From Australia’s ‘Stolen Generation’ to Celebrated Poet

At 18, having just left an abusive relationship and while wrestling with a drinking problem, Ms. Cobby Eckermann discovered she was pregnant. Feeling lost, and judged by people in the small town where she lived, she agreed to put her son up for adoption. She saw Jonnie once after giving birth, and was not legally allowed to look for him until he was 18.

The family was a part of the stolen generation of Indigenous Australians, 100,000 of whom were forcibly removed from their parents through government policies between 1910 and 1970. But she said the official story was wrong: the 60-year nightmare for Indigenous Australians did not end there.

Ms. Cobby Eckermann said the trauma of the stolen generation was still being repeated in Indigenous communities, long after the Australian government had apologized and supposedly ended the policies. In fact, she said, more Indigenous Australian children were in foster care than ever before. The number placed in the care of other Indigenous families had also declined.

“The insidious racism of this country needs to be addressed, and not by us,” she said. “We need more reconciliation than just buying an Aboriginal painting and hanging it in your office. Australia needs to grow up and take a look at itself.”

The generational and cultural grief of a lost generation is at the heart of Ms. Cobby Eckermann’s poetry. She writes of her late mother, Ngingali Audrey, in her collection “Inside My Mother”:

my mother is a granite boulder

I can no longer climb nor walk

around

her weight is a constant reminder

of myself

I sit in her shadow

gulls nestle in her eyes

their shadows her epitaph

I carry

a pebble of her in my pocket

Ms. Cobby Eckermann now lives with, and cares for, her adoptive mother, whom she calls Mum Frieda, near Adelaide, Australia. She said they had found a friendship and peace together, decades after Ms. Cobby Eckermann ran away from home as a teenager.

At school, she said, it seemed as if Aboriginal children were always in trouble.

“I couldn’t control my behavior and I hated seeing the hurt in my adoptive parents’ eyes,” she said. “They were wonderful people.”

Photo

Ms. Cobby Eckermann will receive a Windham-Campbell literary award at Yale University.

Credit
Matthew Sherwood for The New York Times

They did not know at the time that Ms. Cobby Eckermann had been sexually abused as a child. She…

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