Peter Jack shares his story as District acknowledges the Stolen Generations
Peter Jack likes to have a yarn.
“I like reaching out to people. Most days I’m out and about chatting with people on the streets of Waterloo and Redfern. I want to help them get access to the health care they need,” he said.
For the past five years, Peter, a proud Ngarrindjeri man, has worked as an Aboriginal Health Project Officer in Drug Health Services at Sydney Local Health District.
He’s also a member of the Stolen Generations – taken from his family as a baby in the 1960s.
He’s sharing his story as the District marks National Sorry Day.
It’s a day on which to reflect on the impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of being removed from their families, and the broken connection to their culture, traditional lands and language.
National Sorry Day has been commemorated since the release of the Bringing Them Home Report, which helped many to see that the physical, emotional and spiritual damage caused by past policies has had an intergenerational effect on Aboriginal families and communities.
“My Mum was a teenager when gave birth to me in South Australia. The nurses at the hospital spoke with her and she signed adoption papers and was sent back to the mission.
“I was sent home with a white family in Adelaide. I was the only black kid for a hundred miles,” Peter said.
He grew up in a loving home but faced racism in the local community. His experience has contributed to shaping his outlook on life.
“It’s made me who I am today – the good times and the bad times. I have a lot of empathy for people. I refuse to treat people differently,” he said.
It wasn’t until he was in his 40s that he met his birth mother and father and discovered he was one of 11 siblings. He’s met all but one of his brothers and sisters and learned more about his family.
“I’ve been told I walk like my grandfather,” he said.
His life experiences have also motivated him to help others.
He’s overcome a heroin addiction, and armed with a Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health and substance abuse from Sydney University, he’s now focused on assisting those at-risk in the District’s Aboriginal community.
Each week, he usually helps facilitate a men’s group, Redfern Men’s Cave, which provides support and education for up to 60 men who live in the area. A new Koori group began in Waterloo earlier this year too.
Many face drug and alcohol additions.
While COVID-19 has put the meetings on hold, Peter understands the significance of making connections with vulnerable people in our community.
“I know what it’s like when you can’t get out of the hole you’re in. I was in the same boat once and didn’t know how to ask for help. Now, in my job, I’m able to do what didn’t happen for me when I needed it. It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” he said.