Born to a teenage mother who had been raped, Mishelle was put up for adoption at birth. ‘The whole ordeal’ broke her mother’s ‘spirit and her strength’, and created a lifelong distance between them. However, a few months later, when her mother gained custody, Mishelle formed a connection with her football-loving grandmother. ‘We ended up very, very close,’ Mishelle said. ‘She raised me to be [a] Collingwood [supporter].’
From time to time, Uncle Max and Aunt Sue would babysit Mishelle. Her grandmother was ‘so proud’ that ‘generous and kind’ Max had married into the family. He was ‘her golden boy’. He was also the only ‘father figure’ in Mishelle’s life.
‘He cared so much about me. And if I had a problem … he’d be there, and he’d understand everything. And I just thought he was so great.’ However, Mishelle now describes him as ‘conniving’.
‘The paedophile knew exactly how to approach it: “Come on, it’s okay, I’m on your side, I’m listening, I understand”.’
When Max started ‘tampering’ with Mishelle, she didn’t know what was going on because she didn’t know the facts of life. However, when her mother explained these a year later, possibly due to an ‘inkling’, Mishelle told Max to stop because she didn’t want to get pregnant. He told her that she couldn’t get pregnant. He asked, ‘Do you want me to go to jail? You don’t want me to go to jail, do you?’
Of course she didn’t. ‘He was the only one that understood me in the world’, she said.
A few years later, Mishelle told her mother about the abuse. Her mother said, 'I don’t like this. I’ll be talking to your aunty.' Michelle was shocked, and ‘clammed up like a shell’. Even after Aunt Sue was told, Mishelle ‘wouldn’t open up any further’. On the advice of a counsellor, she was placed in a mental hospital, ‘so they might find out more of the truth’.
‘I went berserk, to put it mildly’, Mishelle said. ‘My attitude virtually was, "So you think I’m mental, do ya? I’ll show you mental". So I ripped down curtains, tore apart beds, pushed down closets, and made a general mess until they restrained and knocked me out.’
She was scared, treated with drugs, and had to deal with other patients who tried to sexually abuse her. Max worked at this institution. During her first stay, he was ‘quite good and supportive’. During her second stay, he ‘stood over’ her and threatened her. ‘He was actually scared they’d get it out of me somehow.’
In the early 1980s, Mishelle was made a ward of the state because her ‘emotional and mental development was in jeopardy. That was the excuse … I was only in jeopardy because they took me'.
She entered the out-of-home care system, and lived for a year in government-run homes where she continued to keep silent about the abuse. ‘I just wanted to get out as quick as possible and thought that if I did everything they said, and kept my mouth shut, I’d be out. And that’s pretty much what Max said … to do.’ The ‘robotic’ and ‘clinical’ workers physically abused and medicated her. They were ‘trained to not have a heart around us … They took us from our mothers and gave us no mothering'.
Next, Mishelle was sent to live in a family group home where she was sexually abused by a boy in his mid-teens. She suspects this boy told others in the house because two ‘had a go as well, but one backed out’. However, as fellow ‘wardies’, ‘they were more comrades than perpetrators’, and she still feels pity for them. The house mother kept inspecting her underwear for signs of her period, and was present during an internal examination that may have taken place to see if she was ‘intact’. Her numerous caseworkers could never be talked to in private.
Once she left the ‘system’, Mishelle ‘went straight into alcohol’, and became dependent on illegal drugs. The medicating of children in homes ‘is such a big gateway to other drugs when you get older’, she said, because kids are directed to take tablets whenever they are upset.
‘Some substances help you sleep, help you relax, stop the nightmares, basically put you in a better mood until the substance wore off. And then I was twice as down, twice as angry, having twice as many nightmares. So my life has pretty much been a huge road of experimentation with different substances in order to try and cure myself.’
Mishelle could never hold down jobs, and her ‘trust levels with men are very, very low’. She keeps a ‘happy box’ of drugs on stand-by, and experiences a ‘huge rush’ and a ’sense of relief’ when she cuts herself. ‘That makes everything better, seeing my own blood. I don’t know why, but it’s very hard for me to refrain from cutting my arms up … I’ll do it, but then I’ll cover them right up so no one can see the damage I’ve done.’
Mishelle said that, ‘I used to think to myself I must be such a bad person that I deserve all this crap’. However, by reading avidly, and becoming her own counsellor, she has overturned this thinking, and equipped herself to support and advocate for other Forgotten Australians.
Today, the expense of caring for her beloved pets curbs Mishelle’s spending on drugs. She also enjoys supporting her football team.
‘I need football each week … I can go to that game, and I can scream and abuse the umpire to my heart’s content, and get out my anger there in a constructive way – but afterwards feel, "I needed that, gee I feel better for that".'
Mishelle remains stubborn and has a determined spirit. ‘They never broke it in me and I’m so grateful for that much.’