Aunty Meg was the victim of multiple sexual assaults as she was growing up, by numerous assailants. Her Aboriginality meant she was held responsible. ‘They blamed me because I was Aboriginal and I was “looking for it”’, she said.
‘No one’s accountable for all that abuse. And it’s still happening today.’
Aunty Meg was removed from her family in regional Victoria as a young child in the early 1950s. She was the only one of the kids in the family to be taken and doesn’t know why this happened. Nor does she understand how she came to be placed in the care of an elderly couple, Nigel and Beryl Miller. ‘I wonder why I was placed with him when he was so much older. I wonder if they ever check these people.’
The Millers employed members of Aunty Meg’s family, and they also put her to work, cooking and cleaning for them. Over the next 10 or so years Nigel Miller also physically and sexually abused her.
The day before coming to the Royal Commission, Aunty Meg had received her government records. The contents were very distressing. ‘It was a big shock to me’, she said. They showed there were concerns about Aunty Meg’s placement with the Millers, and about Nigel Miller in particular. But nothing was done.
Inaction was a constant theme in the way Aunty Meg’s case was managed.
While living at the Millers, in a bungalow separate to the main house, some local boys came to the door. They knocked her out, took her to a park and raped her. She was 14. The police record in her file says she had agreed to sexual encounters with the boys. This is because she was confused by her police interview, Aunty Meg explained to the Commissioner, so just went along with what was said to her. She had no legal representation. Despite her obvious distress - mentioned in the file - the matter was never followed up.
Still a teenager, Aunty Meg was placed in a government-run facility. She was sexually abused by a staff member there. Other people knew, she said. ‘They were all scared of him.’ The girls at the facility were sent out to family homes at the weekends. The father of the family to which Aunty Meg was sent molested her, in front of his children. After running away from the facility, Aunty Meg was placed in another girls’ home. Here she was bashed and raped by the guards.
Some of these assaults were witnessed by others but no action was ever taken. Aunty Meg herself didn’t report them to anyone. She was scared that if she did it would make things worse. Years later she revealed her abuse to her counsellor and Link-up, an Indigenous support group. Otherwise, she had spoken of it to no one till she came to the Commission.
Aunty Meg has had a hard life. She was pregnant at 15, and the child was taken from her. She’s been in relationships with violent, abusive men - ‘I’ve not had the best fathers for my kids’, she said. She has lived on the streets.
‘I had to survive by myself. I had no one to help me so I had to turn [to] myself.’
With the help of Link-up, Aunty Meg set out to seek compensation for her experiences. But the lawyer she saw said there was insufficient evidence to proceed. There wasn’t enough documentation, she was told. And as Aunty Meg now knows, the documentation that exists - about the rape by the boys, for instance - doesn’t tell the real story.
Reading through her file has made clear to her some of the failures of the system that was meant to protect her. More should have been done to investigate what was happening with her foster father, she believes. ‘No one knew of me and I felt very alone.’ Later, no one looked out for her. ‘Workers did not take the time to speak to me’, she said in a statement to the Commission. ‘There was a failure to attempt to read between the lines concerning requests to leave particular institutions … or to follow up about occurrences that had affected me.’
Being told that she was to blame for what happened to her left her with an enduring burden of guilt.
‘To this day I continue to carry this guilt and carried it into my relationships with partners as I’m made to feel that I am the one at fault for what happens to me.’ The impacts have been felt by Aunty Meg’s daughters, too, who also had relationships with men who were violent to them.
Aunty Meg would like to see more early intervention programs, focussed on building parenting skills. ‘I’d like them to support families a lot better than what they have in the past.’ Her own life would have been very different if she’d been able to remain with her family, she said.
‘These experiences have affected my whole life as a mother and grandmother. I cannot speak to my family about some of these things that have happened to me’, she said. ‘I don’t know how to fix this … I have had to live with this all my life and telling my story now can’t fix what happened. It’s a pain in my heart that I carry all the time. I can only hope that sharing my story will stop this from happening to my grandchildren and future generations.’