Cathie’s father died when she was very young, and she and her siblings were placed in care. When Cathie, who was raised as a boy, was seven, the children were made wards of the state.
It was the late 1960s, and they were all sent to a Catholic boarding school in regional Western Australia. Cathie remembers always being cold and hungry there. An older boy, Timmy, fondled her private parts. She did not report this abuse back then and now thinks it was ‘just play’.
After a few years at this school Cathie went to live at an Aboriginal mission run by a Catholic Order, who were very cruel to the children.
One day Cathie was out near the mission’s dams when five of the older mission boys, including her cousin Mick, ran after her and gang-raped her.
She reported this assault but ‘I was made to feel it was my fault and I was punished for it. I was locked in the church and made to clean it, including the bishop’s tomb. I was very scared’.
Cathie is angry that the mission ‘failed me in their duty of care when I told them what had happened. And I wasn’t the only one. But I was foolish enough, and trusting enough, to say it to a person ... You’re taught by your parents that you know, this is somebody that you can talk to. If you feel a bit frightened, or you get scared, you can go and these men or women will look after you. It turned out to be totally opposite in our case’.
Children sexually assaulting other children was common on the mission. ‘The worst part about it was that if it happened to somebody else, we used to tease them. We’d torment them and torment them and torment them. Because you know what, it wasn’t me. And when it happened to you, well you copped the same thing right back.’
Cathie was raped several times. ‘I have blocked a lot out, but I was raped again by groups of boys on a number of occasions’. Having already been punished for disclosing, she did not report this later abuse.
The memories of these assaults continue to haunt her into her adult years. ‘I continue to suffer depression as a result of my childhood sexual abuse. I cannot maintain relationships. Some of my past relationships have been very violent.’
Her first consensual sexual experiences were impacted too. ‘I think it’s a place where I lost my innocence and my childhood. I’ve been an adult more than I’ve ever been a child. I was worldly from that experience.
‘Most people can laugh, and have a bit of a joke about you know, your first sly kiss. You know, the embarrassment of it and all that, the fumbling ... I was already damaged goods.’
Cathie began taking amphetamines and drinking heavily and attempted suicide. ‘I guess after they pumped my stomach, I realised there’s nothing there. Once you’re dead there’s nothing ... I promised myself that I wasn’t gonna – no matter what – I was not going to lay down.’
She chose not to become a parent, because of the trauma of her own childhood. ‘I’ve never had a child. When I’m dead that’s the finish ... What would be the point of making someone’s else life a miserable hell, like yours has been? There is nothing.’
In her 20s Cathie moved interstate, as there were too many memories for her back home. A lot of her friends come from other places, and have moved to escape bad situations as well.
‘We all left because it was not a good place for memories of us, even though the families are there, we’ve left ... A lot of us my age – those of us that are still alive – had left. And we’ve all had reasons to go. We hardly ever talk about it, now and again, you know, it’ll just come up in passing conversation ... We know we know we don’t need to dig around in them ashes to look for that flame again.’
In later years Cathie told her mum that Mick had raped her at the mission. Her mum was devastated, as she had helped raise him. Cathie wondered if she had done the right thing in telling her. ‘I just sat down and I thought, what did you go and do that for? Blaming myself. What have I gone and done to her?’
She still goes back home for family matters and occasionally sees Mick. She knows that he went on to assault others after her and he now has kids himself. ‘I don’t think people like that should be parents.’
Cathie found a good counsellor through attending a clinic at a public hospital. ‘On and off over the last 30 years and that, I have become a very fond user of the [hospital’s] sexual health unit there. It’s not something that I’m there every week or anything like that. It’s there when there are times ... It’s always been there for me.’
Her first session with her counsellor – who she still sees – was life-changing. ‘For the very first time somebody understood me. And so for the very first time somebody told me it wasn’t my fault.’
Cathie now puts the blame on those involved in the abuse. ‘It was those people that took my innocence, my right to grow and develop, my potential, what could have been. My right to be a parent.’
Cathie identified as female from her early teens – ‘I always looked rather girlish and resembled my older female cousin’ – and has lived as a woman for many years. She has worked in the community services field, including doing ‘outreach with street workers, homeless people and addicts’, and found a niche with ‘Aboriginal and other racial groups who often felt more comfortable dealing with a mature Aboriginal woman’.
The one thing she is thankful to the mission for is her education. ‘If I didn’t know how to read and write I don’t think I’d have been able to try and make a new start somewhere.’
Books are also a means to escape her worries. ‘I love my reading. I love it because you get into a book, you go away.’