‘It’s good to finally be believed. It’s taken a lot of years.’
In the early 1960s, Naomi was taken from her family at the age of five months and made a ward of the state in Queensland. During the next few years, she would occasionally encounter one or another of her five siblings, but those times were rare. When she was very little, Naomi was with her sister for a brief time in a Catholic girls’ home. One night the two girls were found curled up in bed together. ‘I didn’t know what I’d done. They flogged us and flogged us. For two days I had to stand in front of a picture of Jesus. Then they sent my sister away to another home.’
Naomi told the Commissioner that she was sexually abused many times throughout her childhood. One of the nuns sodomised her with various objects and another digitally raped her. She remembered a visiting religious brother putting his hand inside her vagina. When she was 13 years old, she was regularly sexually assaulted by the father of a family into whose care she’d been placed. Naomi reported his abuse to the Police and also disclosed it to her caseworker from family services, but no action was taken. Her records, when she later retrieved them, documented that the allegation wasn’t worth investigating.
Naomi’s father often tried to reclaim his children from care. He was in full-time employment, had a house, and tried to convince the authorities that he and the extended family could look after the children. An aunt and uncle also applied for custody. Being unsuccessful through official channels, Naomi’s father one day gathered up his sons and daughters from various institutions and took them home. Their time together didn’t last long however, and the children were once again removed. Naomi’s father was charged and jailed for seven years. ‘The trauma for my dad, it was worse than going to war.’
In the years after she left care, Naomi got by in what she described as a ‘wild life’. ‘I’d broken by then and they let me go back to my dad. There’s a hole in my heart that can’t heal. I lived a life on the streets and struggling, hiding from them all because I was scared they were going to put me back.’
In her late 30s, Naomi found out she was Aboriginal. She was accepted by the community, but grieved for her lost heritage, the lost bond with her siblings, and for growing up without the knowledge of who she was. Looking back, she recalled that her grandmother always covered her face with thick white powder. ‘I missed out on my culture. I missed out on being an Aboriginal.’
Naomi said she’d noticed similar patterns among many of the people who’d been in institutions. Some like her found ‘refuge in drugs and alcohol’ and entered violent relationships. ‘We were so desensitised to pain and hurt it was nothing compared to what we lived with in the home. We stayed in places that hurt us. We didn’t leave. I let my children grow up in domestic violence. Generation after generation after generation.’
Recent health problems led to Naomi being housed temporarily in an aged-care facility. Her life had been transient for decades and staff didn’t appreciate the difficulty she had with being contained within four walls. It would be good, she said, if staff from government, care and community service organisations could become better ‘trauma-informed’.
‘They need people who can support us at the end of our time because we go into our shells. We get scared. I’ve run away from the nursing home a couple of times because in my head it was like being back in that home, and they don’t understand. They just don’t understand.’