Case 442: For what purpose?

Case 442: For what purpose?
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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Frank Byrne, Stolen Generations senior case workers Heather Shearer and Justin Howard, director Mitch Torres and Julie Hayden from the Department of Indigenous Affairs sit around a table. They are looking at the yellow pages of an old file that recorded the preparations by authorities to remove Frank from his mother Maudie Yooringun. In re-enactment, children play at Moola Bulla. Archival footage of Beagle Bay Mission shows a church and priests, a market garden being tended and young children in the classroom and singing in church.

Frank tells us that when he got to Beagle Bay Mission they had everything there compared to nothing much at Moola Bulla, and at Beagle Bay Mission they were taught to pray and sing in Latin. Archival footage shows children rolling off a tumble horse during an exercise session. Frank says he has heard many reasons as to why Aboriginal children were stolen or removed, but for him there was no purpose, and that being removed wrecked his, as well as his mother’s, life. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

This clip is a testimony to the confusion and personal reassessment that takes place throughout a person’s lifetime after being removed from one’s family as a consequence of government policy. The question, ‘what purpose?’ is a deep searching for an explanation for being torn from one’s family and immersed in a foreign culture. Being taught Latin yet not understanding the language typifies the loss of Indigenous language and cultural values and not having them replaced by anything meaningful.


Case 442 synopsis

Frank Byrne was stolen from his mother Maudie Yooringun at the age of five. Decades later, Frank searches for his mother’s burial site with the intention of taking her back to her country in the Kimberley, 42 years after she passed away.


Case 442 curator's notes

A personable and intimate portrayal of an Indigenous family whose lives are irreparably changed by the government removal policies. Case 442 is the story of Frank Byrne who was taken from Christmas Creek to Moola Bulla on the 20 November 1943, removed from his mother Maudie Yooringun. Frank pinpoints that moment of his life – when he was taken to Moola Bulla – as being when the struggle for survival began, not only for him but also for the other children removed from their parents. When Frank was taken from Moola Bulla to Beagle Bay Mission, he was told by a priest that his mother had died, but the details of where, when and how were unknown to him, and Frank would search for the answers to these questions all of his life.

Case 442 is a heart wrenching story of Frank Byrne, who as an old man finally finds his mother’s resting place at Perth’s Claremont Mental Institute, where she was incarcerated following a nervous breakdown she suffered after the forced removal of her small son. Frank Byrne’s search for his mother was one that was supported by Stolen Generations senior case workers Justin Howard and Heather Shearer, and Julie Hayden from the Department of Indigenous Affairs, who collectively located Maudie’s remains. Case 442 is a personal testimonial to the effects of Aboriginal child removal policies, and the lifelong consequences it has had upon people who have endured being separated from their families and communities. Witnessing the emotion of Frank Byrnes, now an elder, and the determination he has to find the remains of his mother and return her to her country, is a demonstration of the impact of child removal policies on an individual survivor.

A film from writer and director Mitch Torres, Case 442 is the human face of a government policy designed to assimilate Indigenous peoples into mainstream society, the intention being to indoctrinate half-caste children with western values and in the process, forget Indigenous cultural identity and connections.

This program has also screened on NITV, National Indigenous Television.

Notes by Romaine Moreton


Education notes

This clip shows Frank Byrne recalling how he was removed from his mother as a child and sent to Moola Bulla reserve and then to Beagle Bay Mission in Western Australia. Frank looks at the file that details his removal, accompanied by Stolen Generations senior case workers Heather Shearer and Justin Howard, director Mitch Torres and Julie Hayden from the Department of Indigenous Affairs. Excerpts from the file are shown and read in voice-over. Historical footage follows of a church service, sports activities and classes at Beagle Bay Mission.

Educational value points

  • The term 'Stolen Generations’ was coined in the early 1980s by historian Peter Read to describe Indigenous Australians who, from about 1910 to 1970, were removed from their families and sent to adoption, to fostering or to government- or church-run institutions. Bringing Them Home, the 1997 report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, found that somewhere between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were removed.
  • Frank Byrne’s removal from his mother was part of the policy of assimilation adopted by all Australian governments in the 1920s and 30s, which assumed that Indigenous Australians would be best served by integrating them into non-Indigenous society. This was to be achieved by instructing Indigenous children in a Western way of life. Light-skinned or mixed-race children such as Byrne were targeted because it was felt they could be more easily integrated.
  • Byrne’s loss of family, culture and sense of belonging resulted from a belief among non-Indigenous Australians of 'white’ cultural and religious superiority. Elements supporting this perspective include: excerpts from letters of the time, none of which mention his mother; the presumption that, although Byrne is only 'half white’, his non-Indigenous heritage should have precedence; and Byrne’s own perplexity at the purposelessness of what has happened to him.
  • The WA Commissioner of Native Affairs was 'the legal guardian of every native child, notwithstanding that the child has a parent or other relative living, until the child attains the age of 21’. In 1905 WA passed a law giving the Chief Protector of Aborigines legal guardianship of Aboriginal children and children of mixed ancestry under the age of 16. Similar legislation existed in other states, and allowed for the removal of Indigenous children from their families.
  • In Indigenous Australian cultures an individual’s identity is based on family, kinship ties and a connection to the land where the person was born. Separation from family proved devastating for many children and their families and had lasting emotional consequences. Following Frank Byrne’s removal at 5 years of age, his mother Maudie Yooringun suffered a nervous breakdown and was sent to a psychiatric institution where she spent the remainder of her life.
  • After Frank Byrne was removed from his mother he was sent to the Moola Bulla reserve north of Halls Creek, WA, which was established in 1911 as a ration depot and government-run cattle station where Indigenous men were trained as stockmen to work in the Kimberley cattle industry. Byrne remembers that life was harsh and 'there was nothing there’. At 7 years of age, as was the practice, he was sent to the Beagle Bay Mission for schooling, 120 km north of Broome.
  • Despite the harsh discipline, Frank Byrne recalls that Beagle Bay Mission 'wasn’t too bad at all’. Children were housed in dormitories and attended school until the age of 14, after which the girls were found work as domestics and the boys were trained as stockmen or in trades such as carpentry and mechanics. The children had to learn English; however, unlike many other similar institutions, they were permitted to speak their own languages.
  • In response to Bringing Them Home, the federal government provided funding and resources for members of the Stolen Generations to trace their families. Byrne was aided in the three-year search for his mother by Julie Hayden from the Department of Indigenous Affairs and by Stolen Generations senior case workers Heather Shearer and Justin Howard, who are shown in this clip.
  • Director Mitch Torres worked as a radio broadcaster and television journalist before she began making films. She has directed a number of documentaries including Saltwater Bluesman (2001) and the award-winning Whispering in Our Hearts … the Mowla Bluff Massacre (2001). Torres grew up on the Fitzroy River in WA, not far from where Frank Byrne was born. She wanted Case 442 to promote discussion and understanding of the suffering endured by the Stolen Generations.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Citt Williams
Mitch Torres
Mitch Torres
Frank Byrnes, Evelyn Grove, Julie Hayden, Justin Howard, Heather Shearer
Produced with the assistance of the Indigenous Branch of the Australian Film Commission

This clip starts approximately 10 minutes into the documentary.

Frank Byrne, Stolen Generations senior case workers Heather Shearer and Justin Howard, director Mitch Torres and Julie Hayden from the Department of Indigenous Affairs sit around a table. They are looking at the yellow pages of an old file that recorded the preparations by authorities to remove Frank from his mother. 
Woman Well, it says the police should have information regarding this child at Fitzroy Crossing.

Frank Byrne He changed that?

Woman Yeah. In reference to you…

Frank I wasn’t taken then. Was I taken already?

Woman No, they were talking about…

Woman 2 They were talking about it.

Woman Talking about getting ready to take you.

Frank (in voiceover) Well, I didn’t need to be taken away from my mother, you want to put it that way, because I was well looked after there. I had, I had no problem.

Narrators, acting as the original writers of the letters in the file, read out fragments of the letters.
Narrator In reference to the half-caste boy, Frank, I note that the boy is only 12 months old. The boy’s father, Jack Byrne, is the station cook.

Narrator 2 As Frank is now five years old, I am rather anxious that he should be removed for educational purposes. Possibly you could arrange for the removal of…

Narrator 3 …any control of the boy as, according to Section 8 of the Native Administration Act, I am the legal guardian of every native child, notwithstanding that the child has a parent of other relative living, until the child attains the age of 21. Commissioner of Native Affairs.

A group of Aboriginal children play hopscotch. Frank is interviewed and the interview continues over footage of Beagle Bay Mission including Aboriginal children attending a church service and school and men working in the garden.
Frank They took us away to go to school in Moola Bulla. There was no school there. There was nothing there – absolutely nothing there. If you had something from there, you’d be lucky but then some big fella would take it off you. And, that’s the way it went on for all that time I was in Moola Bulla.

Colour footage from Beagle Bay Mission.
Frank When we got to Beagle Bay Mission it was a different story there. They had everything there. You know gardens and… We made it happen, you know. We do everything and we had a dining hall there and we’re getting big now by this time and we’re doin’ things. We had a dining hall there and we got a feed out of it there. Then we went to school, we went to school.

We were disciplined properly, you know, we learned to pray in Latin and sing in Latin. I don’t know what we were praying about in Latin and singing in Latin. But, still, it was a wonderful noise – ah, sound, you know, when we’d sing. It wasn’t too bad at all. I mean, but still, you know, we shouldn’t be there. I hear a lot of things – we were put there for this purpose, that purpose, that many purposes… We don’t know what purpose. But to me… no, I don’t know what purpose. All they done was wreck my life and my mother’s life, that’s – you know.