Living in Hope Wins

22 Nov 2018

The recipient of this year’s Most Underrated Book Award was posthumously awarded to Frank Byrne for his book Living in Hope.

The recipient of this year’s Most Underrated Book Award was posthumously awarded to Frank Byrne for his book Living in Hope.

Living in Hope, a memoir by Frank Byrne (1937 – 2017), was written in collaboration with Frances Coughlan and Gerard Waterford. While working on this book, Frank was diagnosed with cancer and passed away on 20 October 2017.

Sponsored by the Australian Booksellers Association, the Small Press Network’s annual Most Underrated Book Award was announced at a ceremony on 22 November, in conjunction with the Independent Publishing Conference in Melbourne.

Frank’s sons Trevor Byrne and Frank Kenny attended the awards ceremony and accepted the award on behalf of their father. Joining them were co-authors Frances Coughlan and Gerard Waterford, NT Bringing Them Home Counsellors. All four travelled from Mparntwe/Alice Springs to Naarm/Melbourne for the awards ceremony.

Living in Hope was published by, an independent not-for-profit publisher based in Mparntwe/Alice Springs. The book comprises the first three chapters of Frank’s life story, with the rest of his memoir awaiting publication.

At the age of six, Frank Byrne, a Gooniyandi man born on Christmas Creek Station in the Kimberley WA, was removed from his mother Maudie Yoorungul and step-father Jumargoo Lenbing. Like many members of the Stolen Generations, Frank was forcibly removed by the government, taken from family and community, because his biological father was white. Living in Hope documents his childhood before and after removal.

I’m looking back telling this story now. I know my mum and dad knew something terrible was going to happen. They knew that before I was born other half-caste kids on the station had been taken away and never came back. And they knew the welfare man was making his trips to Christmas Creek, talking to the manager and checking on me. I didn’t know what was going on, but my mum and dad knew. I was still so small. My mum must have been always fearing that day would come. My dad did everything to make my life good. But he could not save me.

After being taken from his family, Frank was sent to Moola Bulla native station. There, he made friends with other children and was looked after by Aboriginal families in the main camp.

Gradually I learnt the ins and outs about Moola Bulla. The big camp we all lived in was called Main Camp. There were people from different country and different language groups all throughout the Kimberley. All of these Aboriginal people had been brought to this one place called Moola Bulla. All mixed up together. But inside Main Camp all these different tribes had their own little camping areas.

Two years later, Frank was moved to Beagle Bay Mission, where food was not as scarce and boys were taught basic skills in carpentry, bricklaying, mechanics, and butchery.

The priests were the number one bosses. They were the boss of everyone. The nuns looked after the girls’ dormitories and the priests were boss of the boys’ dormitories. There was one dormitory for the littler boys like me, and one for bigger boys. We slept in cyclone wire beds with a mattress and a pillow. For the mattress, you had to fill the bag up with grass and make it as comfortable as you can for yourself. If you get poked by a hard grass, that’s okay, break him off.

At the age of 15, Frank returned to Christmas Creek to work as a stockman. By then, his mother had passed away. Frank only saw his mother once after he was taken, when she and his step father were allowed a two-week visit at Moola Bulla.

I watched them being driven away again until they were gone. That was the last time I ever saw my mother. I think I knew that something was wrong with her. I could feel that. She had changed. She had lost everything, her hope and her spirit.

Although painful, sharing stories of the stolen generations is an important part of truth-telling and healing. As Frank’s son Trevor Byrne says:

‘It is very important for people to learn what happened back in them days, the way the government system was authorised to take kids away from their parents. People need to learn from that history. The MUBA win gets our dad’s story out there and people need to understand his story doesn’t just reflect what happened to Aboriginal people here, but what has happened to Indigenous Peoples across the world.’

The book has moments of heartbreak, and plenty of hardships, but as its title alludes to – there is hope in there too. A competent storyteller, Frank shares his childhood memories with honesty, humour and a sense of optimism.

At the awards ceremony, Trevor Byrne said “Our dad wanted to get this story out there, to let the whole world know what happened when he was stolen from his mother.” Hopefully, this award will result in more people reading Frank’s story of Living in Hope.

Gerard Waterford, Trevor Byrne, Frank Kenny & Franny Coughlan on a #Melbourne rooftop prepping for #MUBA18pic.twitter.com/eyw8GAyhUY

— Ptilotus Press (@ptilotuspress) November 22, 2018

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