Mabel was three months old when she and her sister were removed from their parents and made wards of the state. Her sister was placed with a non-Aboriginal foster family, while she was sent to a mission in regional Western Australia.
Mabel described life at the mission as frightening and violent. When she was eight years old in the mid-1970s, Stan Beggs, an older boy of about 18, ‘took all my clothes off me and raped me’. Mabel reported the assault to one of the missionaries, who took action. ‘They took me to the hospital there. The police, they had to act on it.’ Beggs was removed from the mission and although Mabel is aware he is now deceased, she doesn’t know if any further action was taken at the time.
Mabel’s parents both passed away before she was nine, and she remained a ward of the state until she was 18. While living at the mission, she was also abused by another older boy. ‘He touched me inappropriately. I told my carers and he was punished.’
At the age of 14 Mabel was placed with a foster family, the Macklins, whom she described as ‘very strict’. Not long after going to live with them, her foster father tried to force Mabel to touch his penis. Also, the brother of Mabel’s foster father, Peter Macklin, ‘who was aged about 50 tried to rape me. I was too strong and managed to run away’. Mabel told her foster parents about the incident but it is unclear whether they took any action. Peter Macklin was later convicted of raping another girl at the mission.
Mabel struggled with school and was only educated up to Year 9. ‘Then I tried to work, mainly housework.’ She has had difficulty her whole life retaining stable employment.
She left the foster home at 15 and became homeless, ‘selling my body … just to survive’. Even though she found it hard, she eventually returned to the Macklins where she stayed until her early 20s.
Mabel had her first child while still a teenager. At 21 she disclosed the abuse she suffered at the mission to her foster parents, but has never been able to tell her immediate family and children.
‘The childhood sexual abuse had impacted hugely on my life. I did not tell my family. It affected my schooling and my attitude to people. I found it hard to form relationships due to the abuse and being removed from my family.’
For most of her adult life Mabel has struggled with alcohol and drugs, and has made several attempts to take her own life. She told the Commissioner that, as she gets older, the memories of her abuse become stronger. ‘In my mind I had nightmares and terrible thoughts that I tried to commit suicide through that.’
Mabel participated in the WA Redress scheme, and even though she received $45,000 compensation, she was unable to articulate her full story of abuse because it was ‘too painful’. She has never obtained her child welfare file or returned to the mission, and has no intention of ever doing so. ‘If I went back to the mission it’s sort of very painful and I don’t wanna look at a lot of time again. ‘Cause that trauma’s still there, so affects me a bit. And I haven’t let go of this part so far.’
Mabel has never received counselling but would like to. She is currently working to improve her literacy and attributes her strength of mind to getting past the ‘heartache and pain through the highs and lows’. She has good relationships with her children, who are all adults now, and plans on living with her oldest daughter once ‘I get allocated a house’. She hopes that no child ever has to live on an Aboriginal mission and experience the danger of abuse like she did.
‘I’d like kids like those who fortunately never went through the pain and agony that we went through. Because they’re so lucky that they never had that life in the mission and never had that feeling of what mission life is about.’