In the early 1960s, when Cassandra was barely a year old, she was taken from her mother and put into a Western Australian Aboriginal Mission run by the Church of Christ. She grew up knowing only onerous chores, constant hunger and harsh, arbitrary discipline.
The missionaries flogged and beat the kids every day. ‘We didn’t know what for’, Cassandra said. ‘To us it was just like normal.’ When the new superintendent arrived, a few more horrors became ‘normal’ as well.
‘He used to put us over his knee and pull our pants down and, I don’t know, it took him I don’t know how long, maybe a couple of seconds and just sort of rub us … And then smack us hard.’
The superintendent also liked to visit the boys’ dormitories at night. ‘He’d say, “Who wants a hug?” And all the boys used to cringe. Too frightened to move.’
When Cassandra was about 12, one of her classmates fell pregnant and was taken away. Neither Cassandra nor the other girls ever talked about it. They didn’t talk about any of the abuse. They knew that if you did, you’d be severely beaten. They’d seen it happen.
Cassandra is sure that the missionaries’ wives knew what was going on. They never spoke up.
At 13 Cassandra ran away from the mission and lived on the streets for about a year. During this time she was raped twice, fell pregnant and had a miscarriage.
‘I didn’t know it was a reportable offence. I didn’t know anything. And when it happened again I just thought it was normal.’
The fear and anxiety Cassandra experienced at the mission haven't gone away. She has suffered from depression and feelings of worthlessness. But for the sake of her children she has stayed strong, shielding them from the terrors that were so normal in her own childhood.
‘When I had kids, I promised for myself, I promised for my children as well, they will never be with DCP [Department for Child Protection]. They will never, ever spend one night in a place like that.’
Cassandra has kept that promise, for her children and her grandchildren. She continues to spend her days looking after them. Otherwise she writes, works and counsels other survivors of abuse.
Those survivors are the reason she came to the Commission. Cassandra wanted to talk ‘on behalf of others that never had a chance’ and, for their sake, bring the Church of Christ to account.