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Norma's story

‘When you’ve got no mother and father, you haven’t got brothers and sisters, to help you along life’s way, you’re just a loner. You got nobody and you got to survive yourself so determination will only get you there if you got to do it yourself.’

Norma was put into foster care in private homes and Queensland institutions from a very young age. She’d never tried to find her parents because she didn’t think ‘it’s worth knowing’ who they were.

Born in the 1940’s, Norma remembers spending some time in a foster home with a woman who’d beat her for being late home from primary school. From there she was sent to a children’s home run by the Salvation Army and as had happened in the foster home, Norma was always looking for food.

‘We were hungry all the time’, she said. ‘If we ate slow it was all right but if you didn’t finish a meal on time you’d get it across your knuckles anyway so you only had a time limit to eat.’

As one of only two Aboriginal girls in the home, Norma got into fights with other girls who’d call her ‘black bitch’ or ‘gin’. Whenever she retaliated it would be she who received punishment.

Girls in the home were put to work cleaning and doing heavy chores. One day a staff member hit Norma who retaliated by tipping a bucket of soapy water over her head. ‘I had a temper that time’, she said, and got ‘a bloody big hiding’.

‘But it didn’t make a difference. Painless. You ever get hit that much that you don’t [feel] no pain? Painless.’

Norma said she’d blocked out memories of the sexual abuse that occurred when she was about 11 years old in the home. She remembers little of what happened after she was given medication to take.

‘Myself I blanked that off because I was exploited, I had to show my body to them and that’s where I have to stop, because I’m going on the surface part now. You have to show your body and next thing you know you’ve woken up and that’s it. Your back’s hurting you know, the spine’s hurting and that, so I think I’ll leave it at that.’

Years later after a medical procedure, a doctor made a comment to Norma about the damage to her colon that must have occurred when she was a child.

‘I said, “I don’t know”. I should have said, “Yes”. It was a bit of a shock.’

She was embarrassed and upset and felt like the doctor knew about the sexual abuse without her having told him.

Despite trying to block out the memories she still had nightmares. ‘It comes back to you too, it does – flashbacks. Is that what you call them?’

After the Salvation Army home, Norma was sent to an orphanage run by the Queensland Government and here life improved, she said. The food was good and one day she went on a trip to the coast and was amazed seeing the ocean for the first time.

‘Now that water come to you, like that. Oh my God, this is heaven. And blue water you know. My eyes popping out like magic, just magic.’

Given the job of looking after babies in the orphanage, Norma was told one day by the matron that she used to be ‘just like those babies’, and said the comment sparked her ‘humanity’. With encouragement from the matron she finished her high school studies and later became a nurse.

Norma told the Commissioner that she’d never had counselling and thought she was ‘too far gone’ for it now.

‘I try to lift myself with music and water’, she said. ‘Music and just water, whenever I can get into water because water’s very soothing and music, well I go top note with that now and then … I’ve been doing that and gardening.

'You’ve got to keep your hands occupied and the anger will never go away. It’s like that under the surface and don’t let it go cause you’ll see red and you might end up hurting somebody really bad … You could even murder a person with the anger.’

Norma applied to the Queensland Government for redress and received $7,000 after she ‘filled in a form’. She hadn’t mentioned anything about the sexual abuse on her application and considered the money a payment for all the labouring work she’d done in the homes.

Her children didn’t know about the sexual abuse but Norma thought she might ‘eventually’ tell them without going through ‘the ins and outs of it’.

She’d recently started the process of applying for her government files and hoped that a photograph might exist somewhere of her in the home or orphanage.

‘All I need is just a photo of me when I was young so I can give it to my children. That’s what I need because … what would make the difference now is that the children would like it so they can give it to the grannies - you know their children, just a photo of me when I was young. I haven’t got any of my records, nothing. I just need a couple of photos that’s all’.

She hoped that children coming out of institutions now had had a safer time of it than she had. ‘What would help me is to see a child’s smile - to say they’ve had a lovely life in those institutions. That’d make my day.’

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