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Ruth Hegarty (1929–?)

Ruth Hegarty, Is That You Ruthie?, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, Queensland (1999)

NAME: Ruth Hegarty

SEX: Female





  • Forest Vale: A property in the Mitchell district, Southwest Queensland, where the Duncan family lived in a camp. (p.7)
  • Barambah Aboriginal Settlement (later know as Cherbourg): During the Great Depression, Ruth’s family was forced to leave Forest Vale and move to Barambah. (pp.7-8)
  • Ruth lived in the Barambah for 14 years before leaving to work as a domestic.  She returned to Barambah on her holidays, and lived in the dormitories again after the birth of her first two children. When she married Joe Hegarty, she moved into the camp surrounding Barambah, and lived there for 15 years. (p.134)
  • Cinnabar: A town about 32 kilometres from the Barambah Settlement. When Ruth was sent to school, Ruby worked for the McGills on a cattle property at Cinnabar for nine years. (p.48)
  • Murgon: A town near the Barambah Aboriginal Settlement. Once a year, Charlie Smith would drive the children from Barambah to Murgon for the country show. (p.80)
  • Jandowae: Ruth’s first job was working as a domestic in Jandowae for 12 months.
  • Roma: Ruth worked near Roma for a young couple in 1944. (p.116)
  • Gympie: Ruth worked for a brief period of time in Gympie for Dr Henry. (pp.117-119)
  • Brisbane: Joe and Ruth moved to Brisbane in 1966. (p.134)


  • n/a


  • When Ruth was four she frequently escaped from her mother’s dormitory to be with her older friends, who had been moved to the girl’s dormitory. (p.23) This behavior led the Matron to decide that Ruth was ready to start school at a younger age than the other children at Barambah. (pp.24-25)
  • Ruth was very excited to start school, but her attitude changed dramatically when she realized this meant she would be separated from her mother: who left Barambah soon after for work. (p.26) Ruth explains her misbehavior as a consequence of being separated from her mother at such a young age. (p.31)
  • Despite her rebelliousness, Ruth excelled in school, and passed easily through the grades. (p.74) One of her teachers later told Ruth that he thought she was the student at Barambah most likely to succeed in high school. (p.89) However, she notes that – at that time – Aboriginal people were not considered “fit subjects to be properly educated or civilized”. (p.74) As such, most of the emphasis at Barambah was on vocational skills, and schooling stopped at Grade Four. (p.74)


  • While living in the dormitory, Ruth had chores from a young age. Her workload increased as she aged: to include making beds, washing and ironing clothing, polishing floors, and teasing out the mattress stuffing. (pp.54-56) As Ruth notes, this work – as well as training in baking, sewing, knitting and gardening – was designed to prepare the girls for “entry into the wider community” as domestic servants. (pp. 54, 74)
  • When she finished Grade Four, Ruth worked as a teacher’s assistant in the school. (p.96) The Matron discovered that Ruth had a “talent, and deep love” for reading aloud: and used to encourage her to read to the small children. (p.96)
  • In 1943, the authorities at Barambah informed Ruth that they had found her a position as a domestic. (p.97) She was given a list of items to purchase at the store, which became her first personal belongings. (p.98)
  • Ruth was then sent on the train Barambah to Jandowae: a town 300 kilometres west of Brisbane. For most of the long trip there she was hungry, tired and lonely. (pp.100-1) At one point, she got off at the wrong station, and had to spend the night alone on the platform. (p.101)
  • When finally she arrived at Jandowae, Ruth found that her new employers were an old couple with two grown sons. (p.102) They were cold, dictatorial employers: and reminded Ruth a great deal of the authorities at the Barambah. (p.102)
  • Ruth’s daily work routine at Jandowae began at 5.30am. First she had to light a fire, help make breakfast, set the table, serve food, empty the potties under the bed, serve morning tea, and then do domestic tasks. Ruth had a short break at 3pm, and then had to serve afternoon tea, help with dinner and then wash up. She wasn’t allowed to go to sleep until the wood stove had burnt out, so she could set it for the morning. (p.105)
  • Most of Ruth wages went into a savings account in Cherbourg, except for the two shilling and six pence she received in pocket money. (p.105) The Mistress at Jandowae forced Ruth to spend this money by accompanying her to the cinema each week, even though she wanted to save to buy a dress. (p.105) Ruth believes, when her mistress tried to discourage her from writing letters to her friends and family this was her punishment for “talking back” . (p.106)
  • Ruth knew she had to complete her first twelve-month contract: or she would face punishment when she returned to Barambah, and be forced to sleep in the children’s dorm. (p.104) However, when she felt that she had “had enough” with the Mistress, she wrote to the Superintendent after nine months at Jandowae, asking to be released from her contract. (p.110)
  • In her appeal (a facsimile of her hand-written letter is reproduced in the text), Ruth complained that her Mistress “is very insulting and calls me a lot of terrible names.” (p.110) The Superintendent responded by refusing Ruth’s request, and saying that her employer “must have a good reason” for criticizing her, and that it was for her “own benefit and training.” (p.111) Ruth then tried to run away from Jandowae, but was returned by a policeman and told she needed to complete her contract. (p.112)
  • While the Superintendent did not release her from Jandowae, he did write to the Mistress, saying that the contract would not be extended without Ruth’s consent. (p.112) Ruth was unaware of this letter at the time, but now believes it was the reason that – for the last six weeks of her contract – her Mistress lavished “loving attention” on her. (p.113)
  • Ruth’s small victories against her Mistress gave her confidence to assert herself more in the future.
  • Ruth returned to Barambah for her holidays, and was then sent to work at various unnamed properties. (p.115) Ruth claims that the first decent employers she had were a young family that lived near Roma. (p.116) She felt trusted and respected by this family, and got on well with their children. (p.116)
  • Unfortunately, her employer at Roma sent Ruth back to Barambah when they learnt that one of the girls from the dormitory had been diagnosed with leprosy. (p.117) Because Ruth had had contact with the girl, her employers wouldn’t even let her say goodbye to the children, for fear she would infect them. (p.117)
  • On her was back to Barambah, Ruth complained to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Brisbane about this event. They apologized for the incident, and arranged a new position for her with Dr Henry in Gympie. (p.118)
  • While working for Dr Henry, Ruth was required to take care of two children, clean the surgery and do domestic work. On her days off, she liked to spend time with Peggy: one of her friends from the dormitory who also worked in Gympie. Dr Henry complained because, on these days off, Ruth came home around 5.30pm. (p.119) Ruth protested that her days off where her “own”, and Dr Henry subsequently sent her back to Barambah. (p.119)
  • Ruth was subsequently sent to work for two sisters who lived together in Mondure. This was a temporary position, while a girl from Barambah was on holidays. (p.119) The sisters had a large library, which Ruth “took full advantage of”: spending all her free time reading. (p.120)
  • When their permanent employee returned, Ruth was sent back to the mission, and then on to a farm at Nanango. (p.121) Ruth resented the fact that she had no control over her career, but did not have the power to challenge the authorities. (p.121)
  • Ruth’s employment at Nanango went smoothly, until her employers demanded that she chop wood because their farm labourer – an Italian prisoner of war – had been sent home at the conclusion of World War Two. (p.122) Ruth refused, because this work was not in her contract: and because her employer had ordered her rather than asked politely. (p.122) Her employer became angry and slapped her, and Ruth responded by throwing a plate at him. (p.122)
  • In 1946, Ruth was forced to report to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in Brisbane. The Barambah Superintendent had written to them stating that, although Ruth was a “fairly capable and industrious girl”, she was “inclined at time to be bad tempered and insolent.” (p.124) The Superintendent asked the Department to give Ruth a “warning”, and then return her to the mission to work as a teacher’s aide. (p.124)
  • When she returned to Barambah, however, the authorities reversed their decision and sent her to Charters Towers in North Queensland.(p.125) Ruth was supposed to stay at Charters Towers for 12 months, but her employers sent her back to Barambah after four months because they realized she was pregnant. (p.125)
  • Like her mother before her, Ruth was sent to the mother’s dorm of the mission. (p.126) Because there was no financial support available for single mothers, Ruth decided to leave the mission and find work when her daughter was two years old. (p.127)
  • From 1951, when she married Joe Hegarty, Ruth’s primary role became caring for her seven children.


  • Mitchell Base Hospital: Ruth was the first Aboriginal baby to be born at the Mitchell Base Hospital in 1929. (p.7)
  • Aboriginal Inland Mission: a group who organized the church services and Sunday school that the children from the Barambah Aboriginal settlement were required to attend. (p.77)
  • Department of Aboriginal Affairs: Ruth emphasizes that the Department of Aboriginal Affairs had controlled her life, as well as the other girls at Barambah.
  • Specifically, she describes how the Department of Aboriginal Affairs recalled her from Roma, after one of the girls in the dormitory was diagnosed with leprosy. Ruth subsequently complained to their officers in Brisbane. They apologized for the incident, and arranged a new position for her with Dr Henry. (p.118)
  • In 1946, Ruth was sent to report to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs because of her many “run-ins” with employers. (p.123) They advised that – rather than work as a domestic – Ruth should stay at the mission and work as a teacher’s aide. (p.124)
  • In 1952, Ruth and Joe had to seek permission to marry from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. (p.129)
  • Department of Family Services: Ruth appealed to the Department of Family Services in 1986 for information about the Barambah Aboriginal Settlement. They provided her with her file from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. (p.135)
  • Ruth tried to have the file destroyed, but was told it was the property of the Queensland Government. (p.136) The Department of Family Services did allow her to place a waiver on the files, so that no unauthorized person could access them. (p.136)  She later used this information to write her autobiography.


  • When the Duncan children were put in the dormitories at Barambah, they became Wards of the State. (p.20) This legislation meant that George and Lizzie Duncan felt they had to stay at the mission, or risk losing their children. (p.20)
  • By 1945, new laws prohibited people from entering the Barambah mission without a permit. (p.123) This meant that Ruby had to obtain a permit every time she wanted to visit Ruth. (p.123)
  • Ruth notes that, when she had her first child Cassandra, financial support was not available for single mothers. This meant that she had to leave her child with a friend and find work outside of the mission. (p.127)


  • n/a


  • Ruth points out that Christianity was an important part of life at the Barambah Mission. (p.77) Ruth and the other girls had to pray every night before they went to bed. (p.32) When they were young, they had to attend Sunday school at the Aboriginal Inland Mission. When they got older, they had to attend three church services on Sundays: the morning service, the afternoon service and the night service. (p.77)
  • Ruth and Marcia used to laugh at the “committed Christians” at Barambah, who read their Bibles every day. Nonetheless, she enjoyed and benefited from Sunday school. (p.78)
  • Before Marcia died in childbirth, she told Ruth that she had converted to Christianity. (p.133) After her death, Ruth also turned to religion to help her cope with her grief, and other personal issues. (p.134)


  • Ruby Duncan: Ruby was born at Forest Vale station, and grew up in a camp with her parents. (p.5) According to Ruth, Ruby had a strong bond with her mother Lizzie Duncan, and they lived a “very traditional lifestyle”. (p.7)
  • Ruby had Ruth when she was only 19. (p.5) She was planning to marry Ruth’s father, Frank: but in 1930 she her family moved to Barambah while he was away working. (p.9) At the time, Ruby she thought they would be gone for “just a little while”. (p.8)
  • When Ruby arrived at Barambah, she and her baby were sent to live in the mother’s dormitories. (p.13) Being separated from her family was a traumatic experience for Ruby. (p.13) Nonetheless, she took consolation in the fact that her stay was only temporary: and that she would soon be returning to Forest Vale to marry Frank. (p.17)
  • The other women in the dormitory were kind to Ruby, and she soon became accustomed to life at Barambah. (p.19) Gradually, she realized that she would never return to the Mitchell area, but was unable to contact Frank to tell him so. (p.20) Ruby waited ten years for Frank to collect her from Barambah, and was heartbroken when – much later in life – she discovered that he had married another woman two years after she left. (p.21)
  • When Ruth was four years old, the Matron decided she was ready to start school. (p.23) Ruby didn’t want to be separated from her daughter, but realized she had no choice in the matter. (p.25)
  • Despite living in the same building, and eating their meals in the same hall, Ruth was not allowed to see Ruby while she was at school. (pp.27-28)
  • Six months after Ruth started school, Ruby was sent from Barambah to find work as a domestic. (p.30) The was another traumatic experience, for both Ruby and Ruth.
  • Ruby got a job working as a domestic for the McGills at Cinnabar: a property about 32 kilometres from Barambah. (p.88) She received a very small salary, which she used to pay for Ruth’s board and pocket money. (p.89) From the age of six, Ruth visited her mother at Cinnabar on holidays, and Ruby also took her holidays at Barambah. (p.88)
  • As well as being a domestic worker, Ruby was also an “excellent horsewoman”. (p.89) The McGills paid her a small amount of cash for mustering, which she was able to save and use to move to Brisbane when Ruth graduated. (p.89)
  • When Ruth moved to Brisbane in 1966, she was able to visit her mother more regularly, and “resume a closer relationship.” (p.134)
  • Frank: Ruth’s father was a stockman from the Mitchell district. (p.8) Frank and Ruby were planning to get married after Ruth was born. (p.8) However, while he was away working for three months, the Duncan family was compelled to relocate to the Barambah Aboriginal Settlement. (p.9)
  • Two years after the Duncans had left, Frank married another woman. (p.21)


  • n/a


  • George Duncan: Ruby’s maternal grandfather, a Bunberry man, was a farm labourer from St. George in South-West Queensland.(p.5) Ruth claims George had a “traditional Aboriginal mother” and a Chinese father, and that his totem was a brown snake. (p.6)
  • When he was unable to find work during the Great Depression, George decided to follow the advice of the local police and move to Barambah station. (p.9) Ruth believes that – had George known that he would lose authority over his family – he would not have made the decision to move to Barambah. (p.9)
  • While his children were sent to the dormitories, George and his wife had to build their own house at Barambah. (p.19) He worked as a slaughterman and butcher at the mission for the rest of his life. (p.19) Because of this regular work, George was not inclined to leave Barambah. (p.20) The family also feared that, if they left, they would lose their children: who were now Wards of the State. (p.20)
  • Lizzie Duncan: Ruby’s maternal grandmother was a Gungarri woman. Ruth describes her as a “very traditional woman.” (p.6) From a young age, Lizzie had a fondness for Ruth. (p.6)
  • When they moved to Barambah, Lizzie was separated from her children: who were sent to the boys and girls dormitories. (p. 19) Ruby remembers that her grandmother always yearned to return to her traditional land. (p.19) Lizzie died when Ruth was 14. (p.19)


  • Grandfather Willie: Ruby’s maternal granduncle. Grandfather Willie was said to be a “clever man.” (p.6) He visited Ruth once when she was in the dormitory, and because she had heard lots of scary stories about clever men, she asked Willie if he was evil. (p.7) Willie told her he was not evil: he healed people. (p.7)
    “I was very proud of him, he sounded like a real doctor.” (p.7)
  • May Hegarty: May Hegarty was Ruth’s mother-in-law. (p.14) When Ruth decided to marry Joe, she asked May if she thought the match was a good idea. (p.14) May told her that they were meant to be together: because Ruth and Joe had shared a cot on the first night they were in the dormitory. (p.14)
  • Ruth later discovered that May and her husband did not want Joe to marry Ruth, because she was a single mother. Fortunately, Ruth claims this “did not prevent them from loving us.” (p.15)


  • Ruth believes that the experience of growing up in a strictly segregated dormitory, away from her mother, led her and the other dormitory girls to make poor choices with regards to partners later in life. (p.93)
  • After a relationship with an unnamed “older man”, Ruth had her first child at 18. (p.125) She later learnt that the father of her child was punished for the affair, and sent to Palm Island. (p.126)
  • Joe Hegarty: Ruth describes Joe as “best-looking boy” in Barambah. (p.50) When she was ten years old, Joe sent his best friend to ask Ruth to be his girlfriend. (p.50) Ruth accepted his proposal, and was Joe’s girlfriend throughout primary school.  (pp.50-51)
  • Joe was not studious, and preferred to ride horses than go to school. (p.50) As such, he was two years below Ruth in school, despite being very near her in age. (p.51) In Ruth’s account, no one dared describe Joe as a “dunce”: because he was an early developer physically, and was the other boy’s “leader.” (p.51)
  • During primary school, Joe and Ruth saw each other only at church and school, because men and women were prevented from fraternizing. (p.57) Ruth notes that there was a six-foot high barbed wire fence around the girl’s dormitory to prevent them escaping at night. Aboriginal police also patrolled the area. (p.57)
  • Ruth remembers saying goodbye to Joe when she left Barambah to work as a domestic in Jandowae. (p.99) After that, she didn’t see him for many years, but she heard news of him through his sister Iris. (p.99)
  • Joe and Ruth reconnected in 1951. After eight months together they decided to get married. (p.129) To do so, they had to seek permission from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. (p.129) Ruth also asked Joe’s mother, May Hegarty, if she thought the match was a good idea. (p.14)
  • Joe and Ruth moved into the camp near the Barambah mission. While living in the camp, they had five children together. (p.131) They moved to Brisbane in 1966. (p.134)
  • In 1986, Joe died of cancer. (p.135) It was Joe’s death that prompted Ruth to reconnect with many of the girls that she grew up with in the dormitories, and subsequently to write about their experiences at Barambah. (p.135)


  • Ruth had her first child Cassandra (Cassie) when she was just 18. (p.127) Her pregnancy forced her to return from paid employment, and to live in the mother’s dormitory at Barambah mission. (p.126) She claims that this overcrowded environment ruined some of the “harmony and joy of motherhood”, but she nonetheless enjoyed her first two years with Cassie. (p.127)
  • At that time, there was no financial support available for single mothers. As such, when her daughter was two years old, Ruth decided to leave the mission and find work. Because she didn’t want her daughter becoming a “dormitory girl”, she placed Cassie in the care of her best friend Winnie. (p.127) Ruth believes that being separated from her daughter at such a young age had a long-lasting effect of their relationship. (p.127)
  • Ruth had her second daughter, Glenyse, when she was 21. (p.128) Ruth had to move back into the mother’s dormitory, and claims that at the time her self-perception was “down to zero.”(p.128)
  • After she married Joe Hegarty, and moved into the camp, Ruth had five more children: Norman, May, Duncan, Moira, and Emmanuel. (p.131) Joe and Ruth also fostered Joe’s niece Pheonia. (p.131)
  • Ruth believes that the experience of growing up in the dormitories had an effect on her own parenting. Because she had always lived on rations and routines: she was “obsessed” with food, and allowed her children to eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. (p.38) Conversely, she believed that, as a result of her upbringing, she was inclined to give harsh punishments. (p.38)


  • Mr Semple: the Superintendent of the Barambah Settlement. (p.12) When the Duncan family arrived at Barambah, he forced them to live in separate quarters. (p.13)
  • Mr and Mrs McGill: The McGills owned a cattle station at Cinnabar. When Ruth was sent to school, and Ruby began working for the McGills. While she was hesitant to leave her daughter at the mission, Ruby was treated well by the McGills. Ruth stayed with them in her school holidays, and Mrs McGill encouraged her to read. (p.49)
  • As Ruth grew older, she came to resent the McGills, and would have preferred to stay in the dormitory in the holidays. (p.52)
  • The McGills also paid Ruby a small amount of cash for mustering. After working for the McGills for nine years, Ruby used this money to move to Brisbane when Ruth graduated from Barambah’s primary school. (p.89)
  • Granny Nancy: One of the Aboriginal dorm managers at Barambah. Granny Nancy used to take the girls from the dormitory on bush walks. (p.47) She also encouraged the girls to do performances. (p.68)
  • Marcia Skeen: Because Ruth was young for her year, her friends from school moved into the senior dorm before her. (p.50) She was consoled when a new girl, Marcia Skeen, arrived at the mission: and they immediately became close friends. (p.50)
  • Ruth was heartbroken when she had to say goodbye to Marcia, after she graduated from school as Barambah. (p.92)
  • Later in life, Marcia and Ruth both lived in the camp next to the mission with their children. Both of them struggled to adjust to life in the camp, having come from the dormitories, and they enjoyed discussing their shared concerns. For an unexplained reason, Ruth’s husband Joe discouraged their friendship, and they were not allowed to speak in public. (p.132)
  • Marcia died in childbirth, which caused Ruth much shock and bereavement. (p.133)
  • Shortly before her death, Marcia converted to Christianity. (p.134) Her death prompted Ruth to also convert, and Christianity helped her to recover from her loss. (p.134)
  • Pearl: Ruth describes one of the dormitory girls named Pearl, who she claims was a “real character.” (p.70) Pearl was very generous, and had a lot of “treasures” like bobby pins and safety pins. (p.70) She also made packs of cards out of cardboard, and let the girls gamble with her “treasures”. (p.71) They had to play in secret, as gambling was considered a sin.
  • Pearl used to make a mixture of kerosene and fat, which the girls in the dormitory would use to counter the effect of carbolic soap, and make their skins and hair shiny. (p.72)
  • Pearl also used to raid the rubbish bins behind the Superintendant’s office for cigarette butts, and would collect the left over tobacco. (p.73) She was eventually caught and punished. (p.73)
  • Charlie Smith: Charlie was a white man who drove the mission trucks. (p.83) Charlie used to take the children from the mission on picnics on New Year’s Day, and also drove them to the Murgon Show. (p83)
  • The Mistress: Ruth refers to her first employer at Jandowae as “the Mistress”. (p.108) Ruth recalls that she had a small “war” with the Mistress, which began when the Mistress tried to discourage her from writing letters to her friends and family. (p.106)
  • Ruth was accused of “talking back”, and as punishment the Mistress forced to pay for herself to go to the cinema each week. (p.105) Ruth had to spend all of her pocket money on the ticket price. This meant that, unlike the Mistress, she didn’t have enough to buy sweets. (p.107)
  • Ruth was thrilled when the superintendant subsequently wrote to the Mistress, asking her to raise Ruth’s pocket money. (p.108)
  • The Mistress offered to make Ruth a dress, and so she gave her some of her pocket money to buy material. (p.110) Ruth claims that the final product was “a mess”: a dark navy dress with a t-shirt collar, which was not what she had hoped. (p.110)
  • Mr Dick and Mr Jack: Ruth’s first employers’ sons. Ruth saw Mr Dick and Mr Jack as “untouchables”, like the white officials on the mission. (p.102)
  • Dr Henry: one of Ruth’s employers, who lived in Gympie. (p.118) Ruth worked for Dr Henry for a brief time before he sent her back to Barambah. (p.118)
  • Winnie: one of the “dormitory girls”, who was transferred to Barambah settlement from the Salvation Army Home in Brisbane. (p.128) Winnie was living in the camp near the mission when Ruth had her first child. (p.127) Winnie cared for Ruth’s daughter Cassie while she went to find work off the mission. (p.128)


Child Removal and Life in the Dormitory:

  • Ruth recounts the experience of her mother’s family, who were forced to leave their home at Forest Vale during the Great Depression and move to Barambah Aboriginal Settlement. Ruth believes that this was a very hard decision for her grandfather: and that, at the time, he was unaware of the strict conditions at Barambah. (p.5)
  • When they arrived at the mission, the Duncan family was informed that there were not enough houses for everyone: so their sons were sent to the boy’s dormitory, and Ruby and baby Ruth were sent to live in the mother’s dormitories. (p.13) Ruth claims that her grandparents were unhappy with this situation, but were forced to comply. (p.13)
  • Ruby eventually adjusted to life in the overcrowded dormitory, and Ruth remembers enjoying her early life with her mother. (p.22)
  • At the age of four and a half, Ruth was moved from the mother’s dormitory to the girl’s dormitory. Ruth was initially excited to follow her older friends and start school. Her attitude changed dramatically when she realized this meant she would be separated from her mother. (p.26)
  • On the first night without her mother, Ruth cried herself to sleep. (p.27) Despite living in the same building, and eating their meals in the same hall, Ruth was not allowed to see Ruby while she was at school. (pp.27-28)
  • Eventually, Ruth became accustomed to the routine of the girls’ dorm, and learnt that she would be punished for crying. (pp.29-30) But after six months she was unsettled again, because her mother was sent away from the mission to work. (p.31)
  • Ruth was deeply upset by her mother’s departure, and believes that this is the reason she began to misbehave. (p.31)
  • Ruth soon adjusted to the rule and regulations that controlled her life as an “official dormitory girl”.(p.340) This included having to share a bed and clothing with the other girls; having to wake to the sound of a bell each morning; having to eat meals in absolute silence and being regularly inspected for sores and lice. (p.37) Ruth explains that she accepted this routine because she wasn’t familiar with the alternatives. (p.34)
  • Ruth also recalls the various forms of punishment that the girls in the dorms endured – and accepted – if they broke these rule. Ruth had a loud voice, and frequently got in trouble for being too noisy. One of the common punishments that Ruth suffered was being made to stand in the centre of the dining hall while the others ate dinner. (pp.31, 35) This meant she had to go to school hungry. (p.37)
  • A more severe punishment was having your head shaved. (p.41) Ruth remembers being taunted by the camp boys when she had to have her head shaved. (p.42) She also recalls being locked in a cell for half a night, and the fact that children who wet the bed had to sleep on the verandah. (pp.43-44)
  • Children were also rewarded for good behavior by being allowed to go for bush walks with some of the Aboriginal dorm managers. (p.47) Ruth recalls that they used to collect bush flowers and eat gum from the wattle trees. (p.48)
  • From the age of six, Ruth was allowed to go on holidays with her mother, who was then working for the McGills at Cinnabar. (p.48) Mrs McGill discovered that Ruth enjoyed reading, and encouraged her by giving her adventure stories. (p.49)
  • Ruby also used to send Ruth two shillings in pocket money from her pay “every so often.” (p.83) Ruth saved up this money and spent it on rides and food at the Murgon show. (p.84)
  • As they grew older, the girls from the dormitory were allowed to spend time alone at the duck pond: where they would do role-plays, pretending they were their favourite Hollywood stars. (p.67) They prepared songs and dances and performed them for the other girls and staff in the dormitories. (p.68) Ruth recalls that they were invited to perform one dance they had copied from a popular film at the adult dance night. (p.69)
  • Ruth claims that, as a result of this upbringing, she and the other dormitory girls were very independent from a young age. (p.52)
  • Ruth also describes the close bonds formed with the other girls in the dormitory. This meant that leaving Barambah for the first time was a very painful experience for Ruth. (p.101)
  • It also meant Ruth and the other girls from the dormitory remained close friends through their lives. (p.89)
  • Ultimately, however, these bonds could not replace the parental love: and Ruth believes that she, and all the other dormitory girls, suffered greatly from their experience of institutionalization.
  • Ruth later returned to the dormitory when she had her first and second child. (p.126) She believes that this return was a result of the cyclical nature of institutionalization.
  • Because there was no financial support available for single mothers, Ruth decided to leave the mission and find work when her daughter was two years old. However, Ruth was adamant that her own child would not become a “dormitory girl”, and so, to break the cycle, she left Cassie in the care of her friend Winnie. (p.127)
  • In the late 1980s, Ruth and group of girls from Barambah returned to the dormitory. One month after their trip, the dormitory building burnt down. (p.140)
  • Ruth hoped her autobiography would shed light on the experience of Aboriginal girls raised in institutions. (p.43)

MODE OF LITERARY PRODUCTION: Is That You Ruthie? was written by Ruth Hegarty.

Original Publication

Other Biographies for Ruth Hegarty

Additional Resources

Source Project

This biographical entry was contributed by Australian Indigenous Autobiography Archive

Citation details

'Hegarty, Ruth (1929–?)', Indigenous Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 19 April 2024.

© Copyright Indigenous Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Duncan, Ruth

Mitchell, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Key Events
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