Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 7, 2019

Living in Hope, by Frank Byrne

  Cultural warning: Indigenous readers please be aware that this post contains content about, and weblinks to video images of, a deceased person.

The Most Underrated Book Award (MUBA) is designed to unearth literary treasures that might otherwise have been overlooked – and the 2018 winner is certainly an example of that.  The MUBA award judges,  Sarah L’Estrange, Megan O’Brien and Toni Jordan said that Living in Hope, by Stolen Generations survivor Frank Byrne is an important story of survival and hope and that the award, coming just after the death of the author aged 80, offered some measure of comfort to his family. But Living in Hope is a very small book, published by a very small non-profit community publisher based in Mparntwe Alice Springs, and it’s a title that had not crossed my radar at all until the MUBA shone a light on it.  And yet it’s a book, like Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia edited by Anita Heiss, which has revelatory power.

The book is co-authored by social workers and Bringing Them Home counsellors Frances Coughlan and Gerard Waterford who have played a similar facilitative role to the people behind the Makor Write Your Story program for Holocaust survivors at the Lamm Jewish Library of Australia. As you can hear at this site, Frank spoke Aboriginal English, and as well as facilitating the recording of his story, Coughlan and Waterford have rendered the text into Standard Australian English to make it ready for publication.   But as I know from conversations with Lamm Library staff, facilitators perform much more than a technical or editing role.  Telling a story of survival involves confronting painful memories, so supportive listeners are needed to provide comfort and encouragement, even when there is a steely determination to set the record straight.

Reporting on the MUBA win, the Alice Springs News quotes Coughlan and Waterford as saying

“Frank wrote this story to have an impact on what is happening in the current world. He wanted his own kids, his grandkids and the families around him to actually know what happened to the Stolen Generations. He wanted it recorded for history. He was absolutely outraged by [former Prime Minister] John Howard and others making claims that children were being rescued not stolen. That was painful for him to hear. That denial of truth was a reason why he was driven to have this story out. His story and stories like this are really important.”

This memoir of childhood from one of the Stolen Generations reminded me of A B Facey’s A Fortunate Life in style.  Byrne offers a straightforward telling of events, without a trace of self-pity, and yet no reader can remain unmoved by the cruel hardships of his young life.  The story concludes when he is 15 and about to start life as a working man.  But the story beforehand is heart-wrenching because he vividly remembers the life he had with his parents at Christmas Creek in the Kimberly, and—though he needs to consult written records to find the exact date—he remembers the day a truck arrived to take him away to Moola Bulla.

I did not know a calendar then so I did not know how old I was.  But the documents I’ve looked at tell me it was 17 November 1943.  I was six years old.  And that is the day my life changed forever.

They just loaded us up like cattle — my mother, my stepfather and me — on the back of a truck.  I did not know what for.  But I could see my parents were very frightened, and that made me very frightened.  We just drove off, heading somewhere.

We went through Halls Creek and out to a place called Moola Bulla, about 220 kilometres away.  I think we got there that same day, and the three of us camped together that first night at Moola Bulla in the yard of a house.  I remember my parents were sad, silent, my mother was crying.  I was frightened but I did not really get what was going to happen. (p.11)

It is distressing to read about the impact on this very small boy, of being taken away from his family—for no reason other than the colour of his skin.  But to read about the criminal neglect of these children at Moola Bulla is absolutely shocking.  To take a child away from where he is loved is bad enough, but to remove him from where he is well-fed and educated for his future, and put him into a paddock like a poddy calf where there were no proper arrangements for his care and protection is appalling.  For this little boy, eventual removal to a mission came as a relief.

The brevity of Living in Hope means that it is a perfect size for secondary school students studying Indigenous history.  Perhaps John Howard could spare an hour to read it too…

You can hear Frank telling his story at this site.

Frank Byrne is an Indigenous man of Gooniyandi and Irish descent.

David Stephens reviewed it at Honest History too.

Author: Frank Byre, with Frances Coughlan and Gerard Waterford
Title: Living in Hope
Publisher: Ptilotus Press, 2017 54 pages
ISBN: 9780648062905
Personal library, purchased from the NT Writers Centre $17AUD includes postage within Australia.

 


Responses

  1. John Howard continues to speak of these wrongs as ‘historical’ and not the fault of him or anyone like him. He continued and in some cases reinstated the policies that gave rise to the Stolen Generations, he fought hard to restrict Native Title, and except that the present generation of Liberals are even worse, should be treated like the relic of White Australia that he is.

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    • Not a legacy to be proud of. A dreadful man, and the only good thing he ever did was gun control.

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  2. This sounds like a truly powerful book, Lisa. But I’m guessing the people who need to read it most never will.

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    • Adults, yes. But the unintimidating size of it means that is perfect as a set text in secondary schools, and the idyllic first chapter at Christmas Creek will engage kids with its tales of camping and hunting and fishing and so on. Even the most reluctant readers won’t find it difficult, and it’s so cheap! impoverished schools can easily afford a class set while the Grammar schools can put it on their lists knowing that there won’t be any complaints about it.

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  3. Thank you, Lisa. Glad you got to review this book and you’re recommending it for schools. Will pass it on.

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  4. Thanks Lisa. I really appreciate the way you bring important stories, such as this one, to our notice. And sadly it is true that the people who most need to read these stories probably never will, but perhaps there is hope with the generations coming through.

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    • Thank you Karen.
      I don’t ever want to be at an event and hear some young person say they didn’t know about the Stolen Generations. I know it isn’t true because it’s been part of the curriculum for ages and ages, from primary school onward: it means they weren’t paying attention when they were taught about it. So what’s needed is engaging materials to teach the topic, and (like the film of The Rabbit Proof Fence) I think this is definitely a little book that fits the bill.

      Liked by 1 person


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