The elephant is no longer in the room. She’s on the south bank of the River Torrens between the University footbridge and the Zoo. Her solid grey-black form descended slowly through the trees, rocking gently like a cradle in the wind, and those of us there to witness the birth prayed that when the wind blows the boughs do not break. The delivery proceeded slowly and painfully with the help of instruments and a turn to present a different face forwards and was eventually successful thanks to lots of patience, a pair of midwives, lots of handlers, an almighty crane, orange bands and heavy metal chains.
The day started with the sun rising over the hills and fading the full moon high into the western sky. It was a sunny day in the middle of a wet week. The nursery beds had been prepared and the foundations laid. Any exposed roots were severed and shunted out of sight. Birthing the block pruned away some excess foliage from the trees that were not really family. And the rawness of the reality of adoption was brought into the light.
People affected by separations and adoptions no longer need keep silent because that eternal raw wound is now on public display. One huge block of black granite broken apart to mark the spot and a nearby boulder sitting rock for contemplating the split of one part from another.
This artwork is for all those whose lives have been profoundly affected by adoption separation practices it says on the partially polished front facing the river whose natural flow is profoundly affected by authorities that decide when they will open the weir gates.
Apologies have been made. An apology for splitting apart a sacred and substantial physical and psychic bond between mother and child that separation may stretch, but will never break. An apology for forever altering the identity of a new born child by issuing a government sanctioned fraudulent birth certificate saying strangers gave birth to a child that was not their own. An apology for making it illegal or inordinately difficult for either party to find the other.
An apology for children who grew up never knowing someone who looked or behaved like them; the lower part of the front face will allow children to look for their own reflections in the polished stone. But all those children are adults now and the higher section of the polished stone distorts any images with lots of sand blasted ingrained words.
And an apology to those adults who remain adopted without any way of claiming their original birth certificate as a legal document; an apology for stamping ‘superseded’ on their identity and that truthful birth record thus making it impossible for us to ever be next of kin to our kin.
Well maybe the official apology did not apologise for all those things, but this block will symbolize different things for different observers.
Someone said it is ugly. Separating babies from their mothers is ugly, inhumane and ugly; unforgettable loss and grief for the mother and unrecalled but imprinted loss and disenfranchised grief for the baby. A big black block of stone; like that feeling in my heart and my head, and my gut and in fact my whole being. That is adoption.
Someone said it looks like a tomb; another symbol of separation loss. Many babies died. Fragile creatures, any animal including humans removed from their mothers at birth often fail to thrive. Some babies died. Some were never adopted and remained institutionalised until death. Some became depressed or ‘sickly’ kids and some were angry ‘bad’ babies. Many were not able to meet the expectations of couples who wanted to replace their own dead fetuses by someone else’s baby as if it were their own. The ‘blank slate’ theory of newborn children died under forced adoptions long after it died as scientific theory. Yes, parties to this forced separation at birth wanted a tomb; a place to bury the injustices done in the name of child welfare. A memorial to those who took their own lives through the pain of loss, or destroyed their bodies through addictions to substances they used to repair the ‘Primal Wound’ to their souls.
Another person admired the artwork and asked about its origins. She said it reminded her of her mother’s headstone. She loved the polished black granite. I remember my adoptive family visiting the cemetery every mothers’ and fathers’ day and wondering where my ancestors resided. Now I can visit a beautiful spot on the banks of the river, where I can hear the caged animals in the zoo making the most of their captivity while fighting off the madness of being away from their herds or flocks and I can contemplate the extended family I might have known and the life I lived in captivity as a stranger to everyone.
The one thing that is obvious to me on this first day with the artwork on the riverbank is that it will not go un-noticed. It is a magnet for attention. Our response to separation, loss and adoption is there in bold black and grey for all to see.