A history unwanted

Maria Williams spent nearly 20 years trying to piece together her identity, much of it now in the bin after authorities broke up her family’s makeshift camp at Lotus Park. Photo by Steve Grant.

MARIA WILLIAMS spent nearly 20 years trying to piece together who she is.

A member of the Stolen Generation, she was taken to Sister Kate’s Cottage Home for Children as a seven-year-old, banned from speaking her native tongue and told nothing of her family history.

Notorious for the physical and sexual abuse the children had to endure, Sister Kate’s churned Ms Williams out as a 12-year-old to work as a domestic slave in farms throughout WA’s South West.

“There was a lot of housework; we worked with the farmers and their wives, looking after the children, sending the kids to school,” Ms Williams said.

On the rare occasion a relative passed through a farm, her “foster parents” would allow her just a fleeting moment to speak with them before she was told to go back to work.

Maralinga

Ms Williams didn’t find out her mother was sick with cancer until after her death (it was possibly linked to the Maralinga nuclear tests), but the funeral finally bought the family back together for the first time and her father Gerald successfully applied for custody.

He sparked an interest in her Minang heritage when he later became involved in several native title claims in WA’s Great Southern region, and in the years following his death she collected a trove of newspaper clippings, books and documents she believes connects her by blood to famed peacemaker Mokare, whose statue stands in Albany’s main street.

Gerald successfully applied for custody.

He sparked an interest in her Minang heritage when he later became involved in several native title claims in WA’s Great Southern region, and in the years following his death she collected a trove of newspaper clippings, books and documents she believes connects her by blood to famed peacemaker Mokare, whose statue stands in Albany’s main street.

threw out many of her documents when they removed a makeshift camp near HBF Stadium where the family tried to shelter during the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Our ID was all taken, personal certified documents, documents from my father’s native title agreement, tents, sleeping bags,” Ms Williams told the Voice.

“I was distraught, disgusted, so hurt that they have taken away 45 years of family history, because it’s  a connection to my children and grandchildren.”

But Vincent CEO David MacLennan says rangers only took away items that looked “unwanted”.

“City rangers would not have removed or disposed of anything that was left at the site which would have been deemed to be important or seem to be personal belongings.”

Mr MacLennan said the city had strong “partnerships” with Nyoongar Outreach and United Care West, who “offered support and accommodation services” to Ms Williams and several other families when they were told to move on.

Homeless

Homeless advocate Jesse Noakes said most crisis accommodation beds were already filled during the crisis, and Ms Williams and the other homeless people really needed more long-term solutions.

“Where are they supposed to go?

“It’s all very well to move them on and take their stuff … but until they’ve got a home to go it’ll just be a repeat cycle.”

Mr Noakes said taking homeless people’s tents and supplies during the grip of a cruel winter, added unnecessary costs onto the already stretched budgets of homeless services.

“We just end up having to give them more; you simply can’t let people go without any shelter at all.”

For Ms Williams and her family, this is the fourth time they’ve lost possessions.

Clutching a sheet of around 10 names as he surveys the 25-odd people camped on Beaufort Street, Mr Noakes assures them he’ll try to sort out something about the ID; without it they have little chance of getting into emergence accommodation should any beds become available.

By STEVE GRANT

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