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My mother did not want to leave my father and she asked to be interned with him and that meant that my brothers and sister were interned also at Tatura.
…She was a very strong lady and … once going through all that trauma, which I blame the authorities for, that…once she had me in Tatura, Victoria, she … broke down and had mental problems, and the authorities, because her husband was taken away from her even down there and put into not the internment camp but put into Cowra – Cowra was where all the nationalists were, with the Italians and Greeks and all that. And then she was still in Tatura, Victoria so that placed more stress and anxiety on her that she had a mental breakdown and she never ever overcame that, even when the war was over. The four of us… the four kids, were taken away from her while she went to a mental hospital in South Australia and we were on our own in Balaclava, which is a racecourse, in those days, in South Australia in one of those shacks where they keep horses, and we had to share that with other Aboriginal families…
It was very hard growing up in the mission, because when you get to five years of age you get taken away from your parents and put in the dormitory – they had a dormitory for the girls and for the boys – small boys, middle-sized boys and the big boys – and you never go back to see your parents, you only get to see them from afar, that’s all……All the boys, like, they actually have a lot of boys from the Kimberley sent to the mission. There were about 40 or 50 of all us on one dormitory. But I found it was very good, like no grudge. Everything we were taught, we were doing the right thing. Like there was only two things we used to do: If you’re not praying, you’re working. If you’re not working, you’re praying. That’s how it was.
Peter Koens was only 13 years old when together with his sister Elly and parents, arrived in a flying boat from Java. He describes that morning exactly 70 years later at the age of 83.
My dad was then at that time yelling at me to come and jump in the water because they were coming back.
So I just jumped into the water and swam to my dad and then we had to find my mother and my sister who were on the other side of plane, so then when we were swimming around the plane I could hear my mother yelling at a man that was also swimming with us to come and get his wife because she was hanging onto this burning wing and with a child around her neck.
We had twenty people in our plane so I assume the other ones would have the same.
Just shouting and screaming all the time.
So plane was on fire so then once we collected my mother and sister we stayed as close to the fire as possible, that’s what our dad told us, in case there were sharks or anything like that.
So, and then after we swam for about ten minutes close to the oil fire he just said to just go onto your back and just lay and relax and stay together, and that’s what we did.
It was probably the second run, by the second aircraft anyway that made its run, that virtually chopped our starboard wing off completely.
I got up to the flight deck and was either blown or jumped, here again I don’t know – the crew say I was actually blown out, but at that time one of the fuel tanks must have erupted and caught fire because it was just an inferno from that point on.
It was all incredibly quick. I suppose the whole attack was over in 20 minutes.
Those eight fighter planes tore round at a terrific speed, dived one by one on their objectives, and the rat-a-tat of their machine-guns was followed by a spectacular display of fireworks…
They left a trail of smoke behind them and set fire to everything they hit.
In a few minutes the whole harbour was covered by a pall of thick, black smoke, through which it was impossible to observe what was going on.