Lesley Ugle on passing baton of resilience
When Lesley Ugle saw the big blue school bus with the word LOVES sprawled across its side, the nine-year-old envisioned it heading to a happy place.
After all, the word love was filled with joy and the bus was filled with kids that looked just like her.
However, the LOVES bus, which carried young Indigenous Australians, was not headed for a happy place.
It was headed for the Roelands Mission — the “home” of 500 victims of the Stolen Generation.
Between 1910 and 1970, Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in prison-like camps.
Lesley’s stop was Wokalup, about 30km north of Roelands, but she said the place at the end of that bus trip brought a sadness that still haunted First Nation Australians to this day.
“The Stolen Generation is hard to talk about,” Lesley said. “It’s a wound that is hard to heal.
“Aboriginal children were not allowed to speak their language or learn their culture, they lost their identity, family and connection to land.
“Some are still searching for their family today.
People say build a bridge and get over it but how can you?
Nine was also the age Lesley would encounter her first experience of racism.
She was bullied and belittled by a boy from school who called her derogatory names.
“I didn’t know I was different until that day,” she said.
“I felt confused, I went home and asked my parents why he was calling me those names and they told me to ignore him and walk away. They also told me that they loved me.”
Now, nearing the age of 60, Lesley has become one of Harvey’s most respected elders. She is a role model for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents and was this year’s Harvey Community Citizen of the Year.
She said she wanted to thank her elders for the sacrifices they made for her freedoms and the freedoms of future generations.
They did the hard work, they endured punishment and fought for our rights — that’s why we pay respects to our elders.
Lesley reflected on a cruel law called the Dog License which barred the Indigenous community from stepping foot into the town centre.
“There was a time when Aboriginal people were not allowed into the main street of Harvey after a certain time.
“They were told they had to be gone by the time the sun went down.”
Lesley also recalled visiting relatives as a young girl and being put “on reserves” and separated from people in the town.
Being an Aboriginal was like being put in a chicken coop and being thrown the scraps. You were only allowed to go out when they said you could go out.
First Nation Australians were even made to apply for citizenship, despite being born in Australia.
Although she has faced mountains of adversity, Lesley remains eager to close the gap, educate others and keep her culture alive.
“Over time we learnt to adapt and stay resilient,” Lesley said.
“Our elders held their culture in their hearts and passed it down when it was safe to do so.
They passed us the baton and it’s up to us to carry on.
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