‘My mother was in and out of homes as well. And the abuse happened to her. And then she carried it on and gave it to us.’
Kellie was born in a Queensland mining town in the early 1970s, and as a baby her mother surrendered her and her older brother Kent into care. Already known to the department for being neglected, they were put into a Catholic children’s home.
A Mr and Mrs Bennett ‘would take me out for holidays, and they would also take my brother out as well. But during one of these visits they caught Kent molesting me, and put a stop to Kent coming to their house’.
The nuns would let Kellie’s mother, who was always drunk, take Kellie out too – even though the Bennetts insisted this wasn’t safe. One time when she did not return the police were called, and she was finally found in a hotel with her mum and dad. ‘But after that, they still let them take me out on visits.’
Kellie ended up living with the Bennetts when she was three. ‘I was well cared for, and very much loved.’ She was not there for very long before being sent back to live with her mother, and her mother’s new partner Jimmy (‘but still under the care of the department’). Her files note that the worker at the time did not expect her mother ‘to change her behaviours overnight’.
Jimmy, her mother’s new partner, sexually abused her while she lived in this house. Even though her mother saw Jimmy fondling Kellie’s breasts she did not intervene. Kellie’s grandmother raised concerns with the department, but Kellie remained living there.
Kellie received very little education during her childhood as her mother moved the family around a lot depending on her on/off relationship with Jimmy. Her mother and stepfather were also emotionally and physically abusive towards her and Kent, and made them steal from shops to support the family (they would be flogged if they refused, or got caught). ‘She just didn’t want me to feel good about myself. She was such an ugly person. No matter how hard we tried to please her we just couldn’t.’
Neighbours often called the police about the physical assaults. ‘We would be screaming and screaming and screaming ... The police would come and she’d make us put on long pants and long skirts. And they would just talk to them. And that’s a thing that I have. That the police and the welfare listen to the parents before they listen to the children.’
Kellie wonders why nobody from the school ever questioned why she and Kent were covered in bruises. She started rebelling, and would wag classes ‘because I was that stupid, I didn’t know how to do my spelling ... I’ve never achieved anything out of my whole life, because I haven’t had the education’.
Kent tried to kill Kellie when she was 12, significantly injuring her. Police were called, and Kellie required treatment in hospital. Even so she was not removed from this environment, despite being in the care of the state.
Her brother also continued sexually assaulting her. ‘The things he was doing – I don’t know where the hell he would have learned it.’ She feels guilt that Kent was never fostered, but was left in the children’s home or with her mother while ‘I had loving foster parents that fought and fought and fought for me’ (even though authorities never returned her to them).
She ran away to her father, hoping he could help her be placed back with the Bennetts. Hitchhiking there, she was raped by a man who picked her up – ‘and that night my real father did the same.’
Kellie kept reporting the abuse she experienced, despite nothing ever being done about it. ‘I would leave school and walk to the child welfare and tell them of my brother molesting me, my father molesting me, [my mother] forever hitting us and everything. And none of them reports have ever been handed to me. And I would like them to be honest, as I’m being honest ... I’ve got files here ... The things me and Kent both went and reported to the welfare, none of that is in any of the files ... or it’s blacked out.’
She continued to run away, and was sexually assaulted on multiple occasions by strangers. ‘If somebody helped me there was always a price to pay as well.’
Eventually she was sent to a government children’s home. ‘I couldn’t understand why I was punished again. Because I kept saying, I want to go to my foster parents. And it wouldn’t happen.’
During the night the boys would come into the girls’ quarters to molest them, and Kellie was sexually abused by a boy around her age. ‘The sad thing was they were writing down in my files, virtually that I was a slut. I wasn’t, you know ... When I did get my files and I started going through them, that just broke my heart.’
Kellie ran away interstate after being forced to visit her mother, but it does not seem that authorities attempted to locate her. She found casual work, living on the streets or in boarding houses. She fell pregnant at 14, and was persuaded to terminate the pregnancy, lying about her name and age to access an abortion.
The Bennetts, who she still calls Mum and Dad, paid for her first wedding. Her husband ‘was a very nice Catholic person, but I never felt like I belonged – I wasn’t good enough’.
The abuse caused her problems with sexual intimacy. ‘When we were having sex I would have to turn the light on or something and see who it was. Because I didn’t know if it was my brother or my stepfather, you know.’
Her second husband was extremely violent, and ‘started giving me drugs ... anything that we could get, just because it stopped my memories. It made me feel like I was a person’.
Kellie does not trust the police so has not reported the abuse to them. Kent is now deceased, and Jimmy is too, but her mother and father are still alive. She is seeking legal advice about compensation.
She still often feels suicidal, and finds it increasingly hard to block out the bad memories. ‘I’m so tired of it just being there. And sleeping, and it coming back in your dreams.’
Finally she has a counsellor she gets on well with, after years of struggling to find appropriate support. ‘I’ve been in and out of mental health because they think that I’m crazy. I’m not crazy, I just needed to get everything out ... Mental health isn’t the answer, just giving us these drugs that you can’t even function.’