Maryanne was removed from her parents under the Western Australian Native Welfare Act in the early 1950s, when she was seven years old. She was taken to an Aboriginal mission which was run by a Catholic order. ‘We thought we was going into a good place. But it wasn’t.’
A priest told her that her parents had too many children to feed and this is why she was taken, but there was often insufficient food at the mission too. The children didn’t have shoes except when they attended church on Sundays, and were often freezing cold because they lacked proper clothing. They were baptised and received the sacraments without their parents’ knowledge or consent. Engaging with their own Aboriginal culture was not permitted.
The mission was headed by Father Morgan, who ‘used to always have a bag of lollies. Of course we didn’t think anything of it at the time. We sat on his lap, he’d be rubbing us around here and that ... It would always be hands down around your stomach, on your leg and things like that. But we never thought anything about it ‘cause he always had a bag of lollies’.
Miles Farrar was the first white teacher to work at the mission. One day when Maryanne was 12 he asked her to stay back after class. He proceeded to touch her inappropriately, and digitally penetrate her. Maryanne was pre-pubescent at this time and uneducated about sexual matters, and did not understand how wrong this abuse was. Still, she felt very uncomfortable and tried to pull away from him.
Maryanne did not think she could tell the mission nuns about the abuse, as they always said Farrar ‘was a man of character’, and she feared being physically punished if she disclosed. In her mid-teens she returned home to her parents, but did not tell them about either Morgan or Farrar.
At this time Maryanne was still very uneducated about sexual matters. ‘I used to think all these things like, if a boy kissed a girl she’d get pregnant, and they’d have to cut your stomach open to get the baby out. And I was thinking, I’m not walking around with scars all over my stomach. I’d cringe if a male came near me. And of course my relationships were not very good.’ She did not trust anyone, and in her early 20s had a mental breakdown.
In the early 2010s, Maryanne applied to the state redress scheme, disclosing the sexual abuse she experienced at the mission. She received the same payment as her siblings who did not report sexual abuse, and felt aggrieved that the impacts of her experiences were seemingly not taken into account.
Maryanne then went through the Towards Healing process, receiving a very small amount of compensation. ‘That was a slap in the face too.’ She is currently seeking legal advice about this matter.
Very recently she was contacted by two male police officers who were investigating matters at the mission. They attended her house frequently over the course of a month and took a lengthy statement about her experiences – which was challenging for Maryanne. She did not think it was appropriate that both officers were men, especially as one of them was also Aboriginal.
For the past year Maryanne has accessed counselling through an Aboriginal health service who visit her at home and help her with a range of matters. She has found the culturally appropriate and multi-faceted approach of this service to be very helpful.
Still, she is plagued by memories of the abuse. ‘I go to bed at night, I’m thinking about the mission and what happened. There’s not a day goes past that I don’t.’
Maryanne is currently living in government housing, and is saddened that her lack of education prevented her from having the career she dreamed of. She tells her grandkids ‘you fellas got all these opportunities – education, jobs. I wish I was that age again where I could go out and do a few things’.