The night before her fourth birthday, Arabella was taken by her uncle to a Masonic lodge meeting and sexually abused in front of a group of men.
Until that night, life had been idyllic. ‘My home was very good, I had very good parents. My mother worked for a big department store … I looked like Shirley Temple, and I was in the newspaper all the time, modelling clothes for the store. We’d be walking down the street and people would stop her to ask about me.’
Her mother’s sister and her husband – known as ‘uncle’ – came with their children to stay with Arabella’s family during the school holidays.
‘He had told my aunty that he would take care of the children in the night and she was not to get up for them. And then, basically, what happened was my uncle took me out of bed in the middle of the night.
‘I just assumed it was something special.’
The next morning she woke feeling ‘sick to my stomach’. Her uncle threatened her explicitly: ‘I was told if I ever said anything they’d have a go at my cousins’, one of whom was even younger than Arabella. ‘So I couldn’t tell anybody, I took on responsibility big time … But I couldn’t live with it either.’
Days later when the families visited a park, ‘I got on the swing and I swung as high as I possibly could – and I jumped off. I wanted to commit suicide, I couldn’t live with it.’
But Arabella survived and found coping strategies. She has been haunted by the incident but kept silent for decades, partly to protect her cousins but also because she feared that Freemasons were active among the police and the judiciary, and that they had resources to harm her. However, she did engage with counsellors and a wide variety of therapies.
Eventually, when Arabella was in her 50s, her cousin briefly confided that she had been abused by her father at lodge meetings from the age of two until puberty. ‘And I thought, “Oh my god! You too,” And I’d been trying to protect her all my life – and it didn’t work!’
Arabella still fears retribution but welcomed the opportunity to tell the Royal Commission about the traumatic event. ‘I think child sexual abuse is pervasive and has a terribly serious impact. It’s massive … But until you stand up and confront what has happened, nothing will change.’