Veronica McGuire

We never had a house, just a camp out in the bush. We helped to wash, clean, cook and look after our younger siblings. Mum had a camp oven and she cooked in that, and over an open fire. We cooked damper in the ashes. We had to carry water from about a mile away, at a farmer’s well where my dad worked. When work wasn’t busy for him we’d come and live on the reserve at York. Every time we went back to the reserve dad would have to rebuild our home, then when we left again we’d just leave it there. The reserve was really a place special for Aboriginal people. It had a swimming pool - the river - and one tap where we all got water from. It had toilets but nothing else.

We travelled from York to Quairading, Beverley, Kellerberrin, back to Northam, back to York. We were moved by work or a death or sickness in the family. All we had was a horse and sulky and we would always walk alongside it when we were travelling because the sulky carried food and clothing with little extra space for six, seven or eight kids.

When we were out in the bush we spoke language all the time but when we were in any of the towns we were told not to and warned that our dad would be taken away if we did. We had to stop talking our language because they didn’t know what we were saying. Our language was nothing nasty or bad, it was just our common speak that we enjoyed talking.

I worked on farms from the age of nine years old. We used to save our money from that work and dad would take us to Northam to buy our Christmas presents. We’d go but he would have to leave us four miles out of Northam and walk to the police station to get a permit to take us in. If we were still there at 6 o’clock we would have been arrested and put in jail.

Dad was working and mum was at home looking after all the little children so us slightly older kids had to come to York to do the shopping. When I came to York from the reserve we would have to be watching where these big black cars are. Because they were hanging around to pick us kids up to take us away. And when we saw them we would run. And we’d run all around town, over barbed wire fences, rip our skin, pull our hair, double gees or whatever because we never had good shoes, and sometimes we were bare feet. So we had to run to get away from Mr Neville. And that happened for a long time. Sometimes we’d only get a few of the groceries before we’d have to run. People in the town didn’t care a damn. No one would help us, no one would give us any advice, no one would say ‘Well, come in here until they are gone’.

Later me and my sister used to work in York here and come down on the train at 6 o’clock and leave at 8 o’clock at night. We worked for George Chipper at the butcher and for his wife at their house – washing aprons and ironing - for up to 10 years. They were so good to us. They joked and talked and we bought our meat there. But then after work, sometimes the guard wouldn’t stop the train on the way home at our station. He’d take us four miles out and we’d have to walk back late into the night. Even though we told him it was our stop he didn’t care – ‘too bad’.

When we were teenagers the Coolbaroo Aboriginal dance was on at the Town Hall. They’d have a band from Perth and a cup of tea or a meal. There would be three or four buses of people from Perth, and people from Northam too. We used to go as often as we could. But after that we would walk the seven miles back to where we were living, at about 11 o’clock. It was a dangerous walk, we were scared of snakes and bulls charging us.

My family always taught us to be loving, caring and respectable. We always did what our parents, aunties and uncles told us. But we were rejected and barred by most people. In York here, there was a tea room. When we went in there to get a milkshake they’d give it to us in a takeaway container. One of my oldest cousins asked if they could sit at the table – and why did they have to have it in this container. They were told they couldn’t stay in and had to leave. Not allowed a spoon. ‘Take your drink and go.’ When they used to give us our change they used to throw it at us. They’d never give it to you in your hand. Didn’t matter about our character or any reference we had, that’s how we were all treated. You’d walk in somewhere – ‘Oh, you people aren’t allowed in here, you’re barred. Keep going.’ ‘Don’t come here, we’ll get the police.’