Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lowitja O'Donoghue

Lowitja O'Donoghue

I don't know who this person is, but her name makes me think she's part Irish and part indigenous Australian.

I just saw that she's on the overwhelming biography site. Yikes. I was lazy and hoping for a short research time today. Oh well. I hope she's interesting.

I'll start with Lord Wiki.

I'm right about her being Aboriginal and Irish. I guess I'm proud of myself there.

Baby Lowitja was born on 1 August 1932 in a large cattle station called Granite Downs. It's in northern South Australia. I'm looking at it on Google Maps now. I guess it's also the name of a town, or does Google Maps actually show cattle stations? I'm guessing it was a very big cattle station.

Anyway, Granite Downs is about four hours north of Coober Pedy.

Lowitja was the fifth of sixth children. She was baptized by the United Aborigines Mission. The UAM has a page where they compare Aboriginal social values with Non-Aboriginal social values. It's pretty interesting. I think our world would be a lot better off if we leaned a little more towards the Aboriginal way.

I'm not sure if O'Donoghue was a stolen child or not. I guess I'll find that out when I read her very long interview. Lord Wiki says her parents were concerned for her welfare because Granite Downs was very isolated, and there was no school. From this, it sounds like they were NOT stolen. It seems their parents chose to send them somewhere. O'Donoghue went to a United Aborigines Mission in Oodnadatta.

Google Maps shows Oodnadatta as being about seven hours south-east of Granite Downs. Lord Wiki says it has a desert climate. I guess it would classify as being part of the outback. I'm looking at the average temperatures to see when would be a good month to eventually go to the outback. September would probably be good. The average temperature is 26(80). April and August would work too. I don't think we're going to do this during the next visit, but maybe the visit AFTER that.

I'm not sure how long O'Donoghue stayed in Oodnadatta. Lord Wiki says she was eventually moved to the Colebrook Children's Home in Quorn, South Australia. That's very close to Port Augusta, and about four hours north of Adelaide.

Lord Wiki says O'Donoghue was in the Quorn home by the age of three. Wow. That's young. I pictured her going there when she was much older.

O'Donoghue says she was happy in the home. She liked living there. I'm sure we'll learn more about that in her interview.

The South Australia History website has an entry about Colebrook. I'll read that. It's not all happy. I'm sure some kids like O'Donoghue had a positive experience. But this website does talk about the loss of language and culture. It says, In an effort to isolate the children from their 'perceived harmful surroundings' the Sisters would like to move the home as far away from Oodnadatta as possible. That's just sad. These people wanted these children as far away from their culture and family. Judging from what I saw on the United Aboriginal Mission website, it seems they've made some positive changes. The way they described Aboriginal Culture was very positive.

Okay, but it's not a completely positive change. I was curious just now, and looked at the UAM's website to see what they said about their history. They speak of it in completely positive terms. They put Christians in a good light, and nonreligious folks in a bad one. They say, Many in the secular world at that time embraced a Darwinian world view which categorised the Australian aborigine as a sub human species destined to die out in the process of evolution. Many of the Government policies developed in subsequent years were based on these views. So are they saying Christians had nothing to do with any of the negative stuff?

The South Australia history site says there were stolen children at the school, as well as children who had been sent there by their parent's choice. However, for all children it was very difficult for their parents to take them out once they were sent there. That's very sad. A parent might have put their child in there because they were in a desperate situation. I wonder if they knew it would be hard to get them out again.

When O'Donoghue was about twelve, the Colebrooke home moved to Eden Hills in Adelaide. There, O'Donoghue attended Unley High School. Her first job after finishing school was, as a nanny of six kids, in a place south of Adelaide called Victor Harbor. While doing that work, she attended a Baptist church. There she met someone who worked at a hospital. This person convinced O'Donoghue to be a nurse.

From 1950 until 1953 O'Donoghue worked as a nursing aid in Victor Harbor. The small hospital didn't have a training course so she eventually applied to enter a program in Adelaide.

O'Donoghue had a small problem. She had the qualifications needed for finishing high school. However, she never took the required exam for certification. The hospital she wanted to apply to, The Royal Adelaide Hospital, required student nurses to have their certification.

Fortunately, it wasn't a problem for long though. The hospital soon decided to open their doors to students who weren't officially qualified. O'Donoghue became a nurse and worked there until 1961.

How old would she have been in 1961? Let me do the math.....

She'd be about twenty-nine.

After the hospital stuff, , O'Donoghue worked in India. She did work with a mission.

In 1962 she returned to Australia. She got a job with the South Australian Department of Education as an Aboriginal liaison Officer. I wonder why she took that career path? What happened to nursing? Did she get burned out?

In 1967, O'Donoghue went to work for the newly formed Department of Aboriginal Affairs. I'm guessing this was formed after the Referendum?

She worked there several years. Then if I'm understanding this right, she spent time after that working for private organizations.

In 1990, she became chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission. She held that position for six years.

In 1992 she became the first Australian Aboriginal to address the United Nations General Assembly. What? Really?! It took that long! I'm surprised it didn't happen much sooner. Although maybe I'm misreading this.

In 1997, she publicly stated that she was part of the stolen generation, but later admitted she wasn't sure about the issues surrounding her separation. She was VERY young when it happened. We couldn't expect her to remember.

I'm done with Lord Wiki. Now I'll go to the overwhelming biography site. The interview was done in 1994. I need to remember that this was over fifteen years ago. Some stuff might be outdated.

I'll start with part 1.

She says O'Donoghue is her father's name. She never met him.

The missionaries called her Lois.

Daddy O'Donoghue was the station manager of Granite Downs. It that the big main boss? Did he have a love affair or relationship with O'Donoghue's mother? Did he rape her? What's the story?

According to O'Donoghue we may never know the story. She wasn't able to finally talk to her mother until she was much older. She says the cultural and language barriers made it too hard to talk about such a difficult subject.

O'Donoghue says she doesn't know the true date of her birth. It MIGHT be 1 August. It might not.

I feel weird referring to her by the last name of this white man who had nothing to do with her life. I think for now on, I'll use Lowitja. Plus, I think it's easier for me to spell.

In this interview, Lowitja says she was removed at the age of two....taken. I wonder who has the evidence that shows this is not the case. Was Lord Wiki lying to me...trying to cover up the crimes of white folks? Or did Lowitja's mom admit to giving up her daughter?

Lowitja says she had older sisters that were taken away as well. One was six. She doesn't remember what happened. Is she blocking painful memories of being stolen, or painful memories of being sent away?

Okay. Maybe there is some clues about the relationship between Lowitja's mother and Mr. O'Donoghue. She says her siblings have the Irish guy as their father too. She says this indicates they probably had some type of long-standing relationship. Yeah. Probably.

He had family in Adelaide. Wow. Did he go back and forth a lot? Did he just visit the station every so often? I had assumed a station manager would live on the station.

Lowitja says when she was a teen, there was a process called becoming exempt. With this, a part Aboriginal person would declare themselves as being white. Once they did this, they could do things like drink in pubs and get married. This was all for the purpose of assimilation...breeding the blackness out of Australia.

Lowitja resisted the whole exemption thing. Good. After reading some of this stuff, I sort of wish I could resist being white as well.

The interviewer brings up the idea of the Aborigines having their own prejudices against the half-caste children. Half-caste....Is that the politically correct term? Tim and I refer to Jack as a half-breed. I know that's not politically correct. We're vulgar people. Maybe we should start saying he's mudblood. That would be cute. Harry Potter references are almost always cute.

Seriously. I don't know what the politically correct term is. Maybe I'll just say not fully Aboriginal and/or not fully white. Lowitja says that although she was warmly welcomed back into the community as an adult, she believes when she was a young child, there might have indeed been prejudices against children who were not fully Aboriginal.

Lowitja says she was told she spoke the Aboriginal language when she arrived at the home. I think she's since forgotten all of it.

Tim was adopted from Korea when he was two or three. He was pretty fluent in Korean. He lost it all. He can do the accent well though. He can make himself SOUND Korean. I wonder if that means a part of him still has that language.

To his parents credit, I think they did try to provide him with Korean lessons. And I did too! Twice I've bought Tim language programs. He gets into them for a day or two, and then loses interest.

Oh, this makes me so mad. It doesn't surprise me though. The children in the home were discouraged from using their Aboriginal language. They were also discouraged from talking about their origins.

I really hate the whole idea of cultural superiority.

Lowitja says as an adult, she relearned the language. She said it came easier to her than it did other students. Ah. It might be like Tim. I bet if he'd put his mind to it, he'd learn it fairly fast. It's not like he doesn't want to learn. He's proud and interested of his Korean heritage. I think he just gets sidetracked.

Oh. Here. The interviewer uses the term half-caste. So, I guess it IS politically correct, or at least it was back in 1994.

No wait. I think the interviewer uses the term because it was the name of the home. Colebrook Home for Half-Caste Children. The interviewer and Lowitja talk about the word. Lowitja says it is NOT used anymore. She says that these days any such terms are offensive. If you're Aboriginal, you're Aboriginal. There doesn't need to be a divisions 0r fractions.

What can I say? I still see my child as a fraction. He's half Caucasian. He's half Korean. It's complicated though because Tim was adopted. The Korean half doesn't play much of a part in stuff. Culturally speaking, Jack is pretty much 100% Caucasian. All his known grandparents are white. It's really weird to know that somewhere out there in the world, my child has grandparents that we don't know. He might have aunts, uncles, and cousins too. They might be in Korea. They might be in America. Some might even be in Australia.

Lowitja is asked if she has much to do with her Irish relatives. She said she keeps very minimal contact with them. However, when asked if she feels any kinship with the Irish, she says she does feel something. She mentions how both cultures have had to fight for justice.

Lowitja says she doesn't remember any affection coming from the people who worked in the missions. Instead, they'd receive affection from the older children. She doesn't much remember the children who took care of her, but she does remember the baby she looked after when she was older. She even remembers the baby's name.

All right. I'm on part 2 now.

Lowitja talks about the women who ran the home. She says Sister Hyde was very strict. Sister Rutter was a little less strict. There didn't seem to be a lot of warmth there, although Lowitja says the sisters did have favorite children. Maybe those kids received warmth. Lowitja wasn't one of the favorites.

Lowitja believes she wasn't naughty. She thinks she was simply outspoken, and that behavior wasn't valued in a strict Christian school.

It's funny. Lowitja talks negatively about the school, yet she sees the discipline as a positive thing.

She remembers getting beaten. She remembers being beaten. And she was okay with that? I've heard pro-spanking parents say stuff like that. I was spanked when I was a child, and I'm thankful for it.
Well, I wasn't spanked as a child, and I'm thankful for THAT. Thank you very much. At least I don't think I was spanked. Maybe I was and I don't remember. I vaguely remember my mom slapping me once. I picture it happening on an escalator. It might have been a dream though. The memory is way too vague for me to verify it as reality or not.

I've heard pro-spanking parents declare that they never spank in anger. That's supposed to be better somehow. I'm much more okay with the idea of my parents getting REALLY pissed off at me, and (VERY occasionally) losing their temper and giving me a little slap. I know what it's like as a parent to be THAT angry. I almost slapped Jack once. He was walking over me and stepped on my stomach....something like that. I reached out to slap him. It was like an automatic response. Fortunately, I missed him.

But planned spanking when not angry is just too premeditated for me.

Lowitja talks about how the beatings would give the kids welts. There were actual physical marks from this punishment. Yet, she STILL sees it as a positive thing.

Yikes. It Jack going to grow up and tell his therapist I was a bad parent for not beating him?

Now that I think of it, I really haven't had much success in life. Perhaps if my dad realized belts weren't just for keeping your pants up, I'd have my novels published. Maybe I'd be rich and famous.

My parents have failed me!

Lowitja had a positive experience at school.

She's asked about her awareness of being Aboriginal. She said it was there because new children would come in, and they would know the language. They'd also know about Lowitja's mother.

In the interview, she disagrees with what I read on the South Australia History site. She says parents WERE encouraged to visit. Although actually, the South Australia site didn't say they were discouraged from visiting. They were just not allowed to take the children back home. Lowitja says however that the distance was far. It was difficult to visit.

Despite the fact that the Aboriginal children were educated at local schools, they were not given a wealth of career choices. For Aboriginal women it was domestic service, domestic service, or domestic service. I believe there's nothing wrong with domestic service. I think it's sad that this type of work has such little respect. But it IS awful that this was the only choice to Aboriginal women.

Lowitja went to be a nanny for the Swincer family in Victor Harbour. When she came, Mrs. Swincer was near giving birth to her sixth child. Lowitja had the job of taking care of the five others.

Lowitja was only sixteen when she went to work there.

She said she got a good report when she left. That's nice.

Lowitja was paid a wage for her nanny job. However, the money was put into a trust, and she couldn't have that until she was twenty-one. If I'm reading this right, she never got the money. She tried to get it earlier to pay for some of the nursing stuff. She couldn't get it. The interviewer asked if she returned when she was finally twenty-one. She said no. She was too angry.

See, this is what people mean when they say our anger hurts ourselves the most. I mean I think it's FINE that she was angry. I'd be angry too. And I'm angry for her. But not getting the money....why? How does that punish them? It only punished her.

Lowitja talks about how she was initially rejected from the Royal Adelaide Hospital. It wasn't just about not having the proper certification. A woman from the hospital told her she should go to Alice Springs and work with her own people.

Now I'm on part 3.

Around this time, Lowitja became involved with the Aboriginal Advancement League. I guess this was when she was still in Victor Harbor. She said she went to Adelaide every week to participate in the Aboriginal Advancement stuff. One of the things they fought for was to get Aboriginal women into the nursing profession.

Eventually, Lowitja left Victor Harbour and moved to Adelaide. There she worked as a private nurse for a family she met through the Aboriginal Advancement League.

The good news is the Aboriginal Advancement League wasn't just made up of Aboriginal Australians. Some white people were involved too. Hearing stuff like that makes me feel better about the world.

Although Lowitja had done her training at the Victor Harbour Hospital, when the Royal Adelaide Hospital FINALLY accepted her, they forced her to start from the beginning. Lowitja believes this was because she's Aboriginal.

The first Matron that Lowitja worked under was very difficult. She did not show Lowitja a lot of love. This made Lowitja more resolved to work harder and be as perfect as possible.

Lowitja feels she was a very good nurse. I bet she was. She says for the most part the patients liked her. She does say however that some patients weren't happy with having a black nurse.

Lowitja says for the most part, she did not experience a lot of racism in her life. To me, it sounds like she encountered a lot. BUT she also encountered a lot of people who did not act racist. So I think maybe that counteracted the bad.

Lowitja eventually became a charge nurse. The interviewer asks her if the nurses working under her were upset to have an Aboriginal person in charge. She says not at all. Her experiences with them were very positive.

She talks about going to India. She went there with a mission as a nurse. She had planned to stay three years, but had to leave because of a nearby war.

Lowitja says India was pretty awful. There were no doctors. The nurses had to take care of everything. She also says there were very few live births in India. On top of all that, she says there were tigers and cobras. Yikes.

Well, Australia has crocodiles. But not in South Australia.

All right. Now I'm on part four.

Lowitja says that going to India gave her a broader cultural perspective. She says, Well it gave me a different perspective that, in fact, the Australian aborigines weren't ... weren't the only people that had been colonised and that they weren't the only people who were dispossessed.

Yeah. Dispossession is quite common on our planet.

When Lowitja returned to Australia, she went back to work at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. But she didn't feel satisfaction there. She felt called to do some thing more. This was when she decided she wanted to work more with her own people.

Around this time, she went to find her mother, Lily. She went to a store in Coober Pedy. Some Aboriginal women were there. They saw Lowitja and knew right away that she was Lily's daughter. That's pretty amazing.

The reunion story is sad. Lowitja said her mother quickly became agitated and acted disinterested. Lowitja found out it was because her mother thought she was coming to live there. Her mother felt she wouldn't be able to provide the life that Lowitja was used to. Once Lowitja assured her mom that they were staying at a hotel, her mom acted happy. Her mom spent time with them, but not at the camp. It was like she was ashamed of it, maybe?

These reunions are really depressing. I guess it's good that they happen, but so sad that they have to happen. I think there's something poignant and highly emotional about children reuniting with their birth parents. But if the adoption was a choice, that's SO different. When a child is taken, and then there's a reunion....

Plus, Lowitja had to deal with seeing her mom living in such awful conditions. I can imagine there are so many mixed feelings there. Lowitja's life was actually GOOD, and that might have been from being raised in the home. I can imagine she had so many mixed feelings. What if she had not been taken away? Would her life had been horrible? Or what if it hadn't been. What if she managed to succeed as a child growing up in the Aboriginal World. What if she had been there to take care of her mother?

I imagine the mother had mixed feelings too. What if someone kidnapped Jack? What if we found him twenty years later, and he ended up having a better life than we ever could have given him? How the hell would we feel? I don't know. I think we'd end up having a nervous breakdown. There'd be too many conflicting feelings.

For the most part though, I'd be so incredibly hurt and angry. I'd be glad that Jack ended up having a good life without us. I'd be relieved. But I would forever resent the years with him that we lost.

Lowitja does talk about her own conflicting feelings. She says she is glad she didn't end up staying with her mother...mainly because she had a promised marriage. Lowitja actually later met the man. She liked him. He was nice, but just too old for her. They met in Adelaide. They'd joke around about the marriage. He'd say he was coming to the camp to get her, and she'd tell him that she was married to a white man. I guess they just played around. That's funny.

I'm on part 5 now. I'm going to read, but slow down on my reporting. I kind of feel what's the point. If anyone is that interested, they can read the interview for themselves. I think I'll only talk about stuff that really stands out to me.

She had a love thing going on with a married man. He loved her. She loved him. But she refused to let anything go on until he was a free man. I guess he wanted Lowitja enough. He made himself a free man. Lowitja married him in 1979.

Lowitja says that his family did not accept her much. It's talked about in terms of racial terms. I'm sure that played a big part. But I think her being the other woman could have been a factor as well. If his family had any love and/or loyalty towards the first wife, Lowitja could have been an unwelcome intrusion.

Lowitja's husband died in 1992. That was two years before the interview. She's asked if she misses him, and she says yes.

All right. I'm on part 6 now. I'm getting tired of reading period, so now I'll probably just read the questions and answers that appeal to me.

The interviewer talks about all the programs that have been developed to helped Indigenous Australians. She says despite this there are still so many problems. Why? Lowitja talks about how the Aborigines themselves haven't had enough part in determining the priorities.

I think it's all about self-determination. The communities need help, and yes sometimes it has to be outside help. But that help has to be directed by those in the community themselves. Otherwise, it's an invasion. At least I think so.

When the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs is a white woman, what does that say to Indigenous Australians? You guys aren't smart enough or capable enough to take care of yourselves.

I'm on part 7 now.

There's talk of welfare.

I know right-winged people are against that. I was looking at a Facebook poll message board the other day. There were the people who talked the usual talk. They said stuff like, Get your ass off the couch. Get a job. Work! Take care of yourself. The idea there is that we all have equal opportunity. All people are capable of working and taking care of themselves. The only reason not to get a job is you're lazy. Yeah. Never mind that unemployment is so high right now.

I do think we're all capable of taking care of ourselves. But sometimes we need HELP taking care of ourselves. I don't think struggling communities should have people come in and save them. They need to be given what they need to help themselves.

Lowitja says, I mean people need all the help that they can get to assist them to find their way in the community and, of course, one of the things that Aboriginal people are talking about, of course, at the moment is the need of course for economic enterprise, so there certainly is a ... a lot of thought being given to the purchasers of properties and also getting involved in ... in joint ventures, into tourism, and into a whole range of things.
Yeah. I think that's what's needed.

I'm on part 8 now.

She's asked about her vision for the future. Lowitja says, Well the vision, of course, that I would have for my people, of course, is that we would be able to get involved in economic development that would put us in a position of being able to manage our own enterprises, so that, in fact, we were not dependent upon government.

I like that vision. But I do think sometimes that independence grows out of dependence. There's two ways of helping people. You can take care of them in a way that creates more dependency. You teach them that they can only exist with your help. And then there's a way of taking care of someone that pushes them towards independence. You give them some of the resources they need, and then stand back and allow them to help themselves.

I'm on the last part now. Good! It's about religion and spirituality. It sounds like she emphasizes Aboriginal Spirituality more than Christian. I'm glad to hear that. I personally prefer the Aboriginal religion.

She doesn't believe in life after death. Why does this interview site always ask people about that?

She's for the Republic. I am too. I'm feeling stronger about that everyday. It's too bad my opinion doesn't matter much.

I'm going to quit soon, but first I want to look at Google news for any recent news.

This article says that in 2008, Lowitja reached out to the churches in Australia and reminded them of their part in the stolen generations. She talked about how hard her separation was on her. The article says, Ms O'Donoghue said she had sometimes been identified as one of the "success stories" of the Stolen Generations. But the reality was that her childhood had been deeply unhappy, depriving her of love and the ability to love in return.

Yeah. It doesn't always matter about success. I think there'd be so much pain--something that no one could fully overcome.

This ABC transcript is fascinating. It's about whether or not Lowitja was stolen or not. I thought it was a matter of her being stolen or given up by her mother to the missionaries. Instead it's the use of stolen vs. removal. What? How is being removed different from being stolen? If someone robs me tonight, would it make a difference if I say they removed our computer rather than they stole our computer?

Would it make white people feel more comfortable if we used the term the-removed-generation rather than the stolen-generation?

People are weird.

I'm going to quit now. I have to pee, and Jack wants to use my computer. He's writing a novel.


  1. Hi Dina,

    I don't know you at all but Andrew here in Australia has mentioned you several times on his blog so I finally caught up with your blog today.

    As it seems you are interested in Australian biographies, I thought I'd contribute a website I encountered today which you may already be well aware of, given your obvious interest in research, that seems to contain about 11,000 biographies of Australians ( It's the online version of an ongoing Australian dictionary of biography project produced by, I think, the Australian National University, perhaps with the help of the University of Melbourne Press and individual scholarly contributions. Almost all of the biographees (virtually the whole 11,000 at the moment) died in the 1980s or before. The project is currently adding people who died in the 1990s, I think, so Lowitja won't be there yet for some time, hopefully (I believe she's still with us).

    I looked up a relative who was an internationally well known (in art circles) 19th and early 20th Century South Australian painter interested in the Japanese style who studied under Whistler and he wasn't there (he has made it onto the fabulous Wikipedia, however).


  2. I was going to tell you the painter's name. It was Mortimer Menpes.

  3. Martin,


    Cool about your relative. Was he a cousin? Uncle?

    I do know about the biography website. I LOVE it. They're great at giving more personal and specific details.

    It's usually the second site I go to (after Wikipedia) when doing someone who has been dead for awhile. I especially go there if I don't expect to find many other websites about the person.

    You know, it's not like I'm going to find an Enough Rope interview with Mary Reibey.... So it's nice to have the autobiographical dictionary to turn to!

  4. I can't tell you exactly but it was through the children of a Joseph Cowley (my paternal grandmother's maiden name is Cowley) who emigrated to South Australia (officially white settlement began there in 1836) in the mid 19th Century from England.

    I think Mortimer's dad, John, had a draper's shop in a building in colonial Port Adelaide that is still standing (somewhere I have a recent photo and photo of a 19th century receipt from the shop that has a drawing of the shop). John was also a leading light at the Port Adelaide Institute although I'm not sure what it did).

    I read in Wiki that while Mortimer lived in France he was a friend of Oscar Wilde (apparently in the period before Oscar's trial) so he sounds fairly cool for the time.

  5. Martin,

    I think it's great that you know about your ancestors. I hardly know anything. I know their names (or have access to them) and I have some photos. But I know nothing about them. I tried doing some genealogy research online, but came up empty for the most part.