Hazel grew up on an Aboriginal mission in Queensland in the 1950s. When she was four, her mother had to take up work on the nearby stations and her father ‘was sent out to do ringbarking’, so Hazel and her younger sister went to stay with the Wallace family who lived in the camp nearby.
Hazel told the Commissioner she was abused almost every Sunday morning over the next few years by Neville Wallace. Neville’s two daughters were aware of the abuse and used to tease her about it.
‘They used to laugh at my sister and I. That he did dirty to us, if you understand. This, whatever “dirty” is. That he did rude things to you. And just laugh at us and things like that.’
One day, out of the blue, Hazel and her sister were removed from the Wallace family’s care. ‘And the next thing I knew I was in the dormitory. So something must have got out.’
Hazel loved her time living with the other kids in the dormitory. And she enjoyed it even more when she and her sister got to go on an ‘exciting’ six-week holiday with the Kellys, a white family who lived in Melbourne. A year later the girls were fostered and then adopted by the Kellys.
Initially, Hazel was happy living with her new family. She said the first two years were ‘excellent’ but then things started to change.
The Kellys had two sons: Steven, who was in his early 20s and Robert, who was 16. When Hazel was 10, Robert began to abuse her.
At that time Hazel had to get up early every day to do the household chores. She remembers one morning when Mr and Mrs Kelly were out shopping. ‘I was on my knees on the floor, polishing the lino and then Robert just grabbed me from behind and dragged me outside the house, round the side of the house and then up to his room which was attached to the house. That’s where he assaulted me there. And it was sexual intercourse.’
Soon Steven began to abuse her as well. Both boys threatened and manipulated her, and she felt she couldn’t report the abuse to anyone.
‘I thought it was a duty, because my mother had gone through the same sort of thing … And what happened was, they told me: “You tell Mum and Dad, they won’t believe you. We’re their children and you’re just black kids” … And I tell you, if we didn’t do it, or go to their rooms or whatever the case, there was hell to pay the next day.’
When she was 13 Hazel fell pregnant to Robert and later miscarried. She told the Commissioner that at the time she was in terrible pain and had no idea what was happening. Mrs Kelly called the doctor and then ‘it was all just “whisper, whisper, hush, hush” and nothing was said’.
Eventually, when she was 15, Hazel ran away and spent a year or so living on the streets before she was sent to a girls’ home where she stayed until she was 18.
Hazel went on to have two kids and now has eight grandkids. She looks back on her time with the Kellys with mixed feelings. Though she was sexually abused by the two boys and physically abused by Mrs Kelly, Hazel had a close relationship with Mr Kelly, whom she always called ‘Dad’.
‘I didn’t get to see Dad before he died, which is the saddest part of the whole lot, because he was a beautiful man. If I could have picked a father, he would have been the one I’d pick. But this other lot was just so dark to me.’
Because she had missed her adoptive father’s last moments, Hazel made a special effort to visit Mrs Kelly just before she died.
‘I walked into the hospital in the room that she was in, and as soon as I opened the door she looked straight at me. And I said hello and kissed her ... and all of a sudden she said, “I’m sorry it happened to you”.’
Robert and Steven were also present at the hospital, and that was the last time Hazel had anything to do with them. Recently, however, she decided to report the abuse to police.
‘It might not come to anything, but I just want them recognised for who they are and what they are … I’m not ashamed of what they did to me, I’m not ashamed of that. It’s not my fault that they did it to me.’