‘I don’t know why the government took us from our family. I remember being happy even living in a tin shack. As long as we had our family we were happy.’
Avril was 12 years old when she and her siblings were removed from their Aboriginal family. She and her little sister, Jemima, were sent far away, to a Salvation Army home in regional Queensland. ‘When I got there all I wanted to do was go back home to Mum, and I often wonder how Mum and Dad must have felt the day they took us away ... I remember they hitchhiked to see us. I told Jemima I knew Mum cared.’
Avril was made to scrub floors, and was physically and emotionally abused. She did her best to protect Jemima from being abused, too. The matron, an unsmiling woman who ‘had a face like a bull dog’, was cruel, and Avril often tried to escape from the home.
‘The only thing good about the Salvation Army was going to church. The Lord has helped me through everything I have faced in my life and he still does.’
The sisters were sent to stay with a foster family, the Perrys, on weekends and holidays. Uncle and Aunty Perry were good to them, but Sam and Liam, their older sons, sexually abused Avril many times. Sam ‘would come into the showers when no one was around. He would do it when Aunty and Uncle were not there. He also raped me, and he was a scary person’. Liam ‘would touch me on my privates when I was swimming, so no one saw what he was doing’.
Although Jemima never disclosed being sexually abused, Avril thinks the brothers may have also molested her. She would always be more withdrawn after visiting the Perrys. Avril feels bad that she was unable to protect her little sister, who is now deceased.
Avril never told the people at the home what was happening. ‘No one listens to Aboriginals, and they would not have believed me anyway.’ She also didn’t want to cause any trouble in case it stopped her and Jemima being sent back to their own family.
After the Salvation Army home, she was separated from Jemima and put in a training centre run by this organisation. ‘It was very regimental and we constantly worked. I worked in the laundry where I had to press trousers.’ Later the government paid for her to move interstate to be with an aunt, but she missed her family and soon came back to Queensland.
‘Eventually our whole family was reunited ...Even though we were all separated as children we are still close now as adults.’
Avril provided a written account of her experiences, and also spoke with the Royal Commission in person. She has never reported the sexual abuse to police, as ‘I just wanted to get on with my life, and I have always thought about Aunty and Uncle'. She received a financial payment through a state redress scheme for people who had been abused or neglected in care as children. As she signed the papers for the settlement her solicitor said, ‘Don’t worry about anything else. This is all you will get.’ She ‘accepted that because with the money I could help my family’.
It took a long time to receive this payment and the amount was ‘nothing compared to what happened to me’. She wishes she could have financial security. ‘I just want to help my family and any monies I get just goes to my kids and grandchildren.’
Avril struggled with alcohol for a long time, but has been sober for 30 years. The church she attends is one ‘where they get up and sing and praise the Lord being joyful and it just makes me feel good. I think this has helped take some of the heartache away.’
Avril has never received professional counselling. She told the Commission her family is supportive, and ‘my psychological help is my spirituality with the church’.
To this day, Avril does not understand why her family was split up when she was young. ‘Why take kids away from their families? Kids should be with their family and they should be supported all together as one. Families should work together with support to get through their problems and get through it together.’