‘I thought it was really, really important for Aboriginal women to actually speak about their experience and their strengths and their hopes for the future ... It’s affected me as an individual person, but it’s also affected me as part of a collective voice, part of the collective culture. And part of, if you like, the politics of the First Nations peoples.’
Evelyn spoke with the Royal Commission, and gave a written account, about her childhood on an Aboriginal mission. She was removed from her family when she was young, just as her father was before her. Her mother was volatile and violent towards the children, but her father and his mother were ‘gentle’ and ‘loving’ people.
The mission was run by a Catholic order. The head priest, Father Morgan, ‘kissed me on quite a few occasions’. Many years later, when telling her story, ‘I still tasted his salty lips on mine’.
Lay teachers were brought in to the mission by the Department of Education to work at the mission’s school. The headmaster of the school was a white man, Miles Farrar.
Farrar first sexually abused Evelyn when she was 12 years old. She also witnessed Farrar touching other girls during class. One time she saw him sitting with one girl, ‘while he had his arm around another girl and his hand was up her leg and inside her knickers’.
Farrar’s sexual abuse of Evelyn continued as she got older. One of the nuns confronted Farrar, but she was the only person on the mission ‘that spoke out about the relationship developing into a full-blown sexual relationship by the time I was 14 years of age’.
When Evelyn was 16, Farrar convinced her that they should be married. ‘I did not want to be married. Farrar prepared me and dominated me and essentially made me marry him.’
Because of her age, and status as an Aboriginal person in the 1960s, this marriage needed to be approved by the Native Welfare Department. Despite Farrar being principal of the school Evelyn attended, the Department granted permission.
Evelyn views this ‘as a gross misconduct of statutory regulation and responsibility. In effect the State was compliant with sexual abuse of children in their care’.
Evelyn does not think the Department of Education ever questioned this marriage, or attempted to intervene. It seems the Order running the mission did not try to prevent it either, although Father Morgan refused to conduct the wedding service.
Her mother was also asked for her permission, and may have signed the document agreeing to the marriage without fully understanding the implications of it.
Evelyn had a number of children to Farrar, but was unable to care for them well as she was not sufficiently mature. ‘I was physically able to have children, but I couldn’t look after them. I didn’t have the emotional muscle.’
She has many regrets about this time of her life. ‘The knowledge that I married a man who was a paedophile, and that I had children with him, makes me feel very sick, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.’
Evelyn describes her family as ‘dysfunctional’, with issues of substance misuse and mental illness. Some of her children do not speak to her, although she has good relationships with the others. She partially attributes this dysfunction to the impacts of the sexual abuse she experienced.
Additionally, ‘I believe this to be a historical consequence of being taken away from my family at a very early age. I was unable to transfer onto my children something of the love and sacredness of being their mother. I did not have it to give’.
When the marriage to Farrar ended, Evelyn became an alcoholic and had a nervous breakdown. ‘I want to say how traumatised I was. And I have remained to be that way, even up until this age now, almost 70. Even though we’ve had ceremonies, and blessings, and rituals, and all of that stuff.’
Evelyn applied for compensation from the Catholic Church, through the Towards Healing process. When she met with them, the priest representing the order told her that it was only her word that Father Morgan had ever kissed her, as he was deceased, ‘and anyway I was alright now’.
Regarding Farrar, the priest claimed ‘they had no control over the people that came to the missions ... I thought, that’s a real cop-out, you know, that’s an institutional abuse of people’.
The Church offered her a small amount of money, and ‘I accepted. I had nothing at the time, and they knew it. They kept telling me this is not compensation, it is only a gesture’.
Her experience with Redress WA was better, and she received a more significant financial payment.
Evelyn has worked hard to make positive changes in her life and community. She pursued tertiary education, and is well-recognised in her professional field. Her father was proud of her achievements.
‘Today I am a sober woman of almost 30 years now but the healing journey took me to dealing with the issues relating to the low self-esteem, the feeling of being inferior to others, excessive and volatile anger that lead to behaviours that were of a violent nature, the tormented mind that led me to being suicidal at different times in my life.’
Connecting with her Aboriginal culture has been a big part of her healing. She was recently able to stand on her father’s land for the first time.
‘I experienced my own cultural spirituality from the land that belonged to my family/kin group. The land held within the natural landscape something that was excitingly sacred ...
‘I started to understand some of what Aboriginal spirituality meant and now I was standing in the soil where my father was born. It was where my life also started. I experienced for the first time the stillness of the early morning and was witness to the rising of the morning star.
‘I was able to absorb the sacredness of what I was part of for all these years and which was denied for most my childhood and adult life.
‘The trip to my homelands was awesome in its beauty. Today I hold these experiences sacred and holy. I had to redefine “who I was”. I have come to accept myself as I am, just to be me with all my faults and to share a common humanity with others.’