Rainey was born in the 1940s and grew up on a government-run Aboriginal mission in Queensland.
‘I had the childhood every kid should have’, she told the Commissioner.
The mission was one with ‘many people and many tribes’. She and her two siblings went to school but their real learning was in Aboriginal ways. ‘Us three were in the community at the right time for us to see corroboree, to see ceremony, to listen to language and to speak it’, Rainey said.
‘We had a white superintendent and all that but I grew up under my father’s guidance, which was law.’ That law – its world view and way of doing things – has stayed with her throughout her life. ‘When you grow up in it, it’s just part of you. As educated as I became I couldn’t give up those rituals.’
One of the lessons she learned from her father gave her the resilience and toughness she needed to deal with the abuse she suffered in her teens, and with other challenges that followed.
‘Your life is governed by the choices you made yesterday. The choices you make determine the pathway. Whether you go on a narrow road or a four lane highway. But the choices are there … That’s what I was taught to believe. Those are the things have helped me’, she explained.
Rainey’s father refused to attend the mission church but her mother took Rainey and her siblings to church and to Sunday school. ‘We were pretty well churched, I’d say.’ Racism was entrenched, and at high school she was suspended for having lunch with a white student. ‘You knew your place. But I thought I’d push the barrier’, she said. Rainey later became godmother to that student’s children.
When she was 15 or 16, Rainey was sent to work as a housemaid on a remote sheep station, common practice at the time. At the sheep station, her boss and other men would come into her quarters at night and rape her. She reported the assaults to local police but was raped by them as well.
They were ‘supposed to be our protectors’, Rainey said. ‘That’s what they were supposed to do. That was the rules. I follow the law. You have to go and tell them, and I did, but they did the same thing.’
Rainey had no choice but to return to the sheep station, where the assaults continued. The driver of the mail truck also raped her. ‘What, were you supposed to be just a plaything? What was it, that every white man thought he could have you any time he wanted?’
Eventually Rainey became pregnant. She was sent to a home ‘for wayward girls’ in Brisbane for the pregnancy and birth. ‘I love it. I have never been wayward in my life’.
She described staff at the home as ‘rude’. Different people would examine her and touch her, including the gardener. She had no idea this wasn’t appropriate. ‘It’s like yeah, that’s probably what they’re supposed to do. You don’t know any different.’
When the baby, a boy, was born he was taken away from Rainey. As well, some medical intervention occurred which meant she could no longer conceive. Rainey isn’t sure what happened. ‘They took this child away from me, and something happened in the labour’, she recalled. ‘Because they blindfolded you, you know … [The doctor] said, “Oops, I think we’ve done something here” – whatever it was, a tube or something. And [the nurse] said, “That’s okay, that one won’t breed then, any more”.’
Returning home to the mission, Rainey found herself ostracised by her community. A marriage had been arranged for her before she left for the sheep station. It was a match that would bring together two important clans. Now, because of what had happened, the marriage could not go ahead.
‘Where I come from you marry something that’s pure. You don’t touch anything that’s been used … To them I was proper dead, although I was walking around.’
Though an innocent victim, Rainey was blamed for the abuse. It was a source of big shame to her family. And it meant she would never be able to marry with the approval of her community.
On the advice of her father, Rainey left the community, and moved to Victoria. She became a nurse, and later studied again to become a teacher. She has now a doctorate in education and has worked as a teacher in Indigenous communities for many years. Only now, at 69, is she thinking it might be time to retire.
Rainey spoke with unusual acceptance about what had happened to her.
‘There’s no accidents in this world. You grow up believing you’re responsible for everything that happens to you. And it’s very hard to get that out of your head … I feel now there’s no way anyone could have stopped that. Maybe it was meant to happen. Maybe because of that I became who I am.’
Rainey received compensation of $2,000 through a Queensland Government redress scheme but regrets taking the money. It didn’t feel as if it had meaning for her. It was much more meaningful, she said, to tell her story to the Royal Commission.
‘I’ve completed a task I’ve waited a long time to do. I’ll sleep tonight.’