‘People say to me “Geena, you would never even know you were in a foster home” or this or that. And it’s like I’m a very good actress. I just pretend … Sometimes I think “I don’t feel like this. I don’t feel like doing this today”. And I’ll have to play games in my head all the time.’
Geena grew up in a large Aboriginal family on the outskirts of town in Queensland in the 1970s. During a domestic argument, Geena and her siblings were taken away by the police. ‘I was four and I can still remember that whole incident and then getting dropped off, pulling up in front of [the girls’ home] in the police car.’
The girls’ home was terrible. The house parents treated their own children well, in cruel contrast to how they treated the residents in the home. Geena and her sisters only saw their brothers once every six months at church.
A fellow resident at the home, Barb, used to sexually abuse Geena. Barb had some kind of cognitive impairment. It was common knowledge there was something wrong with her as she would have tantrums and get violent. Barb was five or six years older than Geena and the abuse started because Geena witnessed Barb abuse someone else. Barb made Geena part of it, to keep her quiet.
The abuse began when Geena was about five and stopped when she was eight. ‘I knew it was wrong. What she did to me was too embarrassing to tell anyone.’
When Geena was eight she was fostered to a family without consultation or warning. The father used to beat her and Geena would pull her long skirt down over the welts on the back of her legs when she went to school. She missed her sisters.
Geena was at this placement for six years. During this time she never spoke directly to anyone from welfare. All contact was through her foster parents. However, she was aware of a welfare officer, Bronwyn.
On one occasion, Geena’s foster parents told her she could not stay with her father during the holidays as was planned. This was punishment for ‘backchatting’. When her foster mother was speaking with Bronwyn to inform her of the change of plans Geena ‘ripped the phone out of her hand and said “Bronwyn, come and get me”’.
Geena was then moved on to another foster family. She was 14. Her new foster father abused her one day by fondling her breasts. She confronted him and he became violent. She told her foster mother what happened but was verbally abused by her as a result.
On another occasion the father’s 19-year-old son tried to rape her when the parents were at Bible study. ‘He was really violent and I just fought and fought and screamed and he actually bashed me for screaming.’
She managed to ring the minister’s place to get her foster parents to come home. They came straight away but, again, Geena was verbally abused and called a liar and a slut. Her foster father later pulled her aside and threatened her, telling her not to speak to anyone about it again.
Geena left the house. She was 16. At first she spent her scant savings from a part-time job on a hotel for 10 nights. Then she slept on park benches for another two. She finally went to a phone booth to ring her foster parents and ask if she could come back.
‘As I dialled the number I looked down the street and here was my older brother, Raymond and his wife, walking towards me. So I’ve hung up and I’ve just run to him. And I hadn’t seen him since I was maybe 10.’
Raymond arranged teenage crisis accommodation for Geena who then started working full-time and paying rent.
Geena never reported the abuse to police or anyone. ‘It’s weird because [my foster parents] did twist it around, like “you asked for it”.’ It made her wonder whether she was wearing inappropriate clothing the night she nearly got raped. ‘I already felt bad enough that I had dobbed on them.’
As an adult, Geena stayed close to all her siblings. Unlike them, she never self-medicated with drugs or alcohol. In her 20s, she reconnected with her mother who she hadn’t seen for years. She maintained a caring relationship with her father.
Geena has had some counselling but finds it common to encounter a ‘just get over it’ attitude, even in relation to more recent family tragedies. She has worked numerous jobs and finds she quickly rises to management level. She now has a job she loves. ‘You just feel free.’
Geena doesn’t trust people. She doesn’t trust authority. She said she doesn’t want to know people.
‘I don’t have any friends. I have my family and that’s all. I have people I work with but then I’ll go home and call my sisters.’