Aboriginal Personal Stories of Life in South Australian Homes, Orphanages: The story of Veronica Brodie

Post date: 
Friday, 21 September 2018
Please note that this blog contains the images and voice of someone who has passed away.

This post is dedicated to the thousands of stolen children who have come home, or are still searching, or sadly, for those who never found their way home…

Special thanks goes to the Brodie family for insight into their mother’s life and supplying the photographs featured in this blog.


In 1997, the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission (HREOC) released the ‘Bringing Them Home report – A National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families’. For many Australians this was the first time they learnt of the extent of the trauma, grief and loss experienced by survivors of forced removals from family, better known as the ‘Stolen Generations’. There are very few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people whose lives have not been touched by practices of forced removal. Some of their stories made their way into the AIATSIS Collections long before the ‘Bringing Them Home Inquiry’ was created. This blog highlights one such collection.


The Jerry Schwab Collection of sound recordings comprises of nine audio cassettes and transcripts that document the stories of forced removal and survival of Aboriginal people from different parts of South Australia between the 1940s and the 1960s. The recordings were part of Schwab’s PhD research and were collected by Schwab and Dulcie Chantrill in Adelaide between 1984 and 1986. The collection has historical, social and cultural significance and was supplied to the Bringing Them Home Inquiry. This collection also includes interviews with Margaret Brusnahan, Spencer Weetra, Kenny Hampton, Avis Gale, Doris Kartinyeri, Dora Hunter, Margaret Hayes, Geraldine Mason and Raylene Zuidan.


The recordings cover topics such as the impacts of removal, surveillance at the hands of the Aborigines Protection Board, police harassment, exploitation in the work force and survival tactics.


This post includes a number of excerpts from the interview with Ngarrindjeri/Kaurna woman Veronica Brodie (1941-2007) following her removal from Raukkan/Point McLeay to Tanderra Mission in 1955. Veronica Brodie was a widely respected elder and Aboriginal Rights Activist in Adelaide. She was a leading figure in the establishment of the Adelaide Aboriginal Orchestra, the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music, the Aboriginal Sobriety Group, Warriappendi School, the Warraparinga Cultural Centre, Camp Coorong and the Lartelare Glanville Land Action Group. She fought tirelessly although unsuccessfully against the development of a bridge to Kumarangk (Hindmarsh Island) held to be secret/sacred by Ngarrindjeri women.


From 1844 to 1963 various Acts of Parliament in South Australia placed all Aboriginal children under the guardianship of the State. Many Aboriginal children, mainly of mixed backgrounds were arbitrarily removed from their parents and communities. They were rarely allowed contact or reunited with their parents. Often they were abused physically, psychologically and sexually (Hall 1997). For a complete list of legislation and its application in South Australia see ‘To Remove and Protect – South Australia’. This site also contains the Protector’s Reports for South Australia for the period 1867 to 1958 (Annual Reports of the Protector for Aborigines).


Brodie’s oral history recording helps to shine a light on the day to day impacts of living under these laws, how her world could change dramatically and quickly depending on who was interpreting the laws and what her racial classification was deemed to be.


In the following excerpt, Veronica Brodie details the day of her removal from Raukkan, the reasons given for her removal, what it felt like for her and her family on that day and the situation she encountered at Tanderra Mission upon her arrival.

Well, I learnt over at Point McLeay if you passed grade 7, and received a progress certificate it was thought by the Department, or by the Aborigines Protection Board in those days, that you was good enough to come into Adelaide and do High School . So they had made all the previous arrangements, the Protection Board, and then notified my Mother and Father that I was, I would have a place to stay if I came into Adelaide and did High School, and of course my parents agreed…

Image caption: Auntie Cherie Watkins, Veronica Brodie, Leona Brodie (Veronica’s 4 year old daughter) and Veronica’s mother Rebecca Kumi Wilson (nee Harris). Supplied by Leona Brodie

the bigger girls tend to take us under their wings at times and you know look after us.

A common theme that emerges from the stories of the Stolen Generations is the strength of the relationships between those experiencing similar conditions. In this next excerpt, Veronica tells of the care and support provided by some of the older residents of Tanderra. During her time at Tanderra, some notable residents included Dora Hunter (pianist and child care worker whose oral history is also in this collection), Faith Thomas (nee Coulthard) – nurse, first Aboriginal public servant in South Australia and the first Aboriginal woman to represent Australia on a cricket field and Lowitja O’Donoghue (first Aboriginal registered nurse at the Royal Adelaide Hospital). Many of the relationships forged in homes lasted a life time, such as that between Brodie and Dora Hunter.

Image caption: Veronica Brodie holding a feather flower. Supplied by Leona Brodie.

The year 1962 brought with it the end of the ‘assimilation policy’. This policy’s aim was to absorb Aboriginal people into white society.


In the following excerpt, Brodie talks about the effects that the end of the ‘assimilation policy’ had on her and her family. Veronica reflects on the treatment she experienced as her racial category changed at various times throughout her life from ‘half-caste’ to ‘white’ to ‘Aboriginal’.

“I said here is your piece of paper, and I tore it up (referring to her exemption certificate), I said all those years, I said you thought you exempted me I said you forgot the colour of my skin was black, I said you didn't change me at all. I said I still had my family and my home…”

Image caption: Veronica Brodie, Port Adelaide (?). Supplied by Leona Brodie.

The recordings of these personal testimonies in the Schwab Collection highlight the suffering endured by Indigenous Australians under the Commonwealth, state and territory Aboriginal protection and welfare laws and policies. One of the recommendations from the ‘Bringing Them Home Report’ was that Governments should apologise to Indigenous Australians for past wrongs including forced removals.


The National Apology to the Stolen Generations was delivered on 13 February 2008.

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Last reviewed: 2 May 2019