Violet, Lois and Trina lived for many years in a government-run Aboriginal mission in Queensland. Trina and Violet were born in the babies’ quarters in the early 1950s and joined Lois in the girls’ dormitory when they turned five. At various times, their mother was sent out to work on surrounding properties.
Aunty Lily was in charge of the girls’ dormitory and made huge demands of those in her care. She’d make the girls stay up till two or three o’clock in the morning doing her personal care and undertaking chores she’d assign just as they were going to bed. To wake the girls up in the morning, Aunty Lily would turn a high-pressure hose on them in their beds.
In the 1960s, at the age of nine, Violet and another sister, Irene, were adopted out to Mr and Mrs Cassidy in Victoria. The couple had five children of their own and after initially being kind, Mrs Cassidy suddenly became ‘real cruel’.
‘She used to belt us with the cane stick, she kept it in the corner’, Violet said. ‘I’ve never told anyone this. And she used to belt us day in and day out when we were only little children. I was nine, my sister must have only been about eight. She tried to drown her in the bath. The husband used to look after us. All the children, she had five boys and a little girl and I think she more or less wanted us to be slaves for her. She used to call us “Abos” all the time and everything.’
Several of the sons tried at different times to sexually assault Violet who was constantly on guard against their attacks. At one time she threatened the eldest boy with a knife. Within a short period of arriving in the Cassidy home, one of the sons had sexually abused her.
Violet told the Commissioner that a reason for her vigilance was because she’d been raped as a six-year-old by the Sunday school teacher at the mission. She later found out he’d also raped one of her cousins.
‘He said if I told anybody what he’d done … he’d come after me and kill me, and nobody’d know because we used to play out in the dark sometimes, and he used to be always hanging around waiting. And there was always men hanging around that dormitory, and that’s what frightened me. I thought it was him coming after me … I thought I’d left it all behind, then it started again down there.’
When she was about 10 or 11, Violet told a counsellor about the abuse by the Cassidy boys. The counsellor reported what she’d said back to Mrs Cassidy, who beat her and made her stand naked in a shed. On another occasion, Violet told her school friend’s father, a policeman, but he told her she was making things up. ‘I never went to a policeman after that and I never went to a counsellor’, she said.
Lois told the Commissioner that she felt the loss of family connections deeply when she was put in the mission in the 1940s at the age of seven. Her mother had only just moved there, having previously worked in itinerant domestic roles with Lois left in the care of a great-grandmother and grandfather. On the mission, Lois couldn’t understand Aunty Lily’s cruelty.
‘I often ask that question, you top it off, how one of our own, an Aboriginal woman can be so cruel to us.’
Lois said that as a young girl and teenager she was groped by men in the dormitory. She also said that Aunty Lily used to enlist other women to assist in performing vaginal examinations of the girls, to check that they weren’t ‘playing around with boys’.
Trina didn’t experience sexual abuse, but witnessed it in the dormitory. She reported being physically abused and malnourished. One day she found another girl had been locked in the refrigerator storeroom by Aunty Lily as punishment. The girl had started to turn blue and the only treatment received was that she was left outside in the sun to warm up. When the girl’s own aunt found out about the incident she poured a pound of treacle over Aunty Lily’s head.
As part of the Queensland Government Redress Scheme, each sister received $7,000. Apart from Violet’s unhappy counselling experience, none of them had sought support through any formal avenue, though Violet was thinking of doing so after receiving a suggestion to do so from someone she trusted.
The sisters all recommended better screening of foster and adoptive parents and an end to children being placed in institutions.
‘I always listen to kids’, Trina said. ‘I put kids first before anyone else. I listen to kids when they’re telling me things and I look into it straightaway and I, more or less, hold it to be right.’