Robina and her siblings were taken away from their family in the early 1970s. She’s never forgotten her mother and grandmother crying and the children screaming.
‘We didn’t know what was going on. We were just shoved in the police car and off we went.’
‘I remember Nan’s house getting smaller and smaller as we drove off.’
Robina was four and a half years old.
She and her sister ended up in country Victoria in an Anglican home for young children. The man in charge was a frightening figure for Robina and would physically abuse her. On one occasion, after some minor misbehaviour, the man grabbed Robina, lifted her high off the ground and violently shook her.
‘He’s the reason why I’m scared of heights, even as an adult.’
Robina and her sister were the only girls in the home and shared a room. Sometimes her sister would run away back to their family, leaving Robina alone. That’s when the man would come looking for her.
Robina remembers being terrified, lying in bed with her eyes tightly closed while he touched her. The sexual abuse started when Robina was six years old and continued until she was 11. Robina said it felt like it went on forever.
The man knew Robina was very shy and wouldn’t tell anybody. She believes, as a young Aboriginal girl, no one would’ve listened to her anyway.
‘I was a child,’ she said simply.
When Robina went back to live with her family, she became very frightened and withdrawn.
She didn’t trust anyone and felt scared of people in authority. She also couldn’t concentrate at school and left in Year 7. ‘I didn’t go back. I just couldn’t.’
Robina felt isolated from her own people, too. After being away for so many years there was what she described as a ‘culture shock’. Sometimes when Robina spoke ‘they’d look at me funny or someone would comment, “Wow, who’s the little white girl?”’
Robina didn’t understand why she being treated like this. ‘It wasn’t my fault that I was taken away. It wasn’t my fault that I speak the way I speak. It’s normal to me.’
As she grew up, there were a lot of hard times. Robina got married but struggled as a young wife and then had to survive as a single mother. She kept the sexual abuse to herself for many years and tried to block out the memories with alcohol. She was always wary of people and often had trouble communicating.
When Robina did go to counselling she didn’t really open up about the abuse. ‘I didn’t want to share that with anybody at the time because I felt, if I tell somebody what are they going to think of me?’
Robina was also scared that she herself might not be able to cope with reopening the wounds.
But today Robina is a stronger person. She no longer drinks – ‘I won’t let that get the better of me like so many others’ – and she takes great comfort from her family, first watching her children grow up to have a better life, and now her grandchildren.
She’s also finally been able to share her story, and has told her oldest about what happened to her in the home.
‘Wherever we went, I’ve protected all of my children from people like that. I saw that was my goal in life, to protect my children.’
‘Children should be safe, no matter where they are.’
‘Children are so vulnerable. And precious.’