‘I was thought of as an Aboriginal heathen’, Tina said.
She thinks that’s partly why the Seventh Day Adventist school she went to didn’t seem to care when she reported that she’d been sexually assaulted in the girls’ toilets.
It happened when Tina was 11, in the mid 1970s. She and her younger sister, Simone, had left class just before the end of the school day, so they’d be in time to catch the bus. Tina went to the toilet and heard someone else come in.
‘I thought it must have been one of the other girls – I said, “Is that you, Susie?", and there was no answer.’
When she came out, a man was there. She recognised him as the uncle of a kid in her class. ‘I knew who it was but I didn’t know his name.’ He pushed her roughly into another cubicle and closed the door.
‘I’m standing there, sort of looking at him, stunned, and I’m thinking, "Oh my goodness, Simone’s on her way to the bus stop, she could get on the bus by herself and get lost, she’s only five". And I’m trying to convey this to him, I was saying to him, "You need to let me go because I can’t stay here, my little sister is on the way to the bus".’
The man unzipped his fly and exposed his penis. Tina, who had only sisters, had never seen one before. ‘He said, "Kiss it – suck it!" I went, "No, you need to put that away, I need to leave". And it took probably five minutes for me to convince him to do that.’
Once out of the cubicle, she ran to find Simone and get on the bus. When she got home, her father noticed immediately that something was wrong. ‘My father and I had always had an open conversation, able to talk about anything … so I told him what happened.’
Her father reported the assault to police and in due course the man was charged and convicted. But the next day, when Tina told the principal and a teacher about it, the response was very different.
‘Both of them asked me why was I talking about this … They did not believe me. Honestly, they did not believe me. Not even when my father turned up. They still didn’t want to believe me.’
Tina’s parents had adopted her as a baby, after she was taken from her birth mother by child welfare. They were both devout members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Tina told the Commissioner it was the way they raised her that enabled her to escape the man’s attack.
‘They were very beautiful people. They gave me the chance to be able to speak. They taught me very well how to speak. Because … my mum and dad had taught me how to talk, I was able to communicate with that older person.’
After the assault, Tina continued to speak out. She told other girls at school what had happened, and warned them to stay away from the man. The girls told their parents what Tina had said, and she found herself ostracised.
‘I was never invited to anybody’s birthday parties. I was never invited to any of the picnics that involved other families … That was the immediate impact that I really noticed when I was a kid, was that no one would talk to me.’
Even after the man was convicted, the school didn’t take any action. The school community wasn’t informed, and the man was still permitted to attend school events.
‘That’s what annoys me now. Looking back as an adult, and going through the different stages of my own life and my own children, the actual learning that I’ve done – I look back on it now, and I think to myself, even when he was found guilty they still allowed him to pick up that nephew.’
As an adult, Tina has dedicated herself to protecting children in her Aboriginal community. Her education and training in a range of areas has had that goal as its focus.
‘I do what I can to make sure that my kids in my community are aware that they’ve got somebody they can come to regardless of what it’s about. But I’m also making sure that the powers that be are aware that they have a role and responsibility towards those children and to the family.’
She married and had children young, with a partner who was also a member of the Adventist Church. The couple separated, and in the 1990s Tina learned that her son, who had been in his father’s care, had been sexually abused over several years by an official in the Church. He was charged and convicted but continued to receive the support of the Church. The pastor, Tina said, urged her to ‘forgive him, he knows not what he does’ – the same message she’d been given years before, after her own assault.
‘Nothing has changed’, she said.
Tina told the Commissioner that the Church’s policy document on how to deal with child sexual abuse does not properly address the issue.
‘It’s so antiquated, and it’s still not got the information that the congregation or the ministry need to really holistically look at the problem that is within the Church. It’s not a very good document at all.
'Nothing has changed since I was at school that I can honestly see within the documentation except for the fact that they say believe the child … It’s annoying, because I can’t see any progress.’
Tina explained that, as an elder in her community, she felt she had a responsibility to come to the Royal Commission.
‘This is not just about me. This is about other children that I know of. I just might be the first person who’s actually come forward and a lot of the time you take the fear away …
‘I have to actually step up and show people that you can do this, and you can be better for it.’