Wandering Girl by Glenyse Ward 1987
Glenyse Ward was born in 1949. She was removed by the Australian government from her parents as an infant and put into the St Joseph Orphanage in Perth, Western Australia. Once she turned two years of age she was transported to the Wandering Mission (St Xavier Native Mission), a Catholic missionary and raised by very strict, controlling German nuns.
She lived there until age 14 when she went to the Bigelow family to work as a domestic slave. Mrs. Bigelow was the wife of the Lord Mayor of the town and always referred to Glenyse as her slave and worked her as a slave. She was made to eat and drink out of the tin dishes reserved for the cat and she slept in a tiny attic room above the garage. She showered in the same area Mrs. Bigelow washed the dogs.
Growing up in the orphanage she had her friends who she continued to miss the rest of her life. Two of the friends turned out to be her biological sisters. That surprised her greatly. She was told her father had died in an accident and remain surprised as she already believed he was dead. She had knowledge of where her mother lived but wasn’t allowed to see her. Her mother visited her once at the missionary but the nuns turned her away because she was apparently very drunk.
This book is her story working for the Bigelow family. They lived in wealth in a beautiful farmhouse. Mrs Bigelow would not acknowledge Glenyse’s name or speak to her.
Life at the mission was hard as all the children were expected to work hard at their
chores and study their lessons. When she approached her teen years a new teacher arrived, a man who separated the girls by colour. He would teach the lighter skinned girls as he believed they had the ability to learn but the darker skinned girls weren’t believed to be capable of learning.
This is a very slim book of her domestic years, 157 pages long. I picked it up in a second hand bookshop and will pass it on. If anyone in Australia would like this book I’m happy to post it to you. Let me know in an email at psbparks at ymail. dot com.
The story is very appropriate for young adults also and I think the reality of her life was crueler than what she wrote about in this book. That’s why I wondered if it was written for a younger audience.
There is a lot more information about the author here and here if you’re interested.
You can hear her testifying about her experience related to the Stolen Generation here.
I would be interested in reading more about this woman’s life as an adult. The book described here takes her through her teenage years.
6 thoughts on “Another Aboriginal Biography”
This looks it was one of that first flush of Indigenous writing that began in the 1980s. (I don’t mean that it was their first-ever, there are texts in the PEN Anthology of Aboriginal writing that show that some of them were literate long before most colonists were.) But there was an outpouring of memoir in the 80s and 90s, and this one comes from Magabala Books which is a non-profit Indigenous publishing house in Broome. I’m not sure when they started up but they have produced some wonderful books, especially children’s picture books, all written and illustrated by Indigenous creatives.
I read a lot of them at that time. It’s amazing how, in many ways they tell the same story, and yet each one is distinctively different.
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I recently purchased the Anthology of Aboriginal writing. I subscribe to the Magabala Books newsletter. They have wonderful books and I love the illustrations in the children’s books.
Yes, they’re gorgeous books. I used to buy them for the school library and the little kids loved the bright colours and striking designs.
a strong woman, having to cope with all that brutality… she looks self-possessed in the photo, anyway…
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I know. Adversity does breed toughness generally. I do like the photo of her.
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