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My cousin the superstar

By Stephen Hagan - posted Thursday, 1 November 2007

Confucius once said; "Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall".

"Stephen, you just wouldn’t believe who I’m related to", said the gentle probing voice of an old acquaintance I haven’t heard from for quite some time.

My dear friend Julie rang me after reading my story “Silent Tears” about Rhonda Collard from Carnarvon in Western Australia who shared her commanding story of being a fourth generation victim of her immediate family who was stolen by the authorities.


Julie said she searched inside her handbag at the hospital she was attending for tissues to wipe the tears she felt trickling down her face as she read of Rhonda’s moving account.

It soon became apparent to me that my friend was also a casualty of the era where Aboriginal children were stolen or ‘strongly encouraged’ away from their families, in fact the third generation from her family. And thankfully to her perseverance and tenacity Julie, in recent times, has made the connection to her mob.

Julie’s remarkable story began with vigour in late 2005 when she was referred to Roy and June Barker in Brewarrina to assist with her search for the Flynn and Murray families. The Barkers informed Julie that she was a descendent of the Ngemba people of the Brewarrina district through her great grandmother Amy Murphy who married George Murray in 1902 and together raised a family; Trevor, Zillah and Vera. Amy later had children; Raymond, Roy, Silvester, Ernie, Mabel and John to another partner.

Julie was told that Zillah, the eldest girl born in 1905, was taken as a 15 year old to Rosemont, Sydney to be trained as a domestic by the authorities. But due to being overcome with homesickness Zillah was returned home to her family in Brewarrina a couple of years later and found work on a nearby station.

It was at this sheep station that Zillah met the shearer’s cook, Irishman Thomas Patrick Flynn from Riverton in South Australia, who she later married and had four children with; Tommy, Veronica (Ronnie), Kathleen and Reata. Zillah also had with her a daughter, Ellen, to a relationship before she met Flynn.

Years later a visiting Salvation Army lady, on discovering the hard and challenging life Zillah was leading in her hometown of Nyngan, encouraged her to give up her four youngest children. The three girls; Veronica, Kathleen and Reata, were sent to Canowindra Salvation Army Girls Orphanage and their brother Tom was taken and placed in Kinchella Boys Home in Cootamundra.


Julie was told the sisters were allowed to leave the girls orphanage on turning 16 years of age. Their mother, at around the time the girls were due to leave the orphanage, relocated from her wretched life of physical abuse at the hands of Flynn in Nyngan to Dubbo to live with her eldest daughter Ellen and it was there over a number of years the girls returned. Unfortunately the girls on return to Dubbo found their mother’s new home life far too difficult an environment to live in and chose to move on to other parts of the country to pursue their careers.

The eldest, Veronica, also known as Ronnie, moved to Queensland where she had a child to a mystery man from Toowoomba when her boyfriend went abroad to fight in World War II. The boyfriend, on return from service and finding Ronnie eight months pregnant, was most distraught and in a fit of fury, parted company. To his credit he supported Ronnie through her pregnancy and when she gave up her little girl, Stephanie, for adoption, they were reunited and married soon after. Ronnie had two more children; Debra and Karen, but sadly found the removal of her first born too great a burden to carry and turned to alcohol to hide the pain.

Ronnie soon became an alcoholic and her husband felt he had no other option but to admit her to a psychiatric unit whilst maintaining custody of the girls. Ronnie, on release from the institution, had a daughter Roberta to another partner and settled down to raise her alone in the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern. Sadly her life again went into an alcoholic downhill spiral and she was forced to surrender her fourth child.

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About the Author

Stephen Hagan is Editor of the National Indigenous Times, award winning author, film maker and 2006 NAIDOC Person of the Year.

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