Louanne was born into a very large family in the late 1940s. Raised in an Aboriginal settlement, Louanne was routinely beaten by her stepfather, which she believes was due to her fair skin and blonde hair. While she was never sexually abused by him, Louanne still bears scars from the times he beat her with his whip or belt.
Louanne suspects that her mother may have engaged in sex work, instigated by her stepfather, in order to put food on the table. When Louanne was about five years old, one of the boys from the dormitories, Robbie, came over to her family home. Louanne was inside alone with him while her mother was outside. Robbie, who was approximately 17 or 18 at the time, taunted her mother who refused to come inside.
‘Mum was outside and [he] was calling out to her, “You comin’ in here? You comin’ in here?” I could hear her say, “No just get home, go home”. And he said, “I got this little girl here”.’ Her mother still refused to come inside.
While Robbie was alone with Louanne, he masturbated himself in front of her and rubbed himself against her vagina. Louanne told the Commissioner, ‘I ended up with a rash, and I remember Mum just slapping me and saying where did I get that from? She knew very well where it came from’.
During this period of Australian history, Aboriginal people were not allowed to leave the settlement without a permit. Louanne told the Commissioner, ‘I wanted to run away … I couldn’t have gone anywhere, only a couple of doors up to a friend’. As such, Louanne never felt comfortable disclosing the abuse to anyone, even her parents.
Louanne finally spoke up against her stepfather’s physical abuse when she was 12 years old.
She told the Commissioner, ‘I was the whitest in the family, I was born with blonde hair … it wasn’t until I was 12 years old I actually stood up to him and I said, “I’m sick of you floggin’ me ‘cos I’m white”’. After this incident, Louanne’s stepfather stopped beating her.
Louanne did well at school. ‘When I was going to school, I was very bright, I was always top of the class. I could’ve easily gone onto high school at that time.’ Unfortunately Louanne’s mother had other plans for her and sent her up north of the state. ‘Mum pulled me out … to look after my sisters while she went into hospital … I was the black sheep of the family. Or white sheep. Whatever you wanna call it … I think Mum just didn’t want me to be better than [my sisters].’
While Louanne was 14 years old, her brother-in-law tried to rape her. ‘I woke up with this mug on top of me. I don’t know how I did it but I fought him off. I punched, I scratched, I screamed, I bit.’ Louanne never disclosed the abuse to anyone because her brother-in-law had threatened to kill her sister if she did.
Not long after this, Louanne was followed around town by an older man who claimed he had ‘bought’ her from the brother-in-law. ‘What that mongrel did to me, he sold me off to an Island man. I was walking ‘round one day … and this old fella kept following me around. I went to a policeman and you know what he said to the policeman? He said, “I bought her. I paid a hundred pounds for her”. And that policeman just let it go, did nothing.’
During her late teens, Louanne worked domestic jobs and found herself in an abusive relationship. She told the Commissioner, ‘I didn’t really trust men anymore and I became a very hard person’.
At 17, Louanne met the man who is now her husband. They subsequently had several children and Louanne eventually found work as a teacher’s aide and started university studies in her 40s. Now in her late 60s, with a Bachelor’s degree, Louanne told the Commissioner, ‘I was always determined to make it better for myself, better for my children … It was my determination to get an education because I was denied that’. Louanne also encouraged her husband to formalise his trade qualifications at TAFE.
In recent years Louanne has returned to visit the settlement she grew up on, and while she concedes there have been many improvements in creating a child safe environment, she believes there is still a long way to go.
‘I remember going back one weekend and one of the nieces came up to me and told me that her little boy was raped. And I said, “What did they do about it?” She said, “They didn’t do anything about it”… The lady next door heard the kid screaming and took him down to the hospital and it was all brushed under the carpet then.’
Louanne had never previously felt comfortable disclosing the abuse but she recently attended a healing camp with other survivors from the settlement. ‘It sort of made me speak up for what had happened to me … knowing that other people had been through similar circumstance, even worse … I’ve never spoken about it to anybody before.’