Agnes's story

It was the end of Agnes’s first day on the Queensland sheep and cattle station, and she was exhausted. The government had decided she would work at the station as a domestic, even though it meant leaving family at the mission where she grew up. In the early 1950s, a 15-year-old Aboriginal girl didn’t have a lot of choice.

After finishing the dinner service she walked back to her quarters, quite a distance from the homestead, to sleep. She did not get any rest that night.

‘By the time I got down the road all the shearers were drunk. And the lady, the cook, she was drunk too. I went into my room and they started knocking on the door.

'I was scared. I pushed the bed up against the door and I pushed the dressing table up against the window. They couldn’t get in ... I just sat there all night until morning, I never had any sleep.’

Terrified she would be sexually assaulted, Agnes decided to run away. A couple of days later the cook agreed to take her into town, then left her to fend for herself.

The authorities soon discovered where she was and called the police. She was returned to the government-run mission, and punished for leaving her job without permission.

Growing up at the mission had been hard. Agnes’s mother had placed her there when she was around six, to live with her grandmother in the dormitory. She stopped school a few years later.

Agnes was put to work at the hospital when she was 14, right before she went out to the station, and sent to several other properties afterwards. She worked long and hard everywhere they put her: chopping wood, scrubbing and polishing floors, rounding up cattle, boiling sheets and towels, waiting on patients.

At another property, the station hand boss tried to come in through her bedroom window. ‘I just put him straight to it. I said, "Listen, I never come out here to have you jumping through my window and that".’

Some of the people she was sent to work for were racist, and many treated her badly, ‘like a maid’. The authorities would check that Agnes was where she was supposed to be, but never asked her how she was. ‘They didn’t care about you once you’d been sent out to work.’

Agnes spent long periods of isolation on rural properties. She and her mother couldn’t write to each other, and often she had nobody to talk to.

Wages were always bad and sometimes she was paid nothing at all. Years later, she received a small amount of money through a stolen wages scheme. She didn’t ever apply for compensation for the time she spent at the mission.

When Agnes got married and had a family, life wasn’t much better. Her husband was very cruel and would often assault her. ‘I had a hard life, but I never neglected my children. ... I put up with floggings and the beatings from my husband, but I still gave my kids their loving.’

Agnes says her faith gave her strength, and she has spent her life helping others. She has received awards from government and other organisations for her community work.

For three decades she worked getting young children to preschool, and is concerned about the lack of schools and day care where Aboriginal kids can learn culture. She still organises get-togethers for Aboriginal elders, arranges for flowers to be placed on graves at the mission, and shares her story with groups and schools.

Agnes feels it is important to remember the mission, and to help people who have lived there keep in touch with each other. ‘I think you need to have reunions, to keep us old people together ... They are like a family.’

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