Colleen Elizabeth's story

Colleen was a member of the Stolen Generation, taken from her father when she was three. She was sent to an Aboriginal mission in Queensland, where she lived until at 12 she was taken in by an aunt and uncle. While at the mission, Colleen was forbidden to say hello or acknowledge her father if she saw him, and this distressed her.

Colleen told the Commissioner that the children at the mission were treated badly. They worked hard and on cold winter mornings they were sent outside with no shoes, to pick up papers in the yard.

‘We never had one pair of shoes … I don’t think there was that much paper in the yard, but they used to get us up every morning, without fail. We were little kids and we didn’t have anything warm to wear … running backwards and forwards to the big fireplace and warming our feet and hands and … running back out you know, looking around for more papers and stuff.’

School wasn’t too bad, but Colleen recalled bad experiences with one teacher. ‘I will never forget him.' When she couldn’t pronounce a word properly, he ‘picked me up in front of the class and shook the hell out of me in front of everybody … It was embarrassing to me … I was so ashamed that I got picked up’.

When Colleen was 15, she boarded with a couple in a large regional town, and attended the local high school. The couple treated Colleen quite well. ‘She was a bit of an old … She could be a bit tough with us. He was very good, but she was very tough with us.’

One day Colleen decided that she would ‘do a bunk, run away from home, and I don’t know what the hell I was thinking at the time … and I did’. She and the two girls she was with were picked up by the police, after one officer recognised Colleen. He’d been a police officer in the town where she used to live.

The girls were taken back but before they were allowed to return to school, they were taken to the local hospital for an examination.

‘I was 15 and when that happened, I didn’t know why I was going to the doctor’s. I thought they might have been checking me up just to see if I had any bruises, or if I was hurt in any way, but that wasn’t something that was … They didn’t say that, tell us …’ Colleen doesn’t know where the order came from for her to be given an internal examination, but she was told that she wasn’t allowed to return to school until she had it.

‘They didn’t tell me what they were doing. I presume my aunt and uncle didn’t know anything about it either, because they never mentioned it.’

Colleen told the Commissioner, ‘I was pretty sheltered and that sort of thing was taboo in our household, to talk about anything like that … This is how naive I was. I still thought kids were come by stork’.

Colleen blocked out memories of the examination until one day when her children had grown up, she was talking to her sisters. ‘I suppose I just switched off and didn’t want to know what was going on … I’d forgotten about it. I probably just blocked it out, and then one day … I remembered … I remembered the two girls I was with … It happened to us.’

Colleen told the Commissioner, ‘I wouldn’t want to see that happen to some other kids. Now, people are more aware of it, but those sorts of things shouldn’t happen unless a parent gives consent. But it was only to see if I was sexually active. That’s all it was’.

When it was found that Colleen wasn’t sexually active, ‘I think she said that I was “intact” and myself, I didn’t know what the hell intact was and I didn’t even know what she was talking about … I’ve never had anyone … not even when I was sick … As far as being examined, where no one’s ever touched you before, it was very … a very hard thing’.

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