The 12 short life stories in Telling are grounded in First Nations storytelling traditions and reveal the diverse and complex nature of the experience of living in the wake of colonialisation.
These stories are from all over Australia with each Elder reflecting on intergenerational trauma, Stolen Generations, reconnection and resistance, demonstrating their deeply felt Black pride and joy and celebrating their stories of survival.
Meet Uncle Graeme Donald Beamish. His story is one everyone should read.
Uncle Graeme Donald Beamish
I was born during WWII, on July 1941, at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Parkville, Melbourne. My mother, Victoria Boddington, was also born there. She is a Yamatji woman from Western Australia, although she grew up in Carlton, Melbourne. I was taken from my mother when I was three months old and placed into an orphanage.
Then, one day, Mrs Myrtle Beamish and her husband Wally came to the orphanage and chose to adopt me, along with my sister, Berris, who they had adopted previously. Myrtle and Wally had three daughters of their own, Joan, Margaret and Laurel. I didn’t go to kindergarten.
However, when I was four years old, I was told I would be staying with my Uncle Fred and Aunty Dorry at their orchard property in Shepparton, northern Victoria. No one explained why. I stayed there for six months.
Fortunately, I enjoyed being with my uncle and aunty, although it was a mystery to me why I was there. Then, back in Melbourne, when I was old enough, I went to school. We lived at Park Crescent, in the Melbourne suburb of Boronia. I hadn’t long been at school when I was taken away again, this time to the suburb of Blackburn. It was the middle of World War II and I recall seeing a guy who lived in the neighbourhood driving an army tank around the streets. He told me he wanted to convert it into a bulldozer.
I found out many years later that my mother, Victoria
Boddington, had been looking for me. She wanted to see how I was doing and to re-connect.
However, Myrtle and Wally made sure that this never happened, by moving all over the country to avoid her. I recall that day vividly, when one of my elder sisters told me the truth. She thought it best that I knew, as I was being teased by some of the kids at school, saying: ‘Your mother’s not your real mother.’ I went home one day and confronted Myrtle about these rumours. She kept saying, “I’m your mother”, and refused to talk about it any further. I was nine years old.
My childhood years were very confusing, as I was shuttled from one place to another, with no explanation given to me by my parents. When I reached my teens, Myrtle placed me into Winnington Grammar School in Ringwood, that is until I was taken away for a final time to an area called Casino, in New South Wales, where I stayed in a small town called Tabulam. I went to school there, and my sisters Joan and Margaret worked in the medical team with the Australian Red Cross.
We moved back to Melbourne again, to Park Crescent in Boronia, where I finished my high school education at a state school, although I struggled to catch up with the other students, due to all the moves and changes that occurred during those formative years. I lost interest in schoolwork and my grades dropped. I felt a strange sense of displacement both at school and at home. Myrtle wouldn’t allow me to pursue alternative learning through TAFE, so I went out to work. I was 14 years old.
Myrtle wanted me to be a ticket writer and took me into Myer
store in Melbourne to get a job there. My wage was just over one pound a week. I attended Melbourne Technical College in the evenings to learn how to do the lettering, but after six months I left. I was focused on earning more money, so I found another job, one involving silkscreen printing. This time my wage was 20 pounds a week, which meant I could save up for my own car.
Twelve weeks later, I bought my first car for 40 pounds. I was thrilled to bits. It was an iridescent blue 1941 two-door V8 Ford. I drove it home to show my parents, but Wally told me not to park it at our home. He was completely unaware of how much it meant to me. I was 17 years of age and still had to wait until I was 18 to get my driver licence.
Once I could legally drive, I looked further afield for work and landed a job in a wrecking yard, where I earned 30 pounds a week. Most people my age were out working at this time. One night I was with a mate of mine, and through his connections I met my future wife, Trish. I was 22 and Trish was 15. We moved into a house at Ferntree Gully, before I asked Trish’s father if I could marry her. He gave his consent and we got married the following weekend.
We moved back to Park Crescent, Boronia for a while, when Trish became pregnant. I came home from work one day just as an ambulance drove out of our street with its siren blasting loudly. It was Trish being rushed to hospital.
She gave birth to our son, who we named Shane. We left my family home and moved into a small one-bedroom flat. We were young parents, Trish was 17 and I was 23 years old. Shortly after, I left to get some work up in the Snowy Mountains, so that we could set ourselves up in a more stable environment.
Trish stayed with our friends while I was away, and I drove up north with some mates who were also seeking work. After a long trip, we checked into the work site but unfortunately discovered that the company had offered all the jobs to the Greek and Italian immigrants. So, we drove into Sydney and I got a job as a bricklayer’s labourer. A few weeks later I went back to Melbourne to see Trish.
When I arrived, Trish told me that the Department of Human Services (DHS) had taken our son away. Myrtle and one of my sisters had visited Trish and decided to bring someone from DHS around to remove Shane from our home. Shocked and distraught, I rang the child welfare department straight away to find out why they had taken him from us. They told me that we needed to prove to them that we could get a house of our own.
We moved to a place in Dandenong called the Spud House. It consisted of lots of little rooms with a bed in each one and a shared bathroom. There was a dining room upstairs where you could get a reasonable meal – a large potato, vegies and meat – all for 10 dollars a week. It was a way that we could get ahead financially, so Trish and I both worked hard and saved our money.
Then, one evening after work, a lady came to visit us. She was from the DHS and wanted to check on us to see how we were progressing, or at least that’s what we thought. We showed her how much we were saving. However, she took us outside and told us to get in to the back seat of her Austin A40 car, which was parked by the building. It was dark outside and the little light shining in the car was dimly lit, making it hard to see clearly. The lady from child welfare handed us some documents and told us to sign them, right there and then. We asked what the papers were for, and she assured us that it was so that they could look after Shane until we had enough money to get our own house. She didn’t explain anything to us, or say what we were agreeing to.
They took our son off us and placed him into another home, somewhere in Melbourne. We had trusted her and were blindsided by a decision that regrettably changed our lives, and our son’s. It was a shock and deeply affected us. We had little choice but to make a fresh start, so we moved to Emerald and I worked on the Thomson Dam project, where I earned $150 per week.
Trish worked at a local drycleaner’s. By now I was about 30 years old and Trish was in her 20s. I was drinking heavily and smoking a lot, and Trish helped me to see this. I made my mind up to give them both up one night, and I have never smoked cigarettes or drunk alcohol since. Trish burnt her hand while working at the drycleaners and she was paid two thousand dollars’ compensation. We used this money to buy a caravan and we moved to Frankston.
They took our son off us and placed him into another home, somewhere in Melbourne.
While living there, we were involved in a car accident, which caused some serious injuries to Trish. The police confirmed that the other driver caused the accident and suggested we get some legal advice. We were told that we could sue for damages. Trish had a brain injury and a broken neck, which was not detected straight away. Eventually, Trish received a payout and we decided to use that money to buy our first house in Frankston.
After many years experience as a bricklayer, I realised I had the basis to establish my own business. I worked at it and eventually had 78 contractors working for me. Once I had secured a successful business, I built our own home in Frankston and I’m still living in that house today.
During this time, Trish decided to do some extensive research into finding our son. We found him and he was living in Melbourne. He was in his early 20s. After speaking with various people, we were told that we could see him. We were beyond excited about this, after all this time. A couple of days later, we received a call to say that Shane had been hit by a car and died immediately. We were devastated.
A few years later, we decided to move to Queensland, and lived there for about eight years. We loved it there and relished the opportunity to enjoy some time together. After some challenging times and a lot of hard work, we were finally able to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Unfortunately Trish fell ill, so we moved back to Melbourne. She went into hospital six times in a row for more and more tests as her health deteriorated, until she was finally diagnosed with cancer. She passed away shortly after. I miss her every day.
I would like to see more young people learn about their rights, so they can make informed decisions and find out their true identity.