Trauma

Aboriginal children of Carrolup in the early 1940s. J. S. Battye Library of West Australian History.

Aboriginal children from Western Australia. J. S. Battye Library of West Australian History. [217091PD]

Revel Cooper, a Noongar boy, is made a Ward of the State by the Department of Native Affairs and sent to Carrolup at the age of six in 1940.

In a letter written in 1960 about life on Carrolup Native Settlement, Revel presents a vivid picture of Aboriginal children ‘running wild’ in squalid conditions. They receive minimal care and education for most of the war years. The children are traumatised and dehumanised by their experiences.

‘We were locked in our respective dormitorys at 5pm winter and summer, with no drinking water a open sanitary buckett was placed in the centre of the floor…’ Revel Cooper, 1960

The children start to receive an education when teacher Mrs Olive Elliot arrives at Carrolup in 1945. This is the first time that the Education Department has been in charge of teaching at Carrolup.

Mrs Elliot’s descriptions of the children’s behaviour would today readily be interpreted as signs of trauma:

‘…practically all are likely to start a fight if any child looks at them at the wrong moment. They appear to lack understanding of each other – whole mental attitude is too self centred and the inferiority complex seems very evident. They are intensely jealous of each other…’ Olive Elliot, 1945

Mrs Elliot and the children develop a mutual affection, but the former eventually decides the children need the firm hand of a male teacher. She convinces Mr Noel White to take up the teaching position at Carrolup. And so begins a magical relationship between the Aboriginal children and their white teacher.

Pertinent blog posts:

Revel Cooper’s Early Life: Revel’s mother, Rita Hill, died when he was five or six years old in Katanning Hospital on the 29th March 1940 during an operation to remove an eye.

‘The Very Lowest Standards’: When his mother dies, young Revel Cooper and his brothers are taken to Carrolup Native Settlement—Revel describes Aboriginal children running wild whilst living in disgusting conditions at the settlement.

Mrs Olive Elliot: The behaviours exhibited by the children as described by Mrs Elliot—emotionally reactive, self-centred, lacking an understanding of each other, and intense jealousy—are clear signs of trauma.

Institutionalisation of the Carrolup Children: John Stanton describes the children as suffering from what is known as anomie, a sense of nothingness, as the result of being institutionalised and dehumanised by the government system.

Six Core Strengths for Healthy Child Development: Leading expert Bruce Perry’s description of what is required for healthy child development is in stark contrast to what happened to the Carrolup children in their early years.

 

 

 

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