Gloria Williams – Domo Girl 1948 to 1969

Gloria Williams recounts her experience in the Cherbourg Girls’ Dormitory where she was placed as a very young girl. She speaks of not knowing her family and from where they came and how later in life she set about re-constructing her family tree, finding her relatives and re-connecting with her mob. Her’s is a story of the Stolen Generation where families were torn apart and people – both children and adults – were institutionalised, left with huge unknowns about their families and origins.

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT:

 Domo Girls Project

Transcript: Gloria Williams

Domo Girl 1948 to 1969

Gloria            We always look forward to coming back home and especially to see now what you’ve done here, you know, makes us feel very proud to see, you know our heritage part, you know, we were never taught any of those things Sandra so it’s good to come back and see all of this.

Sandra                          Now, about the dormitories. What are your memories of being in the dormitory first? Ah, you know why you were placed in the dormitory, or?

Gloria                            Well my grandmother, granny Connie, she was removed from Duaringa in 1922 or 23 and my mum was only a baby and she had a sister called Sissy but Sissy died. They never spoke about it but I only know my mother being, and my nanna being at the dormitory. I was in the dormitory so that was three generations in the dormitory but I couldn’t understand why they were in the dormitory because they were grown.

Sandra                            Yeah, they never shared any of that …

Gloria                              No …

Sandra                            … with you? Yeah.

Gloria                              No, and ah, because we were so used to having adults in the dormitory we never questioned that, why they were there and someone just said, “Oh well they haven’t a got home”, and we were “homes?”. “Yeah, you know like the camp people got homes.” “Oh, I see, you know, mother, father, children”, then you never said anymore because what we thought was in the dormitory was normal to us. It was normal. So I slept in the wards with the girls. My mother had a room. My nanna had a room. Then when mum had babies, she went to the baby quarters and then she came back to the dormitory. She was a cook, yeah and she was also a cook over at the old mens’ quarters but that’s how it was Sandra, that was her home too, but …

Sandra                            But then, and so, what was your feeling? You wondered a lot, I guess and, but didn’t ask.

Gloria                              Yeah because no one, no one answered our question sometimes and some, I think too we probably were afraid to ask questions. Oh, I don’t know, we. Like I said, to us, that was normal. And I, I had help about 15, 16 years ago, ‘cause I thought I was, well I suppose you could say close to a breakdown and I was fortunate to, ah, have counseling and he wanted to know about my life and I said I had a normal life; I grew up on an Aboriginal mission up in Queensland, it was called Cherbourg, not far from Kingaroy, and each week I went back, it was a different story. He didn’t know what I was talking about. I told him about the Protection Board Act, how I 14 years old when I got sent out to work, out onto a station, I worked for white people. From Quilpie I went to Taroom then from Taroom to Brisbane.

Sandra                            And that feeling when you left the dormitory, at that time, how, you felt free or you …?

Gloria                              I was sad …

Sandra                            You were sad, hmm.

Gloria                              … ‘cause I was leaving my family and my sisters behind and I still remember the day, with the taxi picked me up to catch the train in Murgon, ah I was sad. I cried because I was leaving, I don’t know if it was security or, and I was going out into the wide world … But um, with the dormitory life, ah, there was discipline, you couldn’t answer back, you had to do what you was told, ah we scrubbed the floors, polished the floors, ah, it sort of prepared us for when we went out to work. You know, had to make beds, we had to set the table, ah, we were clean, very clean, you know you could eat off the floors and, ah, I think that helped me in my married life too. Now I’m a bit slack but ah you know, I polished floors and I was scrubbing the tiles and my husband said, “Why are you scrubbing the tiles? Why are you on your hands and feet, scrubbing up tiles?” I said “That’s what we do”. Well, I don’t do it anymore …

Sandra                            So, ah, how old were you when you, ah, you said you were born in Woorabinda, in this ah …

Gloria                              I went, yeah, ah, I always wanted to know …

Sandra                            Ah, ok.

Gloria                              … where I was born up in Woorabinda but mum would never tell me. Ah, she said, “Oh, you know, I was up there”. I said ok so I just let it go but, and, when we got mum’s files, it said that she assaulted a white nurse here, Cherbourg hospital, so she was sent up to Woorabinda for 12 months’ punishment, so that’s how come I was born up there but she would never ever tell me the reason why and, like I said Sandra, all we just wanted to know was something about ourselves but it was just like some big secret. Maybe mum didn’t want to talk about it, I don’t know, maybe she was traumatized, maybe she had something traumatic in her life, I don’t know I don’t know if you remember the time that mum got burnt. She got burnt. She was standing beside the stove and she had a thin dress on.

Sandra                            Oh yeah, I remember.

Gloria                              Yeah, and you know how we were talking about emotions and what not. You know, I think we used to shut down if anything happened. You shut down because if you got too emotional, you’d start crying and bla, bla, bla and, I couldn’t cry for my mother and she was rushed up to the hospital. She was burnt. No one in the dormitory came to me and said, “It’s alright bub. Your mum’s going to be alright.” I didn’t know what to do so I went behind the toilet and I sat for a while and Joanne’s mum came around. She said, “Are you alright bub?” I said, “Yeah, I’m alright aunty Vera. I’m ok.” I just sat there but I couldn’t cry but there was a heaviness in my, my chest. I couldn’t cry so I walked back up the steps and my nanna stopped me and she said, “Why can’t you cry?” I couldn’t cry and I’m, I’m very emotional now but growing up, it was like, don’t cry Gloria, don’t cry, just forget it, shut it out.

                                        … You know, I often think about nanna being taken away from her people …

Sandra                           So where was nanna brought from?

Gloria                              Nanna was removed from Duaringa …

Sandra                            Ah, ok.

Gloria                              … so her, her tribe was Gungalu and she never ever spoke about them and we didn’t even know she had family, um, until her nephew came here one year when it was the debutant ball night and he came down to the dormitory and he stood outside the dormitory and one of the women said, ah, “Who are you and what do you want? White men not allowed to come here,” because he was very white and he said, “I want to see my aunty” and we said, “Who’s your aunty?” He said, “Connie White, Connie Williams” so aunty Maudy said, “Go upstairs and get granny Connie and aunty Flo and bring them downstairs” and aunty Maudy said, “granny Connie, there’s a white man out here, said that he’s your nephew” and nanna stood there and cried. She cried broken hearted and she said, “Maudy, that is my nephew”. He came all the way from Rockhampton and, ah, he had his two sisters with him, aunty Beryl and aunty Tina. So aunty Maudy said, “Go into Murgon and bring them out here”. They spent the night in the dormitory with us and we took them to the debutant ball. We lost contact with them after that. No more contact with nanna’s family until, just before mum died, um, she met up with their cousin Reggie White and he came here to Cherbourg for the funeral. Then he lost contact with us and he told me when he met me that he rang Cherbourg and someone said, “No, that family don’t live here anymore” and I said, “Billie Winkie was still there” and they said, “No, that Williams family don’t live here no more,” so no one could find us. It was only before, ah, because, ah, we got our files that we found the family in 1997 and we went up to Rockhampton for ah, reunion with Nanna’s people.

Sandra                            So what you’re sharing now, you know, it’s ‘bout, like missing pieces, hey, pieces of a jigsaw that …

Gloria                              Pieces of a jigsaw puzzle …

Sandra                            … yeah, that, that …

Gloria                              … and that’s what they said to us in Rockhampton, ah, because they didn’t know about nanna. I don’t know if you remember nanna’s brother, Kruger, came here. He was a tall man but he was a dead ringer of nanna, but very tall, moustache, grey here and mum used to work over at the young man quarters and she said to me, “Oh, I forgot to tell you that, ah, nanna’s brother’s coming for a holiday” and I said, “Who?” She said, “His name Kruger, Kruger White” and he jumped out of the taxi and I was thinking, where’d he come from, ‘cause I was only young … we found out a, a little bit more about nanna and, and, when he went back to Rockhampton and when I spoke to my cousins, he was a very quiet man, like nanna, very reserved, never spoke to no one, he grew up on the stations, was a, drover …

Sandra                            So do you know much about nanna’s family now?

Gloria                              Oh yes, yes, I keep in contact with, ah, with the family up in Rockhampton, and ah …

Sandra                            So it’s a, a good feeling that you …

Gloria                              Oh, we cried …

Sandra                            … got some, pieces, you know brought together, yeah …

Gloria                              … we cried because it was family. At least, you know, it was like, ah, we found our family. I had family here, yes, ah, the dormitory girls will always be my first family, that’s my family but to have blood family and they were nanna’s people and I wa, I’m just so sad because, um, nanna wasn’t around or mum wasn’t around when we found the family so we were, Connie and I always used to talk about it and Aquila, and ah, you know, Aquila used to say, “Well, look, we got to do something. We gotta try and find our family because we just like lost sheep.”

Sandra                            And I guess, if you would of heard it first hand from nan, it must, it would of been more special hey?

Gloria                              More special to us and it was only just by pure luck I heard nanna talk one day and she said, oh, she was alwa.., oh, something about to the, my name’s Connie White and I said, “How come your name’s Connie White?” She said “Oh, that’s was my name before I got married”. And I’m thinking, married, and she, that’s when she told me she was married to a Kanak and we didn’t even know anything about him, his name, nothing. We found out his name was Billy, Billy Williams and, when my uncle Kruger stayed on the station outside of, um, Duaringa, those people knew this fella but called him Billy Kanak but we don’t know what happened, whether, what he was sent back to the Solomon Islands, we don’t know where he came from and nanna never ever spoke about him.

Sandra                            And I think with, ah, the system at the time, a lot of the things were changed like names, and I think …

Gloria                              Yeah, yeah but that’s the name on the paper, ah, Bill Williams and they were married up in, legally married up at ah, Duaringa and so nanna never ever spoke about much and so, I started hearing these words, ‘Duaringa, Rockhampton, Whites’. In my mind, I’m trying to, oh, who are these people and where are these places and mum never said anything either and I said, “Oh where were you born then mum?” She said, “Oh, Rockhampton” and that was it. But ah, I just wish they were here today and, to know that, yes, we did go out and look for our family. I think that they would be proud to know that um, we searched and searched for our family and now we have our family up in Rocky and, I think they’d be very proud. They’d probably look down and say well, good on you, I’m glad, you know, and before Aquila passed away, that’s what she said, “I’m so glad that we found our family Gloria.” Yeah, it was, it was um …

Sandra                            Something that you can tell your children too …

Gloria                              … it was like an emptiness here Sandra, like a loss, you know, like a loss and, um, didn’t know where you belonged to. Now I know my tribe, Gungalu, but, because I’m in an elders’ group down south, I always say Gungalu Wakka Wakka and they say, “Why you say Wakka Wakka?” I said, “Well, that’s where I grew up”. I said, “I’m still a Wakka Wakka woman but I know my grandmother’s tribe now and I’m proud of that Sandra. Proud to know where I belong but this is home, and it will always be home to me.

 

 

 

 

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