Aboriginal family trace late grandmother’s life in Esperance

A Perth-based aboriginal family, with connections to Esperance, travelled to the region recently to trace their late grandmother’s life, a woman they were deprived of knowing.

One of the family members Lynette Cox had been searching for information on her grandmother Sarah Kathleen Evans-Griffins ever since her father passed away more than 40 years ago. 

When Ms Cox’s father and siblings were removed from their community and placed in a home, as the result of past government policies, their family became detached from Sarah’s life. 

After Sarah and her partner William James Cox’s children were taken, she moved to the Esperance-Ravensthorpe area. 

Sarah then remarried and lived out the rest of her life in the region. After she passed on in June 1971, aged 80, Sarah was buried in an unmarked grave at the Esperance Cemetery.

The trip to Esperance was set up through Yorgum Aboriginal Corporation, who assist families affected by the stolen generation reconnect with their relatives or history. 

“We had no elders to tell us where she was buried, until I got [in touch] with Yorgum and they organised everything,” Ms Cox said. 

Ms Cox said it was an emotional moment when herself and 11 of her relatives first set eyes on Sarah’s grave during their trip. 

“I’ve been looking for my grandmother’s grave for years,” Ms Cox said. 

The 72-year-old said she was disappointed there was no identification at the location.

When the group arrived at the grave they had a ceremony to acknowledge Sarah’s life, as well as creating and placing decorative items there.

She said it was a touching moment at the site when Sarah’s grave was finally named and flowers were laid on it. 

“I think most of the family, me in particular, did find closure there,” she said.

“There was no shape of a grave. So my brothers got together with a shovel and built it up to be a grave.

“No one really took anytime to go and put her name on it, or even put a flower on it.”

Yorgum case worker Gillian King coordinated the Cox family’s trip to Esperance and said she was happy to help them find closure. 

Ms King thanked Esperance local Kathy Hine, who through a coincidence, lead the family to Sarah’s grave.

Undertaking historical work in Esperance Ms Hine was looking into Esperance’s connection in World War Two, and had researched Sarah’s late husband James Griffins and knew the location.

Ms Hine said she had little knowledge of indigenous culture and the experience was an eye-opener for her.

She said the experience was quite emotional for the relatives and she was glad she could play a role in helping them out. 

Shire of Esperance cultural officer Linda Horn was also involved in the project, through linking Ms King to Ms Hine.