Uncle Roger Jarrett

A Gumbaynggirr man and survivor of the Stolen Generations, Uncle Roger Jarrett is a painter, carver, sculptor, storyteller, educator, cultural leader and writer.

Uncle Roger is a member of the Southern Gumbaynggirr Elders, a Board Member of Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC) and a founding member of Annecto’s New South Wales Aboriginal Arts Hub Steering Committee.

He lives with my family in Nambucca Heads, a small seaside town on the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.

Early Years

I was born in 1947 at an old campsite near Corindi Beach, 40 km north of Coffs Harbour. I was delivered by grandmother, Nanna Jarrett, and I’ve had a lifelong attachment to the beach and the ocean.

Back then, Aboriginal people were classified as ‘flora and fauna’. We were considered to be ‘sub-human’.

So, pregnant Aboriginal women weren’t allowed in hospitals. They had to give birth in the bush.

When I was born, something wasn’t right with my legs — my feet were turned in and my toes were curled under. Back in those days people said a child born with legs like mine was ‘a cripple’.

In those early years I lived with my family in a tent near the beach. It was a happy and healthy start to life. We had a big vegetable garden and we ate lots of fresh seafood which we caught ourselves.

When I was young my Ddad worked in the bush cutting down trees and because he was such a good worker, he got a job at a local timber mill. He was really fit. He played football with a team in Grafton.

Bowraville Aboriginal Mission

When I was 5 years old, my family moved to live in a house on the Bowraville Aboriginal Mission, which was situated inland from Nambucca Heads, about 60 kilometres south of Coffs Harbour.

There, I started going to school, in a big old shed at the back of the Mission. We were taught by Nuns and all we learned about was God — there was no reading or writing or learning how to add up.

It was at Bowraville that I started to wear braces on my legs, to try and correct my turned-in feet and curled-under toes, and to help me stand up and walk properly.

I spent about six years a Bowraville Mission and I have lots of good memories from that time. We worked hard, played a lot and I got to spend lots of time with my Aunties and Uncles.

Us kids earned money and a feed picking fruit on local orchards and cleaning up the guts of cattle slaughtered at the nearby abattoir, and got pocket money tidying up old white people’s gardens.

When we weren’t working, we made our own toys. We made toy canoes out of old roof tin, put pieces of old hose over the sharp edges and carved wooden paddles.

We also made our own billy carts using old wooden crates and pram wheels, and we made ‘tin rollers’ using old tin cans which we punctured with wire and filled with dirt.

On weekends we went to the river with our Aunties and Uncles. We went fishing and swimming and made spears from the branches of the Kurrajong tree and boomerangs from the roots of trees on the river bank.

Kinchela Boys Home

On the 25th of June, 1958, when I was just 11 years old, I was forcibly removed, or stolen, from my family.

Police drove on to Bowraville Mission, marched up on to our verandah and sat my Mum down. They said the Government had laws about Aboriginal children and that me and my younger brother had to go to a Boys’ Home. They said if my Mum signed a piece of paper, me and my brother would be returned to her in a few months. Mum didn’t know what to do.

The police grabbed me. I started kicking and screaming. I remember grabbing on to my Mum’s dress and her tears falling on to my hand. The police dragged me away and smacked me on the back of the head.

We were driven to Kinchela Boys Home, a ‘training home’ for Aboriginal boys run by the New South Wales Government, which was about 60 kilometres south of Bowraville, not far from the township of Kempsey.

The minute I arrived at the front gate at Kinchela my identity and my culture were taken from me.

The men took my clothes and shoes and leg braces and burned them. They shaved my head, herded me to the showers and made me scrub myself with a stiff brush until my skin was raw. They told me to cover my eyes and mouth and threw white powder over me. They treated me worse than an animal.

Next they took away my name. I was no longer to be called Roger Jarrett. Instead, they gave me a number. From that moment on I was to be known only as ‘Boy Number 12’.

That first night I cried all night. I cried for my Mum and Dad and the rest of my family. I was just a skinny little black kid laying in bed asking God, ‘Why has this happened to me? What did I do wrong?’.

Kinchela was a terrible place. I got flogged everyday for six years, from when I was 11 until I was 17. Those were the worst days of my life. They were days full of cruelty and misery and suffering and pain.

The Boys Home was run by an hard ex-military man called Frank White. All the men who worked at Kinchela were ex-military men. They were all about harsh rules and cruel punishments.

None of the men at Kinchela had any qualifications for looking after or working with young Aboriginal children. They treated us like we were in the military. They were often very violent.

Dunghutti Elder, Uncle Bob Mumbler

Driven by Aboriginal Elders, Coolamon Arts Hub gives established and emerging Aboriginal artists a professional platform to share their stories and sell their artwork.

- Dunghutti Elder, Uncle Bob Mumbler, former Chair of the Dunghutti Elders Council and a recipient of an Order of Australia Medal.

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