Many people in Beryl’s family have been sexually abused at one time or another. In her case, her foster father began raping her when she around eight years old.
Born into a large family in the mid-1960s, Beryl moved a lot around regional Western Australia with them when she was young. When she was seven she and two of her siblings were taken from the street by authorities when they were out shopping, and placed in care. ‘We were put into separate foster homes. I believe my parents were not advised for several days.’
At the time, Beryl’s father was working away, and she figures ‘they must have thought my mother couldn’t look after us ... We never got to see Mum after that, ever’. During her first foster placement, her mother died, and she was not allowed to attend her funeral. This placement fell through after a year or so, as the woman she lived with became ill.
Beryl was then placed with Emma and Andy Cameron. Emma was ‘really good with me, took me under her wings, gave me everything she had’. Andy was not so kind. Almost immediately, he ‘began to ask me for sex. I was pressured into having sex with Mr Cameron. He would have sex with me whenever Mrs Cameron was not around, and the house was empty. This was almost every day’.
Andy also socially isolated Beryl.
‘He became extremely possessive of me. He did not allow me to play with other children my own age. He would not let me stay at other children’s homes. I believe this was for fear that I may tell someone about the abuse. The abuse continued until I left the house.’
Beryl lived with Camerons until she was around 13. Although there were ‘plenty of times I wanted to tell people that he was sexually abusing me’, there was nobody she felt able to disclose to. ‘I even wanted to tell Mrs Cameron but I couldn’t, I couldn’t bring the words out.’ Despite keeping in contact with Emma until she died recently, Beryl never told her she had been raped by Andy.
During this period Beryl visited her father a number of times, though never saw her siblings. She wanted to disclose the abuse to her dad, but was scared he might shoot Andy. ‘I think back, as a child, how come I never told anyone? And I should of, seriously. Why couldn’t we tell anyone at the time?’
She feels that perhaps if welfare had checked on her, and given her a safe person to speak to, she might have spoken about it. But they didn’t, and so she kept quiet. In later years, she told a state redress scheme about her abuse, and received $45,000 compensation. She never reported to police, or confronted Andy (who is now deceased).
After her placement with the Camerons ended she went to live with relatives. They drank a lot, and she didn’t ever feel safe there. Soon, she started smoking, and using drugs and alcohol. When she was 18 she became pregnant but lost the baby. After having further miscarriages she consulted a gynaecologist. She was advised that she had some scarring, a result of the sexual abuse by her foster father, ‘and I believe the scarring caused my miscarriages’. Not being able to have children is a great source of sadness for her.
Beryl experienced domestic violence in a long term relationship with a male partner, who beat her and threatened to kill her. ‘I had no trust in men to touch me, even to have sex with me,’ and always thought ‘I’m never going to meet anyone for love’.
As a result of her bad experiences with men, Beryl felt confused about her sexuality when she was younger. ‘You don’t even know if you want to be with a woman, you’re like in the middle, your feelings ... I’d rather go with a man, but someone that’s going to look after me.’
Around a decade ago, Beryl quit drugs, alcohol and smoking. Waking up one morning ‘really drunk’ and ‘out of it’ she thought, ‘Oh Lord, where am I going to end up? ... That was just a wake-up call for me.’ Once she had made the decision ‘and was willing to do it’, she was able to stop using these substances without any external support. Beryl has a strong faith in God, believing ‘the Lord just looks after me’.
Recently Beryl has started making paintings, which she finds therapeutic. Humour also helps her cope with the bad times, and helps her to help other people. ‘Sometimes when I feel sad I can still laugh ... I can laugh, and I can get on with life. Some people can’t.’ She has worked with kids who live on the streets, and in a mental healthcare service, and is now studying community care. ‘I was thinking if I had been through everything I could help somebody else.’
Beryl believes ‘there is always hope’, even when it might not seem that way. ‘I go through horrible feelings. I have bad dreams ... And then I wake up and I think, ah well, it’s another good day. It’s another day, and it’s like a new day to start, even though we went through all these things in life. That’s how I look at it’. At the end of the day, ‘I think I’ll probably end up being okay. ‘Cause I’ve come a long way.’