Smiles hide the sadness

We will remember…

These three words made a powerful statement when they were spoken by Aunty Lorraine Peeters during her closing address at the centenary commemorations of the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girl’s Training Home held on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 August. 

Ms Peeters, herself a ‘Home Girl” taken from her family at the age of four and placed in the home, spoke of the emotional damage the assimilation policy had done to generations of aboriginal people and their families. Some of the women now aged in their 50’s to 90’s still hadn’t been reunited with their family members but they all vowed to ‘remember them’.

Many of the 600 strong crowd that packed the Cootamundra Town Hall for the formal ceremony were moved to tears as each of the Home Girls were called to the stage and given a vial of coloured sand that they then poured into a special glass vase in a symbolic gesture of remembrance of both happy and sad times.

The formal ceremony was part of three days of commemorations that commenced with an art exhibition that featured a number of works by former Home Girl Fay Clayton and the official launch of the book entitled "Home Girls", which was researched and written by historian Peter Kabaila.

There was a small photographic display and state records "In Living Memory" at the Arts Centre and a screening of a video/short film entitled "All One", which features interviews and stories about how they were taken from their families then sent to Cootamundra Girls Home.

There was also an opportunity for the former residents of the home to tell their story to volunteers from Link-Up NSW who recorded the Home Girls oral history for use in researching indigenous family histories.

Among the invited guests were Governor of NSW Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister for Women Hon Pru Goward, Minister for Citizenship and Communities and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Hon Victor Dominello and Member for Burrinjuck (the electorate, in which Cootamundra is part of) Katrina Hodgkinson, who is also the Minister for Primary Industries.

An invitation only dinner was held at the Cootamundra Ex-Services Club on Saturday night, with around 360 people in attendance. 

On the Sunday, a community breakfast was held at the Cootamundra Public School, where many of the Home Girls received their primary schooling.

A special presentation of a painting was made by the girls to the Cootamundra community. The painting by Fay Clayton was signed by all of the former Cootamundra Home Girls.

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