Gertie's story

Gertie was born in an Aboriginal mission north of Brisbane. Life was strict and the superintendent’s word was law. ‘You couldn’t back answer em. Because they were the boss and that was it.’

There were beltings and canings, at school and in the dorms, and no freedom at all. Welfare workers never came to check on the girls. ‘We had to work. If you played up they threw us in jail on bread and water.’

Gertie’s job from the age of 10 was to polish the floors in the dining room. Mission food was good, and they did get supervised outings to the picture show sometimes. ‘They had one of the trackers up there to look after us, march us back. They locked us in anyways when we got back.’

Kids ran away from the mission regularly and the white police, who were used as a constant threat to the kids, would send black trackers after them. It was a tracker who sexually assaulted Gertie when he was sent to fetch back a group of runaway girls. He grabbed Gertie and touched her bottom and breasts. When she screamed to the other girls for help, they jumped on him and hit him. The tracker took off.

When the girls got back to the mission, they were put in jail for three weeks. It was winter and they were given two blankets between them. At one stage some police tipped a toilet drum full of excrement onto them. ‘We had to wait till the next day for a shower. And that should not have been on.’

Knowing that talking to the white supervisors would do no good, Gertie told the Aboriginal matron what had happened to her but she couldn’t do anything. All decisions were made by the white staff. She also reported the abuse to the police at the time but they ignored her.

And in the years since then, Gertie never talked about the black tracker’s assault to anyone but the other mission girls. ‘Black traitor, they used to call ‘im.’

Desperate to get out of the mission, the teenaged Gertie married a man who was a lot older than her. She was sent to work as a domestic on various farms but the money she earned was sent straight back to the mission and she didn’t see any of it. The work was hard but the property owners were good.

Gertie endured two years of domestic violence before she ran away to Brisbane. But when she got her freedom from mission, she abused it. ‘I got on the grog.’

After two more failed marriages and a stint in Sydney and then back in Queensland, Gertie now lives in the Northern Territory. She’s been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. She doesn’t drink that much anymore. ‘I’ll have a few beers, me and me old mates across the road, pensioners. We have our little parties!’

Gertie worries about the young children in her town, who wander around completely unsupervised, ‘screaming and carrying on and drinking beer and wine’. She despairs of many of the parents, who are often drunk themselves. ‘All they’re doing is breedin’ kids and gettin' money, you know? It’s a hard thing to say but you see it and that’s it.’

Gertie was awarded some money from the Queensland redress scheme. She could have applied for more but wasn’t interested. ‘We’re getting old. I’m taking what they give me.’

Her opinion of the written apology that was sent to her is less laid back. ‘It was up the shit,’ she told the Commissioner, laughing. ‘It’s all right to apologise, but they don’t know what you go through. How hard it is.’

Gertie didn’t get counselling. She didn’t ever really think about it. ‘Well it happened, it happened. It doesn’t worry me anymore. I’m on me own, that’s it. I got nothing to worry about.’

She doesn’t know what has kept her strong over the years. ‘Buggered if I know. I don’t know. I’m straight out. I don’t give a damn who they are.’

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