A Question of Colour by Pattie Lees with Adam C. Lees

‘My journey to belonging.’

Pattie Lees was ten years old when she and her four siblings were separated from their mother on the grounds of neglect and placed into the care of the state. This is an important first-hand account of Pattie’s experiences as a ‘fair-skinned’ Aboriginal, a member of the Stolen Generations, caught between conflicting worlds. In Townsville, Pattie was considered ‘too dark’ to be successfully fostered, while on Palm Island, other children rejected her because she was seen as white. 

This is the autobiography of a strong, resilient woman who has survived neglect and abuse, and had the courage to revisit the past. In 1996, Ms Lees submitted a Freedom of Information application to the Queensland Department of Families and Community Services. She was not expecting to receive 300 pages of combined family files. Understandably, she was distressed by the contents. She was further distressed to find, amongst the bureaucratic papers, the transcripts of two letters her mother had written within four days of the children being removed from her care. The letters were transcribed, but the originals were never received by the children. I can only imagine how heartbreaking that must have been. Pattie’s mother neglected her and her siblings, but she clearly loved them.

I found this first-hand account deeply moving. Ms Lees acknowledges the good and the bad in her life. This autobiographical account is important, and I recommend reading it.

We cannot improve the future until we acknowledge the past.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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