May O'Brien recalls school at the Mount Margaret Mission, 2008

Transcript of interview

The police used to come, you know, sneaking round our camps to try and catch me to send me to the Moore River settlement, which was about 78 kilometres north of Perth and placed in their settlement, which was a horrible one. They had about three or four in Western Australia at that time.

By being taken there it meant that you would never see your own people again because you grew up in another place where the people were Noongars around that area, and we're Wongatha people from Kalgoorlie area. And so nobody wanted to go there. Everybody knew about the Moore River settlement, what we heard from the people who'd run away from the settlement.

But I was very lucky because Mount Margaret [Mission] had a home and we were safe there. We wore clothes. It was hard wearing clothes all the time, but we soon got used to it because the other kids would say that we were naked and all of this jazz. And at the Mission we went to school, so we learned to start read books and things like that. The government didn't have schools for Aboriginal black kids like me on mission stations. They only catered for those kids who were in their government settlements like the Moore River settlement and Moola Bulla up in the north and so there was no schooling whatsoever for us. And it was only at the goodness of the Mission that they established this school and it was an excellent school. There were missionary teachers, but they based the education system on the correspondence lessons that some of the missionary children had, so we were really doing correspondence. And because there were so many children and less missionary teachers, so the young ones would go in the morning, two and a half hours in the morning, and the older ones would go in the afternoons.

And it was exciting at that time, going to school. I wished we were, you know, we were able to go to school all day. But we didn't have that opportunity, but we packed a lot in, in that two and a half hours. And I then became a monitor because I used to finish my work early and we loved learning. And so I kept on remembering what my uncle said to me. He was a bush man, a law man going through the law at that time. He said to me, he said: 'I want you to go to school so you can learn to read that piece of paper. We want you to tell us what the white man is saying about us in that piece of paper'.