, I don’t know how long the — the flogging lasted, but I was black and blue all over. He got sick of hitting me.
He was telling all the boys why I was being punished and then he hit me with his fist, because I was standing right there. And then that’s when the tears come down. And I said to him ‘If you hit me with your fist again – I don’t care how many times you hit me with that cane but if you hit me with your fist I’m going to hit back.’ And at that time I was one of the best fighters in the boy’s home.
I was punched again. Hit with the cane again. And, you know, I had to walk down the line and every one of those boys had to punch me. And then I was put on punishment for weeks on end. Like every — before I went to school and in the afternoon when I got home I had to work on the vegetable garden, you know, and wasn’t allowed out in the playground with all the other boys. And I was only on half meals.
I was up in the vegetable garden and one of the boys was sent up to tell me that I was off all punishment. A few days later I found out that it was the manager’s son who put his footprint in the concrete. And the bastard wasn’t man enough to say sorry. That’s the type of people our lives were put in charge of.
[Reconnecting with family]
When I got out of Kinchela I come down to Sydney here to do an apprenticeship in plumbing and I was staying out at Tranby Hostel over at Glebe and nearly every day I was over here at Redfern because this is where all the Aborigines were. The only people I felt comfortable with.
When I did get out of the home I thought I had one brother and one sister because we were in Bomaderry together see? I didn’t know about the older ones. And where that TNT building is there now, across this side of the road, I was waiting for a cab and a bloke walked up to me, he said ‘You Cecil Bowen?’ I said ‘Yeah.’ He said ‘I’m your brother George.’ Didn’t know George existed.
And I was in the pub, there was a pub there on the corner. I was in there having a beer one morning, going to work and a bloke walked in, ‘You Cecil Bowden?’ ‘Yeah.’ ‘I’m your brother Ernie.’ I didn’t know I had a brother Ernie. And then I ran into a bloke here, here in Redfern, he said ‘Hey, you want to get to Cowra and see your old man?’ I said ‘What are you talking about?’ He said ‘Your old man’s in Cowra.’
You see they constantly told us the reason we were in those homes is we had no parents. Either that or your parents didn’t want you.
I left my apprenticeship and went straight to Cowra to see my old man. He was an old drover. He used to drove sheep and cattle round there so I got onto a bit of droving with him.
He used to — you know I just couldn’t get that word out – dad, pop, father. I wasn’t used to having a dad. He used to beg me – come on, dad, pop, anything. Those little words wouldn’t come out. I couldn’t say it.
I found out later that him, my father, and his brothers and sisters were also taken. So it was generation after generation. It’s not a stolen generation. It’s generation after generation.
[Effects of violence]
I lived over there, on Caroline Street there. My daughter came in, crying. I said ‘What’s wrong with you?’ Well her boyfriend just stormed in after her. They were going together for a long while. They had two kids. And he was going to bash her, you know. I just got out of hospital. I sawed my arm up with a chainsaw and — at work. I’d only been out of hospital for a couple of days. And when this bloke came in I said to him ‘You better get out of the house.’
He just refused. He’s a big fella. And I said ‘Yeah, if you don’t get out of the house I’ll kill ya.’ He just ignored me. So I went upstairs and I had a .22 rifle. And I showed him — I made sure he saw me put a bullet in the chamber. I wanted to frighten him to get out him out of the house. And he just ignored me.
I said ‘If you’re not out of the house by the time I count three I’ll kill you.’ He just rushed at me. So I shot him. I was — I went up to the police station and told them what I’d done. Well they reckon there was 14,000 police down here within seconds. And I was charged with murder and they later on dropped it down to manslaughter and I was — I got an eight year sentence, you know.
Now there were two Aborigines, they were drunks. Alcoholics. And they were stealing beer from a hotel over at St Peters. The publican caught them and shot the pair of them. Killed one. The other bloke’s — one bloke’s crippled for life. He got shot in the spine. There was never any action taken against that bloke because they were stealing his beer. This bloke’s going to physically damage my daughter. I’m protecting her – I’m charged with murder. Straight away. That’s the difference. Racist Australia.
[Kevin Rudd’s ‘Apology’]
It’s not what he said, it’s really — that worries me, it’s what he didn’t do. He hasn’t done a thing. No good saying sorry if you don’t do anything about it. Rudd hasn’t done a thing. He’s just as bad as Howard.
Well I think we should be compensated. Because back in the ‘60s I think it was, or late ‘50s, early ‘60s, they had all these immigrants locked in these camps out at Fairfield. And it was deemed that it was against the law to put these people in those camps and they were all compensated. They were illegal immigrants. We’re the original people of this land. We were taken away. Why aren’t we compensated?
We were constantly told that we weren’t Aborigines in the home. When we got out – never marry an Aboriginal. You’re not Aboriginal. Don’t marry an Aboriginal. Don’t go out with Aboriginal girls. And I mean to say, it stuck with a lot of them. With a lot of the boys. And it stuck with a lot of the girls too. My sister was one of them.
She married a whitefella in 1958 and I haven’t seen her since. She doesn’t want to be found. Prior to her marrying that fella me and her used to meet here in Redfern every weekend. She’d come and watch me play football and cricket. I knew she was marrying that bloke but I didn’t think she’d do what she’s done. Just disappeared.
Some of my family got a private detective to look for her. They found her. And the message came back with the people who were investigating that she didn’t want any of her kids to know they were Aboriginal. That’s the reason why.
That is the fault of the government. They brainwashed a lot of kids.
It was to breed the Aboriginal out of us. And that’s genocide.