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Stolen Generations survivor Aunty Lindy Lawler speaks on her path to healing for National Sorry Day

ABC NEWS logo ABC NEWS 26/05/2022
As a survivor of the Stolen Generations, Aunty Lindy Lawler wants to help other heal. (ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss) © Provided by ABC NEWS As a survivor of the Stolen Generations, Aunty Lindy Lawler wants to help other heal. (ABC Illawarra: Sarah Moss)

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following story may contain images of people who have died. 

Some of Aunty Lindy Lawler's earliest memories are scarred with fear and pain, including having her little four-year-old hand held over a gas flame as a regular punishment from her government-appointed carer.

The 63-year-old Aboriginal elder, Yuin woman and survivor of the Stolen Generations suffered horrendous abuse for years after being removed from her family.

Aunty Lindy and her identical twin sister were born in David Berry Memorial Hospital at Berry on the New South Wales South Coast in December 1958.

In May 1959, their parents were told to take the twins back to the hospital for a check-up and when they returned the girls were gone.

"We had no idea we were removed from that place — we were five months old when this happened," Aunty Lindy said.

Over the next few years, the twins were taken to the Royal Alexandra Hospital for Children in Sydney, the Ashfield Infants' Home, and a convalescent home before being sent to a home in Narrabeen on Sydney's northern beaches in 1963.

Aunty Lindy said she and her twin were scared in the overcrowded house where there was often not enough food.

"I remember we crawled along the floor going into the cupboards to find something to eat, then going into other cupboards to try and find food," she said.

Aunty Lindy said in her mind she could still hear the loud and echoing footsteps of the woman who ran the house coming towards them.

She said the woman would see them on the floor going for the cupboards, "only because we wanted something to eat, we didn't know it was a bad thing to do'."

"She then grabbed us both by the hands and took us into the kitchen. I can still see what she did to us," Aunty Lindy said.

"She would line us up in front of the gas stove, and just light the gas and the flames would come up.

"She then grabbed my little hand and flicked it across the gas stove.

"Then she got my twin and would burn our hands backwards and forward, for everything we did wrong — that was our punishment."

Aunty Lindy said no matter what happened, the woman would always line them up in front of the gas stove.

"And at my age, I can't go anywhere near a gas stove or any fire. It triggers memories so quick," she said.

"It has scarred our lives forever."

She also remembers a wooden panel in the lounge room.

"We would go straight to the wood panel and bite on the wood to stop the pain in our hands, cause we weren't allowed to speak, scream or do nothing," she said.

"I still remember the wood with all the teeth marks across the wood.

"We didn't know we were going to be put in the hands of a monster."

She said she and her sister were only removed after neighbours reported the abuse, but they were then sent to another home.

In 1968, the twins were sent to stay in Hunters Hill with their foster mum Betty, a place Aunty Lindy said the sisters came to feel loved and safe in.

Lost connections

When they were 18, they were able to meet their mother for the first time.

"I still remember her in her little navy-blue coat, cataract eyes, little black shoes, little back handbag, I can still see her, she was frail, but she knew who we were," Aunty Lindy said.

"But we couldn't give her the love that we wanted to give back to our parents — our mum especially, our communication was gone, we had lost so much.

"And my father, well we never got to meet him, we only heard stories about him. I would have loved to have known what he looked like."

A friend helped Aunty Lindy build a timeline of her life.

"It was like a jigsaw puzzle trying to put this all together," she said.

But there was no record or documentation of the repeated abuse.

"How we were treated was never recorded," she said.

The apology

Aunty Lindy attended the apology to the Stolen Generations, delivered by former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, on 13 February 2008.

She said it meant a great deal, but her twin had died the year before and never had the chance to hear the words.

“But I will never forget it, and how many people went to it, and believed us and that was a really big healing," she said.

It has taken her years to speak about her pain and she said she received help on the journey from the Illawarra Aboriginal Medical Service.

She's now driven to help people understand what happened to those who were stolen.

“I know some of those who suffered will never get over it, will never forgive, which we can understand, and we need to respect why they won’t speak about it and why they can’t forgive," she said.

"I believe that we can heal for a better future and stand by one another and listen to each other's voices.

"I think I am here for that reason — to be here and support people.

"Being a survivor from the past has given me something to continue and not to go backwards but go forward."

Aunty Lindy is respected across the Illawarra for her work supporting many groups, including the lllawarra Women's Health Centre, Shellharbour Council, the United Koori Social Club, Wollongong Cultural Centre and the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society in Shellharbour.

On National Sorry Day in 2022, Aunty Lindy said her focus remains on healing and building hope for the future.

"I have six beautiful grandchildren and I look at them and say at least nothing happened to them and they never went through what their Aunty and myself went through," she said.

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