Myra was two years old when her teenage mother left her alone for a couple of days, and she was taken into care.
‘My file says [local] police came and took it away, and it is now in an orphanage ... And I was charged with being a neglected child.’
At four, she was fostered by the Dawson family on the New South Wales north coast. It was the mid-1960s, and the Dawsons’ own children were mostly grown up, when they took in three younger girls.
The last of the Dawsons’ biological kids, Aaron, was around 16 years old, and still living at home. Not long after Myra was placed there, she and Aaron were hiding together in a drain during a game of hide and seek.
‘He got me to touch him ... And I didn’t want to, I tried to run away, and he kept me there. ... The next memory of that day is he ejaculated all over me.’
Myra asked him what had just happened. ‘I said, “What is that?” And he just said not to worry about it.’
Aaron continued to abuse her, and his brother-in-law, George, started to do so too. Myra suspects Aaron had told him about what he was doing to her, so George thought he could get away with it.
Both Aaron and George threatened Myra that if she did not provide sexual favours, they would start abusing a younger girl, Emma, who had been adopted into the family.
When Myra was 11 her foster father died, and Mrs Dawson (who Myra calls ‘Mum’) continued raising the kids on her own. Myra was the only Aboriginal person in their household, and probably the whole of their small town. Aaron used this against her, and said their mum would think she was lying if she disclosed.
‘You’re the little black girl, you’re Aboriginal. She’ll only believe me, I’m her son, and you’ll go back to the orphanage.’
Myra did not want to leave the family. Aside from the abuse, ‘I had a lovely, wonderful upbringing. The best. I had private schooling, a really, really lovely family – apart from Aaron and George’.
The abuse continued until George raped her. ‘It was quite severe ... I didn’t tell anybody. I bled severely ... I bled for days, I tore.’
Myra was 12, and ‘I was scared I was going to fall pregnant to him. By that stage, I knew what had happened, so then there was that fear’.
George tried to assault her one more time. She threatened to report him, regardless of the consequences. After this, both he and Aaron stopped abusing her.
Myra was married in her early 20s. Her husband was the first person she disclosed the abuse to, five years into their marriage, and he has remained supportive. She told the Commissioner that the abuse had affected their sexual relationship for a long time. ‘Nobody ever even thinks of that, the effect on partners of those who’ve been abused.’
Around a decade ago, Myra found out that Barb, another girl placed with the Dawsons, had been sexually abused by both Aaron and George during the same period too.
Myra and Barb have not sought any compensation, nor have they taken the matter to the police. They don’t want to risk their strict Catholic foster mother, who is very elderly, learning about the abuse now. ‘It’s not worth her finding out something like this at her stage of life.’ Myra doesn’t think she ever suspected anything, as ‘Barb and I became very good actresses’.
Letting go of anger towards Aaron and George has not been easy. Myra is happy she has been able to do so ‘because that just eats me up’, and it has also allowed her to attend family events where they are present.
‘Aaron is an alcoholic. And he gets up and starts drinking and passes out. I know he’s suffering, and I know I’m a better person.’ George has children, and ‘we threatened that if he ever touched his kids, we would tell’.
Having good people in her life has helped Myra cope with the impacts of the abuse. ‘Sharing with Barb, knowing that she’s been there, with the same people’ is a great comfort, backed up by the support of her husband, close friends and counselling.
Growing up, Myra knew very little about her Aboriginal heritage and identity. The Dawsons informed her she was Aboriginal, but that was it. She never received any information about her birth mother, her mob, or her culture.
‘I didn’t even know there was NAIDOC ... And I thought all Aboriginal people were the same. But they’re not. We all belong to different clans and different tribes.’
Myra continues to trace her Aboriginal heritage, but this is challenging. It entails contacting multiple places for her records, which are held in closed files, ‘and you’ll get a little bit from each’.
She met her birth mother 10 years ago, and her relatives accepted her ‘no problem’. She found out, too, that there’s always someone there to care for her now. ‘I had no idea about family structure, which is different in Indigenous families. You have several mums, and you have several nans.’