Queenie was seven when her mum was killed in the crossfire of a fight at the government-run Aboriginal mission they lived on in central Queensland. It was the mid-1940s, and Queenie was placed in the children’s dormitory at the mission.
The boys’ dormitory master, Mr Morris, would be involved in conducting checks on the girls, ostensibly looking for ‘lice’. During this process he would grope their chests and fondle their genitals.
‘Little kids with tiny little boobs. You didn’t like people pinching you there or putting their hands up your little bloomers to touch you in your private parts. And you had nobody to protect you, you all lived in the dormitory so you just cried. And when you cried you got slapped for crying. It was not a cheerful type place to bring up children.’
Mr Morris and his wife then ‘adopted’ Queenie, but she very recently found out this was never actually a legal adoption. They all moved away from the mission to his home community, even though he had been sent away from it and was not very welcome there. ‘He was a minister of religion for the Church of England church at that stage, and we lived on the church grounds in a home there.’
The abuse continued, and Mr Morris began raping Queenie. He and his wife had separate beds, with the kids sleeping on the floor. ‘So he would come during the night and just put his hand over my mouth, and say, “You’re not to make a noise, God will punish you if you make a noise”.’
There had been many different kinds of Christian ministers at the mission, and Queenie ‘respected God, you had this fear of God’, and ‘you would just lay there, what could you do?’ Still, she would wonder why Mr Morris wasn’t being punished by God himself for what he was doing.
Sometimes he would go away on a pearling boat for a while. ‘That was heaven. You had nobody around then, you were safe, you could go to bed. But when he came back this thing happened.’
Queenie thinks he sexually abused the other children who lived with them too. He was also very physically violent, and Queenie would often go to school covered in bruises. The nuns would ask, ‘“What’s wrong with you?”. Well, you couldn’t really say what was wrong with you because you weren’t supposed to ... I would say, “I was naughty, that’s all”.’
Mrs Morris ‘was a cruel woman – she only wanted a servant in the house’ and ‘she knew he was abusing me. And if I complained she used to hit me with the broom handle’.
In her early teens Queenie became pregnant, but did not realise what was happening. ‘I was feeling very sick at that stage, and I think I was in the first stage of having morning sickness, see I didn’t know anything about that. I didn’t know what was wrong with me because nobody ever told us about sex or anything like that.’
She was taken to hospital, and the doctor said he would give her a full physical examination. ‘You’ve got to take your clothes off, lay under the sheet.’ He asked if she was all right, ‘I’m nodding my head. And then they did the big test, and, “Oh my God” he says, “this child is pregnant. How come this child is pregnant?” So then come the big guns.’
Asked who her boyfriend was, she replied that she did not have one. ‘I’m a 14 year-old schoolkid enjoying school, why would I want a boyfriend? ... It was not the done thing.’
She told the doctor Mr Morris was forcing her to have sex with him. ‘The police went to him and he admitted that he was the cause of my problem ... He admitted that he had sexually abused me.’ It does not appear he was charged.
Queenie was removed from the couple and sent back to the mission, but the other children were left in the Morris’s care. The baby was adopted out while Queenie lived in the dormitory until her late teens. (She and her child later re-established contact.)
Following the abuse Queenie became increasingly isolated, and stopped interacting with people.
‘I kind of went gaga a little bit I think, because I shut myself off from people. I was, as I say, brought up in the church where you have strict ideas about what is good, evil, and not good. And I was made to feel that I was a tainted person. Nobody would want to marry you because you’ve had a child out of wedlock, you’ve committed a sin and God’s going to punish you forever and a day.’
Her companions in the dormitory ‘loved me, and looked after me’, and some of the women she considered aunties ‘took me over’ and cared for her. ‘Even though I was young, you’d think you might as well be kicking up daisies instead of being around.’
After leaving the mission she applied for work, and came to reject the shame about what Mr Morris had done to her. ‘By then I’d grown up a little bit more. I’d gotten past the stage of being a scarlet person – I didn’t do that to make me a scarlet person, I figure I was too young to know what was happening.’
Queenie married in her 20s and had children, and is still with her husband over 50 years later. She disclosed the sexual abuse to him while they were still dating. ‘I told him and he said, “That makes no difference ... You’re a nice girl”.’