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Heather Joan's story

‘I was made to be a woman when I was only a baby.’

Heather is a member of the Stolen Generations, born in the late 1950s in the Western Australian wheatbelt. She has only vague memories of living in a camp with her parents, brothers and sisters, and extended family: walking to her grandmother’s house with relatives, eating damper scones and ‘being washed from a dish by my nanna’.

When Heather was almost three, she and her siblings were removed from their parents and made wards of the state. ‘Although I was very young, I remember a lot of crying when we were taken. I was crying for my mum and dad to get me.’

They were placed in a home for Aboriginal children in Perth, run by the Presbyterian Church. This home was divided into cottages. Heather was placed with one of her sisters, but separated from her other siblings most of the time.

Heather was sexually abused the whole time she was at the home. The first to attack were Mario and Terry, the teenage sons of Nina, her cottage mother. When Nina was out getting the evening meal, the boys would ask Heather to come to their bedroom to ‘play’. They would say if she closed her eyes and opened her mouth they would give her a lolly.

However, ‘instead of giving me a lolly, Mario and Terry would take turns putting their penises in my mouth’. Sometimes, they ‘would digitally penetrate my vagina with their fingers. It really hurt'.

This abuse continued for at least two years. Heather thinks some of the other kids knew what was happening. ‘After the sexual abuse occurred the older kids would tell me to go and have a bath. Sometimes those older kids would try to prevent me going up to the Mario and Terry bedroom.’

During the school holidays, ‘I was fostered out to foster parents. I found these times extremely difficult because all I wanted to do was to go home to my parents but I was never allowed'.

The kids would be ‘dressed in nice clothes and lined up. We were told to smile nicely while the white people inspected us’.

It was often single men that chose Heather, and ‘I was sexually abused by a number of the foster fathers that took me home for holidays’. One man would put his finger in her vagina ‘in the lounge room, at the table, anywhere’. Another would flash his genitals at her.

A third foster father would take Heather and her sisters to sleep outside under the stars, and digitally penetrate them while his wife and child slept inside. Heather ‘would sneak into the baby’s room and pinch it so that it would cry, and that the man would have to go inside and help his wife. It was the only way I could get him to leave us alone’.

The man ‘told me that I was very bad, and that he would tell on me’. Another time she locked herself in the toilet with one of her sisters, and we ‘screamed our heads off’ so they would be sent back to the home. ‘We wouldn’t get out of the toilet until the man’s wife was outside.’

She was sexually abused in other placements too. ‘I would cry and hope their wives would protect me, but they never did. I wanted to tell the wives but I was so afraid of what would happen to me. I wanted to tell my parents but I was only a kid and did not know what was happening.’

When Heather’s brother died, she and her siblings were forbidden to attend the funeral. ‘That was a terrible time. The authorities tried to wipe out the memory of our family unit ... That strategy did not work with our family. The bond was too strong.’

Heather was fostered out to her family at 12, and was sexually abused by a relative. At 13 she ran away to a park, knowing there were other Aboriginal people there. She began drinking and smoking, ‘but not in a social way ... I drank in an attempt to forget all about the bad things that happened to me’.

During this time, she was violently raped ‘by two young white men’. ‘In those days, there was no capacity to report these types of incidents to the police. Due to the historical relationship between Aboriginal people and the police, the police were the enemy.’

After this, ‘I could not trust a white man, white people anymore’. She met her de facto husband at 14, and their first child was born a couple of years later. Heather was still a state ward, and so they went to live with her parents in a remote camp so her daughter would not be removed.

Heather stopped drinking in her mid-20s, and completed two university degrees. ‘Psychologically I feel angry, hurt, filthy, invaded by what happened to me. I was robbed of my parents. I have been used and abused by people who said that they knew what was better for me.’

A few years ago Heather reported Mario and Terry to the police. They were charged and the matter went court. The judge questioned Heather’s memory of events.

‘The judge kept saying, “You were very young”. And I said “Well, if you have two penises poked down your throat ... how the hell are you going to forget it? How dare you question me about could I remember this?”’

The brothers were acquitted, with the judge saying that they were too young (15 and 17 years old) to have known what they were doing. She received a very small victims of crime payout.

Heather was awarded the full amount of compensation available under Redress WA. Most of all, she would like an apology from the government for removing her and her siblings from their home. 'I said, "You just want to take the babies and you don’t care about the hearts".'

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