‘I believe I was removed with my … siblings … from my grandmother’s home … when I was aged about three years, by two police officers and a lady with long plaited hair, who I later knew [as] the main welfare officer who brought children into [the Presbyterian children’s home].’
After being made a ward of the state in the mid-1960s, Beatrice was sent for short stays in two children’s homes in Western Australia, before being sent to a home run by the Presbyterian Church.
Beatrice told the Commissioner that when she was eight or nine, she was sexually abused by an employee at the home. ‘[He] used to stand there and watch us play … and he used to pick out certain girls, you know.’ Mr Walter ‘touched me in an inappropriate way. He put his hand on my legs and did other things’. This only happened once, after which, Beatrice avoided him.
Beatrice was assigned to a cottage and the cottage father ‘used to always touch me, when I was doing the dishes … then it started, he used to touch me round, you know … on my bottom and things like that’. The house mother was in the room when this abuse was happening. ‘She used to make me do extra jobs … because she knew what was … Then he used to come in the shower … and he used to play with me.’
Beatrice told the Commissioner, ‘He used to say, “If you don’t let me do this, you’re going to hell … If you don’t let me do this, God will be angry with you” and being a Christian, well, I was frightened … They were teaching about heaven and hell and … I thought I’d better, because, you know, I don’t want to go down there’.
When the other children went home for holidays, or were sent to holiday foster placements, Beatrice was kept at the home, allowing the abuse to escalate. ‘And that was when the sex started … and I used to sit in the shower, and I used to cry and after that … I felt ashamed of myself … In high school, when they used to talk about sex education and I used to just sit there and “Yeah, I already know about that”.’ The sexual abuse continued until Beatrice left the home when she was 15 or 16.
‘I grew up in [the children’s home]. I ran away when I was 15 … I just was running away, trying to look for my family. I used to walk around the streets … and I didn’t really know my family, and then the police picked me up. That’s when I started going to girls’ hostels. I was sexually abused in [a hostel] … I was like an easy victim to men.’
Beatrice told the Commissioner, ‘constantly, wherever I went I was touched … “Shut up”, if you say something, you’d be punished, and it not only happened at [the Presbyterian home], but throughout, everywhere I went … I was vulnerable, and they knew it too’.
At school, Beatrice used to sit by herself. ‘I used to sit on my own and cry, and I remember one teacher come up and, “You right?” I looked at her and she says, “Oh, do you want to speak about it?”’ Beatrice didn’t say anything, and it went no further.
When Beatrice was wandering the streets, looking for her family, she found her mother in a park. ‘She grabbed me … I could smell the alcohol. She was all over me and then all the family got up … the first thing I smelled was the alcohol.’ Beatrice went to live with her mother, but she was ‘a bit frightened of the conditions, and then I thought I might … have been molested and things, because I didn’t know my family’.
Eventually, Beatrice was taken in by her mother’s sister, and she ‘sort of looked after me and I felt a bit secure … I felt safe there’.
Beatrice began drinking, ‘to block out a few things what I think about, in the past’. In her 20s she would get drunk and start talking about the abuse with other girls who had been in the home with her. ‘We’d grab each other and cry … give each other a hug … “Don’t worry sisters. We’re not back there anymore. We’re in the future”.’
Beatrice’s children did not understand why she drank, and why she left them with their grandmother then they were young. This was why she chose to bring her oldest daughter to the Royal Commission with her, to let her hear her story, and pass it on to her other children.
Beatrice told the Commissioner that talking about the abuse is ‘like opening up wounds … and that’s why in my life, I sort of blocked it out with alcohol and just cry a lot’. She has begun seeing an Aboriginal counsellor every couple of months, and this has been helpful.
Beatrice does not believe that an apology from the institutions would mean anything. ‘An apology to me, would be nothing, because I’ve been hurt and scarred for life.’
‘I went through all that pain on my own … and when I got to know my mother … and I asked … “Why?” … she explained to me, she done everything they asked her to do. She got a job. She gave up the grog. But every time she asked, “Can I have my children back?”, they just turned around and said, “Nuh” … I am proud and happy that my grandchildren are doing well, and they have their Indigenous language, which was lost to me.’