As a small child, Ellie saw a letter bomb explode in her neighbour’s mailbox. It was another scene in the violence that surrounded her at home and in the community. After she was caught foraging for food in a rubbish bin, she and her sister were taken by welfare authorities and placed in a children’s home.
‘We got in there and there was a big plate of food’, Ellie said. ‘We hadn’t seen that before. They were nice to us.’
For many years, Ellie and her sister moved between the children’s home and their parents’ house. In the mid-1970s, when she was seven years old, Ellie was sexually abused by Richard, a 13-year-old boy at the home. He came into her dormitory after school, pushed her on the floor, told her not to scream and then raped her.
‘I had my uniform on and it had blood and I couldn’t walk’, Ellie said. ‘I didn’t understand.’
When one of the nuns, Sister Clare, saw Ellie and asked what had happened, Ellie responded with just the boy’s name. Sister Clare put her in the shower and told her to change her clothes and get out into the yard.
Ellie was again abused by Richard. The next time he came into her room accompanied by another boy from the home. They told Ellie they were teaching her to ‘be a good prostitute’, and that the manager of the home was doing the same thing to all the boys. Ellie said that throughout her time there she saw a lot of physical and sexual abuse.
Life after the home continued to be chaotic and violent. Ellie became involved in drugs and was often arrested for offences ranging from driving without a licence to assault and drug dealing. In jail she encountered further physical abuse, and she’s tried to take her life many times.
A few years ago Ellie was supported in making an application through the Queensland Redress Scheme and received $29,000. ‘I bought a car and I put it sideways through the church at St Mary’s because I was being chased by the cops’, she said.
Staff from mental health services had been involved in her life for decades. She’d received multiple diagnoses and was taking medication to alleviate some of her anxiety and florid thoughts. She remained in close contact with the community organisation that had assisted her in making the redress application.
Now living in public housing, Ellie said she preferred to sleep on the street. She went to her flat to shower and change her clothes but most days and nights were spent with other homeless people she knew.
‘I like being on the street because it grounds me’, she said. ‘The cement grounds me. I’m comfortable, I’m safe … I know what to do. What you guys do in your house is what we do out here. What you do out here is what we do in the house.’