Samara Johnston was just two when Peter and Lindy Johnston adopted her from an orphanage in Sri Lanka.
The Port Macquarie couple was unable to have children but decided to pursue overseas adoption after falling in love with Sri Lanka.
Ms Johnston’s parents were told Samara’s biological parents had been killed in the civil war and she had lived in multiple orphanages.
Ms Johnston’s upbringing at Lighthouse Beach in Port Macquarie couldn’t have been more different from her life in Sri Lanka. It was idyllic, she said
“I am so grateful for my upbringing in Port Macquarie. You could always find me down at the beach before and after school with my closest friends.
I did nippers on Sunday and was a proud member of the Tacking Point Surf Life Saving Club.
Ms Johnston said her parents gave her every opportunity imagineable.
“I thank my parents for being brave enough and beautiful enough for taking on the challenges of the adoption process and adopting a child from an overseas orphanage.
“I am most thankful to them for giving me every opportunity in the world in Port Macquarie – education, freedom and endless amounts of love.”
Ms Johnston was working in Sydney when she saw the Australian film Lion in 2016.
The box office hit starring Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel tells the true story of a young Tasmanian man who uses Google Earth to find his biological mother in India.
It proved a catalyst for her to go back to Sri Lanka to find her biological parents.
Lion resonated with me on so many levels.
“As you get older you become more curious about your family, your own history as well as your families history, medical records even.
“I think we all take time to question where we fit in the world.”
The film also struck a chord as it reminded her of watching a documentary as a child about her own adoption process by Langdon Films for the ABC’s True Stories ‘ Up for Adoption’ series.
“The two films were set in a similar period so the fashion and the travel, and meeting of his younger adopted brother at the airport brought back so many memories.”
” I also faced similar challenges to the main character Saroo.”
On her 30th birthday last year Ms Johnston travelled to Sri Lanka with her best friend Nicola and mother Lindy to trace her roots.
Ms Johnston said it was an incredible albeit unnerving experience.
“The first day in Sri Lanka was so surreal – the sights, the sounds and the scents.
There was a sense of familiarity to it, but of course no real memories.
“To be surrounded by people who looked like me it was the first time in my life where I wasn’t sure where I fit in, obviously in appearance I look Sri Lankan, yet in Sri Lanka I felt Australian.”
However, she hit a roadblock when she was devastatingly denied access to the orphanage she was adopted from.
“My orphanage was a government home so it had so much red tape and politics around it.”
Not ready to leave, she walked around the orphanage with her mum Lindy as she shared her memories of meeting Samara and bringing her back to Port Macquarie.
Ms Johnston spent the next couple of days exploring Sri Lanka which she described as “magical” while furiously contacting government bodies to seek access to the orphanage.
On the last day of her trip, her wish was granted.
“We walked in and were greeted with a hug, smiles and I felt disbelief that I was once a child there.”
Vital clues about her birth were also uncovered.
“The Matron opened a cupboard which held a stack of huge A3 books, dusty and semi falling apart.”
“She opened the first book and at the top of that page was my name Chathurani … my adoption date was written next to it so I knew it was me.
“Also there was the initials M.K for my last name, the date I was put in the orphanage and the name of the hospital I was born at.
“I was then told my mother gave birth to me at a certain hospital and gave me up for adoption.”
Tears rolled down my face as apart from my first name, all this was new information and completely different to what I knew my entire life.
Unsure whether to go further when she returned to Australia, Ms Johnston took a break to train for the New York Marathon.
Questions continued to swirl in her mind.
“Do I have biological family alive? Do I have a sibling? Do I want to start this process?.”
Life went on and it was after completing the New York Marathon she knew she had to go back.
“When I crossed that finish line I realised I could do anything I put my mind to, I thought, ‘I can tackle anything’ so I bravely decided to go further in my search.”
Ms Johnston returned to Sri Lanka in November 2018 with a family friend who specialised in tracing biological families in adoption.
Through the hospital she was born in she found three potential matches to her biological mother.
“It was so surreal – to see on paper what may be my original full name and biological mother’s name.”
Ms Johnson said it was “heartbreaking” when she was again denied access to the orphanage she spent the first two years of her life in to cross-check and confirm the information from the first trip in April.
The Department of Probation and Child Services in Sri Lanka eventually relented and even agreed to open her case to trace any information and any biological family.
While this was welcome news, Ms Johnston left Sri Lanka with many questions still unanswered.
Ms Johnston currently works as a chiropractor and field technical specialist in neuromodulation for chronic pain management and movement disorders in Sydney.
She said she will continue to search for more information of her biological family, her own details and truth to her past.
“I don’t intend to be consumed by it though as my life in Australia is truly amazing.”
Ms Johnston also hopes to give back to the country where she was born.
“I’m still working on ways in which I can somehow give back to the place I was originally from or to find ways to share my story and support those who may have a similar story.”
As for her adopted parents Peter and Lindy, they are happy to continue to support Samara in her search for answers.
“Samara and her brother are the best things that have ever happened to us and we just want them both to be happy and contented with their lives,” Lindy Johnston said.