Dawn Daylight
Dawn Daylight SBS

Putting together the pieces of a partially led life

DAWN Daylight doesn't really know the dates or the reasons why she was working as a domestic maid at Brisbane's All Hallows' convent more than 55 years ago.

Although mountains of archives can reveal the horrific details behind what happened to the "stolen generation”, 71-year-old Dawn can find little that tells her own story.

Perhaps this underlines the importance of the launch of the SBS On Demand inaugural Short Film Festival in early September.

Lost Daylight, filmed in Brisbane, follows local Aboriginal woman Dawn Daylight on her search for answers. Dawn was taken at a young age and placed as a domestic servant at All Hallows' School, within the Sisters of Mercy convent.

Dawn has so many questions; why was she taken? Why was she at All Hallows'? And what has happened to her lost wages?

This film is particularly timely, given the recent $190 million settlement between the Queensland State Government and the stolen wages class action group.

In her late 30s Dawn went on to study a BA at Griffith University and around the same time began her search through government archives to find her own story.

Records revealed that her father and mother were part of the stolen generation and it was stated that "neglect” was among the reasons for their selection. However, there was no such information about Dawn herself.

It's because of this lack of information that Dawn doesn't see herself as part of the "stolen generation”, but instead uses the word "removed” to describe her experience of being taken from her Ipswich family and put to work at the Brisbane city convent.

"Really, it was child labour," she said.

Dawn has located ledgers at All Hallows' which record her receiving a wage, along with subtractions for food, clothing etc. It also notes she travelled daily between the outskirts of Ipswich (Churchill) to the convent in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley.

Dawn has no recollection of this travel and believes the long distance (more than 45km) would have been impossible for a young girl to undertake.

Many years after leaving the convent, she was on a Brisbane bus when approached by a person who recognised her from those early days.

"She said she was a young warden at the convent, and she said I was the smallest girl at All Hallows' and she remembered me trying to go over the fence to run away," Dawn said.

On leaving the convent, she returned to her family, but of course after such a long (and indeterminate) time away, she found it hard to fit in. She has no memories of holidays or even being a teenager within her family.

"So, I went walkabout," she said.

She also had no formal employment training.

"Because of my lack of education, there was not a lot I could do other than to be a domestic servant or industrial work.”

Dawn said the making of the video had been emotional and although she had dealt with much of her early trauma, there were times and things that still bubbled up and haunted her.

And among the things she lives with and cannot change is the regret about conversations she didn't have with her mother.

"I didn't get to ask her what it was like to have her children taken away," she said sadly.

However, in her later years when Dawn is able to re-unite with her sisters who were also sent to institutions, the video not only portrays the great happiness that lies within shared kinship, but on a personal level reveals a triumph against personal adversity.

*On September 13, over one long weekend, there will be 14 short films showcasing underrepresented creatives from diverse backgrounds including Indigenous, LGBTQI+, migrants and asylum seekers, as well as people living with varied disabilities.

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