‘Sometimes I sit there and I just think about things. I don’t take it out on anybody. … I just bottle it up. … Sometimes I just want to walk out the door and not come home.’
Queenie was reflecting on the abuse she suffered as a child growing up in South Australia. She tried to speak about it at the time but no one was listening. ‘I just said “He’s doing dirty things” but they didn’t ever come back and say “What sort of dirty things?” So I just looked down and said “Oh, they’re not taking no notice of me”, and I just walked away.’
In the early 1960s, when Queenie was eight, she and her brothers and sisters were taken to a Catholic-run orphanage. She recalled playing with her siblings at the beach one afternoon and when they got home being told by their mother to hop in the car, ‘no clothes, no nothing, just get in the car’.
She reported a haze of first impressions of her new home: arriving in the dark, being introduced to other children and shown where to sleep. In the morning there were school clothes to wear and, despite Queenie’s resistance, shoes to put on. Overall, she didn’t mind her new environment. ‘It was all right. It was an open place – no fences or nothing like that’, she said.
Queenie lived at the orphanage until she was 16. During holidays she was sent to different foster homes. At one of these she was abused by her foster father.
On her return to the orphanage she tried to tell the nuns that he had done ‘naughty things’ to her, but they paid no attention. Queenie refused to return to that home again.
Later, she was sent to work for a man who expected her to work as a nanny for his children, a cook and a cleaner, and to accept his sexual molestation of her as well. She reported him to another foster family she had stayed with previously, and they found her a new job.
She was also sexually abused by a local parish priest, Father Lange, who as well as conducting religious services at the orphanage helped out with excursions. When they went to the swimming pool any children who couldn’t walk that far would get a ride in his car. Queenie wanted to walk with the bigger kids but he would tell her to get in the car. She made sure she always sat in the back seat, she said.
At the pool, Father Lange would get in and molest Queenie. ‘I get close to the edge to hold onto things, he’d be there, grab me and that; the other kids there he took no notice of them, just grabbed me, and tried to pull me closer to him. Few times I got away, then another time he grabbed me and the sausage started to come up, I call it the sausage’, she said.
Luckily Queenie was a good swimmer, and could often escape Lange’s attentions by darting under water and surfacing far away from him.
Queenie has never reported her experiences to the police. But she has support now from the Aboriginal Legal Service to seek compensation from a South Australian redress scheme.
Her main concern though is encouraging kids to speak out and adults to listen to them.
‘Don’t bottle it up like I did. In the end you want to strangle somebody … I’ve told my grandkids, if anybody touches ‘em or anything you come and tell me … Uncles, aunties, anything – I want to hear it straight out.’
It’s not a message she ever heard as a child, to her great regret. ‘Never in me life’, she told the Commissioner. Now she’s ready to pass it on to others. ‘I just want to get my voice out there.’