Calista was born in the late 1960s on an Aboriginal settlement on the north coast of New South Wales. Her mother was a violent alcoholic who abused her and her younger half-brother, Oliver.
One evening Oliver’s father, Malcolm, returned to the settlement for a break before his next round of stockman work and was appalled by what he found.
‘When he came back into town’, Calista told the Commissioner, ‘my mother was in the pub and I was hiding under a cot and my brother was in hospital. And he basically just packed us all up and put us in the car’.
Malcolm took Calista and her brother to a nearby city and did his best to care for them over the next 12 months. But he had his own troubles to deal with and ended up attempting suicide. The Salvation Army found him at the hospital, learned about the two little kids in his care and stepped in to help.
The Salvation Army sent Calista and Oliver to a Catholic-run children’s home. The two kids lived there for some time before they were fostered by Ken and Dorothy Hader, a wealthy, educated couple whose own children had grown up and left the nest.
To the outside world, the Haders looked like the perfect foster parents, providing the two ‘poor little Koori kids’ with everything they could want. But late at night, after Dorothy Hader had popped her migraine pills and sunk into a heavy sleep, Ken Hader would come looking for Calista.
‘And he would come in pretty much whenever he wanted to – as often as he could. When I was in the bath or shower. Any time I was on my own. Always late at night.’
On at least two occasions Dorothy saw what her husband was doing. Her only response was to kick him out of her bedroom and make him sleep in the basement. Ken Hader, unfazed, continued his night-time attacks on Calista.
Sometimes when the abuse was happening, Calista would reach out for the only friend she had – her little brother.
‘He would sit at the door. I would be like that, and Ken would be doing Ken’s thing, and we would sometimes just touch fingers. And he’d be hiding behind the door … He was tiny. And there was nothing he could do.’
Calista didn’t mention the abuse to anyone. This was partly because she felt ashamed and responsible, and partly because she was terrified. Ken Hader was a methodically vicious man.
‘We would be whipped and beaten with feather dusters and belts, but it would be very regimented, you know – 20 lashes for you, 20 lashes for you.’
Sometimes Calista deliberately subjected herself to Ken’s sexual abuse in order to save her brother from a bashing.
‘It was just the way it was – that if Ken paid me particular attention late at night, two or three times a week, then my little brother wouldn’t get beaten as badly.’
In the end it was Oliver who first acted to end the abuse. When he was about eight years old, and Calista about 10, he began to behave wildly. Dorothy Hader eventually took him to Welfare, saying he was uncontrollable. Oliver ended up at a children’s home where he found trust in one of the workers and told him what Ken Hader had done to him and Calista.
Meanwhile, Calista made her own disclosure – involuntarily. She was attending a boarding school at the time, sharing a room with a girl named Beth. Beth was intrigued by the locked box that Calista kept in her room, so one day she broke it open.
Calista returned from class to find a group of nuns looking down at the contents of the box, spilled across her bed.
‘What I had in the box was everything that Ken had given me, so I had vibrators and sex toys … and love letters from him.’
The police were called and sometime later Ken Hader was charged with multiple offences. At 12 years old Calista gave testimony in the witness box. During cross-examination she was ‘ripped apart’ by the defence lawyer. Later, she and her brother were left alone in the waiting room with the Haders. Ken whispered at them, calling them stupid children.
In the end, Calista suffered for nothing. ‘Ken got let off on a technicality.’ After that, while the Haders got on with their lives, Calista’s fell apart.
‘My life between the ages of teenager and 40 was an absolute fucking mess. Excuse the language.’
At 17 she started working as a prostitute.
‘I had learned to dissociate from a very young age when people were doing things that I didn’t like. And I felt powerful … that I had power over these stupid old men that had to pay for sex.’
She made a lot of money and spent it all to fund her drug addiction, ending up ‘about as low as you can go’.
At the same time, Oliver sank into a life of chronic alcoholism and crime. He’s been on a downward spiral ever since. Calista, on the other hand, kicked the drugs and turned her life around at age 40.
‘I let this stuff define me for 40 years. It doesn’t define me anymore. When I say that I’ve dealt with the stuff from my past, I truly have. There’s no resentment or anger or guilt or shame or remorse anymore. It’s not mine to carry.
‘And neither is the pain and all the despair. It’s not mine. I didn’t ask for this. I didn’t deserve it. But it did happen. And the only thing I am in control of is how I choose to live today and tomorrow. And I will not let him have that much power over the rest of my life.’