From a victim of the Stolen Generations comes a remarkable memoir of abuse, survival and ultimately hope.
Born in country NSW in the 1940s, baby Dianne is immediately taken from her Aboriginal mother. Raised in the era of the White Australia policy, Dianne grows up believing her adoptive Irish mother, Val, is her birth mother. Val promises Dianne that one day they will take a trip and she will ‘tell her a secret’. But before they get the chance, Val tragically dies.
Abandoned by her adoptive father, Dianne is raped at the age of 15, sentenced to Parramatta Girls Home and later forced to marry her rapist in order to keep her baby. She goes on to endure horrific domestic violence at the hands of different partners, alcohol addiction, and cruel betrayal by those closest to her. But amazingly her fighting spirit is not extinguished.
At the age of 36, while raising six kids on her own, Dianne learns she is Aboriginal and that her great-grandfather was William Cooper, a famous Aboriginal activist. Miraculously she finds a way to forgive her traumatic past and becomes a leader in her own right, vowing to help other stolen people just like her.
Dianne O’Brien (known as Aunty Di) is a Yorta Yorta woman who grew up in Sydney, endured abusive relationships and hardship, the most shocking of treatment in Sydney institutions, and raised six children before learning of her true identity. She dedicated her life to her family and community—through fostering children, working tirelessly in drug and alcohol counselling, and Aboriginal legal and community services—and now she has penned her life’s story. This is a a harrowing, moving and extremely important memoir.
As I read Daughter of the River Country, I was in awe of Aunty Di’s storytelling and her outlook on life. There is no denying that the violence which Aunty Di suffered is difficult to read about, yet it is so important to listen and learn.
Her life story unveils some of the darkest aspects of Australia’s history, such as the forced adoption of Aboriginal children, as well as the inhumane treatment they endured in institutions which were supposed to ‘protect’ them, yet only perpetuated cycles of violence and oppression. This is part of our nation’s shared history, and stories like Aunty Di’s cannot be ignored.
Aunty Di intersperses her personal story with accounts of key events that took place in the ongoing fight for Indigenous rights. Discovering that her great-grandfather was famous Aboriginal activist William Cooper, who led the Day of Mourning protest on 26th January 1938, was pivotal to Aunty Di learning about her culture and people, and becoming a leader in her own right. Embraced by the community at Cummeragunja on the banks of the Murray River, Aunty Di finally understood why she had been so drawn to rivers her whole life—it was her Country, her people’s Country.
Aunty Di’s memoir is eloquently told and powerfully written. The courage and strength behind her words is palpable throughout. It was an honour to learn her story, and as she said herself—it is a miracle that she is alive to tell it today. Daughter of the River Country is a must-read for all Australians.