Proud Kaantju/Wik Mungknh man and WSLHD mental health clinician shares personal Sorry Day story

John and his children visiting the graves of his great grandmother and grandfather.

Today, 26 May is National Sorry Day, a day Australians remember and acknowledge the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were forcibly removed from the families and communities, known as the stolen generation. 

In honour of today, Western Sydney Local Health District Aboriginal mental health clinical lead, John Fetuani, has shared his own powerful story with his team, and has kindly allowed us to republish here.

I hope that by sharing the story of my family and where we have come from will inspire us to show that Aboriginal people do have resilience and the work we are doing as a mental health service, can strengthen the social and emotional well being of our Aboriginal people for positive health outcomes overall.

My name is John Fetuani and I am a proud Kaantju/Wik Mungknh man from far North Queensland.

On this day of remembrance, I would like to share my family history and story in hopes that it might inspire our mental health service to reflect on how we can play a part in the healing process for our Aboriginal community in western Sydney.

My Aboriginal kinship ties me to the regions of Aurukun (great grandfather Fred Busch) and Coen (great grandmother Molly Hudson), both areas in the Cape York of Far North Queensland. Both my great grandfather and great grandmother were removed from their families and taken to Mapoon Mission (originally named Batavia River Mission), which was an Presbyterian Aboriginal mission on the Western Cape of Far North Queensland.

The mission was established in 1891 and the government had removed many children from the Gulf of Carpentaria under the “Protection Acts”. This Act gave government authorities the power to remove any Aboriginal child at any time for any reason – including race.

My great grandmother and great grandfather were both sent to Mapoon Mission to be raised my missionaries, forced to forget their language (often beaten if found to be speaking their traditional language), were made to convert to Christianity and were trained for domestic or rural work. Mapoon Mission was closed as a Presbyterian mission in the early 1950s and became an Aboriginal mission with many Aboriginal families remaining there and now calling Mapoon home. Although there were deliberate attempts to destroy culture, people of Mapoon were still able to pass on knowledge of culture.

My great grandparents met on Mapoon Mission and now called Mapoon home and my grandmother, Shirley Busch (who was one of 15 children), was born in Kowanyama but they called Mapoon home. The families and residents of Mapoon, although originally removed from their traditional lands, now called Mapoon home and were now settled – or so they thought.

In November 1963, under instruction from the Queensland Government, Queensland Police came into Mapoon in the middle of the night, woke up all residents and gathered them onto docks and put them on barges. The town of Mapoon was then burnt to the ground. Residents of Mapoon were then put on barges and again forcibly relocated to other towns up to 200km away. This act known as “The Night of The Burning, Mapoon” is well documented and did grab media attention.

The reason given by the Government was that conditions in Mapoon were not viable, but it is well known that there were mining companies involved as Mapoon is on lands that are rich in bauxite (mined to make aluminium).

The resilience of the Aboriginal people who called Mapoon home stood tall, and families slowly returned to Mapoon in the 1970s, lead by Elders who were taken to Mapoon and settled following the closure of the mission. My Uncle and Aunty, Jerry and Ina Hudson were among those who had returned to Mapoon and through sheer determination and years of hardship they rebuilt houses and their community from the ground up and in 1989 gained control of the land.

Much has happened in Mapoon since then and is now a thriving community and one that I call home. I will be lucky enough to be returning to Mapoon in September and taking my kids there to visit family.”

The Aboriginal Health Unit works across WSLHD to improve access for Aboriginal People to health services.