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Colour blind adoption: ‘One of my first clear memories as a child is knowing I looked different’ | Life and style

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I was born in Australia in the early 60s. My mother, a Greek woman, was only 18 years old, unmarried and pregnant to a Chinese man. It was hugely frowned upon, so she was forced to give me up for adoption.

I was taken from her immediately. She wasn’t allowed to see me, or hold me. In those days most people wanted a baby that looked like them, so I sat in the hospital waiting for people who were open to adopting a coloured child. I was adopted at three months old in January 1964.

Sam at school.

Sam at school. Photograph: Sam Douglas/SBS

My adoptive parents had travelled around the world and wanted to adopt an Indian baby. They got a phone call saying there was a Greek/Chinese baby available, if they were interested. My adoptive dad’s mother lived in Sydney and they went to introduce her to her new granddaughter. Apparently she nearly dropped me when she saw a coloured baby.

One of my first clear memories as a child is knowing I looked different. I would look in the mirror in the morning, then I would go and have breakfast with my adoptive family – who were all white – and wonder who I was. When I started school, these physical differences became even more obvious.

I had a teacher who would tell me what a dirty, filthy little girl I was every morning. She would tell me to go to the toilets and scrub all the colour off. She presumably wanted me to be white. That was when I started feeling shame about myself.

We moved suburbs and I changed school. All the kids were white again. I got teased endlessly about being adopted and coloured. After school, when walking home the boys would hurl their bags around their heads, hitting and taunting me. I remember my adoptive sister running home to tell Mum “they’re hurting her”, Mum’s reply was “tell her to stop being stupid and get home”.

When I was nine or 10, my mum’s side of the family wanted to take a generational photo. It was my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother and sister. I was pushed to the side, as I wasn’t blood and didn’t fit in. It is one of my most painful memories.

The word “colour blind” is how my parents treated me. They thought that if I wasn’t treated any differently to my adoptive sister, there wasn’t a problem. The truth is, I desperately needed specific support to get me through those years.

Sam and her sister going to school

Sam and her sister going to school. Photograph: Sam Douglas/SBS

When I was about 12, a Sri Lankan girl started at my school and we bonded straight away. We went on a school trip together to Burnie in Tasmania. During assembly on our first morning, the Sri Lankan girl and myself had to get on the stage with the principal. He looked at us then told everyone that “this is what black people look like”. We stood on the stage holding each other, crying.

Over the years I wondered about my biological mother. I wondered whether she ever thought about me. I had no idea whether she wanted to know me, or if she was happy that I wasn’t in her life. I knew I would definitely look for her someday, but I also knew that doing so would be a risk.

Sam with her adopted sister as children



Sam with her adopted sister as children. Photograph: Sam Douglas/SBS

At the age of 18, I reached out to the New South Wales Department of Youth and Community Services who held all adoption records back then. I was in for a big surprise. My mother Zena had left a lot of information for me. I was even able to get more details about a few of her brothers.

For some reason I didn’t take the next step to find her until I was 20 years old. When I felt ready, I decided not make a phone call. Instead I paid a visit to one of my uncles. He looked at me and straight away said: “You’re Zena’s daughter.”

That night we drove to Zena’s house and knocked on the door. If I thought my adrenalin was racing when I met my uncle, it went crazy knowing I was about to meet my biological mother, the person I had dreamed about my whole life.

She opened the door and knew who I was straight away. For a while we stood there looking at each other, tears running down our faces. We hugged and I knew I was home.

Zena and I talked into the early hours, until we were both exhausted. After a few hours of sleep, we woke up the next morning to meet the rest of the family. So many of them came over to meet me. That night Zena took me to meet my half sister. There were a lot more tears.

For the first time in my life, I could compare myself with the thing that other kids took for granted. My sister and I had exactly the same hands; and the three of us had exactly the same body shape. It doesn’t seem much, but for me it was huge. I finally felt I belonged somewhere.

Sam with her biological mother, Zena.



Sam with her biological mother, Zena. Photograph: Sam Douglas/SBS

It was the most traumatic, most wonderful day of my life.

From then on, my mother and I had a lot of contact. We faced challenges – especially around our differences in expectations, since she was brought up traditionally Greek, and I was an Aussie girl.

These days, I talk to Zena once or twice a month, it’s great having that contact, it makes me feel complete. The blood tie is something I treasure, though my biological family don’t understand why I live so far away in Cairns. But, with the upbringing I’ve had, I was taught to give everyone space to live their own lives.

My adoptive mother passed away three years ago and I have very little contact with my adoptive sister. I think we wouldn’t have met in the real world, as we are such different people.

I still have a strong relationship with my adoptive dad and we talk a couple of times each week. He has been my rock throughout my life. At no stage has dad ever judged or pushed me away due to my differences.

As an adult I still get the odd racist taunt. The best thing is that I don’t take it to heart these days.



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