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A meeting place - Madeline's journey of connection

Written by Julianna Stewart, Communications Partner with integratedliving

Madeline was part of the Stolen Generation. Today her story is one of healing and culture told through art. 

Madeline’s artwork stands as a testament to resilience and cultural pride. Deeply influenced by her Aboriginal heritage as one of the Stolen Generation, Madeline pours her heart and soul into her art. Her latest piece is a vibrant depiction of ‘a meeting place’, which depicts both her culture and her feelings about gathering with her current community at the Woy Woy Activity Centre four days a week.   

Through intricate designs and bold colours, Madeline’s art speaks volumes about the importance of connection and belonging. It is a reminder of the power of creativity in healing and the enduring spirit of community that thrives within the walls of the Woy Woy Activity Centre. 

Through her art, Madeline tells stories. Her own story is one of a heartbroken child, torn from her family in the Northern Territory in the 1950s, who later grew to become an accomplished artist and dedicated grandmother. 

Known by her Aboriginal name, Nikkidi, or her English nickname, Maddie, she stands as a poignant symbol of the Stolen Generation, born to mixed race parents and taken from her mother when she was only eight years old.

“We were rounded up like cattle and scattered all over the place,” she said. 

The children at the time were sent to a mission run by Catholic nuns on Melville Island, 80 kilometres off the north Australian coast in the Arafura Sea. There, she was raised alongside 100 other children, who had no contact with their mothers and no connection to family, language, land or culture.   

When asked how old she is, Maddie laughs and says “flip a coin”. The children in the missions had no birth records. “I don’t know if I was born in the wet season or the dry season, but the date I was given would make me 80.”   

Fortunately, Maddie’s life took a turn for the better as a young woman when one of the nuns organised a friend to be her foster parent – a lovely Irish woman who was a successful pharmacist in Sydney but also a very kind mentor who helped Maddie get on her feet. 

“She was a big part of my life. She gave me the platform to be where I am today,” Maddie said. 

It was with her foster mother Maddie first visited the NSW Central Coast and after regular holidays there, it’s where Maddie decided to settle and have three children of her own. 

Following her passion for art, Maddie attended Deakin University, completing Women’s Studies and Fine Art, discovering a creative channel to express herself and connect with her culture. 

“I love to paint. I’ve loved painting since I was a child,” she said. “After studying at university, I taught Aboriginal art at TAFE. I even had my paintings displayed in galleries.” 

Maddie currently attends Woy Woy Activity Centre four days a week, where she paints for pleasure and teaches other clients her skills.  

Now with five grandchildren and one great granddaughter, Maddie finds life is quite busy, but loves being close to family. “I didn’t get a chance to be with my family as a child and I said I’d never leave my children and have them go through that,” Maddie said.  

Recalling the family from which she was stolen, Maddie said her brother Harold managed to locate her after many years apart and was able to put her in contact with their long-lost elderly mother in the Northern Territory.   

The long-awaited reunion was cut short however, as Maddie discovered her birth mother was gravely ill and would pass away not long after they reunited. Returning to the Top End had profound significance, reconnecting Maddie with her roots and the land of her birth.  

“It’s still my country, I will always feel like the Northern Territory is my country. It’s where I was born and where the rest of my people are." 

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