Lena was born on a large cattle station in the Northern Territory. When she was four or five, her mother, who was a busy drover, arranged for Lena to live with an aunt and uncle in the East Kimberley’s so that she could go to school. As an Aboriginal child entering Western Australia in the 1950s, Lena came under the guardianship of the Native Welfare Office which, records show, knew of this move.
Lena’s mum thought she was leaving Lena with people who would look after her. However, after two or three years, ‘things happened’ with her uncle which Lena did not elaborate on. The sexual abuse continued until, not yet in her teens, she fell pregnant to him but was too scared to tell anyone.
‘Nobody didn’t know anything about me 'cause I didn’t tell no one’, she said.
Lena was sent back to live with her mother who, by that stage, was working in the Kimberleys. After a visit from the Native Welfare Office, and a medical examination, her pregnancy was revealed, and her mother and stepfather were ‘very angry’.
Records show that the office reported the pregnancy to the police, and that Lena made a police statement in which she named her uncle as the perpetrator. However, neither the police, nor the office brought the uncle to account.
A relative then collected Lena and her baby, and took them to live with family back on the cattle station. She remembers being accepted and treated well.
‘I got looked after by the manager there and his wife’, Lena said. ‘They grew my daughter up. And also they grew me up too’. Alongside the manager’s own kids, she raised her baby and studied via School of the Air, juggling the two as best she could. A few years later, when she was old enough to work, Lena left to live with her mother.
The abuse she suffered, and her experience of feeling ‘so afraid of a lot of man from the station’, meant that forming relationships with men was subsequently very difficult. With time, she learned to trust men again, and had several children.
Lena’s first child knows her father’s name, but knows nothing of the abuse he subjected Lena to. Not wanting to talk about it, or be talked about, Lena kept the abuse secret almost all her life. However, the fact that she pulled through on her own is a source of pride. ‘I kept it to myself and continued doing other things’, she said. ‘Done lot of working and all that, and I got a house of my own.’
However, heavy drinking and smoking helped Lena to nurse her secret until, a decade ago, she decided to give up both and be there for her grandchildren. ‘I done it on my own’, she said. ‘Just gave it up.’ Today, the sight of someone suffering might bring back her own experience, ‘but not so bad to get upset or anything’. She is more likely to urge that person to speak up and access the help that was not available all those years ago.
These days, Lena struggles with multiple health problems, but still manages to rise early to get her grandkids off to school. Fiercely protective of them, she has a sign in her house banning alcohol, and is quick to chase drunks away or call the police if need be.
‘In my house, nobody can get drunk, 'cause I got a sign. I tell them, don’t bring your grog in here. Stay outside with your grog. Don’t listen, I ring the cops on ya!’
In her 60s, Lena finally broke her silence and told her story to the Royal Commission. She did so with the encouragement of a cousin who said ‘don’t be afraid. Bring it out. You keep it in here, you make yourself sick’. She continues to keep a watchful eye on her grandkids, and is confident that, should they come to harm, they would feel safe enough to come to her and speak up.