When six-year-old Regina was sent to the Aboriginal mission the Benedictines ran just north of Perth, she didn’t realise she would be staying there. It was the mid 1950s and both her parents had been in the mission’s orphanages.
The mission was an awful place. The children were given insufficient and often inedible food, had inadequate clothing and no shoes, and were forced to work endlessly in the laundry, kitchen, and yards. Regina was baptised as a Catholic without her parents’ consent. Punishments were cruel, and one time she was made to kneel in a corner every day for a week.
Two mission boys ‘not much older than me’ sexually abused Regina from when she was eight. The first boy molested, digitally penetrated her, and attempted to rape her many times over a three-year period. The second raped her when she was 11. ‘I didn’t know at that time that we were all family related.’
Regina was also sexually assaulted by the priest who was her music teacher.
Regina never spoke to the nuns about this abuse, as she did not think she would be believed. She was so unhappy at the mission that she ran away twice – but her mother ‘shoved me right back in’.
At 16, Regina left the mission to work as a domestic for a family in the country. Having no sex education, it was not long before she fell pregnant with her first child. After this she moved back to the city to be with her mother, and had another baby.
‘I was naive. I am still naive about a lot of things, because I’m a shy sort of person. I’ve always been a nervous person.’ She married later in life, and is still with her husband. She kept in contact with some of her siblings, and enjoys spending time with her grandchildren.
Regina has tried to get her files from the mission, but was told none could be found. She has never seen her native welfare file. Now, she would like to get more information about her ancestry so she can write a family tree.
Living with low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and flashbacks, Regina turned to alcohol to block out memories of her experiences at the mission. She has tried to access further education through studying at TAFE, but ‘I will pull out because I haven’t got the confidence’. Working, playing sport, and her relationship with her children and grandchildren have all helped her get through the hard times.
It was not until Regina made a submission to the WA redress scheme that she spoke about the sexual abuse at all – but she only disclosed the incidents with the boys. ‘When you go and do those sort of things, you’re well and truly out of focus and just say what you think. But when you sit back and think, there’s a lot of things ... I just don’t know, I’m so messed up.’ The first time she disclosed the priest’s abuse was when attending an advocacy service later on.
Regina has been back to the old mission several times. There is a memorial there now, for the Aboriginal people who lived there, but this was paid for the community not the church. ‘I go back, I try to get a healing. Sometimes I come out good ... I feel refreshed after I leave.’