Sally’s mother was removed from her family as a child and grew up in a mission in Western Australia. After she gave birth to Sally in a cottage for Aboriginal girls ‘having children out of wedlock’, Sally was taken from state care to be raised by her nana and pop. Sally lived with their very large family throughout the 1960s, and saw her birth mother ‘very rarely’ until much later in her life.
Since Sally ‘always went to school’ she had the ‘luck’ of avoiding the child protection officers when they came to remove other children from the family. She remembered being immunised and treated by ‘health sisters’ who used to ‘pick all us Noongar kids up and strip us naked up at the footy oval, and rub louse cream, scabby cream, all over us and we’d run around naked for hours, and eat dog biscuits after that, you know, brown biscuits’.
Sally’s uncle Mick, who was six years her senior, began ‘playing’ with her ‘from an early age’. He would take her by the hand into the bush, take her clothes off, and say ‘Get on top of me and root me … I want to make babies’.
These assaults continued for many years. Even though ‘I was always crying’ no family member or teacher or welfare worker ever asked her what was wrong. And ‘you know what? I think they knew, but it’s just no one done anything … Nobody cared ... Bloody no one!’
Mick ‘played with’ Sally until she reached her teens and stood up to him. When she threatened to tell his wife, he promised to stop touching her and begged her not to tell. ‘So I did. I told Nana the next day. And they chucked me out. They actually followed me and chased me with bottles and that.’ In hindsight, Sally can see that ‘Nana would have never reported it’ because Mick was ‘her favourite’.
Kicked out and told not to come back, Sally stayed with friends and relatives and ‘lived from home to home’. She tried to continue her education and was given ‘welfare clothes’ and shoes to wear to school, but no other support. By her mid-teens Sally was drinking heavily and living on the streets. She had two children before she turned 18, and had to escape the first of a number of violent relationships. ‘How come no one took care of me?’
Sally has suffered from low self-esteem, depression, insomnia and anxiety. She has received counselling in ‘bits and pieces’, and would like to access further professional support. She hasn’t talked to most of her family ‘for years’, and has decided to remain safe and single. ‘I don’t want any relationships. I had too many bad relationships.’
Despite these impacts Sally has ‘never given up in life’. ‘I got myself a degree, and I keep my children on track, and my grandchildren, and I look after my mum as well.’ She watches over the young ones in her family ‘like a hawk’, ensures that they go to school, and believes that she has empowered them to speak up if they need to.
‘The love that I’ve given my children, I would’ve loved that. That’s the truth.’
Sally also finds sustenance in her faith. ‘How do I get through? I just thank God every day. I have God with me every day. I pray to God every day.’
About five years ago Sally lodged an application with Redress WA, which was deemed ineligible because her placement with her grandparents was arranged by her mother, rather than the State. However this seems to be at odds with the fact that, at the time, Sally would have been a state ward under the Native Welfare Act.
After her Redress WA application the details of Sally’s assaults were passed on to the police. They formed the view that Mick was a minor at the time, and took no further action. The last assaults happened when Mick was over 18, but Sally is not sure if she made this point clear. She plans to speak to the police again, and has the support of one family member who is willing to testify on her behalf.
Looking at her own life, and at the lives of the people she supports in her volunteer work, Sally has seen how hard it is for people to ‘move forward’ without justice and support from the ‘society that’s supposed to help us’. She would like to see an end to the practice of removing Aboriginal kids from their families, and the development of rules from a grassroots level ‘that are really going to work’. She would also like to see a commitment from the police and other agencies to ‘actually work with Aboriginal people’.
As a Noongar who grew up with institutional racism, Sally said that ‘you get used to abandonment and rejection, and I think that’s the worst thing … You get used to it … You get so sad’.
‘Some families are still living the way I lived when I was young, and it breaks my heart, because you know, I’ve been to hell and back’, Sally said. ‘We’re all missing love. Our people are missing love, because we’ve been broken up. Yeah, we’ve been broken up.’