As a child, Mavis was very interested in learning. She liked spelling, in particular. But it was difficult to learn in the years she spent at a government-run Aboriginal mission in Queensland.
Mavis was sent there as a small child, and remained there till she was 15, when she ran away. She arrived early in the 1960s, and conditions were brutal. The food was ‘shocking’, Mavis recalled, and kids who didn’t want to eat it had it forced down their throats. ‘Wouldn’t know what steak was, sausages was, or anything like that’, she said.
The girls were used as unpaid labour, cleaning and scrubbing from early in the morning – training for when they’d be sent to work on farms and elsewhere as domestic servants.
Floggings were commonplace. Girls were made to strip and stand naked outside, where they’d be beaten with saplings. Mavis was blamed for things she hadn’t done, and punished with solitary confinement in a small, dark, windowless room. ‘Bread and water only, nothing special. I’d be locked up all day and night-time as well.’
As far as she knows, the mission was never visited by welfare authorities, and no kind of inspection ever took place.
Mavis was also sexually abused, from the age of about four, by two yardsmen working on the property. Her memories of the incidents are incomplete – for a long time she buried them, she said. But the sexual assaults on her were seen by other girls, including her cousins. They were being abused as well. They didn’t tell anyone about it.
‘Being raped, we just thought it was part of life’, Mavis said. ‘Never knew that it was sexual, or something like that … What can we do about it when we’re babies? … I’m disgusted that grown men would pick on little children like that, with no remorse whatsoever.’
As well, as the years went by she wasn’t absolutely sure the abuse had occurred. And she wasn’t certain she wanted to know.
‘It makes you stronger too by forgetting it. There’s no use in remembering the bad things; it only makes you go a bit whoopee’, she told the Commissioner.
However, over the years Mavis has suffered black-outs that she thinks are caused by the burden of submerged memories. ‘It’s all because of things blocked up in your mind’, she said. ‘If it gets too much you pass out and go into a coma.’
Mavis has not reported her abuse to anyone – even now, her family and children don’t know. She hasn’t sought compensation, but is considering it, and she would like an apology for the suffering she’s experienced.
Mavis said she has never turned to alcohol or drugs. She believes she’s been able to move on from the abuse because of her religious faith – as she put it, ‘being strong with the Lord’.
‘Always keep the love in your heart, not hate because bitterness makes you age fast – things like that.’
She has never blamed herself for her experiences. She has always known where the fault lies, she said. ‘I think about my past, I don’t get upset or hurt about it. I just think, how sick are those people.’