May O'Brien recalls the traditional bush lifestyle of her childhood, 2008

Transcript of interview

As a little kid growing up in the bush, as we would say, we lived in humpies, or homes made out of branches stuck into the ground. They were lovely and cosy. It wasn't just got any stick and stuck it in. But we- they made it so comfortable. It was round and they put the stalks of the branches into the ground and then they join up from the - up the top of the leaves, and made it so comfortable for us, and it was really lovely the bush homes.

And because we - I couldn't speak English. I started speaking English probably when I was about seven when I went to the mission school. And as a kid growing up learning about the plants and learning their names, our grannies used to take us up into the sandhills because there were lot of red sandhills around Patricia and [Mount] Linden, and we'd sit there and we'd listen to our grannies teach us the plants and how to look after the plants - not pull them up by the roots. They used to say, 'Don't take all the flowers - leave some so that their seeds will drop into the ground later'. And, you know, all sorts of things that they told us. And every night we'd sit around our campfires and we'd hear and sit in the laps of our grannies and aunties and mothers and listen to the stories of our Dreamtime.

But there were hard days too, because I lived in the drought years and it hadn't rained for a while, so we were literally starving. There wasn't the food around, the bush foods around, but there were lots of kind non-Aboriginal people around who used to give us food when we used to go begging for food. Because we couldn't speak English, we just had to, you know, say in our language that we were hungry and of course the non-Aboriginal people realised that we were hungry. And in our bush life we walked around with no clothes on. None of us walked around with clothes on, not even the adults, and we didn't see nakedness as something that was shunned and when went to the mission we suddenly realised that being naked was terrible. It was like sinning [laughs]. So, yes, that was my life, my beginning of my life, the first seven years of my life.