Maeve Ellen's story

‘I really am appreciative of what you’re doing because after all this time, somebody cares, do you know what I mean? It’s something that I’ve carried around for a lot of years and I’ve really probably come forward because of that, you know, that somebody cares after all this time and somebody believes you, you know. So I just wanted to say that.’

Maeve was four in the mid-1950s when a priest visiting her Catholic parish in the Northern Territory chose her from a group of children to model for a portrait. It seemed like a good thing at the time but turned out to be a pretence for the priest to get Maeve by herself. When he did, he performed oral sex on her.

‘I can only remember two things really about it and that was, I was actually in, I think it might have been a room. I can’t actually remember any of the painting, and the other thing I can remember is getting bread and jam afterwards.’

At some point shortly after this the priest took a group of Aboriginal children, including Maeve, away camping. No other adults were present and Maeve was made to go even though she’d told her mother she didn’t want to.

‘He had me on his knee as we were driving out there and that night when he was getting everyone to bed he kept me till last and he was, he had me up on a table and he was sort of doing the same sort of thing, and I can remember being really ashamed and thinking that the kids’d probably be peeking out of the tent, and I was totally embarrassed. That was a big worry that you know, somebody was watching and seeing, so I can’t tell you if anything else went on, I can only remember certain things because I was really quite young.’

Maeve was terrified her sister and other children would see what the priest was doing, and this fear prevented her telling her mother.

‘[My mother] was really a nice person, you know. She was Catholic, she practised it, but she practised it in ways that most people wouldn’t expect, you know. We lived in a street down from the pub and often in the middle of the night there were Aboriginals under our tree back in the early days when they weren’t allowed in and things like that, and she’d go out and cover them with blankets on a cold night and that type of thing, you know. There was none of this Sunday stuff.’

Maeve told the Commissioner that through life she’d felt that she ‘didn’t live up to my own standards’. She ‘rebelled at school and socially’, and ‘never really got past second year’ at school.

‘At 16, 17, I think that the main thing was that I was looking for somebody to love me’, Maeve said. ‘And I got into difficulty a couple of times before I ended up getting married and I gave both babies away which was, you know, only for the reason that I didn’t think I was capable of looking after them. And in those days it was really hard because there wasn’t such thing as money, help or anything like that.’

It took a long time for her to tell her sister and husband about the abuse and she didn’t go into details with them.

‘I didn’t start talking about it until I was well into my marriage. Over the years I have got a little bit of help, you know, I’ve gone to a psychologist at one time, ‘cause I ended up on … antidepressant drugs.’

With her husband ‘there was a bit of abuse at certain times because we were both drinking’, and she thought it ‘amazing’ that their children had ‘grown up so well because they saw a lot of things’.

In life Maeve had always felt restless, and the family moved regularly. Some of her jobs had been particularly demanding and she’d only been able to work ‘at about 25 per cent capacity’. She was often unable to finish courses she started, and got to the point of thinking ‘why start?’

Maeve’s children had kept her going when things got difficult, and she has now reached a place where she realises that what the priest did to her wasn’t her fault.

‘It’s the fire and brimstone teaching, so you think you were to blame. I’ve got to a stage I think in my life, which is I’m very lucky, where I’m a bit more peaceful now, you know. I don’t have all that anxiety anymore.’

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