Magda’s children know she spent time in a Pallottine Aboriginal mission during the 1970s, but not about the sexual abuse she experienced there. She didn’t even tell the people at Redress WA when she applied, and it’s still very hard for her to discuss it at all.
For the first seven years of her life Magda lived on a reserve with her alcoholic parents. When she and her siblings were removed, most of them were sent to the mission.
One time she was cleaning a shrine with another girl when Brother Hector – ‘a little fat guy, he smoked a pipe’ – gave them both some lollies, then ‘pulled his pants down’ exposing his genitals to them.
They ran into the bush to hide, and so were late back to dinner. Magda told one of the nuns why they were delayed but was not believed, and instead they were punished.
Another time she took Brother Hector his newspaper at the monastery, and he asked her to come in. ‘He said, “Here’s your bag of lollies, but first ...”, then he started touching my arms, and he said, “I’ll give you a massage”. I didn’t understand what a massage was you know ... Then touching started.’ She was happy when he gave her a can of cool drink as well as the lollies.
Returning to her room, ‘I sat there … I looked at my shoulders and I looked all over me, just thinking, was that right? I don’t know ... And I just had a shower’.
There were further occasions out in the paddocks when Brother Hector flashed her and other girls too, or would look up their dresses when he had the chance. Magda became increasingly withdrawn. Some older girls suspected something was going on, and asked Magda if she was all right. She told them she needed to go home, but did not talk about the abuse.
‘Every time after something bad happened I had these three images in my head, ghostly-like images, floating around when things were bad, just nightmarish you know. As a little girl I didn’t know what that was. But growing up too, thinking back ... Even now, something bad happens to me now, I see those bad images there. So it’s just triggered back to the 70s.’
Sometimes Magda and her friend would camp outside ‘just for adventure’. One night she heard Brother Hector’s car, then ‘I was sleeping, I could hear someone pulling my friend out of the tent ... All I felt was her fingernails, scratching me’.
Magda ran all the way up to the boys’ dormitory and told her brother, who said that nobody would believe her. She asked a man who worked there for a lift back to the tent, but when he asked if everything was all right she remembered what her brother had said and so did not disclose what was happening.
Her friend never told her what Brother Hector did that night, and was angry that Magda had not helped her more. ‘She become withdrawn, and we wasn’t friends anymore.’
When the mission closed temporarily Magda was moved to a Methodist children’s home. She was around eight years old by then, and experienced sexual assault (‘real bad stuff’) from older boys who lived there and would come into her room at night. This happened multiple times over a month or two, but she didn’t trust her carers and so did not report it.
‘I started wetting my bed. Back then we got made to take the sheets down to the big copper pot and stand on a ladder, little step, put the sheets in, no supervision ... I started wetting my bed regularly, and Jack, my brother said, “What’s going on?”.’ She told him she just needed to go home.
Sometimes during holidays the mission kids would be sent to stay with white foster families. In one house she visited with her friend, teenage boys were left at home while their parents worked.
The boys wanted her and her friend to shower with the door open, ‘so we can come and wash your back’, but ‘I just froze, and said, “The only person who’ll be washing my back is my mother”’. Magda would never open the shower door for them, ‘because we was growing up, I just started to understand sexual, and what’s bad’.
At 13 Magda went home to her own family, and was sexually assaulted by a man wielding a knife. Someone reported this incident, and the Department of Child Protection ‘turned up at my father’s doorstep the next day’. They asked if she wanted to press charges, but she didn’t care much and told them to do whatever they wanted. ‘I got used to men showing themselves and being silly ... I was thinking, it must be part of everyday living, that someone’s going to do that’.
Magda experiences anxiety, depression and panic attacks, problems with trust in relationships, and has had difficulty parenting. ‘I’ve got two sons I struggle to connect with, yeah. But it’s getting there slowly.’