Yuggera Boys Home
Lindsay Vieth, Queensland Regional Meeting
The gully on the Brisbane Meeting House land allows water to flow to Enoggera Creek, fed by Enoggera reservoir, and over a few ridges lies the Enoggera suburb. Enoggera is our clumsy White Fella way of acknowledging the eternal rights of the Yuggera people. At the centre of Enoggera is the Enoggera State School which is where I received all my primary education.
Up a steady grade from the school stood the Enoggera Boys Home, which was almost exclusively populated by aboriginal boys, some of whom must have been the future custodians of the Yuggera people. They called each other ‘staties’, state wards, rightly educated at our state school. We called them home boys, not a derogatory term and probably encouraged by the school to stop hurtful names being used.
I clearly remember the day that awful N word gained traction at school, a product of a popular children’s rhyme. Next day the headmaster and local police sergeant came to each classroom and ushered the home boys out. We were told if we used the N word we would be sent to a children’s corrective establishment until we were 16 and then go to Boggo Road Jail until we were 30.
They might be home boys but they became our home boys.
The classroom setup was that academic merit was highest at the back and decreased toward the front. I thought I should be at the back but always seemed to be mistakenly placed in the front. The home boys were at the front because their education and home life was so sadly compromised.
With desks built for 2, the home boys were split from each other by each sharing a desk with a European kid. It wasn’t until my 20’s, as the stolen generations became obvious, that I realised I’d spent my whole primary education sitting next to a child stolen from his family and his mob.
I hope I was kind to them.
At lunch time a tiny little van with three tiny little wheels would roll down the hill from the Yuggera Boys Home into the school grounds, a door would open and there, laid out on the floor on wooden trays lined with butcher paper would be the home boys lunch. Lunch consisted of 2 thick slices of 2 or 3 day old bread that looked like they’d been cut with an axe. These ragged slices were glued together with a thin ribbon of red jam. The food was consumed by flicking tap water onto the bread to make it palatable, I can’t remember ever seeing any food wasted. There were no plump home boys.
Today this would be a scandal but our parents were children of the depression and jokes to us about bread and dripping for dinner were a grim reality for my father. I have dozens of home boys stories but this one has a happy ending.
The Yuggera Boys Home was owned and run by the Church of England and the home boys always came to Sunday school in our little wooden church on the hill, it wasn’t compulsory but come they did. The parish ladies asked that each child bring a large nutritious sandwich and a piece of fruit. Sandwiches in grease proof paper or paper bags were sent containing tomato, lettuce, cheese, eggs and often corned beef or silverside slices.
The ritual was that we’d team up with a home boy and present our food to a lady with a big knife. The sandwich was unwrapped and the paper flattened and folded and placed in our pocket for our mum to find when we got home. The sandwich and fruit was divided and we both took half, we’d sit and eat but the home boys would eat fast. We outnumbered the boys by at least 2 to 1, so they would get to go round two or maybe three times.
Every Sunday the curate would stand on a little wooden box and explain that this was fair because we could go home and have more but the home boys couldn’t. If the curate said it, that’s like Jesus said it, so it must be OK.
Thinking back, this may have been one of the few times in their young lives that these lost, first nation children were made to feel special.
Those boys loved our Sunday school and with full tummys they’d sing and dance, show off and have fun. I think they were sad when it was time to walk back to the Yuggera Boys Home.
What can we take from all this? I can offer nothing new except to say, if we have plenty, its a golden opportunity to be generous and share, and if we share we enhance two lives.
But we should ask ourselves “How can we ever help to restore the Dreaming to the sacred and eternal lands of Yuggera people?”