Hilary came from ‘a very violent domestic background’. One day when she was little, her mother left the children with her grandmother and did not return. ‘We didn’t know where she’d gone to. She just left one day and didn’t come back.’
In the mid-1960s, when she was five, her uncle Marcus started sexually abusing her. ‘He has molested me many, many times prior to myself being taken into care ... My health suffers from a lot of those early rapes and molestations.’
When Hilary was 10 her dad then placed her and her siblings with the Hamiltons, a non-Aboriginal couple the family knew in suburban Perth.
‘They were given custody of myself, my brother and my sister. And it was a time of a lot of confusion for us because we hadn’t seen our mother for many, many months. We were allowed to see our father probably once or twice a year ... A lot of things had died in me ... And I started to hate my life.’
She was sexually abused in this placement too. ‘One night at the foster parents’ place they weren’t there ... There was an older man, he was about 21, and he was a prior foster child of the people that I was living with.’
‘I woke up with Gerry Blunt on top of me, raping me in the bedroom. And I tried to push him away and he just grabbed my arms and I couldn’t move. And then I think I must have passed out, out of sheer fear.
‘And then that started to happen quite often, where he would corner me and do the same thing. And caught me in the bathroom one day as I was going in there ... He’d locked both doors and caught me in the bathroom. And that happened right up until he had left, some years after.
‘As I look back now I feel that the Department of Community Welfare at the time neglected the care of duty. I believe they never should have placed my brother and sister and I in a home where there are older men in the home. They put me at risk, definitely.’
The Hamiltons’ own sons would also molest Hilary. Every night she was expected to sit on Mr Hamilton’s knee, give him a kiss and tell him she loved him. She hated doing this.
Hilary was expected to do all of the cooking and cleaning for the family, and would often be left with blisters and an aching body. Mrs Hamilton would scream at Hilary and make her do the chores again if they were not completed to her satisfaction.
Hilary was not allowed to speak her language, and was indoctrinated into the Hamiltons’ Christianity. She was constantly told that her mother did not want her, and that she would burn in hell if she did not follow the family’s beliefs and values. There were no other Aboriginal kids in her primary school and she was the butt of racist taunts and bullying.
When Hilary was around 14 years old she was allowed to spend a weekend with her father and her uncle Marcus, and they stayed at a relative’s house. Marcus repeatedly raped her when her father was out. She never told anyone about this abuse.
Although Hilary had a caseworker who visited her twice a year she did not disclose this abuse to him. 'He might as well have been someone from Mars for all that mattered to me.’ Even though he interviewed her on her own ‘I doubt if I would have spoken to him about anything really that was affecting me’.
She thinks it would have made a difference if the worker had been female, and Aboriginal. ‘There was no personal connection there at all. I just saw them as this white welfare officer.’
After leaving the Hamiltons, Hilary married and had children. The abuse she experienced as a child has caused many problems between her and her husband, and they have engaged extensively with marriage counselling. Her adult life has been marred by depression, nightmares, intrusive and dark thoughts, feelings of hate and resentment, and an inability to trust people.
‘I was pretty profoundly messed up in the head. I believe for many, many years I was emotionally crippled, couldn’t express myself in either anger or sorrow, certainly wasn’t able to feel any form of happiness.’
Hilary lodged an application with WA Redress and received an ex gratia payment of over $25,000, and assisted many other people to access this process.
‘When I first saw the redress I didn’t want nothing to do with it, because of the experiences I went through ... I didn’t want to know nothing about it. But then I started to think about it and I thought well, you know maybe something can come out of it for myself and for others that have been through that situation ...
‘I think by doing the redress it made me stronger in who I am as a 50-year-old Aboriginal woman. It made me stronger.’
Although suicide is never far from her mind even now, she has found ways to deal with these feelings.
‘Even today I still think about it briefly, but I don’t think about it, don’t dwell on it like I once did. And the reason why I don’t dwell on it – it’s like a fleeting thought that just goes in my head and straight out – is because of not only the work that we’ve done through the redress, but also my children and my grandchildren.’
Hilary has tried to educate children in her own family ‘in being aware of what’s appropriate touch and what’s not appropriate touching’. She recommended that there should be dedicated intervention services for Aboriginal families at risk that are adequately resourced and carried out by not-for-profit Aboriginal organisations.
‘Working with a lot of the Aboriginal women through a healing program, we talked a lot about these issues, sexual abuse, because a lot of the younger women that I worked with also were in foster care and experienced similar situations.’