Margaret was taken from her Aboriginal community in New South Wales in the mid-1960s, and made a ward of the state at the age of nine. Shuffled between foster homes, family, and several government-run institutions, she suffered years of physical, emotional and sexual abuse.
It has taken her a long time to tell her story, but she is doing so now ‘because I’m working with Stolen Generation people and the impact, so that’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come forward and wanted to go through this process. Just also not only for myself but for the people that I’m working with’.
During one foster placement Margaret shared a bed with the daughter of her foster parents. ‘Jean’s stepfather would come in during the night and get between us and interfered with us. I ran away and hid in a mine shaft.’
When Margaret told her foster mother why she had run away, ‘Mrs Thelma told me that I was lying and had to get out of their house. The welfare was called and I was removed from there and sent back to the institutions’.
On another occasion, when she reported abuse by family members to a Department of Community Services (DOCS) worker, once again she ‘got sent back to the institutions. I did time for that’.
When Margaret was sent to live with an abusive aunt, the woman ‘constantly told me I was a slut and good for nothing’. Her female cousin encouraged her to become pregnant because ‘that would shut her mother up and she would leave me alone’. Margaret told the Commissioner she fell pregnant ‘on the first go’, to one of her female cousin’s drinking mates. She was 15.
While pregnant, Margaret was raped by her four male cousins on several occasions, so she ran away, and hitchhiked to Sydney. With nowhere else to go, she phoned one of the abusive cousins, who was by then living there. When she went to his flat he bashed her. ‘I walked the streets until I couldn’t walk anymore and I went to a phone box. I rang triple 0 and asked for help. I was busted up. Pregnant. Very sick. I ended up in [a Sydney girls’ home] again.’
Margaret was not sexually abused in the girls’ home, but witnessed abuse by other girls. ‘One girl … she was taken into the bathroom and the broom handle shoved up her and jumped on and busted inside.’
Margaret didn’t see any sexual abuse by officers at the home, but ‘with the officers I was treated poorly in other ways. I was bashed because I wouldn’t cry. That was the hardest one’.
Margaret told the Commissioner she became very good at ‘stirring’ the officers because it was ‘the only way I could get to sleep. Get locked up so I could get to sleep. Get locked up in the cell for 24 hours’.
Margaret reported all the abuse she experienced, except for her cousins, and incidents she witnessed by girls at the home. When she gained access to her DOCS file, Margaret was distressed to discover only the initial abuse at her foster home had been recorded, despite her repeated attempts at disclosure.
Margaret told the Commissioner that the institutions’ response was ‘that I’d done time by being sent to institutions … and I was charged for running away and being uncontrollable … I did time for their incompetence. For their failure to protect me … In my file I saw the pictures that I used to draw. They were gross. They kept it on file. Why didn’t they do anything with it? What was the purpose of keeping it? This was probably where they got the idea I was promiscuous. From the pictures I was drawing’.
Margaret had three children in care, by the time she was 18, when her state wardship expired. She told the Commissioner that after leaving foster care, she ‘went stupid’. This included a period of alcoholism, and time spent in a women’s refuge, running from domestic violence. At 21 she gained custody of her children, and although things seemed to settle down for a while, two of her children were sexually abused by her partner at the time, ‘and I was on the run again’.
Margaret met her husband in the late 1980s, and ‘life just blossomed’.
‘I got lots of support from many as I was given the opportunity to work with and meet many people from all walks of life and backgrounds. This included being educated … my social life was built upon, encouraged and empowered by those I came in contact with.’
‘Listening to other people’s stories, reading books of other people’s stories, it still didn’t click until the Bringing Them Home Report was published. Reading those stories and gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the Stolen Generation gave me insight into my personal journey of behaviour’, Margaret said.
She now works for an Aboriginal health service. When she hears stories that bring back memories, she thinks ‘the skills that I’ve gained now, I still get hurt but it’s not painful. I’m able to identify with them, although I don’t share my story. I do let them know that I am part of the Stolen Gen as well … so it seems to help … to allow them to tell their stories’.
Margaret told the Commissioner that after her experiences as a ward of the state, she would like to see that ‘each child, young person, adult is listened to well, without judgement ... Their trauma is acknowledged and named for what it was, and they are told that it is not their fault. They are made safe’.