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Polly's story

Polly is used to telling her story. Every year she talks to children in the school where she works about what things were like for an Aboriginal kid growing up in a home and being separated from your family, from the perspective of someone who is still living through it.

‘The kids ask me, “Would you change your life if you could?”, and I say, “No”. Because if I had changed it I wouldn’t be here today to talk to them … As much as the pain has been there, and what I know that I’ve lost, well, this is my journey and my path through life.’

Polly was removed from her parents in the late 1960s when they were both jailed. She and her sisters were made wards of the state and sent to an Anglican boarding school in Queensland. Although her parents were cleared of any wrongdoing a year later and released, Polly was never sent back to live with them.

She said the nuns who ran the school always treated them well and she got a good education. ‘I consider we were very spoiled, and I loved being at the school with the Sisters because they were very lovely ladies.’

Each school holiday, Polly and her sisters were sent to stay with a local family, the Seafords. Polly said Mrs Seaford – her ‘holiday mum’ – was lovely, very caring and generous with the children. Mr Seaford was the local dctor, and respected in the community. He raped Polly every school holiday, from when she was six to when she was 18.

‘When the abuse started happening, the threat was that if I told anybody … my sisters would be taken away. That was probably why I didn’t say anything, because they were the last of my family.’

She also felt that nobody would believe the story of an Aboriginal girl against that of a white man.

She later asked her sisters if he had abused them and they said no, and she thinks this is how he managed to keep it secret, by limiting it to her. He managed to set up situations for him to be with her alone, but that would seem normal, so nobody noticed.

‘I always played on my own. Because when that was happening he would say, “We need to sneak away from the girls”. So I’d just play on my own so then there was no excuse to tell anyone where I was going.’

When Polly was 18 she attempted suicide. Mrs Seaford had become seriously ill and Polly wrote her a letter detailing the abuse, but the letter was intercepted by Mr Seaford. Mrs Seaford passed away without ever knowing what had happened. Polly moved away and the abuse finally stopped. At around the same time, Polly met her husband and she disclosed to him. He was very keen for her to report Seaford but she wasn’t ready to do so.

When she was in her late 20s, Polly reported to a rape crisis centre and they helped her come to terms with the abuse, but she still wasn’t ready to report to the police. Another 10 years passed and Polly decided to return to university. Her husband again encouraged her to make a report to the police.

‘So that was when I decided. Because what he said made sense … He had that insight to know I couldn’t totally focus on study if I still was carrying that around.’

Before she went to the police, Polly phoned Seaford and recorded the conversation.

‘In the conversation he said, “Well that’s what everybody else was doing at that time”. So it was like that was okay for him to do that as well.’

The police were able to use the tape as evidence against Seaford, along with Polly’s knowledge of certain contraceptives that were no longer in use, meaning she would have had to learn about them when she was very young. Seaford was charged, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced.

‘My barrister was very upset that he didn’t get more time but mine wasn’t about monies or time, it was about just knowing that what had happened to me was out there. So I felt I had got justice from doing what I did.’

She got a small amount of compensation after the trial, but didn’t pursue any civil action because she wanted to put it behind her and focus on her studies.

‘I think the impact that it has on me is that I really missed out on getting to know all my family and my relatives because I only got to meet my mum again when I was about 35. She tried to be in touch with me when I was about 17 and I didn’t want to talk to my mum. I didn’t want anything to do with my mum because of the abuse that was happening to me …

‘I’ve done a lot of investigating since, I’ve met a lot of my family, but there’s a lot that have passed away that have taken the stories with them that I missed out on. Which I think is probably the most devastating side.’

Being raped as a small girl by an adult man also left Polly with internal injuries that meant she could not have a large family, which she really wanted because of being separated from her own family.

‘That’s where the sadness and the loss is really. Family. So I fight for families as much as possible. It’s important for me to let people know that your friends and family are the best things you can have around you.’

Polly said it’s important not to pass judgement on kids, rather to try and understand why they are acting out. Now she places her focus squarely on helping others, and remains strong and positive.

‘I won’t stand for bullying and I think that is because my individual right to fight was supressed for so long, so I think that now I don’t let anybody supress anybody’s rights or bully anybody in any way, shape or form …

‘There’s people worse off than me, that’s what I always say. There’s people that didn’t even get to meet their mothers or their families. So I’ve been very fortunate. That’s what it comes down to. There’s always somebody worse off than you.’

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