‘Everybody was frightened to go to the last bed. Because somebody used to come through the door. We don’t know who it was.’
None of the girls in the dormitory wanted to sleep in the bed closest to the chapel, as a couple of them had already been sexually abused there. One night Raelene was asleep in that bed, and woke up to someone touching her, rubbing her legs, and ‘tampering with my female bottom’. ‘It happened a couple of times, they used a finger. You had to scream.’ The person ran away when she called out, and she never found out whether it was a man or a woman.
Raelene doesn’t know for sure if the nuns knew what was happening to the girls, just that ‘every girl that got in trouble’ had spent time in that bed.
‘You used to be frightened to go to sleep. Used to try to talk to the girl next door to you, to see if she was awake ... You’d go to sleep, and then all of a sudden you’d get this, fingers touching you, and sort of penetrating you.’
Raelene had been placed on the Aboriginal mission when she was seven years old, along with her siblings. The mission was a few hours’ drive from Perth, and run by Benedictine nuns. Her parents were made to travel for work in the mid-1960s, and were unable to take the children with them. They considered the placement to be a temporary arrangement until they returned. However, when they tried to remove the kids from the mission they were not allowed to do so.
The nuns treated the children in their care very badly. They hacked off Raelene’s hair, made her take cold showers, and put her to work in the laundry. The children did not have any shoes, and had to eat porridge with weevils in it. Food was scarce, so they would steal scraps from the chook pen.
Physical abuse was common, and the nuns administered punishment with ‘a big, long leather strap’, or the cane. Raelene was scared to tell them about the sexual abuse, for fear she would be accused of lying and receive a beating. She ran away a couple of times, and was whipped and belted when she was returned.
Finally, she went back to live with her family when she was 13 when the mission was closing down. Her mother sent her to school, but ‘I started smoking, drinking heavy, out nightclubbing’. She wasn’t ever able to tell her mother about the abuse. Later, when she had her own kids, she and her partner were very cautious and protective of them. They lived in government housing, without proper security, and so would have the kids sleep with them to keep them safe.
When Raelene applied to a state redress scheme some years ago, she felt too embarrassed to tell them about the sexual abuse. This affected her payment, meaning she got a lot less money than if she had been able to tell the whole story. This was the same when she got a small amount of compensation from the Catholic Church.
Raelene didn’t tell anyone everything that had happened at the mission until she spoke to the Royal Commission recently. ‘I’ve tried to be strong. I’ve been through enough hurt and pain as it is.’
She keeps herself busy with her partner, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It concerns her that so many Aboriginal children are still being taken from their parents, and there is the potential for them to experience abuse in care. ‘I just want everything to change, and I hope it [abuse] doesn’t happen to younger kids today or tomorrow.’