Kaye never knew starvation until she was put in the girls’ dormitory. Before that, she’d lived with relatives in a government-run Aboriginal mission’s camp in rural Queensland.
Her grandfather grew peaches, lemons, oranges, mulberries and vegetables. He caught fish, and brought home milk from the dairy where he worked. The family had meat, tea and sugar from the rations.
School holidays were full of swimming, fishing, riding horses. They had hot water to bathe in. The children knew they were loved.
In the mid-1950s, when Kaye was around eight years old, her mother went to work and she and her little sister were placed in the mission’s girls’ dormitory. She remembers this move as an ‘eye-opener’ – they only had cold showers, the food was highly regimented, and punishments were harsh. In winters they would get hosed out of their beds, with the fire hose.
‘We were drenched. And especially when we reached puberty too, when we got hosed like that, you could see we were developing. People would hose us down again, and we’d stand, they’d be there smiling ... It was very shameful.’
Kaye used to keep quiet, but would get punished ‘for anything or nothing’ regardless. She was locked in a dark storeroom all night, and has slept with the light on ever since. Sixty years later, scars from the beatings and floggings she received are still visible.
Around the time Kaye started puberty, it was rumoured a girl at the dormitory had shaved her pubic hair. A decision was made to inspect the other girls of that age to see if they had done the same.
‘So, we were called in there, we were lined up. There were three women there ... We were told to drop our pants, and hold our dress up. They now had to check if we shaved ours as well.’ One of the women started putting her hand on their pubic areas. ‘We were horrified, and tried to pull away.’
In the 90s Kaye and her sisters applied for compensation through a state government scheme, for their time on the mission. She felt both the process and amount they received were ‘pathetic ... like a slap in the face’.
When Kaye was in her mid-teens, she decided she wanted to apply for the defence forces. As she was too young to enlist, it was suggested she become a nurse instead. Still under the Aboriginal Protection Act – meaning she was considered a ward of the state – she moved to a nearby town to begin her studies.
While she was a student nurse, she was raped by a white police officer. She did not tell anyone, not even the matron at the hospital, but left nursing. If she had not been sexually abused, she would have stayed and completed her qualification.
Kaye got married and had children. Growing up in the dormitory, without her mother’s love, impacted on the way she showed her kids affection and care. She knows she was very protective of them, as she was with her siblings on the mission.
‘I did the best I could, I couldn’t really show them, but I’d say it by doing things. Because I wanted them to have a better life than what I did, to make sure they had food, they had blankets, they were warm during the winter.’
Kaye knows that many Aboriginal families have been fractured like her own. Sometimes this means that people don’t learn how to look after their children. She would like to see more education for parents to improve their skills. This would help keep kids in their families and out of care, and reduce their chances of being abused.
After Kaye’s children were grown, she went back to study and became a teacher. She was a child safety officer as well, and didn’t feel the system was improving very much to protect children.
Kaye has only recently talked to her sisters about the sexual abuse she experienced, and her husband still does not know. When she told her oldest daughters, ‘they just comforted me’.