Belinda was born in Queensland in the mid-1950s, taken from her mother when she was a baby and placed in an Aboriginal settlement, where she remained until she was 17.
When Belinda was small, her mother had another baby and came to live in the mothers’ quarters at the settlement for a short time. But after she left, Belinda had little contact with her or other members of her family. One of her female cousins lived at the settlement for a while, but was sent elsewhere after she hit the matron at the home.
Life at the settlement was harsh and, as a small child, Belinda was made to scrub the floors before she went to school. On one occasion when ‘I think I was only about seven … the cook, she punched me in the eye because I was complaining about the grubs in the porridge. She gave me a black eye’.
Belinda recalled that children who had mothers or aunts at the settlement ‘never got abuse. But I had no one. And then, she gave me a black eye, nothing was done …’
Because of a childhood illness, Belinda missed a lot of school when she was young and spent time in the garden, with one of the yardsmen. Belinda told the Commissioner, ‘He used to show his thing to me … you know’. She remembers the man taking one of her friends into a shed, and the girl coming out holding money, but she doesn’t know what happened in there.
The girls slept in dormitories at the settlement that were separated by age groups: the ‘little girls’, the ‘big girls’ and the ‘teenage ward’. There were about 20 girls in each dormitory.
In the ‘little girls’ dormitory there was a large built-in cupboard and the girls made a cubby house in there. When Belinda was about 10, an older girl of about 14 or 15 began to sexually abuse her and other younger girls every Saturday. This older girl would coax the younger ones into the cupboard in order to abuse them.
Belinda didn’t report the abuse because there was no one she could tell and because ‘I didn’t even know what it was all about’.
Eventually the girl became too old to live on the settlement and was sent elsewhere, where, Belinda related, she later died.
The sexual abuse Belinda experienced when she was a child has led to a lifetime of depression and suicidal thoughts. She has spent time in mental health facilities and is now on antidepressants. She has also had problems with relationships and has recently had another relationship breakdown.
Belinda did not meet her parents until she was 15, and when they visited her at the Aboriginal settlement she ran away from them saying, ‘You’re not my father’.
Although her family has attempted to forge ties with her, Belinda finds it too hard, not having grown up with them. She feels that she just doesn’t know any of her relatives and doesn’t really want to. Because she grew up without being shown any love, she does not know what love is.
Although she has had some counselling in the past, Belinda finds that talking about the abuse just makes things worse. But she told the Commissioner that she may try again, so that she can put the past behind her.