At the age of three, Glenda, along with her two sisters, were taken from their Aboriginal mother into foster care. This was in the 1960s in regional Queensland. Glenda thinks it might have been because her mother was very ill at the time. She has since died.
The children were originally fostered, then later adopted, by Pat and Donald Bartlett in Brisbane. Donald was their uncle and Pat had children of her own.
Glenda can’t remember exactly when the abuse started but it was happening by the age of five or six. Donald used to wake her up at night and carry her into his bed ‘to perform his filth’ when Pat was out.
Donald was a sexual predator. He would monitor the girls’ movements and told them when it was ‘time’. If they didn’t stop what they were doing and come with him, he would belt or whip them, sometimes with electrical cords.
When Glenda had a shower, Donald would stand in the high underfloor space and look up at her through the open drain. He would demand that she squat over the drain while he masturbated. If she resisted he would threaten violence. The sexual abuse was extremely frequent. ‘It was constant.’
Because of the threats, Glenda didn’t tell anyone about the abuse. She assumed that Pat was unaware of it. However, only last year when she read her sister’s file, Glenda learned that Pat did know that abuse occurred. One day Pat had caught Donald molesting Glenda’s older sister, Kim. Pat arranged for Kim to be removed from the house as a consequence (leaving the two remaining sisters behind for Donald to continue to prey upon). Glenda finds this particularly upsetting as it means that Pat knew and the Welfare Department also knew. And yet she and her other sister were left there.
Whenever welfare officers visited the house, the evidence of violence was all around them. There was always broken property lying around and holes in the wall. Yet the children remained there. Glenda and her sisters, who were always told to be quiet when Welfare visited, were never asked about their experiences in the home. Police were also often called to the house because of the ‘continual belting and screaming’. Yet the children remained. ‘I’m just surprised that if they knew all that, then why wasn’t anything done?’
At high school one day, one of Glenda’s teachers saw welts from a Donald belting on Glenda’s back. The teacher questioned Glenda, who said she had fallen over. This is what she had been told to say by Donald. No action was taken by the school.
When Glenda was 16, Pat and Donald split up. Donald left the house and the abuse stopped. The sisters have remained in contact. However, Kim now has mental health problems.
The abuse affected Glenda’s life in myriad ways. Because she hated home so much she performed well at school, giving it all her concentration. ‘I think [the abuse] taught me how to turn off and turn on … Since I got in the school gate, that’s it. I could leave what was happening at home through the night times, just be at school, enjoy that while the time was there.’ In Year 10 she was dux of the year.
She finished Year 12 and married young. ‘I guess it was my way of getting out of the rut.’ At first she didn’t tell her husband about the abuse but eventually opened up about it. They have a supportive relationship over 30 years later.
Glenda applied for redress, but because she was unable to produce evidence of the abuse she was awarded the base level compensation of $7,000. ‘It got me a plasma’, Glenda quipped.
About 20 years ago Glenda did a lot of Christian ‘prayer counselling’. ‘That was a big support. They taught me how to, through the word of God, how to renew my mind … I can, like, breathe again and live again.’ She finds now that, although she still has memories of the abuse, they don’t evoke the same feelings that they used to. She believes that because of her faith, she didn’t turn to drugs or alcohol to self-medicate.
Glenda works as a cleaner, work she enjoys because she’s on her own. Because she never received any affection or support growing up, she gives that daily to her own children. ‘Spoiled them rotten’ she told the Commissioner, with a laugh.
Glenda strongly recommends that Aboriginal children should not be fostered with their relatives and that the screening process be more rigorous. The safety of the child is the most important thing.