When Tracy was 14, in the mid 1970s, she was placed in a short-stay care and assessment centre in Perth. She’d been removed from her family to give her respite from her father. He was drinking heavily, and at times was very violent.
‘This was supposed to be a safe place where I could go and get an education. And it wasn’t that at all.’
The institution was fairly small. There were few ancillary staff, so kids had to work too, doing the laundry and other jobs around the place. One of the supervisors was someone Tracy knew only by his first name, Phil. He had everyone wrapped around his little finger, she said.
Tracy was sexually abused by Phil. ‘He would sort of grab me and rub me against the wall and say dirty things, just as I was going into the lunch room.’
Tracy shared a room with another girl. There no lock on the door and Phil came and went as he pleased, sitting on her bed and harassing her. On one occasion he enlisted some the boys to hold her down while he pulled off her top and touched her. She believes that if she hadn’t yanked herself free and got away Phil would certainly have raped her.
She wasn’t Phil’s only victim. ‘This is just the tip of the iceberg. My story is very minor compared to what’s happened. ‘Cause I can tell. I can see what’s happened to other people.’
Phil also told lies about Tracy, and got her into trouble with other staff. ‘They would say “You’re the naughty girl” … I was treated the whole time like I was a bad person.’
Tracy remained at the centre for several months, and then ran away. She never went back. She believes that the course her life took afterwards was the result of the experiences she had there.
‘Due to that abuse and psychological abuse, I was forced to go back into an environment which I was not coping with, and where it was just reinforced that I was a bad person, a bad egg … I got into drugs. I didn’t study as well, obviously – my education just didn’t work out … Made a lot of wrong decisions in relationships. But then again I’ve had a rich and full life and I believe when my time comes to be an elder I‘ll be quite good at it.’
Tracy lived overseas for many years. She was there when an aunty contacted her to tell her about Redress WA. She decided to apply.
‘I thought it sounded good – I was always after some free counselling, and help … I didn’t think about the money till afterwards … and then I thought oh yeah, the money’d be cool. I’d be able to have a holiday and a bit of this and a that, you know.’
Tracy was awarded $5,000 through the scheme. She found the process ‘beyond’ re-traumatising and the result distressing. ‘Redress WA really damaged me so much.’ She hadn’t expected to get a lot of money, ‘but to be offered $5,000 – I felt that was an insult and I didn’t accept it.’
Tracy has spoken to many others who also had a very negative experience of Redress WA. ‘Some really bad things happened, especially to elders that were of the Stolen Generation.’ No help was given to fill out the application and the guidelines were misleading, she said. People were ‘tricked’ into applying for just the $5,000 minimum amount and two to three counselling sessions.
Tracy told the Commissioner that it wasn’t clear what documentation was needed to support claims and as a result some people missed out. Tracy later filed a complaint with the Ombudsman about the way she was treated by the scheme, but it was dismissed.
Tracy is now living back in Western Australia. She has been in a relationship for several years with a partner who has been trying to deal with his drug issues. There’s only one rehab centre for Aboriginal people in the area, she told the Commissioner, and there’s a lot more demand than available places. ‘People die on the waiting list.’
She believes that government approaches to Aboriginal needs have to be re-thought– in particular, that there are better strategies than those that result in kids being taken from their families.
‘We’re losing our children. My grandchildren are in care. And they weren’t abused and they weren’t given back to me … Children should only be taken if they’re abused or there’s something wrong at home. And even so, then only temporarily. And extended families should be considered.
‘‘Cause although I’m not fully able, you know, I’ve got younger nieces and nephews who again aren’t fully able but stick us all together and we make a great family. None of us is 100 per cent but with all of us together we form a loving family. And if we were given a house …
‘I stopped counting at a million dollars a year that the government was spending on my family, and that’s only close ones, with jail and all sorts of things. And if we had a house and some support, half of that, I could do a lot better job than what’s happening …
‘If they looked at us as a family instead of individuals they’d find there’s a lot more strength.’