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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Australia or New Zealand (01/15/09)

TITLE: Stolen
By Jan Ackerson


I dreamed—one night a long time ago--that I was back with my mother. In my dream, I was very young, and my mother was humming while she cut up a sticky geebung for me to eat. I reached out for the fruit, and my mother stopped humming and touched my hand.

Ever since that night I have tried to return to that place, where the room was full of the smells of ripening fruit and the koombahla tree flowering outside. I almost made my way back there once, but in the other dream, when I looked into my mother’s soft brown face, her eyes looked beyond me, wide with fear.

I think maybe that was not a dream, but a memory.

Somewhere secret in my spirit, I keep the memory of the last time I saw my mother. The men came to our house with their bad skin and their strangled talking, and one of them took my wrist. Babaneek! I cried. Mother! When she ran toward them, she tripped and fell, both hands reaching out to stop the floor. The man pulled my wrist, and I bit him, so he jerked me away, away from my mother who was on her knees, crying. Her lip was bleeding. A wagoora cackled—caw! caw!--and as the men yanked me outside, I saw it flapping overhead.

I was taken to a big, cold house, all corners and sharp surfaces. We were a solemn tribe of skinny dark children there. At night, instead of the sounds of the rushing waters of the tongala and the laughing of the naughty, sharp-beaked wakooka, we fell asleep to whimpers and sighs. Most nights I slept with Kiora, a girl so little that she still sucked her thumb. Her knees poked into my side all night, and sometimes she murmured babaneek, babaneek in her sleep.

The people there were strange—strange hair, strange foods, strange words. When I had learned enough of the strange words to be obedient, they sent me here to this place, to work for a white family.

Why do white people have so many clothes? Why so many dishes? My hands are raw from washing, washing, washing…if I stop to look out the window, to gaze at the omeo towering purple against the sky, Mrs. Kelly pulls my hair and calls me a bad name. This house is full of imitations of beauty. Flowers are painted on the dishes that I wash from morning to night, but they are cold flowers with no fragrance. Pictures of trees and birds hang on the walls, lifeless and silent.

I try every night to find my mother in my dreams.

There is another girl here, older than me, who comes from the other side of the world. She is white, like Mrs. Kelly, and she speaks the language I now speak with my tongue but not my heart. Colleen cooks for them, and they are kind to her. Sometimes they give her sweets. Colleen closes her eyes before she eats, and touches her forehead and her shoulders. Then she starts to eat, but she always shares her sweets with me.

Sometimes Colleen tells me about Jesus, who was a white man from her country over the mountains. She tells me that Jesus loves everyone, even this motherless allira. He was a good white man, not like Mr. Kelly, who slaps me when his shirts are not perfectly pressed. I have never seen a good white man—I would like to meet this Jesus, but I think he might be dead. Colleen tells me that he died, but he also lives. She must be wrong.

I would like to believe in this good white man. He too, lived far away from his home, and he must have been a very rich man, for Colleen says that there are many fine houses in his country. I asked her if children are taken from their mothers to work there, and she laughed and told me no one works in those houses. It’s very confusing—how do the meals get cooked, then? Who washes the clothes?

But in Colleen’s stories, Jesus left his fine house to live with poor people, and to teach them to be good.

I like to listen to Colleen. I know that Jesus was a white man, but when Colleen tells me about him, I close my eyes and see him in my spirit, where his skin is brown like mine.

Note: In February of 2008, Australia’s Parliament offered a formal apology to its indigenous peoples for the country’s previous practice (1869-1969) of removing aboriginal children from their families—the Stolen Generations.

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This article has been read 1213 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Sonya Leigh01/22/09
This is absolutely beautiful...so tender and pure, so poignant. Very, very well written.
Lynda Schultz 01/22/09
Wonderful—and that last line is perfect.
Chely Roach01/22/09
Oh my...this was superb in every way. It was tender and heartbreaking, but still laced with the hope of Jesus. Absolutely beautiful.
mick dawson01/22/09
Well written and I like the fact that Jesus is referred to as being different to the white man mentioned. The truth is, He is different to all men, being God and therefore pure in nature. I am only disappointed that He was used as a political platform.
It is comforting to know one thing; men will disagree, do many cruel things to each other and even kill for the sake of their differences, yet Christ is the only person who can unite us all.
Mona Purvis01/22/09
Superb writing that captures each moment so fully. Quietly getting a very difficult point across. The story you told so well is rich. Thank you.
Sheri Gordon01/23/09
Oh wow. Your storytelling is superb--truly masterful. I love the way you brought the story of Jesus into this piece of tragic history. Excellent job with the topic.
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/24/09
Masterful writing in every way.
Joanne Sher 01/24/09
This is absolutely masterfully written and absolutely captivating. Atmosphere is excellent.
Leah Nichols 01/25/09
Wow - a very tender and poignant piece! I have nothing to add - you definitely blow us all away with your superb writing!
Anne Linington01/25/09
Conratulations Jan on this excellent piece of writing, and the many references to Australia or is it New Zealand.
Just two points occur to me: the use of itallics for setting the country; and the fact of Jesus' perceived "whiteness". It certainly made me think, and the conversations between your MC and the lovely Colleen convey some wonderful truths. Thankyou.
Catrina Bradley 01/25/09
VERY good. You made me love this girl and hope she does get to know Jesus. And the last line ... ahh, nice.
Joy Faire Stewart01/25/09
I was drawn in by the first paragraph and the remainder of the story did not disappoint. Excellent story woven around historical fact.
Yvonne Blake 01/25/09
Very interesting and sad...even most of the native words were able to be "understood" by the context. Well done. Thank you for sharing this with us.
Beth LaBuff 01/25/09
Just reading about the koombahla tree from your vivid description made me wish to smell and visit the place. (You could say I coveted that memory). I love the contrast between that memory and the flowers on the dishes. The confusion over why someone would have the home items, "lifeless and silent" is excellent. You have so expertly developed the character of this girl. Beautiful ending. Your story is rich with detail but so heart-breaking.
Karlene Jacobsen01/25/09
To see through the eyes of a child. Beautifully written and so heartfelt.
Betty Castleberry01/25/09
Your title is perfect. I enjoyed reading this very well written piece, and I learned something as well.
Diana Dart 01/26/09
I am breathless. So well written with a totally authentic voice, this piece enlightened my mind and ripped at my heart. Fantastic.
Dee Yoder 01/26/09
Such a touching story, and though I've heard of the Stolen Generation, I wasn't clear about what happened. This is eye-opening and so sad. I can't imagine what those children went through, not to mention the awful pain of their parents. Every country has their own shameful burden to bear when people are looked at as "less". I'm glad I read this and can learn about this terrible injustice.
Loren T. Lowery01/26/09
Master story teller and master of words, indeed!
Joshua Janoski01/26/09
"I know that Jesus was a white man, but when Colleen tells me about him, I close my eyes and see him in my spirit, where his skin is brown like mine."

Wow. That ending gave me goosebumps. So powerful. I also really like where you described the flowered dishes with no fragrance. Very powerful descriptions that drew me in. You always manage to do that.
Connie Dixon01/27/09
Incredible story-telling. I loved the last line also and imagine that all of us, no matter our skin tone or language, see Jesus in through own colored glasses and hear Him speak in our own native language. This gave me a lot to think about. Great imagery.

Linda Payne01/27/09
This was beautiful and heart-rending. It is the second piece I have read this week that I think would make a wonderful book for young people.
Eliza Evans 01/28/09
Oh, Jan. Masterful job. Masterful

"bad skin and their strangled talking" love that line and so many others. "all corners and sharp surfaces."

The only line that stuck out a bit was "full of imitations of beauty." and the word "fragrance" because to me, they sound too "grown up" for this young girl.
Perhaps shadows instead of imitations? Just a thought.

I think it is brilliant to pick up on that though .. the fake flowers on the plates and dead pictures on the wall.
I was hoping someone would do this story. Have you read / seen Rabbitproof fences?

Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful writing, Jan! If I could .. I'd put that little bowing emoticon thingy right here _______ :)

LauraLee Shaw01/28/09
What can I say, but "Wowzer."
Yvonne Blake 01/28/09
hmmmm...I thought I commented on this already, but I don't see it.

This is such a sad story. Thank you for sharing it with us...makes us think.
Myrna Noyes01/29/09
WOW, oh, WOW!! What an amazing story you shared! Your character was so well-drawn and her tale was so heart-breaking. I appreciated seeing the "white world" through her eyes, and I am glad she was able to picture Jesus as brown like herself. This was such excellent writing, and I learned a bit of history, too. CONGRATULATIONS on your truly deserved EC win!!
Helen Dowd02/02/09
Jan, you truly belong in "Masters". And I just read your interview from your "winning" entry. You are an amazing story teller. This story drew me in from the start. I had never heard of these stolen children--at least not from this country--Australia or NZ. Oh how much the "whites" have to answer for in the judgement day. And I mean not just individuals, but countries. As someone said in a comment, many countries have their horrid past deeds to account for. You did so well in picturing this little girl, and bringing in the older girl who drew her to Jesus. I have always pictured Jesus as being what ever "colour" we imagine--Jesus is--well, we all have our own personal picture of what Jesus is and what color His skin is. He died for all, regardless of colour or creed or country or religion...Blessings on you, Jan...Helen
Helen Paynter02/02/09
Jan - this is just beautiful. Lyrically, tenderly written, and with such a poignant and powerful message.
Sharlyn Guthrie02/04/09
This is so vivid, and a sober reminder of the inhumanity of man to man. Well done!