‘I remember being taken away when I was four and I tried to come back into the family, see where I fitted in, you know. I kind of said to myself, “Oh you know look, maybe it’s just me, it’s a lack of communication somewhere along the way between me and my family”.’
Frida remembers ‘having fun’ when she was living with her mother, father, brothers and sisters. In the early 1970s, at the age of four, she and a younger brother were taken from their parents and placed with a married couple somewhere near their town in Western Australia. ‘They were good to us ... Though I was confused as to why we were there.’
At her private session and in written correspondence to the Royal Commission, Frida described being moved from one place to another as a child as she and her brother were accommodated in foster care, group homes, and on the mission.
For reasons she didn’t know, Frida and her brother moved from the couple’s house to the mission, then to a group home and then on to the Bergan family. They stayed there for a few years.
Mr and Mrs Bergan had a farm and both Frida and David were put to work, caring for the animals and doing ‘chores that were really work for adults to do’. Frida recalled being in Grade 3 and having to get up at four o’clock each morning to round up cows for milking. ‘It was like something you watch out of a movie … It was everything like in the picture of Rabbit Proof Fence. That was me and my little brother.’
The children weren’t allowed to use the toilet in the house and had to go outside where there ‘was a big hole in the ground. It was horrible and it would stink’.
While Frida was living with the Bergans, one of the sons, who was aged about 16, tried to rape her. The assault was interrupted by David and Frida felt scared and ‘frigid with fear’ thereafter.
At 11 or 12, Frida and David moved again, this time to an aunt’s house, where they were often physically abused. ‘I didn’t think it was wrong to be hit all the time ... I always had bruises and I didn’t think anything of it.’ She told the Commissioner that she got ‘used to getting flogged all the time’, although she was aware that other girls at school often stared at all the wounds on her body.
While she was at her aunt’s house, Frida was sexually assaulted by her cousin after she’d fallen asleep. ‘I couldn’t move or scream. And I would wish someone could stop what was happening to me.’
There was no one Frida could tell about the abuse and she kept it to herself for years until one day she told David. He asked why she hadn’t told him before and threatened to load up a gun and ‘go and shoot him’. When she’d spoken about it with some of her other aunties, they’d told her ‘that little girl when you was young back there’ was gone now, and it’d be best to ‘brush it under the carpet, forget about it …
‘I sat back and I thought to myself, “It’s like a time warp. It pulls you right back and makes you that small”. I thought, “No, come on. I was always told never walk with your head down. And put a smile on your face. Keep your head up high and keep on walking straight”.’
Frida said she loved her kids and tried to be a good mother. Two children had been placed in out-of-home care because she’d ‘hit them around a bit’. She has changed now, she said, but relationships had often been violent. On one occasion her partner split her head open and she retaliated with a knife, and there’d been times when she’d had too much to drink and lashed out at police.
‘I can’t really explain, in a sense of saying, because it’s happened to me when I was younger and growing all the way up, meeting someone that I thought that I loved and then I thought it was all right for him to dominate me. I didn’t grow up to defend myself or to be nasty or mean or to steal. So I thought you just had to put up with it that way.’
Frida told the Commissioner that she was currently homeless but she had ‘some good friends out there’ who helped her while she went about paying off rent and other debts. She’d previously received $28,000 as part of the Western Australia redress scheme and had paid bills and shared it with others. She ripped up the apology letter, as it couldn’t give her back ‘love, joy, happiness’.
Frida said she felt like God had given her a purpose to live. She’d attempted to take her own life in the past, but thought it ‘selfish to finish myself off’ and was now a mentor to others.
‘There’s a lot of … young Aboriginals out there, kids, male and female that look up to me … I think it’s because of the sense of morality where I’ve stood my ground. I said, “No to violence”, “No” where kids can be hurt, and it breaks my heart to see what’s going on out there today. What can I do if I can’t do anything for myself? …
‘I got more to do here. There’s a lot of young kids, a generation of young fellas out there that need me, you know. I’m their mentor, I know that I am.’