Tree anchors life journey
As Josie Alec looked up at her birth tree, she reminisced about what she described as a fortunate life.
“My stepdad took me here on my birthday last year and he said to me: ‘You know love, that’s the tree your mum made you under’,” she said.
“I had my other big sister and her hubby with me and they explained to me how the old girls used to walk from the old reserve to the river.
“One day on her way back, mum had me, right here out bush, and that’s my birth connection to Roebourne.”
In 1973, Ms Alec was born under a tree near the Harding River, but it would not be long before she would be taken from her mother and her culture in the most horrendous way imaginable.
“I am part of the Stolen Generation and it has taken me about 12 years to know that little story about my tree,” she said.
“One of the old girls told me welfare took me from the reserve when I was about two.
“Me and my brother Kevin got taken … we weren’t as dark as my other brothers.
“My mother wasn’t there at the time and as soon as she returned she raced back to the courthouse and tried to get me back — she nearly got locked up she was smashing on the door that hard.
“I think about the old days a lot.
“It must have been so hard for my family.”
It would take Ms Alec another 12 years to find her way back to Roebourne through the welfare system as a young girl.
“Years after we all got taken away, the welfare system became all about reconciliation and sending kids back to their parents to visit,” she said.
“When I was 12 my white foster family moved from Perth to Wickham and I remember them driving me out to Yandeyarra community to where my mother lived.
“They left me out there for about two weeks living out bush in the traditional way — it was a total culture shock for me.”
A few years later, Ms Alec’s foster family moved back to Perth, but she found herself drawn back to Roebourne by a series of coincidences that brought her home to stay.
“The first time I came back to Roebourne outside of the welfare system was when I was on my way to work up in Broome,” she said.
“My car broke down here in Roebourne … a fella called Matthew Darby got my brother to come help me and we ended up staying with my family before I got the money to buy a car to go to Broome.
“After that I went back down to Perth and I was always unsettled, going around in circles with abusive boyfriends … and then my house burnt down and I was left with nothing.
“They say fire is like rejuvenation — well that moment was a blessing.
“It led me and my kids back to Roebourne and I haven’t lived in Perth since.”
After 10 years of living in Roebourne, Ms Alec reconnected with her culture.
She became a teacher, established a successful acting career, sat on a company board and started her own business.
“None of that would have happened if I hadn’t come back, without all the old people guiding me,” she said.
“For some people the Stolen Generation is the worst thing that ever happened to them and it was a terrible thing.
“But I feel really blessed about the life I’ve lived … I’ve got white sisters and I’ve got black sisters and my foster parents are like angels on earth.”
During Roebourne’s 150th anniversary next year, Ms Alec will be the first Aboriginal actress from Roebourne to feature in a big Australian film.
“Isn’t that a happy coincidence — 150 years of Roebourne and being the first Roebourne chick in a film like Blue Dog premiering in the very same year?” she said.
“You never know what curveballs life is going to throw your way, but I always tell my kids in a town like Roebourne, there’s so many opportunities knocking at their door.
“I’m still learning and still accepting the past, but coming back to Roebourne has been life-changing … I’ve found my way back to my country. “I’m home.” Ms Alec is writing her story in a book, The Invisible Line.
Patricia Cooper with her younger sister Josie Alec under her birth tree near the Harding River.