To all those men, women and children who are still searching and to those who are considering it but are afraid, I say, donít give up! Not every reunion ends happily. Not everyone finds what theyíre searching for. Often there can be further disappointment. Even so, an end to the unknowing is definitely better than never daring to find out, never knowing at all. - Renate Kirkpatrick
Kirkpatrick was born in Germany in 1951 and immigrated to Australia in 1955.
She grew up
in windy Wollongong, discovered the surf scene and by the age of 18, and was
exploring the heady Sydney set of the late 60s. Finding herself pregnant, she
fled to New Zealand where the adoption of her first-born son led to the lies,
secrets and omissions that would haunt her for years.
husband Glenn, she spent a large part of her twenties travelling around New
Zealand and Australia in an old PMG van. Settling on the Sunshine Coast,
Queensland, Australia in 1974, they began a Sign writing partnership, had two
children and still reside there today.
nature with a constant need for self-exploration and expression, Renate is an
award-winning artist, drawn to such tactile crafts as pottery, papermaking,
rag-rugging and the fibre arts, which she now teaches.
Although writing ĎNot Without A Backward Glanceí began in secret, a testament intended for her family only, it became a cathartic experience - one that she hopes may be of help to others.
1970, I gave a child up for adoption. I was just eighteen. The subsequent years
amass a succession of secrets, lies and omissions melding into a heavy burden. A
weight, I believed I had to bear alone. I knew the day would come when Iíd be
fear of discovery was perhaps my greatest burden.
initial movement of pen to paper comes slowly and painfully. In the small hours,
when no one can witness my despair, a scribble here, a paragraph there then all
is quickly torn up and destroyed before the new day has a chance to cast any
light on it.
are interviews on television, radio, snippets in magazines and newspapers
telling such appalling stories; I donít care to take in the details. Years
before, a young, single girl was informed that her baby was stillborn. Now, she
finds the child she has mourned over for thirty years standing on her doorstep.
could this have happened? Whoís to blame?í the woman asks.
tell of being drugged, coerced, threatened, banished, shamed into giving up
their babies all those years ago.
Iím no longer alone.
the biggest travesty of all comes to light, as Aboriginal mothers tell of their
ĎLost Generationí. Any previous suspicions I may have had that baby rackets
genuinely existed in the seventies and before are now confirmed.
thereís no doubt in my mind that adoption agencies of that era werenít the
charitable organisations they claimed to be. I personally believe they rarely
had the best interests of the girl, or even her baby, at heart. At the time,
they were used as fodder to supply the ever-increasing demand for babies.
just one of thousands of girls who endured this ordeal. Now, Iím one of
thousands of women hiding in shame. If our stories are told - if people are made
aware of the climate of the time - perhaps relinquishing mothers can have a
measure of acceptance, a little compassion and much needed understanding to
regain some self-esteem. Perhaps weíll be able to let go of our abiding guilt
and our festering wounds given a chance to heal.
said that - the idea of writing my story is fraught with dread. What wretched
portrait will I paint? Of some woman consumed with guilt and shame for
abandoning her child? Someone who believes sheís weak and cowardly for not
fighting for him in the first place? Someone always fearful of being judged? How
am I going to reveal my inadequacies and not lose those nearest and dearest to
me? Wonít they all forsake me once they know who I really am and what Iíve
done? Can I take that chance?
want the ghosts to flee. I want to rid myself of anger and guilt Ė to feel
whole again. I donít want to live the lie anymore. To do so, I know I must
tell it like it is, and was. And tell it from the beginning. A journey I dread
yet am compelled to take.
has been wilfully omitted from my memory. These blank spaces can never be
filled. The anguish and remorse I felt back then is still as vivid today. I
still harbour deep resentments I canít, or wonít, relinquish perhaps because
they have been with me so long. Only now, I no longer allow them to destroy the
best of me. Today, Iím freer than I ever expected. Relinquishing my child was
heart-rending. Finding him has been my greatest reward.
all those men, women and children who are still searching and to those who are
considering it but are afraid, I say, Donít
every reunion ends happily. Not everyone finds what theyíre searching for.
Often there can be further disappointment. Even so, an end to the unknowing is
definitely better than never daring to find out, never knowing at all.
havenít done, nor do I intend to do any research. I will rely wholly and
solely on memory and, since much time has passed, it must be taken into account
that my perception is subjective and Iíll make assumptions with regard to
other characters and their views. I trust I make them without judgement or
blame. Names have been changed; places are sometimes vague but do exist; the
events are true. This story is mine, but not mine alone.
earliest memories begin in Germany where I was born on the seventh of January
1951 and, although these recollections are only fleeting, my need to hold on to
them is great.
are scarce but one in particular still makes me smile - a contented little girl,
bright and wide-eyed, holding a small posy of wild flowers - taken on my fourth
vaguely recall my grandmother bustling in a kitchen rich with aromas of fruit
and spice, where
clouds of steam billow
from an ancient coal stove. The benches
are high and Iím standing on a chair. I see long-handled ladles, black dented
pots, chipped crystal bowls; batters are beaten, dough is kneaded, fingers are
sticky dipping and tasting, cheeks are tacky
licking and slurping.
remember being bundled in cosy blankets, snug and warm in my dadís lap, on a
sled. I look back. My grandmotherís on the stoop, waving goodbye. Itís
twilight. Weíre racing down a hill. The snow is crunchy and crispy white, the
air like frosted glass, our cheeks are icy and Iím squealing with delight.
of images - cool dank woods with evergreen mosses, velvet to the touch,
mushrooms in secret places and the perpetual joy of discovery. I see a close,
shadowy room, hung with the dayís washing on a cold spring day and detect a
delectable whiff of mushroom broth through the air.
this day, Lily of the Valleyís heady fragrance propels me into an overpowering
reflective trance; its honeyed scent, so tangible at times, I almost believe I
can feel it. According to one aunt, I used to toddle off rather a lot but could
dependably be retrieved from a small, green meadow where the lily grew wild.
these early impressions are real, or relative to families and photos is of
little consequence, for no matter how fragmented or detached they now appear, I
feel them to be good and whole and, in essence, the best of me.
1955: life in post-war Germany is unbearable. My parents like so many all over
Europe, want to make a fresh start. The destination matters less than leaving
behind food shortages and monetary inflation. Just their need to move forward
and forget the pain and suffering that war inflicted is compulsion enough. Their
youth grants them the energy and determination to venture into the unknown, to
explore new frontiers and trust in fate.
can choose to migrate to Canada or Australia and apply to both. But itís the
prompt reply from the Australian Immigration, (to whom Iíll be forever
grateful), which inspires our direction.
shipís a floating city. The air bubbles with excitement: people scrambling
everywhere with high spirits, happy, yet anxious, impatient to begin their
journey - hugging, kissing, laughing and crying at the same time. And then
thereís my grandmother, wailing like thereís no tomorrow.
beside herself with grief, certain of never seeing us again. Surely weíll
perish in that faraway, untamed land of deserts and wilderness, wild animals and
still wilder ebony natives. What will become of her? Her grandchild? Not even my
fatherís promise to bring her out (once weíre settled) comforts her. To the
bitter end, she never forgives my parents for leaving.
my parents put little stock in the old womanís fears, nor will they be swayed
by her amateur dramatics. This is the dawn. Everyone is filled with renewed
hope, new dreams picture a better world; a smoother more luxurious life is
feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the gamble
theyíve undertaken. But, as we sail and
despite the initial on-board discomforts
- sharing cramped cabins with strangers, women and
children separated from their men at night - the confidence and expectations
amongst us intensifies with each new day. This is adventure on the high seas.
Everyone is buoyant, rejoicing in a newfound freedom. Itís a time and place
for instant but steadfast friendships, some of which endure forever.
voyage piques a deep nostalgia. The redolence of briny ocean mingled with a
whiff of oil, rust and dining rooms still lingers today. I only need to walk on
a wharf to be transported back in time. Itís
here where my parents allow me to roam on board unaccompanied. My first taste of
freedom. Grandma always used to take care of me while my parents worked. Her
overprotective and possessive nature went unchecked, allowing me no
independence. Now, suddenly, thereís no-one hovering over me. I have umpteen
hours to explore the decks and corridors. Stairs invite climbing and rails are
for sliding down, nooks and crannies are for hiding and long passages for
running flat out.
meet and play with other children for the first time.
never suffer a dayís seasickness, but Iíll never forget the pain and
retching of others, their convulsions, eruptions and even pleas to die. No, not
me. I adore the rolling pitch. It tickles my tummy, makes me walk funny and
rocks me to sleep at night. The really rough days are the best, especially when
sprawled in a deckchair with closed eyes, pretending to float on air. I love the
food, the fun, the friendliness. I love the feeling of goodwill and fortune
surrounding me. Above all, I love being with my dad. His time is always free and
I can be with him, all day, every day, if I want.
clear, blue day a man, gazing out across the shimmering sea, suddenly yells,
ĎCome see! Come see! Look! Up there,í he shouts,
pointing to a lone seagull hovering high above
turn to my dad. ĎBut itís only a bird, papa?í
yes,í he says. ĎBut this is a special bird. Itís showing us the way to our
new home. A place where no matter who you are, or where you come from, a better
life is waiting.í
gaze up at the gull, then back to my dad, ĎOoh!í he can talk to birds.
look around the deck, everyone is laughing or clapping their hands. Some have
linked arms and are dancing little jigs. For the moment, their nausea and petty
grievances have been put aside. Dad and I canít help but be swept along by
their enthusiasm. He lifts me high into the air and twirls me round and round.
Our six-week journey is ending. New adventures are about to begin.
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