Lorelli May's story

Lorelli has no memory of being removed from her mother’s care. She has since been told that she and her siblings were taken away while her mother was visiting another sibling in hospital. The children were taken to an Aboriginal mission several hundred kilometres from Perth and Lorelli stayed till the early 1970s when she was about 13. Her mother knew the children were in the mission but thought they’d be safe there.

Lorelli described severe physical and emotional abuse. She was caned across the fingers, ‘hit with a fire poker’ and beaten on her bare buttocks with a leather strap.

‘If we wet the bed, we would be forced into cold showers. On one occasion one of the male missionaries grabbed my hair and tore at it, shaking me, because I had tried to make my hair look nice for dinner.'

The food ‘was always terrible’, Lorelli said. ‘We would be forced to eat maggot-infested food, and children were even sometimes made to eat their vomit.’

One day Lorelli slipped in the bathroom and injured her ‘private parts’. Bleeding, she was taken to lie on a couch.

‘I was made to lie down with my legs spread while a female missionary attended to me. There was a male missionary there at this time and he was able to see me while I was lying on the couch.’

On another occasion Lorelli was beaten across her bare buttocks by a bus driver who was irritated because she’d been singing.

When she was 13, Lorelli ran away with several friends. During the time she and the friends were making their way to Perth, she was raped by someone who knew her uncle. When the girls were picked up by police and taken to a juvenile justice facility, Lorelli reported the rape to medical staff. Despite being a ward of the state and contracting venereal disease, ‘there was never any follow-up, and there are no records of the report’.

Still in her teens, Lorelli went to live with her mother but only for a short time. She ran away to Perth, and survived by stealing and allowing a man to take topless photos of her. She was in her mid-20s before she told her mother about the sexual abuse.

‘I felt that as I got older in life, the welfare department had failed their line of duty. Because with a child that runs away, nobody knows what happens within that period of time if that child’s been sexually abused or anything. Because you go down into lockdown where you don’t speak out because you’re afraid of the situation – and your body, you feel very dirty within you.’

Until she was in her 40s, Lorelli used drugs and drank heavily. ‘I just kept on abusing myself with alcohol and drugs … I didn’t want to acknowledge my family or anything like that, I just disconnected myself, 'cause my brothers’ and sisters’ kids they grow up, it’s just like standover tactics. So I just told them to go and get out. Didn’t want any contact with them.’

She described having difficulty finding work as she’d had such a poor education.

‘The biggest impact on my life, on this situation is, without the parent’s consent in the first place, and having an Aboriginal person working within the welfare department going around and picking us up and just chucking us straight into a mission, and control, control, control, and education, push you through like it’s a cattle station ...

'It’s sacrificed a lot of people’s lives in the workforce and the way that they clothed us and everything like that, and didn’t give us the real proper true values of life and understanding really of parenthood or anything like that.’

In the late 2000s, Lorelli received a payment of $45,000 through WA Redress. She’d tried counselling but only briefly. ‘I went to a few sessions and it got that way that I don’t seem to be benefitting.’

She worked now for an organisation advocating to prevent Aboriginal deaths in custody.

‘In the situation of today with the failure of the government throughout the years on our people, it’s a crisis out there with families. And the damage is really playing a role and there is no structure of anything forward for our people to relate with, and you know this is where I feel there needs to be Aboriginal people that are in government, to really hammer these big shots – the big shots with their ammunition. And stop this genocide of many centuries of our people.

‘The impact of the colonisation has played a big impact on our people. And nothing’s getting solved out of it, and the prisons are just packed and it’s getting even worse.'

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