In the mid 1980s, when Rosie was about 10, she went alone to the Department of Child Protection (DCP) in the regional Western Australian town where she lived. She reported that she was being bashed and abused by her foster parents, Clarence and Betty. Theirs was the second home Rosie had been placed in since her mother died when she was a baby. Like her first foster parents, Clarence and Betty were members of her extended family.
‘[The DCP] said “Oh, we can’t do anything about it. Can’t help you”’, Rosie told the Commissioner. ‘‘I’m telling them this is what happened to me, and why you couldn’t help me out – but they just more or less didn’t care about this child, because her mother is dead now, and who cares, we’ll just chuck it to a family member. The way I look at it is chucking Aboriginal kids to each family members, it’s not a good thing … They should have looked into it a bit more – not just chuck a child into someone’s place like that.’
Rosie described her life as a 10-year-old to the Commissioner: ‘I come home from school and I couldn’t be a kid, I had to come home to the household duties – picking up after drunks, like my foster father, like my step dad. Even though he was a drinker, he provided food, but the amount of people that came here, the amount of blokes that used to come …’
Betty was never home, Rosie said. So Rosie picked up after them all, and took responsibility for her younger foster siblings as well. ‘So I growed up pretty fast, to be independent on my own.’
It wasn’t just physical abuse that Rosie suffered. Clarence, and other men who came to the house, sexually abused her as well.
‘I confronted my step-mother, my foster mother, about it, and she’s turned around and said to me “Don’t make trouble”. “What you mean, don’t make trouble? This person is touching me, how I making trouble?”’
It wasn’t easy for her to speak out – ‘It’s very hard for young Aboriginal girl to say that without getting bashed’ – and for some time she stopped trying.
‘I just kind of bottled that all up, and move on.’
About five years later, Rosie approached the DCP again. Her foster mother Betty had assaulted her – ‘she flogged me pretty bad’. Rosie went to the DCP and showed them her injuries. ‘I said “Look what the old bitch did to me with a hose” – marks here, here, across my back, across my legs.’ The DCP officers said they would report Betty.
‘I said “I don’t want to lock her up, I just want to get out of her household and find decent accommodation”.’ She had a friend, whose family said she could live with. The DCP wouldn’t allow it.
‘They said “We can’t do that, we have to take you to another family member”. I said “I don’t want to go to a family member, because – what I’m telling you, I don’t want to go through the same bullshit. I want someone that’s actually going to care for me … I don’t want to go back into that environment. I want to get out, to make something of myself – be somebody” … Nothing. They shoved me off, more or less.’
Rosie didn’t have any options. ‘I just went back to my uncle, my mum’s brother, and became an arsehole, I suppose. Drink like them, smoke like them. Till I found a partner, and had kids, and wanted to be somebody.’
Rosie remembers some teachers who were pretty good to her as she was growing up, and a school nurse. ‘She was a good nurse; I used to cry to her a lot … I never told her that I’d been molested. It’s just more or less the bashings.’ There was a youth centre, which was open till one or two in the morning. Rosie went there as a 10 and 11-year-old. ‘When that closed down I fell apart.’ There was a health clinic, and another nurse: ‘She helped me a lot just by talking to me.’
But none of them made a difference to her home circumstances.
Rosie’s first partner wasn’t a very good partner, she said. ‘I put up with nine years of being bashed.’ Their children have mostly lived with him and his family, a cause of great sadness to Rosie. They live interstate, and it’s difficult for Rosie to visit. ‘When I went there it’s like I’m talking to nobody, they’re not my kids … “Who are you? You’re not our mother – you wasn’t around for us”. Things like that. Horrible.’ She accepts she was tough on them, her oldest in particular. She bashed him, and swore at him, if he didn’t look after his younger siblings. She sees now she was doing what her foster mother did to her.
‘It’s just a circle going round and round.’
She is hopeful that the youngest may come and live with her, and they’ll get the chance to build a relationship. They’ll live a good life, she said – ‘without alcohol and drugs and violence and abuse and swearing’.
Rosie has been a drug user and binge drinker, though she says she’s not much of a drinker now. She’s had some sessions with a counsellor. She has problems with anger. ‘I find myself growing up I’m a very impatient person. And I snap pretty quick’, she said.
‘I see myself as a nasty person. I don’t want to be this person. I want to be a caring person. I want to be a good mother. I want to be a good grandmother … I look at those bad things that happened and I don’t want them to eat me up.’
She doesn’t plan to report her abuse to police. ‘What can I achieve?’ she asked. The men who abused her are probably dead, or would deny it. ‘I just want to question why, why they do that? What makes them a better man to do that?’
She doesn’t want compensation, either.
‘I just wanted help’, she said.