‘You can only tell the truth ... At some points, it probably is hard to do, because the things that these men do to you, you know, you can’t sort of really explain it. You can only sort of beat around the bush a little.’
Rosemary was born in the early 1930s, to an Aboriginal mother and white father. She and her older sister Gertie were removed from their parents at a young age, and made wards of the state of New South Wales. ‘We come out white, and that’s why we were taken.’
They were placed with white foster parents in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. It was the Depression, and the couple only fostered them for the allowance they received. Their foster mother was physically violent and ‘treated us like vermin’. She was always present when the welfare inspector came and spoke with them. ‘If we said anything out of place we’d get a hiding, a belting with the feather duster.’
The girls were made to go to bed straight after dinner while other kids in the street were still playing; they weren’t allowed visitors and were not even permitted to bathe indoors.
Instead, they had to wash outside in the laundry tub with dirty water from the copper —‘there was no shortage of water ... she’d say, because it’s pure, it’s been boiled. It was dirty grey-looking stuff’. Their foster father, Eugene, would peer through the lace curtains and watch them as they bathed.
Rosemary remembers Eugene as being ‘incredibly kind to us’ in some ways. ‘I probably don’t hate him. I mean, he did the wrong thing. But as these fellas go, these paedophiles, they’re such nice people. I mean, you might think it strange me saying that.’ If the sisters were sent to bed without food, he would sneak sandwiches up to them, and he used to give them chocolates.
Sometimes, however, Eugene would visit Gertie in bed, and ‘he’d kneel down. Well I didn’t know, I thought he was talking to her, giving her advice or something. But I just didn’t realise ... he’d have his hands in the bed’.
He would also take Gertie out of the house to sexually abuse her. Rosemary was still quite young, so ‘I didn’t really understand what was going on’.
At one point Gertie disclosed this abuse to Eugene’s wife. ‘She went out and got the copper stick, and belted her with it all over the body. And locked her under the stairs, and wouldn’t give her anything to eat all day.’
Gertie started wagging school, and was sent away to a girls’ home. Rosemary overheard her speaking to Eugene before she left, telling him ‘if you touch my sister I’m going to come back here and kill you. She meant it’.
Eugene began sexually abusing Rosemary anyway.
One night he came into her room with a torch, and was ‘pulling up the bedclothes ... and looking’. The next night she pinned her nightgown shut ‘so if he tried to look at me, well he wouldn’t be able to. And I did feel him tugging there, but it didn’t give way’.
When Rosemary was a bit older, Eugene would take her out on the pretence of running an errand. On the way home, they would stop at the carport.
‘He used to get me in there, and do all sorts of things. There wasn’t a hole sacred in my body. Excuse me for saying that, but it’s true. But he was always very careful, I mean he never got me pregnant ... He didn’t go that far, but he did the back.’
Eugene threatened that if Rosemary disclosed ‘what we enjoy doing’ she would be sent to the children’s’ home, where she would be locked up and beaten every day. ‘What are you to believe? And he said anyway, I’ll tell them that it was your fault. Because I couldn’t help it, because you used to lure me on. Oh, it was terrible.’
She was too scared to tell Gertie when they spoke on the phone, in case she followed through with her threat to kill him – ‘and she’d go to jail for the rest of her life. And I couldn’t tell anything to his wife, because I saw what happened to my sister’.
When Rosemary was 14 the inspector, whom she was very fond of, removed her from the foster placement. He took her to work in a children’s home, and after this she was employed looking after an elderly couple.
Around this time Gertie arranged for her to go on a blind date, and she met the man who would be her husband for 50 years. They soon got married, and had children.
The abuse by Eugene affected Rosemary’s sexual relationship with her husband. ‘He was a very understanding man, but sometimes he would get very cross with me. Because he’d want sex and I wouldn’t want to have sex. Not because it was him, it was just that I couldn’t bring myself to it.’ She would have flashbacks to the abuse, ‘and it would really put me off ... It gets in your psyche’.
She was never able to tell him ‘the full facts’ of her childhood, as ‘it was something you didn’t talk about to your husband’.
Rosemary was also very overprotective and strict with her children, and describes herself as ‘a very cross mother’. Now she realises this was an impact of the way she was raised herself.
For many years, Rosemary did not talk about the abuse. When she was 60 years old, she disclosed it to her daughter, and then her son (‘he just cried’). Speaking about it was like ‘trying to get through a brick wall, and I broke through’, and after this she found it easy to discuss. She was also able to reconnect with her Aboriginal heritage, and her relatives welcomed her.
Rosemary has never reported the abuse to the police or other authorities. She did speak to a lawyer, but decided against making any claim for compensation as it may take a long time and she has other things to attend to.
The love of her husband and children has given her the strength to live a good life, and her belief in God has also helped her to cope with her experiences.
Gertie passed away many years ago, without knowing Rosemary had also been abused, and Rosemary is grateful for the chance to speak for the both of them. ‘She would have liked that.’
Eugene is deceased too, but Rosemary wanted to make sure that what he did was known. ‘I’m privileged to be able to tell my story, because I wanted to hit back at him for a long time. He’s dead now, but his name will go down as a very bad man.’