Despite her mother’s pleas to keep her daughter, Nelly was removed from her home after her father died in the mid-1960s.
‘I would have been about seven. Mum told the female missionary that she would look after me, send me to school, feed me, wash me. She said it fell on deaf ears.’
Nelly was placed in a South Australian cottage home staffed by Doug and Nancy Drake who were employed by the United Aborigines Mission. There, the teenaged son of the Drakes sexually abused her from the age of about 10 until she left the home two years later.
She told the Commissioner, ‘He would stealthily come into our room in the pitch of darkness, there’d be three or four other girls in the room. I believe it would happen to them too’.
Fear of physical punishment prevented Nelly from reporting the assaults, though she remembered trying to protect others in the home from both physical and sexual abuse.
‘Not having your family there, no one to turn to and no one to tell, that made it hard. We were too scared to talk to each other, frightened. We were belted on a daily basis as it was, the foster parents took physical abuse to a whole new level. I’m pretty sure they knew what that young fella was up to.’
At 12, Nelly was sent to another children’s home run by the United Aborigines Mission before moving on to another institution a year later.
When she was 18, Nelly worked and paid board to stay at a hostel where the Drake family had been relocated.
‘The building was owned by the Save the Children Fund, a lot of children were placed there. I didn’t have anywhere else to go, that’s the effect of being removed, I was alienated from my community. My younger sister was about 11, and one day she came and told me she’d been raped by the Drakes’s son. I’d also see sexual behaviour in that children’s home, pretend sex, and Nancy Drake would be there laughing at it.’
Nelly said the childhood abuse she and her sister suffered has sorely impacted them both in different ways throughout their lives.
‘In terms of relationships, I lack trust in men and women, I’m always on guard. My ex-partner sexually abused me, and my sister’s husband did the same to her too. I don’t believe in God, I’m developing my own concept of a higher power from a cultural perspective.’
After being removed from her family, Nelly never saw some of her family members again, and she described to the Commissioner the pain of losing her Indigenous family connections, and particularly the lost relationship with her grandmother.
Nelly provided evidence to the Mullighan Inquiry and received $10,000 after legal costs from the South Australian Government.
Today she continues to rely heavily on a psychologist for support, having been in therapy for more than a decade.
‘The pain doesn’t go away, I don’t sleep well, I’m on anti-depressant medication. I find it difficult to talk to family about it because they’ve experienced their own hardship and have their own stories. In my own personal journey, I’ve become more determined that I don’t want to see this happen to anybody else, ever.’