Sharon and Deidre had never met — the institution that brought about their father's abuse connected them

Sharon and Deidre had never met — the institution that brought about their father’s abuse connected them

Sharon Shillingsworth and Deidre Bolt are sisters in their 50s but have only just met for the first time.

WARNING: This story contains details of an Aboriginal person who has died and has been used with the permission of family.

Their separation was influenced by intergenerational trauma which stemmed from their father’s experiences as a child of the Stolen Generations.

It took the women years to track each other down, and while they had been connecting over the phone, a face-to-face meeting had eluded them until now.

It was a pivotal moment for both women; Ms Shillingsworth said she held her sister de ella for what she felt like “the longest time”.

Their father, John Carroll, was one of up to 600 Aboriginal boys who lived in the notorious Kinchela Boys Home in Kempsey on the NSW Mid North Coast.

The institution operated under the authority of the state’s Aborigines Protection Board and forcefully removed Indigenous children from their families and communities from 1924 to 1970.

The Kinchela Boys Home in Kempsey opened in 1924 and operated up to 1970.(Supplied: Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation)

Like many of the boys in the home, Mr Carroll’s life was plagued with psychological and physical trauma from the abuse he endured in the institution.

Ms Shillingsworth said the trauma her father suffered at the home affected his adult life.

“He was in a lot of turmoil, he basically drank to numb the pain; it was just heartbreaking learning what he went through,” she said.

Her father left her mother and later had three other children with another partner, one of whom was Ms Bolt.

‘They were lost’

While the siblings knew of each other’s existence, they had never had the opportunity to meet or contact each other until after Mr Carroll’s death in 2016.

“Our brother Neil hired a solicitor to find us; we had known about them [John, Neil and Deidre] and they had known about us, but they were lost,” Ms Shillingsworth said.

A list of young boys names that attended the boys home
A list of boys who were in the Kinchela Boys Home is displayed at the healing forum, including Deidre and Sharon’s father.(ABC News: Arianna Levy)

The solicitor managed to track down the siblings and connected them through Facebook.

“We’ve been talking over the phone for a few years now but had never seen each other face to face,” Ms Bolt said.

Ms Shillingsworth said with her sister living in Forster-Tuncurry and herself living “in the scrubs of Trundle” in central west NSW, linking up while also working six days a week was difficult.

“We were getting old too, I’m 57 and Deidre’s 53, we knew something had to happen soon,” Ms Shillingsworth said.

The meeting was facilitated by a charity set up to help the survivors of the Kinchela Boys Home and their families.

Operating with a collective goal of healing the trauma and intergenerational trauma suffered in the home, Kinchela Boys Home Aboriginal Corporation (KBHAC) holds annual healing forums to help survivors and their descendants connect.

A metal gate with the words 'boys home' welded to the top.
Boys were stripped of their names and given numbers at Kinchela Boys Home.(Supplied: National Museum of Australia/Katie Shanahan)