Lorna Marie's story

‘Not growing up with your family when you are Aboriginal is a life sentence. You struggle with your identity. Growing up with your own family strengthens your identity. Not knowing where you belong is proper no good. You feel like an empty shell that should be filled with who we are as a people.’

Lorna was three when she was removed from her family under the Native Welfare Act in the mid 1950s. ‘All my family, four generations, we’ve been stolen.’

She was sent to a Western Australian mission run by the Churches of Christ. It was common for the male missionaries to make the girls strip naked and run to the shower block, and to watch over the girls as they washed.

Mr Dennis would order them to face him as they bathed. ‘If we had our backs to him, he would yell, turn around and clean your crotch.’ Mr Grant would come and watch them shower every day.

One night when Lorna was seven, she woke up to find Mr McDonald’s hands inside her pants. He told her he was making sure she hadn’t wet the bed, but did the same thing to her during the daytime too.

At night the men would come and take the more developed girls out of the dormitory to sexually abuse them. It was common knowledge that Dennis frequently molested a girl in his office.

The mission kids were also physically abused, had to do lots of chores, and were denied any real nurturing. ‘The missionaries told me I’d be a no-hoper, I’d be a drunk, and I’d be in the gutter. And how can they say that to little children?’

In her mid-teens Lorna went to live with a white foster family in the city, to work and pursue her education. ‘You feel like an alien, because nobody there looks like you.’ She had permission to attend night classes, but the family wouldn’t drive her. They took all of her wages, so she was forced to walk everywhere, even in the dark.

One evening she was abducted by a carload of white men, taken to the bush and viciously raped at knifepoint. The men dumped her in the forest ‘like I was nothing … My body was bruised and battered, my dress was ripped, my spirit was smashed and my heart was broken’.

Lorna walked home and had a shower, ‘the warm running water was soothing and comforting. It was the hug that I needed’. She didn’t tell the family she lived with what had happened.

‘I had no intention of telling white fellas ever, because I felt that no one would hear me or believe me. It’s like the little 16-year-old Lorna has carried this festering wound around with her for half a century.’

Afterwards she developed a vaginal infection, which ‘made me smell. It was very embarrassing at work because people would tell me to be more hygienic’. She knew she needed medical care, but didn’t know who to see or how to ask for help.

Lorna was subjected to further group rapes, including one by the same men. ‘The real pain from those experiences is that my uterus was damaged and I’m unable to have children. I adopted children who now tell me that in their hearts they are my children.’

The impacts of being removed and experiencing childhood sexual abuse have been severe. Her husband said she ‘had a heart of stone’, because she found it hard to show love or affection. Being a parent was difficult, as she had no role models. ‘I grew my own kids up, I didn’t even know what a mother and father were supposed to do.’

With her daughter, ‘I didn’t know when to stop bathing her. She was in high school, I was cleaning her teeth and bathing her and dressing her, combing her hair’. Now her daughter is an independent adult, but when Lorna visits ‘she becomes like a little girl again ... I feel sad I’ve done that’.

Lorna has frequent nightmares and wails loudly in her sleep, socially isolates herself at times, and still finds it hard to seek help from anyone.

‘Many people say to get over it. But you cannot. It’s like your shadow, it follows you everywhere. It colours your world.’

To this day, she is scared of white men. Her PTSD and depression have been very debilitating, but she realises these conditions are not her fault. ‘I’m on medication now. I saw an Aboriginal doctor because I didn’t believe the white doctors, to take this medicine.’ Her doctor’s father was also from the Stolen Generations.

‘I said to the doctor, "Can you fix a broken heart?" I said it’s not from love, it’s from what happened to me as a child. So I’ll have to glue it together, piece by piece gradually, with all different ways of healing, eh?’

Lorna has never reported the abuse she experienced to police, but received the top payment in a state redress scheme some years ago. ‘I thought I’d like to tell my story and it might help me within my own mind.’

She recently attended a reunion at the mission. ‘It was a bittersweet moment. We were crying and laughing, it was crazy. We didn’t know how to feel. We actually sat in a circle and had a yarn. I realised then the heavy grief on everybody ... Nobody could talk. Nobody could find their voice.’

A missionary who had raped one of the girls at the time attended and gave a speech. People were very angry and hurt by this. ‘We just stood in a circle and cried and cried.’

Lorna never knew her family were artists, but now enjoys making art and teaching it to kids – ‘I turn to art every day.’ Despite chronic health problems, she has lived longer than any of her relatives – ‘I’ve closed the gap a little bit’ – and hopes to see many more years.

Although she never drank or took drugs, she understands why other people in her mission family do, ‘and I never judge anybody’. In later years, Lorna has begun writing her story, for herself and the other ‘mission kids’.

‘A little bit of the load’s going off my shoulders. 'Cause I’m hearing all my other mission friends’ stories, and I’m holding on to their grief as well. A lot of them say that they want to cry. And I say to them, "You’re allowed to cry now". 'Cause we had to act tough in front of the missionaries.’

Lorna has done some healing with an Aboriginal organisation. ‘They’ve taken us on healing camps and everything. I think that’s what we need for our mob, because none of them could speak. They just held their heads down and wept.

‘So that’s what I’d like to see, that we could have a bit more healing. Even if we can all just sit around and cry, and just feel our pain and be okay with it. Because we’ve hidden it for so long.’

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