Rosalind spent her early years with her family in the bush in the north-west of Western Australia. In the mid-1950s they all came into town because Rosalind’s mother was about to give birth.
‘That’s when they took us, yeah,’ Rosalind said.
‘It was just an opportunistic moment, I suppose, because they knew that she’d be in town to have the baby … and that’s when they came out and grabbed the rest of us.’
Six-year-old Rosalind and three of her siblings were taken by welfare officers and placed in a nearby mission run by the Churches of Christ.
‘We were kept separate but we still used to sneak around. We could sneak around, except for the babies. I didn’t see my brother probably until he was school age.
‘I’d sneak in there if I had a job up there. I’d sneak into the nursery and, you know, just give him a little kiss and then run back out. But I never really knew him until he went to school.’
Rosalind described the mission as ‘very army-like’, where everything was done by the clock. ‘There was a lot of work, there was a lot of punishment.
‘It’d be for anything, really. Even sometimes if they were in a bad mood … studded belts, leather belts, and canes soaked in water as well.’
She said the physical abuse was ‘constant’.
‘I think the worst part was when I moved into the senior girls’ section. It seemed like, even in the junior girls’ section, it seemed like we always had men looking at us naked.’
Rosalind said she could ‘count probably on one hand’ the times the girls’ shower block was supervised by female staff.
It wasn’t long before Rosalind encountered Harold Newlyn, a staff member who would stand in the shower block and order the girls to wash themselves in front of him. ‘And not just like that, it’s like “scrub and scrub and scrub”, shouting and shouting, louder and louder. And then some of the girls would be crying and saying it was hurting and he’d say, “Keep scrubbing until I say stop”.’
On one occasion in her mid-teens, Rosalind was caught writing a note to another girl. She said she was taken into an office by Newlyn ‘and told to take down my pants, take them off, and bend right over the back of this chair.
‘And he didn’t cane me straight away. It was after a few minutes he started belting me. I knew he was perving at me again.’
But Rosalind said that the men had a cunning way of justifying their behaviour. ‘If we were sexually abused, we were told that was punishment.
‘I always thought it was punishment so I just thought, well, it can’t be sexual abuse because that’s bad.
‘They just twist your mind.’
But Rosalind was strong, and she tried to report Newlyn to the local Native Affairs office. ‘I went there about two or three times, because I always ran away … I wanted to be with my family. Or just to see them.
‘Yeah, I ran away and then I thought, “I’ll go down and see welfare”.
‘They did absolutely nothing. They just sat there and smiled at me and thought I was telling fibs. And then they rang the mission and said, “I’ve got [Rosalind] here making allegations …” and they just came and picked me up and took me home and belted me again.’
One saving grace was her mother, who came to see the children as often as she could.
‘Mum was in and out of town but eventually she came to live in town. And she could take us out, like for a weekend or maybe just for a lunch, or school holidays sometimes. It was really important and I thank God for that today. Some of the other families, mission families, they’re really suffering today from breaking the bond.’
When she left the mission, Rosalind was in her mid-teens. She found a job and somewhere to live and began her adult life. She didn’t talk about the abuse for a long time.
‘I just got drunk as a skunk in the first few years. Well, actually, for a lot of years. But some of us are strong enough to pull out of it, and others aren’t.’
It wasn’t until the late 2000s, when she made a claim for compensation, that Rosalind told the story of her time in the mission. She said, ‘It was good, it was good to talk about those things. And things that’d upset you for so many years and you didn’t really understand, which is why you never really talked’.
Afterwards she had ‘a bit of counselling for a little while’, but isn’t interested in having any more. ‘I just don’t want to think about it, I don’t care about it. It happened and that’s that and I’ve moved on. I just don’t see the point in getting all upset over it again.’
Rosalind’s great hope is that something will be done to stop children being taken from their families. ‘The worst thing for me was the separation, because I find myself thinking now, “Why wasn’t I ever there for my mum and dad when I grew up?”, because that would be my job as the oldest girl, to be there for your parents.
‘When you haven’t had the love of your family, you don’t know how to love yourself.
‘If something could happen in the future. More and more children are being taken.’