Daphne's story

‘I tell them all the time, whenever you see a man looking at you, you go. You don’t stay there ... They’re stronger than you. I said, they can get you down, they can drag you into the dark. They can rape you, they can do terrible things to you.’

Daphne always talks to her granddaughters and young women in the community about sexual abuse and relationship violence, letting them know they can confide in her if they need to. This education and support is something she is very passionate about, having experienced both of these things herself when she was young.

Daphne grew up on a government-run Aboriginal mission with her mother and siblings, in south east Queensland. It was the 1940s, and conditions in the dormitories and settlement were harsh. The residents weren’t allowed to talk in their own language, and her mother would often be sent out to work far away. Teachers at the school physically abused the students, and the kids were ‘called names, told we were no good’. The headmaster ‘would play with the girls’ dresses ... I would cringe when he walked near me’.

The children enjoyed getting on the back of the dray with Elmer Jones, the older man who took rubbish to the dump. One day, when she was around five years old, ‘I went up, with all the other kids. They all jumped off the dray, and they all run to play with the trees you see. And I went to get down and he grabbed me. He grabbed me and he sort of put me on his lap, and he was interfering with me down the bottom there.

‘He kept doing it for a while, you know. I was terrified, I didn’t even know what was happening to me. I was so scared, and I tried to get away from him. But he kept holding me tight.’

Jones digitally penetrated Daphne during this assault. When he loosened his grip on her she escaped, running towards the other children. She was in tears, and they asked her what was wrong, but she couldn’t say. ‘I never ever told them that I started bleeding down there, he was that rough with me’. Back in the dormitories ‘I went to see my mum, and I told her about it. Oh, if she could have she would have killed him. And I was still there shaking and that, and I showed her my panties. She said, oh Daphne, this is terrible’.

Her mother didn’t tell anyone, not even relatives. In those days, ‘if we said anything [to authorities], nothing was done’, or they were seen to be telling lies. ‘If my mother would’ve said, oh she was bleeding, they probably would’ve just said, she probably fell off the tree and hurt herself.’ It was also well-known that the men who worked at the mission would never be dismissed, no matter what they did. Now she wonders if Jones sexually abused other kids too.

After this incident Daphne avoided Jones, and never went on the dray. She also warned him that if he touched her again she would tell her mum. When she was 15 she was sent to work out the cattle stations. At one place, she narrowly escaped being abused by the owner, who tried to get into her bedroom. She remembers plenty of young Aboriginal girls coming home from these properties pregnant, after being raped by the white men working there.

Daphne has worked hard to help people in her community. With a group of older ladies she knows she has represented women from remote areas in dealing with issues of child abuse, and talked to groups of children about how to speak up if they are being harmed. She is excited about getting her ‘blue card’ to become an official volunteer at children’s events in the area.

It is only very recently that Daphne spoke about what Jones had done to her. When she applied for a state redress scheme some years ago, she was unable to disclose the sexual abuse at the mission. As a result, she only received the minimum amount of compensation.

Daphne was prompted to speak to the Royal Commission about her experiences of sexual abuse after two of her female relatives disclosed having been abused at a different mission. ‘They were telling me their stories, but I never said anything to them. But I knew it was in myself. It brought it all back again.’

Jones is long dead, but the impact of what he did to Daphne has continued. In her early married life, she had difficulties being intimate with her husband, as sex ‘frightened the hell out of me’. He was sometimes violent towards her back then too. Other effects have included ‘an inability to show affection’, ‘persistent feelings of shame and guilt’, nightmares, and flashbacks.

Daphne still lives near the mission, and visits it regularly. Two women living there have supported her when she has problems. ‘I didn’t even tell them about my abuse. But I think they cottoned on, that something happened to me.’ Her faith in God has also given her strength. She told the Commission she is ready to engage in some counselling now, to help her find peace. ‘I need to get all of this out of me. I’ll feel like a new woman again.’

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