Australian Screen

Australia’s audiovisual heritage online

Beyond Sorry (2003)

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clip This child, Zita education content clip 1, 3

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Aggie Abbott tells of how, when Zita returned to her mother after years of being absent, her mother said that her daughter was dead. Ron Wallace, Zita’s husband, talks about Zita’s experience of being immersed within Western society and alienated from Indigenous culture. At home, Zita packs away her belongings, making ready to move out to her grandfather’s land.

Curator’s notes

The compelling and emotional story is evocatively told through the voice of Zita Wallace and that of her Aunty Aggie Abbott. Zita represents an Indigenous person removed from cultural and philosophical context, and indoctrinated by Western cultural thought. Aggie is an Indigenous woman who, through circumstance, stayed with her family and was raised within her ancient culture with its specific relation to land and place. The essence of both women, soft, gentle, and invested in preserving tradition, fulfils a dramatic contrast while at the same time, a unified sense of being. The filmic complexity of this clip is that it essentially reaches the heart of these two women, and all that they represent. While Aggie avoided being taken, Zita while physically taken, was never really removed from this place.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Eastern Arrernte woman Zita Wallace, her aunt Aggie Abbott and husband Ron telling her story as she prepares to return to her grandfather’s country after having lived in a white community since childhood. Abbott explains in Eastern Arrernte (subtitled in English) that when Wallace and her elderly mother were reunited, her mother did not believe that she was her daughter. Ron says that his wife was indoctrinated in Western ways of life when she was removed from her family as a child, and Wallace expresses her mixed feelings about 'starting from scratch’.

Educational value points

  • This clip illustrates the efforts of one member of the 'Stolen Generations’ to return to her family and culture decades after she was taken away by white authorities in 1947 at 7 or 8 years of age and kept at a Roman Catholic mission on Melville Island until she was 19. Zita Wallace made her initial attempt to make contact with her mother in the 1990s, and in the early 2000s she decided to leave Alice Springs to live on her grandfather’s country 169 km to the east.
  • In an attempt to sever all connection between the removed child and their family, it was not uncommon for family members to be told that the child had died and, as described in the clip, this was the reason Wallace was initially rejected by her mother. Eventually the relationship was re-established. Wallace’s family had searched for her until repeatedly told by church authorities that she was dead. The family preserved the memory of the child and recorded her in genealogies.
  • Aggie Abbott’s voice-over statement in the final sequence, 'I could see she didn’t know anything’, reveals the extent of Wallace’s cultural deprivation. As an Arrernte woman in her 60s and a mother and grandmother, Wallace might have been a senior woman deeply respected for her knowledge of culture and law but for her removal. The decision to move out to country was part of her efforts to learn the ways of her people and build the connection with her grandfather’s Dreaming.
  • The capacity of a text to be read in different ways by different audiences is evidenced by Abbott’s final voice-over statement 'It must be hard for them to come back’, which is heard as Wallace’s material possessions are seen on screen. Most non-Indigenous viewers would take this to mean how hard it would be for Wallace to give up the comforts of home. Most Indigenous viewers would understand it as how hard it would be for someone removed as a child to learn culture from scratch.
  • Ron Wallace, who has accompanied his wife to her country, describes how the process of forced enculturation worked, characterising it as an indoctrination. Separation from their families, removal to an alien environment and changes of name often served to inculcate non-Indigenous beliefs and ways of life in removed Indigenous children and adolescents. He mentions floggings, and elsewhere Zita Wallace has confirmed that she was beaten by the nuns for speaking her language.
  • Wallace, one of the children described in Bringing Them Home: Report of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families (1997), achieved some closure when she was present at the 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations. From about 1910 to 1970 between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were removed from their families and sent to missions, government institutions or to be raised by non-Indigenous families.

This clip starts approximately 2 minutes into the documentary.

We see the sun setting in the distance over a dark landscape. We hear sorrowful singing under the voice-over of Aggie Abbott, of Eastern Arrernte people, Zita’s Aunty. The subtitles in English read:
Aggie Abbott She came back to look for her family when her mother was still alive. She went to her mother and explained who she was. But her mother said, ‘You can’t be my daughter because she has died…’ Her mother was old and blind and living at Charles Creek town camp at the time.

Aggie Abbott is interviewed in a studio.
Aggie Her mother got very confused saying, ‘This can’t be my child … my daughter is dead. You must belong to someone else.’ That’s how she responded.

Ron Wallace, Zita’s husband, is interviewed outdoors. On the land around him we see cattle feeding, trees and shrubs and a shed housing a tractor in the distance.
Ron Wallace Zita has difficulties with her family because of the way she was brought up. She was brought up with the Europeans’ point of view from the time she was six or seven years of age, whenever she was taken away, you know, right through her life. You know, Europeans’ views were forced on her at the missions. You know, when you start off as a kid and points of view are forced upon you, you know, and flogged into you and, you know, and you’re punished for not following a point of view, well, you know, you get indoctrinated, I guess, and you follow that point of view and it’s difficult to go backwards.

A street view of a suburban house in Alice Springs, Central Australia. There is a 'For Sale’ sign on the fence. Inside the house we see Zita vacuuming her living room then making a cup of tea. She drinks it while looking out the window into the backyard. The voice-over of her Aunt Aggie’s interview plays over the scenes, we also hear an instrumental piece of music with guitars and violin.
Aggie I could see she didn’t know anything. I wondered if she would learn anything about Aboriginal ways. It must be hard for them to come back.

Zita is interviewed seated in her kitchen. We see open boxes used for moving in the kitchen behind her.
Zita Wallace I’m excited, apprehensive. Ah, It’s sort of all mixed up, I suppose, because, um, I’m giving up a comfortable home in town to go out to nothing. People probably think I’m mad – 62 years old, going back and starting from scratch but, yeah… People probably look at me and think, you know, she’s crazy.

Zita packs away china figures from a cabinet by wrapping them gently in newspaper.
Zita Maybe we can find a good home for them.

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