“Unforgettable Australians” Graham Wilson and Tina Coutts, back In Lismore after attending the apology in Canberra.
“Unforgettable Australians” Graham Wilson and Tina Coutts, back In Lismore after attending the apology in Canberra.

The unforgettable Australians

Kevin Rudd is now calling them the ‘Remembered Australians’, but Tina Coutts prefers the term the ‘Unforgettable Australians’.

Tina was one of about 900 people who attended the apology to the Forgotten Australians in Canberra on Monday and described the experience as “absolutely unforgettable.”

“I got a sense of belonging,” she said. “To be able to share my pain with others who understood and believed me, to begin our healing together... We can spot a fake a mile away, that’s part of the legacy of our circumstances, but we felt the apology was sincere and for that we are truly grateful.

“We shed enough tears to irrigate the desert, but I was really inspired by the strength and resilience of the men and women who had every reason to remain bitter. Many of us now work in care professions or are volunteers dedicated to helping others.”

Another local who attended the apology, Graham Wilson, described the experience as “an emotional roller coaster”.

“I cried tears of joy and tears of sadness,” he said.

Graham celebrated his birthday the day before the apology and was taken out to dinner with 200 others to the Mercure Hotel, where they dined with Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull and the Minister for Families, Jenny Macklin. Mr Wilson had with him a copy of the 2004 Senate report that outlined the systematic abuse of children kept in orphanages and children’s homes between the 1920s and late 1970s, which he had signed by various politicians.

Graham told The Echo he had escaped from every boys’ home he was put in (three) and spent time living with Sydney’s infamous Bra Boys.

“They looked after me better than the system ever did,” he said.

Tina remembered kids as young as three who had wet the bed were made to wash their sheets in the middle of the night, had their heads flushed down the toilet, and in some cases were tied to the clothesline and left there until the sheets were dry. In every house she has lived in since she has had to remove the clothesline because of the unpleasant memories it brought back.

But she said the apology wasn’t about bringing up the horror stories, it was about having their pain and suffering acknowledged and allowing the healing process to begin.

“How that takes place will differ from individual to individual... For me, not only was there a sense of belonging, but a real sense of self worth. It’s taken 56 years but I can finally say ‘you are OK, you’re a worthwhile human being’. And that’s the sense I got from so many people,” she said.

One of the other benefits of making the trip to Canberra for Tina was that she was made aware of a support group called Parragirls, which is specifically for girls who were traumatised at the notorious Parramatta Training School for Girls.

Both Graham and Tina said they wanted to thank Janelle Saffin and her staff who had gone “beyond the call of duty” to help them get down to Canberra and look after them while they were there, including picking them up in a Commonwealth car and taking them on a guided tour of Parliament House.

Tina said they met 20 to 30 people from the North Coast who “had moved heaven and Earth” to get to the apology, but said many others still weren’t able to make it, or were unaware that it was happening.

She is now trying to organise a get together for all of those people and asking them to leave their details at Janelle Saffin’s office.

Escape the screens and let's get cycling

Escape the screens and let's get cycling

cycling gives your mind a break and your body an influx of oxygen

Gallery exhibits a 'portrait' of Lismore

Gallery exhibits a 'portrait' of Lismore

Two of our best photographers give Heart & Soul to new exhibition

When beauty stuns you

When beauty stuns you

Airdre trip finds her in awe of Scotland's dramatic landscape

Local Partners