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Beattie's story

Beattie became distressed telling the Commissioner how her mother had run after the van taking her and her siblings away from their Aboriginal parents. ‘It’s not right. Because I reckon my mother and father did a good job, keeping us.’

It was the early 1960s, and Beattie was around seven years old. The children were placed on a Benedictine mission a couple of hours away from Perth.

As soon as Beattie got to the mission, her hair was cut off. The mission kids had to work hard, kneeling for long periods picking olives. Always hungry, they would consume some of the fallen fruit. When they returned to the mission at the end of the day, they would have to show their tongues to the Sisters, so they could tell if they had eaten any.

The children would be given the leather strap or have their ears pulled for even minor transgressions. The nuns would not allow them to shower with the cubicle doors closed, and would yell at them to wash their genital area. One of these nuns, Sister Maria, had ‘wandering hands’, and would touch Beattie on the breasts and genitals.

It was forbidden for the girls to wear underwear to bed, and if they were caught doing so the Sisters would rip their knickers off and give them the strap. They were only given rags when they had their periods. If these were not sufficient, and blood got on their clothing, they would be punished.

When she came out of the mission on holidays, Beattie reported the bad treatment to the social worker who had removed her from her family in the first place. She pointed out that if the children were being treated badly by their family, they would be taken away, and asked why they couldn’t be removed from the mission for the same reasons.

‘I went and told Welfare, this same one, Mrs Bancroft, that I was getting ill-treated, and what they done to me ... And I said, you putting us back there. If that was our father, family doing that – that’s why we got put in there. And I said, why couldn’t you take us out of there?’

As for Mrs Bancroft’s reaction: ‘Well, being a Welfare, she just chucked it aside, I suppose’. Beattie hopes the response would be different these days.

‘I reported it because we were Welfare kids ... Why didn’t they follow up a report, or write it down at that time? ... There’s nothing written in the book.’

When Mrs Bancroft moved to another town, she sent her regards back to Beattie and her sister. ‘You know what, the words came out of our mouth wasn’t really good. When she passed away, well, there was smiles on our face.’

Recognised as ‘pretty brainy for a girl’, as a teen Beattie was allowed to study at a college outside the mission, while remaining living there. She enjoyed her studies. However, being unable to cope with the treatment at the mission, she ran away before completing them.

Beattie recommended that Aboriginal kids be placed with family if possible, rather than being sent to residential care homes. She has looked after many children, including her own and members of her extended family. ‘I’ve been through that. And I didn’t want them to get taken away.’ At one stage, she had nine kids in the house.

In the 2000s Beattie applied to Redress WA, but only received a small amount of compensation for her experiences at the mission. She received an even smaller amount from the Church. ‘It wasn’t enough.’

Beattie has been back to the mission twice in later years. It has now been turned into a museum, with pictures of some of the children. There’s one of Beattie with her nephew, and another when she made her first communion.

‘It was heartbreaking. You know, as soon as you walk in you’re dropping tears. And then you walk through, when you come across a photo. “Oh, there I am”.’

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