Fay's story

‘We first were monitored back in 1962. I was only two years old then. That’s when the welfare came over to monitor us all the time. So their goal was to gain confidence with Dad. Dad was the main advocator for the family and their goal was to take us away – for us to go to high school …

‘Of course, Dad didn’t want to leave … 'cause we had land and property and sheep and that there, so he had a job and he didn’t want to leave his country but the welfare said to him, “If you don’t send your children away to school, we’ll come and take them away”. So he was put in a position where he was a really good father and it says in the reports that he was a good father and good provider for the family and children. We were well looked after, went to school regularly every day but policies and legislation says you know, “This is what we do, take the children away”. So he had no choice.’

In the early 1970s, Fay and her sister were taken from the rest of their Aboriginal family and sent to live in a Tasmanian government-funded group home that was overseen by a married couple, Colin and Noelene Dempsey. The girls were treated badly and during the time there, Fay was sexually abused by Colin Dempsey who used to come into her bedroom at night. Decades later she found out Dempsey had also abused her sister.

‘I was in a single room, my sister was down there in a single room so it felt really vulnerable’, Fay said. ‘He would come into my room at night and molest me. I can remember this because the door was always open. For some reason that door was open every night and there was polished floorboards so I could hear the creak in the floorboards. I hate, even now I hate hearing creaking and I hate the silence at night even now and I hate my door left opened. I’m 55 years old and I’ve only got used to leaving my door open.’

At one point Fay mentioned the abuse to her sister and Dempsey ‘got wind of it’. He cornered Fay in a hallway, held a gun to her head and told her she was lying.

The memory remained vivid. ‘I go over this story, you know every day it’s in my mind. I put my two feet on the floor every day and everything that’s happened to me is still there, all that abuse. And it’s still like the person’s got power over you, so they’ve still got that control over you.’

One day Fay and her sister ‘jumped out the window’ and ran. They found a relative and were hidden for a while but welfare workers found them and sent the girls to separate homes. Fay’s sister was placed with a caring couple while Fay went to live with a church minister, Stan James and his wife. At first it was good and James would give Fay money but he then showed her a wardrobe in his garage which opened up into a room that he’d converted to a photographic darkroom and he’d make Fay go in there to take photos of her, show her pornography and sexually abuse her.

During her teenage years Fay didn’t go to school much, preferring to play truant because the teachers didn’t care and other students continually made racist comments towards her.

Then from the age of 13, she was placed in a succession of foster homes with Aboriginal families. In one of these placements she was sexually abused by the son of a respected couple in the community. Despite her father leaving his country and trying to find a house so his children could be returned, the siblings didn’t reconnect till years later and by that time ‘it wasn’t the same’ and there was ‘no relationship there’.

At 15, Fay became pregnant and immediately after giving birth the baby was taken from her. This was despite her wish to keep him and Fay’s mother’s stated support to bring the child up.

Life became very difficult. ‘I had no confidence. My self-esteem, I hated myself. I tried self-harm. I became involved in alcohol but decided I didn’t like it. I became involved in – because of the abuse that’s happened in my childhood – it’s like in order for someone to love you, they abuse you so that’s the pattern of my life, that those people that abused me actually showing me that they loved me. So I got into abusive relationships, physical abuse. But I was able to eventually walk away from it otherwise I wouldn’t be here today I don’t think. For some reason I just had that strength.’

In her thirties, Fay returned to study at TAFE and went on to complete two university degrees. She’d recently been promoted in her work and was a strong advocate for other Aboriginal people, particularly mothers in difficulty who were at risk of losing custody of their children. She’d also reconnected with the son who’d been taken from her and felt ‘lucky that he went to a good family’. Nevertheless, he had ‘mental health issues because he was taken away’.

Fay told the Commissioner that she’d never considered reporting Dempsey or James to the police, nor did she think she could. ‘Could you imagine that in court? They wouldn’t believe me, an Aboriginal woman. I don’t know that I could do that.’

In the late 1990s, Fay made an application through the Tasmanian government’s redress scheme and received $40,000. She can’t recall getting an apology but said it wouldn’t have meant much to her if she did.

At one point she’d gone to see a counsellor but it hadn’t gone well. ‘I walked out of there and thought, you don’t know me. I’m an Aboriginal person; you don’t know anything about Aboriginal people. What’d they send me to you for? It has to be somebody that’s culturally connected and understands. That’s why I consult, advocate with my elders and my Aboriginal friends. I go home and connect to country. That’s really important to me, going back home and just connecting to country.’

Fay said she’d been nervous about speaking with the Royal Commission but was glad she had. ‘It’s good to know that I’ve been able to contribute 'cause it’s really important to me.

… Thank you for listening. It’s all a part of my healing, my journey of healing.’

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