Allannah and Carole might as well be sisters. Born only a month apart in the early 1980s in a small town in regional New South Wales, the cousins have shared each other’s lives and troubles, and supported each other through everything, even when they were kept apart.
They were both taken from their Aboriginal mothers at a young age and sent to live with an aunty, where they stayed until they were five years old. Living conditions were very poor.
‘We were living in tin shacks, sheds’, said Allannah.
When Allannah was five years old, she was raped while in the house. The rape was so violent that Allannah was kept in hospital for about three months. Allannah said she still has flashbacks of men interfering with her when she was in that house.
The girls were made wards of the state and separated, with Carole sent off to Sydney and Allannah remaining in Adelaide. They both spent time in different foster care homes until they were about seven, when they were reunited and sent to live in regional New South Wales.
‘We were left with this lady, she worked for welfare, that was Helen Nichols’, said Carole. ‘That’s where she [Allannah] got abused off this Christian man … a Christian bloke that used to study bibles and stuff.’
Allannah said, ‘She’d leave us with him all the time and then there was times when she had to go for meetings and she would leave me with him and there was times where he took me to Sydney. It all went to court and that, like he was taking photos.
‘He done something to another little girl but then when they knew that I was living with Helen and this fellow was around us, they had to ask me if anything happened.
‘By the time we were about 12 I think, we just walked out and went our own way.’
Allannah said she and Carole went back to their home town for the holidays and when the welfare workers came to pick them up, one of their uncles refused to let them be taken.
‘DOCS just left us. Never came back to see who was caring for us or anything. It wasn’t just me, it was my sister, me, my other cousin, my other little cousin – and he got murdered. Because they never checked up on us. He’d be alive too today if they’d have done their job properly. He would have been 10 years old I reckon.’
The girls stayed around the area near extended family, but were left with no proper home, despite still being wards of the state.
‘The whole time we were there we didn’t even know who would get the money for us or anything. We were sleeping out on the street, or wherever we could find a bed. We lived in empty houses, parks.’
They would go to an aunty’s house to eat or break into cars and steal money. They didn’t go to school and Carole said she still doesn’t know how to read and write. At the age of 14 they spent some time in a youth hostel. Still no one was checking on them and they went ‘place to place’, with Allannah ending up staying with a friend, Tracy Reed.
‘I ended up there. And that’s where I got abused by her dad. She was my friend. And her dad was Henry Reed.’
Said Carole: ‘He used to drug her up and that. When I used to go and see her, he used to say she was asleep. And I was thinking, wondering why? And this would be for days she was asleep.’
Allannah said she believes Reed is in jail now.
‘He abused a couple of girls … DOCS chased me down again. They knew that I was staying there with him and asked if anything happened and I let it all out again. I went to court and everything.’
Allannah and Carole are adults now, with children of their own. Allannah ‘hits the marijuana hard’ and has had relationships break down. She still grieves the loss of her mum, who has since passed away, and the relationship they might have had.
‘All I want is my mum back. They took us away. They didn’t even give her the benefit of the doubt to have visitation rights, they just left her there.’
Allannah discovered that at the time she was taken from her mother, her father was living nearby and working as a qualified carpenter and her grandmother was not far away. So she is angry that the welfare department didn’t make more of an effort to place her with closer family members.
Carole said they had never been shown love, so how were they supposed to show love to anybody else?
‘All this impact on my life, it’s got worse as I’ve grown up … When you’re young you don’t really care. But as you’ve got responsibilities and got older, it’s got harder, the impact on your life, my life, her life. We’ve got kids and it’s impacted because we don’t know how to bring our kids up.’
Allannah now lives in community housing in Adelaide and receives support from an Aboriginal health service and charitable organisations. She would like to be living closer to Carole, but they are still a great support for each other and see each other whenever they can. Welfare workers are still a part of her life.
‘They’re still hanging around trying to take our kids. I only just recently had my kids taken off me a few years ago and I got them back. It’s the same people.’