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Loreena's story

Loreena was born in the early 1950s, and grew up on an Aboriginal mission run by the government in central Queensland. Her parents were semi-desert people. Government legislation at the time dictated where Aboriginal people lived and worked, and their families had been moved around a lot before they were sent to the mission.

When Loreena was 10 years old her mother died. ‘Our granny looked after us while Dad worked, he worked in the bush. And they took us off Dad. Our aunty looked after us, our uncle wanted us, but they said no.’

This was a very hard time for her father. ‘Losing Mum, and then losing us kids as well. It’s too much for my old father. They took him away from us, and took us away from him, when he was going through a bad time. Losing his wife and then losing his children ... I got that one thought in my head, that my father loved us.’

She told the Royal Commission that children who can’t be cared for by their parents should be kept with family, or close family friends, if possible.

‘If they’ve got to be taken away, then listen to the family, where those children should be placed.’

Loreena and her siblings were placed in a dormitory at the mission. The children there were subjected to physical abuse from the staff, and forced to do hard labour. She was flogged naked in front of other residents there, and also had to watch this happen to others, including older girls who were menstruating.

This was upsetting and embarrassing for Loreena. She was also subjected to psychological abuse, including slurs about her family. She tried to escape from the dormitory a number of times, either on foot or by jumping trains.

Each time she and other children escaped they were returned and locked up. Nobody ever asked them why they were running away, or spoke to them about the bad treatment by the people who were supposed to care for them.

After her final escape, Loreena was flogged and put into jail. She was around 12 years old, and taken to the mission’s hospital, where a male doctor gave her an internal examination. ‘I didn’t know what was happening ... I was in shock.’

This was extremely frightening and humiliating for Loreena. ‘I was so ashamed. I just wanted the ground to open up I think, and swallow me up ... We didn’t know it was wrong for them to do that to us, ‘cause we were only children. And they did what they wanted to do with us anyway.’

Loreena told her best friend what the doctor had done, and never attempted to run away again. It wasn’t until she was 30 that she spoke about this abuse again.

She left school when she was around 14 years old. At 15 she was sent to work on a sheep station, looking after children and keeping house. She then went to live with her older sister, but this was also difficult, as her sister and her partner abused alcohol.

At 16, Loreena had her first child, and lied about her age so she could keep him. She found it hard to maintain relationships, and has been in relationships which were abusive. For a time, Loreena used alcohol as a way of coping with her experiences, but has now been able to overcome her drinking.

Loreena went on to have more children, and also to adopt a daughter. She is very affected by guilt around her relationships with her kids. ‘When I had my own children, I treated them the way that I was treated. I didn’t know any better, ‘cause no-one ever showed us any love or compassion ... I feel very guilty today, about my children.’

At one stage, some of her children were removed. ‘All this happened to me, them taking my children, my two oldest boys off me.’

Loreena’s relationship with her grandchildren has been different however, and she takes great joy in this.

‘The love that I never gave my children, my grandchildren got it. I love them dearly.’

Another impact of the abuse has been that Loreena now finds it hard to access medical care, and cannot see any male doctors for gynaecological or related matters. This has been hard when living in remote communities, as sometimes there are no female doctors available.

Loreena’s belief in the Lord has sustained her, and during particularly challenging times she would call on people from the church to come around and chat with her. Her sisters and children are supportive too.

Very recently Loreena discovered where her mother was buried over 50 years ago. ‘After all those years ... I sat, and I just said Mum, I’ve found you at last. I said, I’ve got a lot to tell you.’

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