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Mum's story

Shirley Ann Williams 12.5.1947 – 28.10.2010

Shirley was a much loved AIATSIS staff member who contributed to the digitisation of the Aborigines Inland Mission journals and to AIATSIS in many other ways.

Shirley Williams returned to the Willow Bend Mission at Condobolin in 2010 to remember and write her own story of Mission Days. Some of her story is below.

Shirley Ann Williams was a much loved AIATSIS staff member who contributed to the digitisation of the Mission journals and to AIATSIS in many other ways.

By Darren, David, Leon, Otis and PJ Williams

Mum came back home last school holidays. We had planned to do a story about mission life as part of her work with AIATSIS and to tell her story.

She travelled up with her son Darren and young grandson and nephew to visit her family in Condobolin, particularly her three grandchildren Jerome, Kaine and Lowanna. Mum didn’t look too well. I questioned whether she should have travelled up if she wasn’t right and I copped the old stare and ‘she be right son, it’s just a sore neck it will be gone in a few days’.

We sat around for the next few days and caught up with gossip and enjoyed the company of our children. It was a good opportunity for her to unwind and have her arvo naps and watch her favourite soapies.

She even got the opportunity to get around to see some old and dear friends and one of those friends who she regarded as a sister was Nanny Goolagong. When they finally met up, I left them both alone and said, ‘I’ll pick ya up in an hour or so’.

The two of them sitting on the porch, catching up like old times and I reflected on them both, ‘Look at them two old girls, look how much they have aged gracefully but still enjoying the company of each other.’

She even managed to go the pub where she pulled out a few hundred and knowing mum, that’s what she loved to do even though it was a dislike and a habit that I discouraged, but for some reason, I looked at her and thought it’s okay mum, your shout for dinner aye. She had a few beers that day and smiled and blinked at me and said ‘LUV YA’.

The next few days we ended up at the cemetery to show my young nephews around to where their mob were buried. We caught up with Nan, Pop, Aunty Brenda and even Yncle Maco Wighton for Deeky.

We then made our way down to David, her son, my brother, where mum glowed and spoke of him with gentle ease. As she reflected on him, I think deep down mum was not only saying goodbye, but she was saying David my son we will be together soon.

Although she never told me, I could feel she was at ease with what she was doing. We said our last goodbyes and Deeky and Connor were full of questions and excited at what they got to see and most of all hear some stories from ole Nan about her family.

When we did get to do the story on her life, we started to drive and I had the video camera out, and straight away she started telling her story, and before long she started remembering her life, 60 odd years of it.

We started at the old entrance and made our way down by the river where she reminisced and laughed and even cried about was she was opening up to me.

We tried to find the old house and for a glimpse her memory let her down. I asked her, ‘How long it has been since you have walked these tracks again?’ Head bowed and thinking she said, ‘I left here when I was 16-17 around the mid 60’s maybe.’

Then it occurred to me that it has been over 40 years since she has been back to these areas. Sure she has come and gone from here before, but retracing these steps was a big effort and no wonder she couldn’t pinpoint where she had actually lived.

So with the help from Uncle Peter, we found our location and set up camp where I would capture mum’s past in the next couple of hours. As we started out recording, mum broke down again, but composed herself enough to get through it.

The next hour or so, or what seemed like an eternity, mum spoke about her life on the mission and Condobolin, and moving to Queanbeyan to start her new life. She spoke of the missionaries, the church, the bush dancing, Uncle Peter nearly drowning in the river, the rations, the gathering of mushrooms when it rained, and fishing down the river to catch dinner.

One dear memory she spoke about was the time when Pop Monte bought her a bike and she thought she was a princess riding it around the mission, but only to have it taken off her because pop couldn’t make the payments.  She stated that it broke her heart and she never did forgive Dad for that. These were the many things we spoke about on that day, the good, the bad and most of all she spoke of a life blessed with beautiful brothers and sisters and the love of her life and the five children they had together.

There was a reason she came back and they believe in Aboriginal culture that a person knows when their time is up and I feel deep down mum knew that, and was I in denial, yes! But mum wasn’t. She knew exactly what she was doing to make things right. She retraced her steps and now her story lives with us and it will be there for the future generation to share together forever.

Love u mum.

Darren, David, Leon, Otis and PJ.

Last updated: 21 January 2021