The welfare officers came to Fran’s home in South Australia in the early 1960s and took her away. They told her mother that they were just taking Fran and her siblings on a short trip to get food and blankets. In fact, they took the kids to the city, had them officially labelled ‘neglected’, and then shipped them off to various foster homes.
Fran believes that the accusation of neglect was a lie used to hide the real reason she was taken. ‘I think it’s because I was Aboriginal’, she told the Commissioner. ‘I think the story was that we had lice, our hair was untidy and we didn’t live in a house. But I think that’s traditional ways. Our parents fed us and stuff.’
At about age five Fran went to live with the Mackays, a white family. The household consisted of Mr and Mrs Mackay, several foster kids and the couple’s biological son, William. Life with the Mackays was pleasant enough to start with but when Fran was about seven years old Mr Mackay started molesting her.
‘He would come in and say goodnight and it was always the hands underneath, touching and groping.’
This went on for years until Fran got a little older and wiser and learned how to avoid getting caught alone with Mr Mackay. Dodging his attacks was her only way of keeping safe. She had nowhere else to live and no one she could talk to about the abuse. ‘I just felt isolated and alone. The only Aboriginal kid there and no one really to confide in.’
At 14 Fran left the house to go and live with William, who had moved out by then and was living with his wife and children. William and his family were good people who gave Fran a safe place to see out her teenage years, though by then Fran didn’t need much help from anyone. She had found her own ways of coping with the ongoing impact of the abuse.
‘I basically just pushed it aside and got on with life, got on with what I needed to. I’ve always been very strong. I’ve had it hidden a long, long time.’
Years went by. Fran didn’t mention the abuse to her own kids, and when she tracked down and reconnected with her biological family she didn’t mention it to them either. Most of the time she felt no need to talk about it.
But things have changed as she’s gotten older. The memories are resurfacing more often now than they used to. On top of this, two things recently happened to prompt Fran to come to the Royal Commission and tell her story.
First, William’s children, whom Fran refers to as her ‘foster nieces and nephews’, confided in her that they had also been sexually abused by Mr Mackay. To make an awful situation even worse, they told her that welfare knew that Mr Mackay was an abuser but continued to allow him to have access to young kids. A short while later, one of Fran’s clients at work mentioned that she was going to see the Royal Commission. Fran was impressed with the woman’s courage. ‘And because of that it kind of pushed me to come forward.’
Even for a woman as strong as Fran this wasn’t easy. ‘I don’t know how many times I talked myself out of it, and I thought, “Go, go, go. No, don’t go”. And, “Where’s it going to go to?” But I’m here.’