‘They weren’t sweet and innocent. They weren’t Catholic people. They were pagans. They were brides of the devil, not brides of Christ. That’s what I call them. Because so much damage has been done to us, it’s amazing I’m still alive.’
Janine was taken from her mother when she was two days old and placed in a Catholic mission for Aboriginal children. It was the early 1950s in Western Australia, and her older brothers and sister had been placed in the mission too.
She only knew that she had brothers there because when she was still a toddler, her older sister would point out her brothers as they walked past the girls’ house on their way to classes. Her brothers left the mission a couple of years later when they were old enough, leaving Janine and her sister behind.
Janine told the Commissioner: ‘We been to hell and back in that place’.
The children were forced to do heavy chores from a young age, were frequently beaten, and were given terrible food and very little of it. Those who ran away were brought back and had their heads shaven as punishment.
Janine said the children were abused and ritually humiliated in front of each other. In class the boys and girls were all mixed in together, but the nuns would pull the girls up in front of the class if they were caught even looking in the direction of a boy.
‘They’d turn around and say, “Why are you looking at him? Are you looking at his fly?” I’m looking around to see where the fly is and she goes, “Come up the front here. You know what we’re talking about.” They didn’t teach us the facts of life or anything like that.
‘We had to stand in front of the class, we had to get our dress, pull it over our heads, turn to the class, pull our pants down – they used to part our cheeks in front of the class.
‘That went on for years and years and years. And everybody used to say to us, “We know what your bum looks like”, because these nuns were doing it in front of the boys.’
If the girls got sick they were taken to a big dormitory. ‘They’d tell us to lay on the bed, lift our clothes up and they’d part our legs. They’d be there with a ruler or a cane or something, parting your privates.’
Janine said she will remember those things forever – ‘like if somebody come with a rubber stamp and stamp it on our brains’.
‘They used to be so rude … They were horrible people. They had nothing better to do.’
When Janine was 13, her mother took her and her sister out of the mission and back to their home town. When it came time to be taken back to the mission, the two girls hid at the beach and refused to go back.
However, Janine found it very hard to form a connection with her mother, having been separated from her since birth. The sense of separation from family was compounded by the nuns telling her that her parents were dead and failing to tell her that she had lots of cousins there at the mission with her.
She attended the local high school, but there were very few Aboriginal kids there and Janine missed the girls from the mission, who she considered more like family than her own. After three years she left with an aunt and went to Perth. She completed her education there and went on to work in high schools, as a mentor for Aboriginal kids.
‘I’m a proud mother of two sons, and they never left my side until they were teenagers. Because I thought what happened to me might happen to them too.
‘My mum’s grandmother was taken away from her settlement and sent down to a mission. My mother was taken away. She was put in a receiving home. So that goes to show that trend hasn’t stopped.’
Janine said she still has good friends from the mission, and is recognised when she is out and about by people who’ll ‘sing out’ for her. But she continues to bear the scars of many years of abuse. A few years ago she approached Redress WA and received some compensation but never got the chance to tell her full story.
‘To tell the truth, I’m glad it’s come to this. Because at night time you go home, sit down, go to sleep and all of a sudden you jump up. Why? You think someone’s going to come along and flog you while you sleep. You’ve still got that in your body. And people don’t believe us.
‘When Kevin Rudd said “Sorry”, someone asked me to go down and I said, “Why should I go down there? Sorry is just an ordinary word, everyday word. Why do you keep saying sorry? The damage has been done.”
'But they can’t see past that. They can’t. To keep talking about it would upset anybody that’s been in that predicament. That’s what it’s been doing.’