Joanne was terrified when her sick mother was sent away for treatment and she and her sisters were sent to live in the dormitory section of an Aboriginal mission in Queensland.
‘No mother. And my father couldn’t do anything about it, because of the way we had to live. Had to do what the white people told us otherwise we got into trouble. They had bells for going to bed. One rang and you had to be up at your house. The second bell rang, if you were caught – 21 days in jail.’
In the late 1950s, when Joanne was in her mid-teens, a boy snuck into the dormitory. Nothing bad happened but when the authorities found Joanne and the boy together they presumed she had done something wrong.
‘And I had to go to the courthouse and they asked if I had intercourse. And I didn’t know anything about it. I didn’t know what intercourse was. We didn’t know anything about sexual or that sort of thing.’
Because Joanne didn’t answer their questions, the authorities locked her in a dark cell where ‘you couldn’t even see your hand’. Eventually they took her out again and asked her more questions about the boy.
‘I told them I didn’t do that and they put me back in jail until the doctor came and I had to go to hospital to see the doctor. I didn’t know what I was going there for either. And the doctor examined me and said that everything was alright … The indignity. It was embarrassing … I never, ever got into trouble after that.’
Some months later, Joanne’s mother died. Separated from her sisters, Joanne spent the next few years alone. Then she met a man, married young and had several kids. Joanne’s husband was violent. ‘He used to belt me around.’ Eventually Joanne took the kids and left him ‘because I couldn’t take his abuse anymore’.
Joanne moved interstate to the city where her sisters were living. ‘I took my children … down here. I wanted them to have a better life than I did.’ Sadly, Joanne said, she was never able to be the loving mother that she wanted to be.
‘I tried plenty of times but I just couldn’t … I’ve been cruel to my children because of the way we were brought up. And I didn’t want them to do any trouble. I suppose I was a bad mum in a way. But I was always good to my grandchildren.’