‘We sort of just hung onto each other really … We became sisters and to this very day we’re sisters because my mum was out of bounds. Us two used to sneak over to her quarters when it got dusk and go and see her, but my mum was a proper traditional Aboriginal woman even though she was brown, you know. But she couldn’t read and write English and she spoke to me only in words in her language.
‘She was so scared she’d get into trouble teaching us her language, so I just know all the words …’ Marion and her siblings ‘were physically abused. We got flogged with a hose. We got left outside in the dark. We were restricted with food. But we were lucky – we went and got bush food. But we had our happy times together, because we had each other’.
Marion was six years old when she and her siblings were taken from their mother and placed in a Church of England children’s home in the mid 1960s. During the 10 years Marion was there she had regular contact with her mother who lived close by and did occasional work near the home.
When she was 16, Marion was suddenly taken from the children’s home and sent by welfare authorities to Adelaide to stay at a YWCA hostel. She wasn’t given a reason for the move and the only reason she could think of was that she ‘was fair-skinned and they wanted me to be mainstream’.
After several hours waiting on the train platform in Adelaide, Marion was picked up by a welfare officer who took her to her room in the hostel, gave her instructions to attend a job the next day, and then left.
‘I didn’t have a clue who this person was. Straight from the bush to Adelaide, and left there for a welfare officer to come and pick you up. I was scared.’
A few months after she’d been living in the hostel and going to work in a factory, a man arrived one evening to visit. He and two other men raped Marion. Her response to the assault was to pretend it didn’t happen even though the men became regular visitors to the hostel afterwards.
‘I found out that they’d just been released from prison and … when they came back I just talked like nothing had happened … I don’t know, [I was] just constantly raped by different men. I was just naïve. Just dragged by the hair or arm broken and I just couldn’t work it out … I sort of became homeless in Adelaide … By this time my mother was living in a camp so I went and stayed in the camp with her ‘cause she was homeless too.’
After the assault by the three men, Marion was raped by a colleague who’d offered her a lift home from work, but instead drove her to the beach and sexually assaulted her. She recounted to the Commissioner that she was at a dance when she was still 16, when a man dragged her outside by the hair, and then raped her. ‘In front of everybody and no one stopped him.’
After returning to be with her mother, Marion met and fell in love with the father of her first child, but they weren’t together long. Marion then met another man. She didn’t love him, but because he was ‘a good provider’ she stayed with him as they brought up their children.
Working now in community services, Marion told the Commissioner that she comes across many women who have been sexually abused. ‘It makes me want to help people and then I have that insight that they’re not aware of and I go that extra mile and then I analyse myself. I think, “Boy she’s dealing with that. I went worse than what she is and I’ve dealt with it”. So I’m constantly judging and analysing who I am. My friends call me the analytic person. I’m always analysing something.’
Marion described having constant nightmares, particularly when she was younger. She’d get anxious around men and she ‘hid behind my kids’. When a workman in her house once tried to kiss her she wondered whether she had ‘stupid’ written on her forehead.
‘I don’t know what it is, my vulnerability to men. I just don’t know. Can’t work it out. I don’t know. You know, like I try to be modest in everything. I’m in my own home. Yeah, I just don’t know.’
Marion had never reported any of the sexual assaults to police, nor had she had formal counselling. ‘Where I get my counselling from, what’s helped me through … I know that [our Creator] witnessed what happened, and I know I can let out everything that’s gone through that our Creator has seen, and that gives me peace of mind.’
Faith, close relationships with her sister, children and grandchildren, as well as a good sense of humour has helped Marion get through difficult times.
‘We lived more or less in the bush. That was my environment. And to go to Adelaide it was [like] I was abandoned. You don’t know at the time. It’s like when you look back, when you reflect on things. Well I’ve shredded this tissue. I was so nervous. It was better than what I thought, much better.’