Case 442 – A son’s journey to find his Mother (2005)

In 1942 at the age of 5 Frank Byrnes was taken from his mother and sent to Moola Bulla training station. At the same time his mother went into a deep depression a direct result of the loss of her child. The authorities sent her to the Claremont Mental Asylum where she remained until her death in 1962. Mother and son never saw each other again.

52 minute documentary
Writer/Director: Mitch Torres
Nganampa Anwernekenhe Series 18

I am writing to you in the hope that you will be able to help me take my mother back to her country?…

Excerpt from Frank Byrne’s personal plea to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs WA Government, 22nd April 2003

Frank Byrne began his personal crusade to find his mother many years ago after officially being allowed to leave Beagle Bay mission as a 14 year old.

Maude began to suffer from acute depression as soon as Frank was taken from her. She was sent to the Derby police lock up where they announce she must be sent to a Mental Asylum soon after. In all likelihood Maudie would have had to endure the long trip south aboard a State Ship accompanied by a police warden. Maude at the time of her admittance to the institution was 25 years of age.

When Frank turned 7 in 1944 he was sent to Beagle Bay Mission, as was the practice with children of school age at Moola Bulla. It was here that one of the priests told him that his mother was sent away. He grew into a lad fond of horses and the land. On turning 14 he went back to Christmas Creek to find his white father and ask about his mother‘s whereabouts – no one knew anything about her except to be told that ‘she went mad’ and ‘the police man took im away’. Frank then decided that he would learn the ways of a stockman – a trade that would take him to the Northern Territory where he met his wife finally settling in Alice with his family up to now. In all this time Frank never forgot his mother or trying to locate her body as he knew now that she had passed on.

For many years Frank managed to get along and tried to accept the fact that his mother was now dead – but he remained unsettled about it until it all come up again with the Stolen Generation debate and revelation to the wider Australian community. He decided he would look for Maude’s burial spot and bring her home.

In 2000 he began the formal inquires. A researcher Julie Hayden within the Family History Unit of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs began the search, which would last 3 years. The research paid off with the discovery on file quite by accident of a burial notice of Maudie a full blood woman at Claremont Mental Asylum in 1962. From the Native Welfare records Frank has discovered that Maude was institutionalised up until her death at the age of 43 years but the files reveal an even sadder story. Maude was found to be quite sane and able to function as any normal person once her depression lifted– the death certificate states she died of a lung disease.

Now 66 years of age he has finally found his mother Maude buried in an unmarked grave in Perth’s Karrakatta Cemetery. It is Frank’s life wish to be able to take his mother back to her birth country on the banks of the Fitzroy River and bury her there after a proper ceremony.

Child removal policies left Australians like Frank with a broken heart.

Further clips and teachers notes are available from Australian Screen. If you intend to use this film in the classroom please purchase an educational copy from the Ronin Films.

Case 442 PR Kit

Festivals and Awards

2005 Sydney Indigenous Arts Festival
United Nations Media Peace Award

Credits

Featuring - Frank Byrne
Writer/Director - Mitch Torres
Producer - Citt Williams
Cinematographer - Paul Bell
Sound Recordist - Bella Kenworthy
Editor - Paul Bell
Composers - Alan Pigram and Michael Den Elzen

Produced as part of the CAAMA Productions ‘Nganampa Anwernekenhe’ Series.

Developed and produced by CAAMA Productions for Imparja Television, in association with ScreenWest and LotteryWest, the Indigenous Unit of the Australian Film Commission and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. © 2005 CAAMA Productions, ScreenWest and Australian Film Commission.