Maia and Nolan were aged three and four and living in regional Queensland when their father left their mother and ‘took off’ with the children. However their father soon decided he could no longer look after them all, and moved overseas with their younger brother.
As a result Maia and Nolan became wards of the state and were sent to live at an orphanage for a year. The Department of Community Services then placed them with foster parents Mr and Mrs Bandera.
The Banderas were in their 50s and had adult children of their own. They were frequently violent toward Maia and Nolan, and would punish them by making them strip naked and stand on the porch. Occasionally Mr Bandera would get drunk and for his own entertainment make Maia and Nolan run head first into each other like charging bulls, knocking each other out.
Mrs Bandera did not need alcohol to become violent:
‘Once she broke my arm when I was five or six and she threatened me not to tell the ambulance driver about what happened and just say that I was playing and broke my arm … She just twisted it and twisted it until it snapped … I wasn’t game to say anything.’
Maia and Nolan shared a bedroom. Nolan explained that Mr Bandera would sometimes come into the room and instruct one of the children to leave so he could be alone with the other. ‘He used to separate us kids, so my sister would go into their bedroom and I’d stay in the shared bedroom that I had with my sister, and he used to fondle me’.
One time Nolan became very upset about the abuse. ‘It got to the stage where he was fondling and I got very upset and then I started screaming and then the foster mother came in and belted me with the broom ‘cos I was screaming.’ This was the last time Nolan was sexually abused by Mr Bandera.
Maia was very young when the abuse occurred but recalls one particular occasion when she was playing in the bedroom and a man came in and abused her. The man was unknown to her and Maia believes she was ‘pimped out’ by the Banderas. She suspects this may have happened on several occasions and she has blocked it out.
The couple would sometimes get the children to steal from the neighbours and would often give the children beer at night time. Nolan remembers ‘I never liked it so I used to give mine to her [Maia] as well’.
Neither Mr nor Mrs Bandera could read English very well. Nolan recalled a time they were on a car trip and he was given a whole box of travel sickness pills because neither foster parent could read the dosage instructions. ‘I was in la la land.’
He reflects that he was a quiet and isolated child, and may have had undiagnosed autism. Both Maia and Nolan are confident Mrs Bandera was aware of the sexual abuse. Neither recall visits by case workers to the Bandera residence, and certainly no one they could build a relationship with and feel comfortable disclosing the abuse to.
When Maia was seven and Nolan was eight, Nolan spoke with his father and told him about the abuse. Not long after this, their father returned to collect them from care and they lived with him until they were teenagers.
Maia hated living with her father because her stepmother did not treat her well and her father sexually abused her, claiming it was acceptable in his culture.
Maia smoked cannabis from the age of 14 and at 15 ran away from home to live on the streets. All of Maia’s relationships have been abusive and she has used methamphetamine to cope when times were particularly hard. She has struggled her whole life with suicidal ideation and poor mental health. Now she has been seeing a psychologist for a year and is making progress, and has stopped taking methamphetamine.
Nolan was in his 30s when his long term relationship deteriorated and he suffered a mental breakdown. It was around this time that he realised Mr Bandera’s sexual abuse was wrong and he sought professional help. After being prescribed medication he stopped drinking but still smokes tobacco and cannabis. His significant mental health problems led to him losing custody of two of his children, but they have recently been returned to live with him.
Working casually to support his children, Nolan receives ongoing support from a local counselling service as well as help from his ex-partner and neighbour.
‘I think it’s important kids have got someone there. I wonder how my life would’ve turned out if things were different, but you can’t stew on it and I’m still here today and I’ve got beautiful children. Even my ex is beautiful, both my exes. Sometimes I think that my childhood made me hard enough to get through my life’s problems.’
Neither Maia nor Nolan have considered reporting Mr Bandera to the police or sought financial redress. They both struggle to talk about Mr Bandera’s abuse, even with each other.
Nolan commented ‘We’ve never even spoken about it all our lives. It’s something that we didn’t talk about’. Maia believes she has been able to survive because she does not ‘deal with stuff’.
Both Nolan and Maia have expressed issues with trust. Nolan explained ‘I don’t think I really trust anyone to be quite honest … I’ve managed to get by and in a lot of cases that lack of trust has kept me out of a lot of trouble’. He also believes his faith in God has given him strength to carry on when he was feeling particularly low.
‘It just made me strong enough … I just had a strong belief in God, not so much Jesus but God himself and I quite often introverted and spoke to God in my head when things were bad.’