Maggie’s mother died in the late 1940s when Maggie was five years old. A few weeks later Maggie and her siblings were sent to a foster placement on a dairy farm.
The foster parents who ran the farm were Mr and Mrs Carlisle, a couple in their 60s who Maggie remembered as ‘strict disciplinarians’. The Carlisles were already looking after 11 children when Maggie and her siblings arrived, including three foster boys in their late teens.
The Carlisles put the new kids to work immediately, and it was Maggie’s job to go with the boys into the fields to collect the calves. She told the Commissioner, ‘and that’s where all the abuse first started’. From when she was seven years old until she was 14, Maggie was raped on multiple occasions by the three foster boys. The main offender was a boy named Dan.
After one incident with Dan, Maggie reported the abuse to her foster mother.
‘I didn’t say “raped” but that’s more or less the same thing isn’t it. I mean, I used a terrible word because that’s all I knew.’
The foster mother responded by flogging Maggie and Dan. ‘Both of us together, in the room together. Him too. We both got flogged. But that was it. She done no more as far as I know. It was never reported.’
The abuse continued after that, and Maggie now felt there was no point telling anyone about it.
‘He said, “If you tell, you’ll get flogged”. And I didn’t believe it. Then of course I did tell and I did get flogged, so I didn’t tell anymore. Who wants to get flogged all the time?’
At 14 Maggie fell pregnant and was taken to a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers. She said her foster mother was frightened of getting into trouble and so pushed Maggie into accepting a false story about what had happened.
‘She just said, “Oh, you remember when you went to the Christmas party with the Salvation Army, that a lad jumped the fence and raped you, because I remember you coming and telling me”. And I believed it. I don’t know why. Why did I believe it?’
At that stage Maggie knew nothing about the causes and consequences of pregnancy. ‘I didn’t know you had pain to have a baby. I knew nothing. I thought they cut your belly open.’
She also knew nothing about what would happen after the baby was born, and assumed that she would get to keep him. She gave birth to a boy and nursed him for a little while before the staff approached her with adoption papers.
‘They said, “You’ve got to give your baby to someone who can look after him and give him a good life” … You know, all this, on and on and on and on, and I said, “No. I’m not signing nothing. He’s mine. You can’t take him away, and you’re not going to take him away”. And anyway so they let it go for a while, then they’d come back and start again and over again and again and again. I had him for six weeks, and I just give in. I just give in.’
A short while later a family arrived. Maggie heard them talking in the next room, looking over her baby. She said, ‘I could hear him crying and I wanted to go to him but I couldn’t’. The family adopted Maggie’s son and took him away.
Maggie then spent some time at the Salvation Army home training as a nurse before she went to live with her sister. At 21 she married her husband, Andrew. They’re still together today, after several children and over 50 years of marriage.
A few years back, Maggie tracked down her baby, now a middle-aged man, and the two of them have been in regular contact ever since.
Maggie never reported Dan or any of the other boys to police, but in 2009 she approached the Queensland Government Redress Scheme, established after the conclusion of the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Queensland Institutions. Maggie felt discriminated against because the process looked only at the time she’d spent in children’s homes and excluded her time in foster care. She also felt shocked and hurt by the way the Salvation Army representatives approached her.
‘I was so, so, so, so angry because the lady said to me, “How much money do you want?” How much money do you want? Now you tell me, what is my baby’s life worth? What was my life worth without my baby? That’s what I said to her. I said, “I don’t want anything. I don’t want your money”. I said, “All I want is for somebody to understand, to know what went on, what damage was done”.’
Maggie told the Commissioner that she just wanted to get her story out there so that it might go some way to protecting children now and in the future.
‘I don’t care who knows. I really don’t. If I thought it would stop, all this abuse would stop tomorrow, I’d get up on top of the roof and yell.’