When Welfare came to collect Sian and her siblings, they said the kids were just going away for a holiday. In fact, at the age of seven, Sian was being removed from her family. ‘They later said our parents drank too much. We had our dinner and our bed, and were happy with our parents.’
It was the mid-1970s, and Sian was made a ward of the state. She was sent to live on an Aboriginal mission in Western Australia’s mid-west region. The mission was run by a Catholic order, with help from laypeople. ‘The lay missionaries were women who would mistreat us, and they locked us up.’ The girls stayed in dormitories, divided into age groups.
When they were little, the girls had to ‘do things we shouldn’t have done’ with the ‘old blokes’ on the mission.
Sometimes this sexual abuse would happen when the girls took phone calls from their parents, in a small room, and a priest would supervise them. One priest, Father Oskar, was particularly bad to the girls.
‘The old priests did maintenance at the girls’ dormitory. Father Oskar, a German, would touch us and take photographs of us all the time. He would say we had been naughty, to get us on our own.
‘He would touch our hair, our breasts, and our private parts. We just had to stand there. If we went to the lay missionary we would get the strap. This sexual abuse went on for about five years. He touched a lot of girls. He made us sit at his table, which made it hard to eat.’
Sian used to see a male welfare officer, but never told him or anyone else about the abuse she experienced. She didn’t really think anyone would take the word of a ‘little Aboriginal girl’ against that of a priest, and would cry herself to sleep every night at the mission.
She was sent back to her parents when she was about 12. As she was too scared to attend school, she was then sent to a children’s home. While she was there, ‘some older Aboriginal boys touched me on the breasts. One was much older, and went to work. I did not tell anyone. He was evil. If we spoke up we would be thrashed. I do not trust anyone now’.
After this, Sian was sent to a Perth receiving home – ‘I was just institutionalised’. The children ‘were not treated well there, and were locked in dark cupboards. I now sleep with the light on to feel safe’.
Sian left school in Year 9, after she got pregnant. She was able to keep the baby with her mother’s assistance. Her mother’s strength battling her own troubles inspired Sian to get through the hard times in her life. ‘I thought if I could be even stronger than my mum, that’ll do me proud.’
Sian’s younger brother was removed from her parents after she was, and she believes he was sexually abused by Father Oskar at the mission as well. ‘He committed suicide after he applied for redress, as too many memories for him to cope with were brought back in that process.’
She was unaware of the state redress scheme herself at the time it was open, so did not apply. ‘You don’t know a lot of things, ‘cause you don’t get out much.’ Now she is aware of other possible avenues for compensation, and how to access free legal advice.
Sian has never received her care records, and is not interested in doing so. ‘No, no I just want to forget ... I just try to really forget about them.’ Nor is she interested in an apology from the government, or the institutions where she experienced abuse. ‘What more can sorry do really? It’s all been done. But you can always look out for the next generation.’
The abuse has ongoing impacts on Sian’s mental health, relationships and wellbeing. ‘I do not go out. I sit in my room. I freeze if I go out. My daughter has to take me out ... I get panic attacks, anxiety and depression.’
She now sees a psychiatrist, and is on antidepressants, but has not talked much about the abuse with her doctor yet. ‘No matter how much you’re hurting inside, you got to try to be strong, and then express your feelings at the same time.’
Sian recently separated from her partner, the father of her children, after many years. This took a lot of strength, as it was a very controlling relationship. ‘I’ve left the bloke who controlled me all those years. And even my psychiatrist, he told me, that’s the biggest step you took there.’
All the time she was with her partner she never told him about her experiences of abuse, and her kids don’t know either.
‘I’ve always been controlled ... I just let people control me, abuse me, whatever. Since talking to the psychiatrist, it’s so different. You sort of realise ... You’ve got a right to speak.’